Keep up with the latest hiring trends!
Talent Acquisition is often one of the first functions in a workplace to feel the impact of change, both positive and negative. And for this reason, it can be incredibly easy for TA to get overwhelmed within this atmosphere. As organizations look to rebuild and reframe after the pandemic, we are also facing more economic and societal uncertainty. Tough times are on the horizon so it’s important for TA to bolster themselves.
On this episode of The Shortlist, we were joined by Jeff Moore, the VP of Talent Acquisition at Toast, Inc. With years of experience in this industry, Jeff has weathered many a storm and is here to share his keen insights. We’ll chat about the importance of networking and building community, how great talent will always have tough demands, and how to better operate in these challenging conditions.
In this episode:
- How hiring looks during uncertain times.
- What TA teams need to consider in order to protect themselves.
- The difference between tech/non-tech industry.
- Building networks and community.
1. It’s an uncertain world. Only twelve months ago, everyone was hiring. Requisition loads were huge and Talent Acquisition teams were struggling to keep up. Things have changed deep in 2022. While companies are still hiring and there’s lots of movement in and out of roles, but there’s a cautious anticipation about the future. Organizations are focusing in on their core needs, rather than the nice-to-haves.
2. The best TA person solves business needs, and doesn’t just fill seats. According to Jeff, Talent Acquisition must make themselves as valuable to the organization as possible. Bring more to the table by thinking strategically about how talent fits into the company. Show up as a TA partner who is flexible and willing to do what’s needed in order to have the best people on the books.
3. Networking to future proof. TA need to build communities, and not just in times of crisis. Cultivating a healthy network not only increases your options and opportunities when times potentially get tough, it’s also a source for proactively finding great talent. Building relationships in this organic way can be a huge asset both for yourself and your organization.
Our guest’s final piece of advice:
“Changing jobs is really stressful. It’s one of the most stressful things you can do in your life. And if you as a recruiter don’t treat it with that level of reverence, you’ll never be good at this industry. That mindset turns you into an empathetic recruiter.”
- [3.15] Introduction
- [4.08] The economy in 2021
- [6.12] What this uncertain time means
- [8.46] How are TA reacting?
- [12.12] Are TA teams set up to deal with this?
- [14.31] With the economic slow down, does this make it easier for TA?
- [17.30] Is it the same or different in non-tech industries?
- [19.00] What should talent acquisition be doing to future proof?
- [24.09] The future of TA
- [25.32] The ex-Googler tag
- [27.41] Networking and community
- [39.04] How to spot resilient recruiters
- [41.44] Should people stay in TA?
You’re very welcome. I’m Johnny Campbell. I’m going to be your host for the next 40 or 45 minutes. I’m the CEO and co-founder of SocialTalent and the host of today’s podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about how to weather a storm of uncertainty in TA. It’s episode 119. If you haven’t heard our back catalog of episodes, you should do so at socialtalent.com/theshortlist. But I’m joining you today from my home city, Dublin. It’s the 19th of October. We’re deep into fall or autumn, depending on where you are in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s stormy outside in Dublin today, with pouring rain and howling wind. I’ve just come from a tech conference where people have been talking about uncertainty and the changes that are out there. And talent acquisition is often one of the first functions in a workplace to feel change, whether it’s positive change, “Hey, we’re growing like crazy post-pandemic, let’s get all the hiring done,” or negative. And it’s easy for talent acquisition to get maybe overwhelmed, to get nervous within this atmosphere.
Organizations, post-pandemic, we’re looking to rebuild, reframe. And we dealt with that massive explosion of hiring, the lack of recruiters. But since then, so much has come since. You’ve got the war in Europe, you’ve got social uncertainty, you’ve got what is probably a recession in most parts of the Western world. Tough times are on the horizon for businesses and probably for TA. We’re going to explore that today.
We’re joined today by a good friend, someone whose opinion I massively respect in this industry, and that’s Jeff Moore, the VP of Talent Acquisition at Toast. If you don’t know Toast, Jeff’s going to tell you all about Toast as a company that you should know more about. Jeff has plenty of years’ experience in this industry. I don’t mean he’s old, I mean he’s done a lot! Because he’s worked for years in companies like Google where you work in dog years. One year is equivalent to seven years in other maybe less innovative companies. And Jeff’s weathered many a storm and has tons of insights to share. So we’re going to dig into the importance of networking, building communities, how great talent will always have top demands on how to better operate in challenging conditions.
Jeff, you’re very welcome to the show. You might share with our audience where you’re joining us from, bit of background as to your TA career, what brought you to Toast. And please, tell the world about Toast. I think it’s an awesome company. Many of our listeners may have already experienced Toast, they just don’t even know it. And if not, they’re about to as the company begins to dominate the world. Tell us more.
Awesome. Thanks, Johnny. I have to say, when you were talking about the dog years of Google, I used to describe my hair as Google gray, so that was a very appropriate reference!
Like you said, I’m Jeff, I’m the VP of TA at Toast. I’m coming to you live from my house outside of Boston. I’m originally from the East Coast. I moved back here about a year ago after about eight years on the West Coast, living in San Jose, working at Google. I joined Toast because it’s a super cool technology company helping restaurants. When I looked at the opportunity to join on the back side of the pandemic, helping small businesses that really got impacted by the pandemic was just one of those things that pulled to my heartstrings and really got me excited about the opportunity. And I had been loving it ever since.
It’s a kind of crazy time at the moment. When you joined Toast, tell us about the economy, tell us about the market, tell us about the growth that your business was experiencing, your customers were experiencing. Maybe contrast that a little bit to what it is today in October 2022.
Yeah. I think the macro environment situation was on fire. I think even six months ago, the macro environment was on fire. But I joined Toast in March of ’21. And everyone was sort of on that, “Oh, there’s vaccines. We’re coming out of this pandemic,” so everybody was hiring. When I left Google, we were trying to have the biggest hiring year we’ve ever had. And then you joined a place like Toast, and we were trying to hire a lot of folks too at the time. And so there was definitely a vibe of the roaring 20s, if you will. That analogy that seems lame now, was very real, I think even just 18 months ago.
Now, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market. Toast, we’re still doing fine, we’re doing great, we’re growing, we’re hiring, which I think a lot of folks are. But it’s different. There’s that different aura out there around what’s happening in three months, or six months, or 12 months that a lot of companies, when you see it with big tech, if you look at the hiring patterns of Facebook or Google or those places, they’re definitely battening down the hatches. And so it’s just a little different than it was even 18 months ago.
It’s strange because big techs, down in terms of valuations, are most in the size around 60% stock market from the peak maybe a year ago. Yet, if you look at earnings, earnings and forecasts are maybe down 10% to 20%. There’s this big gap between the performance of the business, which tons of businesses, such as Toast with really strong earnings reports, really amazing quarter on quarter growth, insane, versus the capital market saying, “Hang on a second. Maybe there was this massive overvaluation,” et cetera. So this is a strange time because the recession isn’t caused necessarily by a pullback in demand. That’s not necessarily what we’re seeing. It’s a capital issue. There’s been literally zero IPOs in the space, compared to billions worth of IPOs last year. The lack of capital flowing into businesses, growth tech businesses, is probably what’s driving this.
Let’s just talk tech companies for a second and we’ll broaden out into the wider economy in just a minute. How does a tech company, like Toast and tons of others, reconcile the challenge that business is booming. Again, relatively to what it could be. Businesses are still on fire, growing like crazy. Talent is needed. Yet you do have to rein in or you have to get fit, get healthy. This isn’t going spend any money to acquire great talent. What does it have to be? What does it look like inside a tech company right now with those competing challenges?
Yeah. I think it’s a lot of focus on the core business plan for companies and what are you doing against the maybe it’s six or 12-month roadmap with an eye towards the longer-term investments that’ll help you keep that growth engine going. And so I think there’s a lot of that right now. And you’re right, there’s a lot of places that are still hiring a ton of people. And you wouldn’t know it when you turn on the evening news. You turn the evening news, and you think the sky has completely fallen. And so I do think there’s a little bit of the external narrative. I think inflation is also something that we just haven’t experienced in 40 years. And so I think people are just trying to figure out whatever it is you’re doing, is it core to the business or is it nice to have? If it’s nice to have, maybe you don’t do it right away. But if it’s core to the business, whatever that is, maybe those are the things you really lean in and focus on.
So a lot of folks I’ve talked to the last little while, let’s call it the last three months, they’ve talked to me about when it comes to their TA team, they’re perhaps releasing contractors. So the temp staff there, they’re going, “Yeah. No. We’re going to release those folks. We’re not going to basically plan to hire as much maybe next year. We’d maybe cut a third, a quarter, 50% of the hiring plan from next year, which we couldn’t have delivered upon anyway. But thankfully, that’s being cut a bit.” Is that it? Is it just a little bit of trimming around the edges? And again, let’s talk more broadly in the economy as we face into what a lot of people believe might be a six-quarter recession. God knows, we’re not economists, we have no idea how long it’s going to last. I’m definitely not an economist.
I’m definitely not an economist!
Actually, I’ll be guaranteed to get it wrong! But what do you think it means more broadly for TA teams?
Yeah. I think when you think broadly across companies, even if you’re, whatever, pick a random 10,000-person organization that’s not growing. Well, “not growing.” Or they’re trimming around the edges, they’re going to grow a little bit slower. There’s still a huge volume of attrition that’s happening at companies. I still think there’s a lot of people changing roles. And for TA teams, that’s going to be a little bit of a different angle.
I was talking to a candidate this week that mentioned that at the organization she was at, they saw a doubling of attrition for people hired in the first six months of the pandemic when everyone went to video interviewing. Because they weren’t good at it. And so that’s something, when she was telling me the story, I was like, “Wow, that’s really interesting. I hadn’t seen that in my career.” But thinking about it, as a TA practitioner, I’m like, “Well, that’s a really interesting challenge of how do you quickly upscale the team to do something different? “And so I think there’s going to be a lot of that, Johnny, where you think about maybe this group that used to be in the office is remote, and you’ve got to figure out how do you get them hiring in a way that’s collaborative but distributed. When you think about backfills and attrition and those kinds of things that people have to fill, a lot of that is about building future-looking capabilities. Do you have an opportunity to bring in really great talent? I think it’s easy as a TA person to think about a backfill as like, “Oh, I’ve got to do a backfill.” It’s actually an opportunity to really upgrade and hire an amazing person. And not to say that the person who left wasn’t amazing. But I think there’s a little bit in TA, we get excited when we’re growing and we don’t get as excited when it’s not growth. But it’s actually still the same job. And so it’s easy to get yourself cut up in that.
I’m going to steal an analogy from a speaker this morning at a conference that was at SaaStock here in Dublin, SaaStock conference but tech founders, tech companies, all panicked and sharing stories and insights. And one of my favorite speakers, Dave Kellogg, in the SaaS technology space from Balderton Capital, was talking about how… And this is from a sales perspective, let’s call it sales and revenue. He’s talking about how you need to look at, rather than just net new ARR and net new revenue for a software company, which there’s kind an obsession of the tech world, a net new ARR, he’s like just it’s ARR revenue. And then you look at your churns, the analogy being churn and attrition in talent. And he looked at what’s the cost of acquiring a customer? Multiply that by your churn revenue and that’s the real cost.
In a similar way from a talent perspective, you talk about backfills, well what’s the cost of back filling, upskilling by the amount you’re losing? And it’s like, well you should spend at least that to try and fix the original problem. I think just don’t churn. I think you’re right. The point is it’s more of an opportunity. It’s like, hang on a second, something’s causing this attrition, this churn and talent. Now the opportunity’s to fix it. Just don’t do what we did last time. Cause obviously isn’t working. To your point maybe it’s how we interviewed, how we assessed. And we don’t want this back on our desk again a third time. So why don’t we look at, well, let’s work with the organization.
Are TA teams set up to do that, do you think? A lot of TA teams, in my experience, we had to hire a bunch of new folks into the industry in the last two years. They may not have ever worked in TA before two years ago, one year ago. Are they set up for success to do this? And if not, what’s the gap?
Yeah, I mean I think the short answer is probably no. Because that’s one of those skills that you don’t just learn it overnight. You’ve got to have relationships with the business leaders. You’ve got to understand the business problems that they’re trying to solve. You’ve got to understand the external talent market and how your candidates fit into that puzzle. And I think if you’re really new, which is fine, I was new once to this industry, you were new to it once, you’re learning a lot. And a lot of that learning is just how do I pick up the phone 50 times a day and talk to candidates and find great people? What are the questions that I need to ask to figure out the skills I’m looking for? Or even just what’s my voice? Who am I when I’m talking to candidates? Am I fun outgoing Jeff, or am I super serious, Jeff? You’re still figuring that out.
Whereas the skills that are needed now are really those deep business relationships. What are we solving for? What is this person going to do? Where do you see this role in 18 months? Do you have a successor on your team? Those are the kinds of questions that are, they’re hard. I mean they’re hard for me and I’ve been doing this for 25 years. So I would say probably not. But you can’t, just because you’re uncomfortable or you’re not good at it, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. And you’ve got to just learn it. The only way to learn it is by asking those questions when you’re talking to your hiring managers or business leaders about what are we solving for here? Not just like, here’s a seat, let’s put a button in it. No, let’s have a conversation for what we’re trying to do.
We haven’t talked yet about the talent market. What is TA doing? The business, the recruiters, right? So those who maybe aren’t as deeply involved in TA or maybe haven’t been on the ground recruiting might go, “Hang on a second, with all this kind of high inflation, the economy’s changing. Isn’t it just going to be easy to recruit anyway?” And that’s even broaden outside tech. “Isn’t this just going to be so much easier to hire for the next six to 12 months that this isn’t really an issue anyway?” What would you say to that?
Yeah, I would definitely say no. And I think there’s two parts of that equation as to the no. One is, I think just the external, the macro environment. I think you have the situation where baby boomers are aging out of the market. We don’t have as many workers coming into the market as we had. If you look at just in the US, labor participation rates are at historical lows. So the pool’s getting smaller even though the general size of the economy and the number of companies hiring is getting bigger. And so it’s more competitive and you see it everywhere. Everybody’s having a hard time hitting hiring targets. Doesn’t matter if you’re a tech company or a manufacturing company, doesn’t matter. Hitting hiring targets is getting harder. And I think there’s sort of a macro situation happening. And that’s not even to go down the rabbit hole of immigration laws and mobility and all these things that really make it even more complicated .because sometimes you can find the talent but you can’t hire them, which is the real bummer. So I think you have that going on, Johnny.
And then I think you… I remember I worked at in an organization a million years ago, they will remain nameless. And they had eliminated some roles and then about six months later we sort of repurposed all those roles and figured out what to do with them. And then we went to hire. And we had let probably about half the recruiting team go. So it was a pretty small crew of us, four or five of us. And I remember all the hiring managers like, “Oh, it must be so easy now with the economy down and you guys aren’t that busy.” And I remember thinking to myself, I am busier than I’ve ever been because every hiring manager thinks it’s easy, first. And then all of my online job postings are getting two or three or four x the number of postings that they got before. I’m getting twice as many employer referrals. And it’s people’s friends or family members that are looking for jobs, not because they’re unhappy at their current job because they were laid off. And so they’re on me for updates. I get all these candidates applying and you think it’s easy right now. It’s actually harder than it’s ever been because you’ve got to sort of go through that huge pile.
And so I think you have this weird double whammy of a tightening of the macro environment with… Maybe not yet. It depends on where you’re at I think. The internal flow starts to go up, which is good, but it’s a little bit of a different skill set than when you’re in that scarce candidate market.
It’s still more work as we saw as the pandemic hit folks were dealing with this huge challenge of scale of application. How do you maintain a great candidate experience with four x the volume of applications and still get back to everyone. Some folks put technology in, they put better processes in to try and handle that. And again, we talked about the candidate market. Let’s talk about non-tech for a second because Toast customers are brick and mortar restaurants, bars, folks, hiring, probably folks who are on lower wages. It’s not the tech area. Is it the same or different in that kind of an environment to hire, do you think?
Yeah, I think it’s harder for those non-tech type organizations, whether there’s a restaurant or brick and mortar retail shop in your town. I think it’s the same problem. You’ve got a much smaller pool of candidates. You’ve got a lot of folks that either dropped out of the labor force because of the pandemic or maybe they’re hesitant to get back into the labor market. And that’s a good spot for them to go back into. And then you’ve got the wages aren’t always the best wages. It’s not a tech wage. So you have this, again, it’s the different flavor of the same problem where, I don’t know, I walk around my town and I think every single company or shop or restaurant or store is hiring. And I think to myself, boy, what a time to be a teenager. You could probably walk in and get four job offers by the end of the day if you were looking for their job. But I think it’s that tight. I think it’s that hard for sure.
We’ve a LinkedIn user listening live to the broadcast. And for those listening to the podcast, we do broadcast live every Wednesday afternoon European time, morning US time. LinkedIn, you just saying, “That is spot on, Jeff!” With your comment about when you had the team of four or five and you are back hiring. This user experience both of those scenarios in 2020 and 2021. I think a lot of you will be familiar with that situation. It was only a year or two ago that we were in this situation and lots of teams lost half their colleagues.
So is that likely to happen? Are we likely to see, is it possible to see the culling of TA teams? And if that is a scenario that could be out there for some teams, what should TA folks be doing to make sure that they’re not out of an employment opportunity? Perhaps they’re doing something different. But how do you future proof yourself as a TA professional?
Yeah, I think you want to be as valuable to the organization as you possibly can be. Before I get to that as that was 2021, was that I, my example was 20 years old, so I’m just dated myself in my head. But I think it really goes back to being as valuable as you can. Are you actually a recruiter or are you a TA partner? Are you helping build a team or are you helping just put a body in a seat? Because anybody can put a body in a seat. Not everybody can build a team. Are you flexible? Do you consider yourself, “Oh, I only do exec search for R&D. I only do exec search for sales.” It’s probably not the world that we’re probably heading into where you’re going to want people that are willing to do whatever needs to get done.
Does that mean, “Hey, Jeff, you’ve done X, Y, Z before. Maybe we need you to, I don’t know, whatever, do some lead this function that you’ve never even heard of.” Probably. I would imagine that those are the kinds of things where companies are going to want to maximize their talent. And the thing about TA, which is super cool, is we’ve got a pretty fungible flexible skill set. There’s a lot of us that are former sales folks or used to be in teaching careers. TA is like this cornucopia skills for folks. And so just being really open and really flexible, just adding value, whatever that is that may be very different than what it was five years ago. But just really focused on adding as much value as you possibly can.
You mentioned this. We saw this in our LinkedIn listener live mentioning 2020, 2021, TA teams in April, May, 2020 around the world, were asked to help in different areas. A lot of those teams built brand new virtual onboarding processes. They helped redesign, to your point, online interviews and other HR related tasks that weren’t necessarily in the typical TA team’s wheelhouse. And some of those teams never lost those responsibilities. They did a great job and the business went, “You know what? You keep that.” And maybe the VP of TA was told, “You’re going to be VP of talent now” or “we’re going to give you a whole bunch of stuff that we never thought we’d give you, but your team did an amazing job.”
I heard a speaker today talk about how in a big tech company he was in a few years ago when they got tight and recruiting slowed down, they were moving recruiters into other roles. Kind of going, “You’re amazing, be versatile, do this now for the business.” Some folks came back to recruiting, some folks stayed in sales and went, “Hey, this is my new career. I’ve got this flexibility.”
It’s easy to focus on the now Jeff and kind of say what do we need to do for this trend. But you made the point of you’re in this business 25 years. I’m in this business 25 years. We’re the old ones here maybe. This isn’t our first rodeo, it’s not our first downturn. It won’t be our last unless we retire rich in the next two years. But let’s assume that’s not going to happen. Okay. You mentioned something to me before about becoming economy agnostic. Talk to me about that in the context of a TA team.
Yeah. I think when you think of the best TA person, they are solving business problems, not filling jobs. And that is where we probably all need to be heading is how do you get that skill set that it doesn’t matter if the market’s booming or it doesn’t matter if the market’s really slow, the company’s going to need to hire. Maybe not all companies, but like we talked about, there’s backfills, there’s attrition, there’s some growth, all of these things. And the recruiters that can really separate themselves and really think strategically about how talent fits into the puzzle are the ones that companies are going to really value. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of, the only thing that matters is my numbers. But how you get those numbers is really, for me, the thing that just jumps off the page. Because just because you have a team of 10 doesn’t mean it’s great. You might have a team of eight that’s just as good as a team of 10 because you hired better people. And I think that the TA teams and the TA folks that can really, really drill in and focus on how do I hire the best? Doesn’t matter what the best is. The best for that role for that company and for that situation, they’re the ones that are going to be agnostic. Because they bring more value than just your standard hire.
Do you think there’s a future or even a present where it is even beyond hiring. That again, you look at your point around solve the business problem. That’s it’s not just a hiring solution. It might be an upskilling solution, it might be a technology solution, it might be a mobility solution. It may not be acquisition and certainly not acquisition from external. Is that where TA might be heading?
I think it’s already there personally. I do TA obviously but I think a lot about rotational programs or internal ability or different kinds of things that maybe they’re not acquisition, but there are ways for the organization to maximize the talent that we have. Cause if you can maximize the talent you have, it gets easier to bring in other talent because you’re maximizing the talent you have. So it becomes a flywheel where candidates look at it and go, “Wow, look, this place, they create great talent and that great talent moves on to do their things.” No one likes the attrition angle to that, but that’s good for business if you’re able to create an environment where the best in breed come to work there. And so I think that’s really the mindset shift, Johnny, is getting to that. It’s like how do you maximize the folks you have? And then also when you are acquiring, you’re quite the best you possibly can get.
You’re a Googler, an ex Googler. And that’s one of those companies that perhaps has done it well because folks are proud to put on their LinkedIn profile. “I’m an ex Googler.” You don’t put that in your profile if it’s a bad experience. So it seems to me that companies like Google and there’s a handful of others where people put this on proudly. They’re proud to be X employees. It’s not, “That failed or didn’t work out for me or they were a bad employer. It’s a badge of honor that I can serve my time. It was an amazing experience and now I’ve gone on to do this other thing.” How did Google do it? How do others do you solve that? How do you make that the thing?
Boy, that is a great question. I joke around a lot about my time at Google was a real world MBA. Because some of the problems we were trying to solve were not normal problems. How do you hire a thousand software engineers in three months? The default answer is like, you don’t, but that’s not actually the answer. You’ve got to go figure it out. And so I think Google, obviously the environment is created for people to come in and really have impact and think. But there’s also the way that they evaluate talent is not for the job you’re going to do, it’s for your next job. We’re evaluating can Johnny join? And then yeah, sure he can do this job, but what are the other jobs that Johnny can do? And those are the little things that are subtle, but they’re cultural, they’re ingrained in the way the business thinks. Then when you look at Google and I mean there’s other places like that. A lot of the big consulting firms have that same thing.
It’s funny you mentioned that I always enjoy looking at ex Google or ex this, ex this. I’m like, “Well what are you doing now?” But I do think there’s a sort cultural element that’s woven into the way those companies think about talent that people leave and they have a little bit of a seal that says, okay, this person can let deal with the ambiguity and they can deal with scope and they can deal with scale and they can move on to do more than just, I check this box and that’s what I do. And so there’s a little bit of that to it, I think.
And it’s not just tech.
“I’m a big four qualified CPA or ACA in Europe.” It’s a badge. And it’s like it’s accepted that of course you’ll move on and of course you will. You’re going to be an ex-employee at one point. It’s not like, we’re not going to keep you forever.
So talk to me then about networks and communities. I know you’re a big fan of networks and communities. So how does that play into all this?
Yeah, I’ll tell you a story, which you have a small part in the story, Johnny, you don’t know it actually. This is a great story.
In 2008, I was at an organization that got rid of half the recruiting team and I was home on my pat leave with my daughter. And my boss called me and said, “Oh, you’re fine. Half the team is not fine, but you’re fine. Just wanted to call you and let you know.” And sort of hung up the phone. And I remember I’m sitting on the couch and I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got a two week old daughter. I was like, “Oh my god, if this call went left instead of right, I have no plan, I have no nothing.” And I sort of made a commitment to myself that I was going to have a cup of coffee or do a phone call with someone I didn’t know at least once a week for the rest of that year. So I got into the recruiting community, I started getting on the Twitter, I started getting to know people. I met people at conferences, I went to the UN conferences, all this stuff and just sort of built out this network. I ended up doing it for about six years. Which was just, if I was going through some town, I’d go on LinkedIn and see who in TA was in that town that I might’ve known or maybe didn’t even know that well and just reached out and grabbed a drink or grabbed a coffee.
And later, a few years later in my career, when I had left Google, it was at another place before I went back to Google, I needed my network. I was looking for a job and I needed that network. And I’m a little bit of a crazy person. So I had a spreadsheet going of all the people that I had talked to and all the people that I had. “Oh yeah, I bought Johnny a drink here and oh, this person was here and that person was there.” But then I of went back, I was like, “All right, now I get a call in a favor and just ask folks if they’re hiring cause I’m looking for a job now.” And after about a week I had to stop doing that because I was so overwhelmed because all these people that they want to pay it forward.
That’s the thing with networking is when you network when you need it, people don’t know you, they don’t know what your intentions are and it’s hard to do. When you’re networking just organically, naturally, because it’s part of who you are. Which is the way I think of myself as I’m just talking to people all the time. Maybe it never turns in anything. That’s okay, hopefully I learn something. Maybe they learn something from me. That ends up being the value in those networks. It’s not like the, “Oh, I talked to 37 people this year”. Well maybe. It’s actually, what did you learn? What did they learn from you? And then when things change on either side of the equation, you’ve got a relationship. Because at the end of the day, TA’s a relationship business. And so using networking to build real authentic relationships is how you then turn that thing into a real asset for you.
So yeah, I live it, breathe it. My wife probably wants to kill me about it because I’m constantly like, “I’m going to meet this person for coffee, I’ve got to hop on a call. Hey, I’m going to be in London. I’m going to go meet this person for a drink. Hey, we’re going to a family vacation here. I’m going to call this person and meet them for a drink.” She’s like, “Do you stop?” But it’s just sort of part of who I am now.
I love that because, sorry, I follow the same philosophy. I like to see my network growing as I get older. I have friends I grew up with and their networks have shrunk and keep shrinking as they get into their forties and their fifties, it gets smaller and smaller. I’m trying to make mine bigger and bigger. But I think there’s a key thing is that you’re not going into it necessarily looking for anything to come out of it. It’s more of a philosophy as, “Oh, I’ll get to know lots of people. I’ll help as many as I can and I’ll probably be helped if I need to.” I don’t need to have a quid quo with everybody. It’s just a case of you find the time. So it’s funny you mentioned the deliberateness of it.
I’ll try never to refuse a meeting with somebody who asks that’s for business advice or growing a company. I don’t know, I get more of that than I get of recruiting and yeah, I’ll take it every time. Even though your agenda might be packed, it’s just a good thing to do. And some people call these things like karma or there’s other words, people use different religions in parts of the world. But it’s kind of a you do this because a line of people have maybe helped you in the past and they never ask for anything in return. So you go, I maybe can’t help that person, but I can help somebody else. And people do this, they do this on scale. If you’re somebody who doesn’t do this, for whom this doesn’t come naturally. Maybe, I don’t know what your Meyers Brigg’s personality is. Jeff, if you’re on the extrovert or not. But let’s say you’re more naturally an introvert. The idea of doing this scares you.
Okay, you’re an introvert, Jeff. How did you force yourself out of that, perhaps that lack of comfort in doing this?
Yeah, I am INTJ. I started it where I was comfortable. So I started it with, “Oh you worked at this company? I worked at this company. Oh, you went to the same school I went to, Oh, I went to school with you. I haven’t talked to you in five years. Oh, we worked together X years ago.” So I went to where it was comfortable first and foremost, which was really easy. And a lot of times that led to other conversations so that we’re warm. Cause I think where folks get uncomfortable is it feels like it’s cold, it’s a cold… I don’t want to cold call people to network.
If you’re doing this constantly, you sort of find yourself in a situation where you’ll send me an email, Johnny, “Hey my friend’s in Boston, can you meet him for a drink? He wants to learn about blah blah blah.” That’s not a cold intro for either of us. It’s a very warm intro. And so for me, it was really about starting where I felt comfortable, where I felt safe. And then as I decided I really wanted to do more of it, I started going on Twitter and reading TA folks Twitters, Bill Borman, shout out. I was following Bill and reading Bill’s tweets. And then I’d comment and then next thing you know you’re in an offline conversation with Bill about some crazy random thing in TA. And the next thing you’re at a conference. And you’ve got this online relationship that turns into in real life relationship.
And so for me it was sort of this combination of go to where it’s comfortable, which was easy, but also sort of figure out how to start building relationships with people, whether it’s through LinkedIn posts or through Twitter posts or what have you that you actually have genuinely things in common and things that are interesting to talk about together. And next thing you know, you’ve got this massive network.
Doing it when you don’t need it is nice because there’s no pressure. So if you don’t talk to somebody this week, but you want to talk to somebody every week who cares, doesn’t make a big deal. It’s the only thing you fail to some stupid metric you’ve made up. Whereas I think a lot of times it’s like, “Oh my goodness, I’m on the job market, I need to network.” And then every call feels like life or death. And so for me, I did it where I was very safe.
Yeah, I’ve been the recipient of that where somebody reaches out, “Hey, I haven’t spoken to you in ages, blah blah blah this.” And I’m like, this is great. And then 30 seconds later, “Hey I’m looking for a job.” And you’re like, “Oh gosh.” Why wasn’t that just pure and your heart sinks and I’d like to help somebody but I’m less likely to help them in that situation. That’s got to be honest because you can feel, oh, this is the only reason you’re doing this, but you’re right. Do it when you don’t need to.
Do you find Jeff? I talk to recruiters. So again, folks down the learning platform, hundreds of thousands of recruiters around the world use it. And there’s a challenge that busy, busy recruiters often say to me, “I don’t have time. And I’d expect that busy recruiters will say, I don’t have time for networking. My piece was, I’ll always find time for both. And one is the other anyway. You learn through your networks and you help them as well. But I find it’s understandable for folks to say, “I’m too busy”. I totally get that for sure. But I think it is naive. You need to find time. We talk about find time for yourself, how you personally develop. If you’re just servicing, you’re never going to do that. I think learning and networking are actually about you. They are selfish things. But the beauty is your job is going to get the value of this, your employer will get the value of this. Cause the advice when you’re having this hiring manager conversation is, “Hey, I was talking to X, Y, Z over blank blank and they’re doing blah blah. What do you think we look at that?” And that person’s like, “Whoa, that’s amazing.” So that’s going to come from a networking opportunity or learning or a podcast or something. Cause where else is it going to come from? You’re not going to invent these things yourself.
No. And do you really not have time or you’re just not prioritizing your time? Cause I find that if you’re really being thoughtful in prioritizing, you can find time for a quick 10, 15 minute, even if it’s just a quick check in. And I think circling this back to where we started, the best people in TA know where the company’s heading and they know where the company might be going. It doesn’t matter what the company is or what they’re doing. And so when someone hits their inbox and says, “Hey, would you be up for a chat?” I frequently look at it and go, “Yeah, that’s not a need today, but that might be a need in six months or 12 months. I’ll have the conversation.” Worst thing is I find a killer candidate six months early and I push it off to a hiring manager and ask them if they want to make an early call. And I’ve made a bunch of hires through my career that way. And it’s not because I have a rack and not because I’m looking for somebody. It’s because someone knocked on my door and I was just willing to have the conversation and go, this is a special talent, we should move on this person.
Back to that, how do you become economically, whatever other phrase we used, you’re not impacted by the macro environment. You’re a key part of the business. That’s where it comes from. You’re out there proactively finding the best talent for the org regardless of the job specs, regardless of growth or backfills or attrition. You’re just finding great talent and then working with the company to make it happen.
I love that framing because let’s say I look, I’m a business manager, I run sales, I run engineering, I run product. And I’ve got a bunch of recruiters I work with. You’ve got a transactional recruiter who just delivers lots of hours, but then the hours drop off. I don’t need a person. Versus there’s somebody who just seems to know everybody. When I have a wreck, they say, “I have someone for you, Jeff, leave it with me.” And they produce these amazing people. I think the transactional recruiter, “I’m kind of going, I’ll find somebody else when there’s an up upswing and we’ll replace them.” Whereas the person who’s just well networked, you’re going, “We can’t lose that”. And the value to the business is going to be enormous. And again, maybe that person changes role. You go, they have a great network, let’s repurpose it in a different way and give them a different role for a while. If you don’t have recruiting needs, let’s just find something for those folks.
So if I’m going to pull back just for a second. We pull back and go, I’m trying to spot these recession proof or uncertainty resilient recruiters. What do they look like? How would you spot one in a conference?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I have a couple of really silly recruiter questions I like to ask people that I’ll share. They’re not foolproof. None of this stuff’s foolproof, of course. But I like to ask people, I think a lot of recruiters can ask, “What’s your hardest hire? What was your toughest close?” All these sort of badges of honor. And I like to ask recruiters, “What’s the hire that you’re most proud of that when you’re sitting at a holiday meal with your family and someone says, “What do you?” you tell the story.”
And the really great candidates, the really great recruiters that I want on the team, are the ones that can say, “Oh well”. It’s right off the top of their head. And it’s, “There was this job, this is the situation, this is the hiring manager, this is the candidate, this is why it was so special.” And they give me a rich, just a story. And maybe the story isn’t the hardest hire or wasn’t the toughest close or the gnarliest blah blah blah. But it’s like they are filled with joy at what they did. And a lot of times those are stories where the candidate didn’t look like on paper a fit, but the recruiter identified something in their skill set or the way they communicated that was like, nope, this is a great talent.
That for me is the one. And not everyone can do it. A lot of recruiters don’t think that way or don’t have those examples, either because of experience or just they haven’t been in the environment. But for me that that’s the one I ask at all the time. “Tell me the hire you’re most proud of.” I don’t care if it was an easy close, I don’t care if it was a hard close. “What’s the one that your heart just grows two sizes too big?” Because those are the recruiters that are out there grinding to find great talent because they feel it here, not because they’re just trying to crank a wheel.
I love that. I think the converse of that is the recruiter who only talks in high level stats. I hired 50 people last year, I did it in blah, blah, blah. I go, “Tell me about one of them”. And they go, “What? What do you mean one of them?” And I go, “You’re a volume producer. Great, that’s fantastic. But show me you understood what the heck you were doing.”
Yeah, I always asked the candidates, “what was the candidate’s name?” And if we’re like, “Well I don’t remember.” It’s like that’s not the story.
Yeah. Okay. So there’s a key secret! How do you get a job with Jeff. We had to pass your test.
I got to get a new question. I need new questions!
So tell me this. Again, we’re not economists, we can’t predict anything. But let’s say if you’re in TA one, should you stay in TA? If you should, how long does this last, do you think? And what’s something you can do right now today to begin to make yourself more resilient and more economic economically future proof if you like?
Yeah, I think everyone should do TA. I think TA’s great. It’s kind of a crazy profession. You’ve got to be a couple screws loose to love it for 25 years like me. I won’t speak for you Johnny, but I think it’s great. I don’t know how long this will last. I think most recessions normally last six or 12 or 18 months. Who knows? I think this is a little bit of uncharted territory. So whatever it lasts, it’ll last. But I think it’s a great career if you can really embrace it and really see the value that you provide to organizations, it’s great.
The one piece of advice I’ll give you, the piece of advice that I got in my first recruiting job that still is seared into my head and I’ll never forget it. It’s from my first recruiting boss. His name’s Darren [inaudible 00:42:46]. I haven’t talked to Darren in years. I should send him a note back to our conversation about networking. And I remember I had never done recruiting before. I had no idea what I was doing. I had Bureau of labor statistics list of companies in the Boston area and a phone book and it was like, “Hey Jeff, go generate business.” And I had no idea what I was doing. And he is like, “Once we generate business, then we’ll start calling candidates.” I’m like, how the heck do I have find candidates? But we’ll go worry about that later.
But he had this piece of advice, which was, changing jobs is really stressful for people. It’s one of the most stressful things that you can do in your life. It’s changing jobs, buying a house, losing a loved one, getting married, having a child. There’s like five or seven things in life that are really stressful life events, especially if you go back 20 years when people didn’t change jobs as frequently as they do now. But I think that the thesis is still true. And his comment was so true is if you don’t treat the transaction of the person changing jobs with that level of reverence, you’ll never be good at this industry.
And I think that mindset really turns you into an empathetic recruiter that can understand, hey, this person’s asking for sign on bonus. Why? Well, they’re asking for a sign on bonus because they’ve got a cash gap or they’re asking for an extended start date because they’ve got a family vacation plan. And you don’t want to ever strong arm a candidate into a situation that then they’re miserable at the company and they move on. You’re sort of creating attrition before you even got the hire.
And that, for me, that advice was really hit home on treating every single one of those candidate situations changing jobs with just a level of reverence that to be honest, I think we’ve lost in TA. I think we’ve become a lot more transactional. What are the numbers? What are your pipeline stats? Blah, blah blah. At the end of the day, there’s still people. They’re going through life experiences that you’ve started them somehow whether you read their resume or you cold called them or whatever. I just think that that is one of those things that the best recruiters in the world know that they’re talking people through really hard life decisions and they don’t take that lightly.
I love that. It reminds me, some of the friends I have today are candidates that I either interviewed placed or some didn’t accept a job I offered them. But it’s like, I think it’s another hallmark perhaps of maybe longer term career recruiters is they actually end up being good friends with candidates they’ve met along the way. Because you have that attitude, Jeff, because it isn’t just a transactional thing with you. It’s like you get to know people intimately because this is a really difficult situation. They share an amazing amount of stuff with you. I used to get kicked out of interview rooms when I was in staffing because I’ve been there 90 minutes. It’s like, you’re meant to be gone in 30. I’m like, “How can I only spend 30 minutes with this person discussing such something so important? Leave me alone.” And I love that. You jumped the gun, You gave that fantastic piece of advice before I even had to ask you when I asked him the wrong way. And you’ve added me. You’ve had a contributed vastly to our Shortlist.
Jeff, I just want to thank you for taking the time out today to be a guest. I know you’re super busy. You’re trying to solve scaling challenges in a rough economy and build the team and become even more excellent at TA as your team has been doing for the last few years. Really want to thank you for your time. Hopefully our listeners will take that advice and think about Jeff’s message, which is, I think if I can summarize Jeff, you got to network, you got to build community, you got to do it with empathy, you got to understand the people aspect out of it and you got to become a little bit broader to solve problems and not just hire. And if you’re doing that, I think doesn’t matter what’s happening in the economy, you are good.
Yeah, you’ll be great. Absolutely.
Jeff, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll have you on again soon and take care my friend.