We are so excited to welcome the Director of TA at Comcast, Keith Friant. Our chat starts by exploring the humble beginnings of Keith’s career, and the importance of embracing all potential job opportunities. Keith goes on to crack open his business model to help us understand the ins and outs of a successful recruitment company. While doing this, he highlights methods Comcast uses, such as the forecasting processes and bottom-up approach, to emphasize the importance of customer experience. We are lucky enough to end off the podcast with a personal nugget of career-driven wisdom from Keith.
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
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[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:00:59.5] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the director of TA over at Comcast, Keith Friant. Keith, welcome to you, how are you today?
[0:01:06.4] KF: I’m doing well, Rob. Thanks for having me.
[0:01:09.3] RS: Really pleased to have you. You are fresh off of a long weekend in Bermuda, looking tan, looking well-rested, how was your trip?
[0:01:16.4] KF: It was amazing. Like I had mentioned, the first time my wife and I have gotten away without kids, we were able to just relax, unwind and just enjoy some time together, perfect weather, perfect host at the hotel so I highly recommend it if you ever get a chance.
[0:01:30.7] RS: Was it a little spooky not having the kids around? Were you kind of like looking around like it’s quiet, too quiet.
[0:01:35.9] KF: It was. You have to relearn how to relax and then also, you’re just like, used to waking up at seven, 7:30 in the morning to check the monitor. So it’s like, “All right, well, at least we can get up to see the sunrise because we’re already up” but yeah, it was a little bit of a kind of assimilation into that kind of single no kids’ life.
[0:01:56.4] RS: Totally, totally. Yeah, I imagine you kind of shoot out of bed and you’re like, “Oh wait, I don’t actually need to do anything” I can actually sleep.
[0:02:03.2] KF: Yup. We were always the first people down to the beach so at least, early bird gets the worm, I guess. It was great. We definitely had a great time relaxing.
[0:02:11.0] RS: Glad to hear it, glad to hear that you took the time. I feel like a lot of new parents don’t do that. I think it’s important for you to have that time with just your wife or your partner, whomever it is. So, well done you, on prioritizing that and I am really excited to have you here, Keith. There’s loads for us to speak about. I guess, before we get to the nitty-gritty, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and how you wound up in your current load at Comcast?
[0:02:33.5] KF: Sure. Absolutely. I’m sure you hear this all the time, no one actually sets out after college and says, “I want to get into recruiting.” I was the same way. I graduated from Maryland in 2009. Jumped right into 1099 sales because the economy wasn’t great back then. I was like, “All right, maybe I can go make some money with my personality.” I’ve realized I like some parts of sales but not others, especially that pressure of always starting over if you don’t sell, you don’t get paid in 1099.
So I shifted over into agency recruiting because I really like the human element of selling and I’m like, “Oh, maybe selling and finding people jobs would be awesome.” So ran a full desk at a Michael Page recruiting agency for a couple of years which was right across the street from Comcast, downtown Philadelphia. Happened to just make some connections via my wife who actually at the time was working at Comcast and spoke very highly of it.
So she kind of helped me open my eyes to what life could be in a more corporate setting and I just started to ping people on LinkedIn and I’ve been here ever since. I took a job as a sourcer to get my foot in the door at Comcast and just have worked my way up organically.
Having that willingness to kind of shift businesses and for the past about five years, I’ve been supporting Comcast business, which is our B2B side of it, and have been fortunate to lead an awesome team of recruiters and other TA leaders and growing it from when we started was about six billion, about five years ago to now, about a 10 billion entity within Comcast so really awesome growth and kind of the hot engine right now of the company.
[0:04:09.3] RS: Yeah, I appreciate you pointing out the falling into it accidentally. Like you say, a lot of people say that. Do you think that will change? Do you think recruiting can emerge as a deliberate career as supposed to one that people kind of fall into just because they get some knowledge of what they like doing, whether it’s their sales or other jobs, and then they kind of put together that recruiting as a skillset that requires all these different abilities?
[0:04:32.1] KF: I hope so. I mean, especially with the market now for recruiters, it’s the fastest-growing job posting on LinkedIn over the last two years. I was listening to some, another podcast actually about that and it’s so high demand and be able to have that art of just really like this strategy consulting but also, the foundation of being able to sell, understand and listen and I personally think it’s so exciting to be able to just match that great candidate with that awesome career opportunity and just help the business grow.
So while I do still think it’s going to be one of those things that I just kind of found my way into it, I do feel through internships, just exposure, awareness that I do think more people will get into it earlier on their career rather than kind of like a career shift early in.
[0:05:21.1] RS: Yeah, I think you’re right, there will always be a place for winding up in a career on accident, that’s not unique to recruiting. I think that’s how most people actually find their jobs and forge their careers. I didn’t set out to be a podcaster. If you told me when I graduated college, I’d be a podcaster, I would have said, “What’s a podcast?”
So these new jobs are created all the time. I think in general, academia does a bad job of preparing people for deliberate career tracks unless it’s the hard science or STEM. I tend to agree with you, I think it’ll be a little bit of both, right? People will be more deliberate about it but also, we’ll always get those folks who just realized at some point that it could be good for them.
I also enjoy that you kind of did the equivalent of like starting in the mailroom, right? You started in the agency, then got into direct sourcing. Now here you are, running a team responsible for 10 billion of revenue. Awesome growth trajectory. I’m curious how you sort of reflect on how the skillsets change. When you think about how this job was done when you began versus what you expect or what you see your recruiters doing now, well, what is the difference?
[0:06:21.6] KF: So, it’s awesome that you ask that. I’m going to steal something. I went to a LinkedIn talent connect a few years ago. I was fortunate to go to one and I heard someone say that strategy and being strategic is such an overused terminology. Probably one of the most cliché ones out there. Synergy, strategy, all those and he said a lot of it is just internal talent talk about what we think is strategic but in the essence, the business thinks we’re strategic if we help save them time, help deliver great talent, and help drive diversity.
I think that core of the business from even when I started till now is the same. It’s how you go about doing it has evolved a little bit. So for me, knowing how to be a sourcer, how to run a full desk as a recruiter, a senior recruiter, how to manage frontline population of recruiters in my manager role, now leading leaders, I’ve always understand each step in the process and how it has evolved with tools, technology, just the need to the business.
So, I don’t think much has changed about what we should be doing but more about how we go about doing it, how are you saving time, how are you adopting best practices, how are you really understanding and listening and consulting with the business. It’s really about how are you staying, I think, abreast to the evolution of some tools, technology, and really, the need to the business at its core. Does that make sense?
[0:07:55.0] RS: Yeah, it does and I tend to agree with you that the adaptability is crucial, not just for recruiting, I think really for any role. You do hear the influencer types, they will try and reduce this role to a maxim to like, it’s about putting warm butts in cold seats, like none of that’s changed. Like putting people in jobs, that’s what we do. Do you think that misses the point a little bit or misses the complexity?
[0:08:19.4] KF: So, yes and no. The reason I say that, is that I see sometimes and it’s across potentially Comcast and more broadly, people are so focused sometimes in recruitment on the shiny programs and “strategy work” and all the other items of it but at the core of what we do, we are a production arm of HR.
The business wants us to produce and the production side of it is finding quality talent, hiring, keeping their business running, making sure there’s not large gaps of production on their teams that impact the rest of their team members. So yes, I do think that is incredibly important that we, at core, an operational production group but it is a lot more than that.
That is really that, you can’t build a house on sand type of idea so if you don’t have a strong foundation of being a great producer and that’s really why I really am laser-focused on process, operational side of it, then you can’t talk about some of the other things we really focus on like can an experience deny initiatives, campus, program work, all those other things that you can explore once you get those really core operational production side of it down and running smoothly.
[0:09:42.6] RS: Can you speak a little bit more about that foundation on the process side, of the operationalization side?
[0:09:49.6] KF: Yeah, absolutely. So, and this is one reason why I think it behooved me and why I have been successful is that I’ve done it. I know what success looks like as far as being able to keep up with the pace of the business. My team’s expected on average, over the last four or five years to do around a thousand hires a year.
There’s a lot of rigor around forecasting, understanding if there’s going to be growth in the business, anticipating the spikes of maybe landing a big Fortune 100 company as a new customer, and what that might look like to our headcount, which is sometimes hard to predict but it’s like, “Okay, do we have the right resources? Are we adopting some of our awesome tools like our self-scheduling tools our automated screening tools, our utilizing LinkedIn appropriately as needed?”
To free my team up to do more of the strategic pipelining, finding that really niche talent, that high need sales, tech people that can help us grow the revenue side of it. So, we look at it as like, okay, we’ve got a whole class volume base at the business and then more of like, our niche strategic roles is like, how do we operationalize our volume recruiting that you can’t run the business without so we freeze my team up and the resources to really dive into maybe more of the growth side of the business as well.
[0:11:11.1] RS: So when it gets to that forecasting, is that up to you? Are you the person hammering on the spreadsheets or how are you figuring out what exactly is the capacity of this team?
[0:11:19.7] KF: I’m very fortunate to have awesome partners I work with across finance, the business, HR and they really help us drive that. Okay, are we going to be acquiring businesses? Do we think we’re going to land some big new enterprise customers and what that might do to maybe our capacity as a business and a workforce to manage another million dollars a month in recurring revenue or to be able to fold in a new acquisition which we’ve done a few lately.
We, more, get that information, and then we internally will say, “Okay, do we have the team in place to handle 50 more fills a year, 100 more hires, 400 more hires?” So, we do have some of our internal modeling but a lot of it does come through some of the data we get from the business, what is our attrition look like, what we are projecting for the near future as well.
[0:12:15.2] RS: It sounds like you have this sort of bottom-up approach. Not to bring in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I do probably once every eight episodes, but this idea that you cannot get towards self-actualization if you don’t have food, water, shelter and love, and community, right?
The same idea here where you were also pointing out, if you don’t have the processes in place if you don’t’ have all of your forecast, if you don’t what your team can really accomplish, then what good is employer branding, right? Like, say you do the best employer branding in the world, now you spit these people into a bad interview process. Well, that was wasted money because you’re not converting people, right?
So as you work your way up this pyramid, let’s say you’ve nailed the foundation, right? Let’s say you’ve nailed the process in the operationalization part of it, what do you start to look at once you feel comfortable that this process is refined and that it can churn out the kind of results you need?
[0:13:01.4] KF: Well, I know we talked about this before but at our core, Comcast overall is an MPS-led company where customer experience is at the heart of what we do. So as a consumer business, we understand that many of our candidates may also be customers and also, a lot of our hires of course are going to be hopefully long-term employees.
So really being laser focused on really nailing and driving and awesome customer experience, and that’s why we actually launched a Canon MPS back in January of 2020 and that’s I think, so critical, not only to making sure everyone, regardless if they get the job or not, has a great interaction with us from a candidate side so they still want to engage with us as a potential consumer but also if they do get hired, that they want to be with us for a while, because both have impacts to the business.
Whether it’s through increased consumer spend or decrease or the other part is, “Okay, someone takes their job but with a little bit of an arduous process” and so, they might not be as engaged and we might be turning that roll over again. So it creates gaps and productivity, more work on our teams. So I really do think having an engaging, succinct and meaningful candidate experience is so critical and something parallel with a great DNI strategy that I would think our two cornerstones.
[0:14:31.7] RS: Yeah, it’s a unique way to have to look at candidate experience because I think most talent folks look at it from the lens of, it needs to be good because even in the event where we don’t hire someone, we can’t have them going off and telling everyone, bad-mouthing us. There is potential referrals, like, there is a ripples of that branding that can really hurt you. You want people to speak well of you to their friends and their candidates, et cetera.
For you though, those are all potential customers and if you’re hiring a thousand people, was it a year or quarterly, what was that timeframe?
[0:15:02.7] KF: Yeah, a year and that’s just one small piece of our hundred thousand person company, so imagine how many hires we do just outside of Comcast business.
[0:15:12.6] RS: Right and then how many people are in process to get everyone hire, right? So it’s an order of magnitude larger than 1,000 or whoever many hires there are, those are all potential customers like one customer here and there Comcast is a big company, so what? But 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 potential customers, that really starts to add up so the stakes are kind of high for you I guess when you are thinking about all the people coming through your interview process.
I guess can we just start at the beginning with candidate NPS, what does it look like? How are you delivering it and how are you measuring it?
[0:15:39.4] KF: Yeah, so I would imagine some people listening are familiar with the Net Promoter Score. It is not something that just Comcast uses but it’s a really easy way to measure someone’s experience and interaction with a consumer brand or any company. How likely are you on a scale of zero to ten to refer Comcast to a friend or family member? Generally, as a consumer side but we twist it to as a place to work.
So clearly nines and tens are promoters, six, seven, eights are just neutrals and five and below are detractors. So that’s how we kind of figure out what’s our net promoter score. We want more percentage nines and tens than we do the rest and so we take that and really just driving anyone that makes it to a hiring manager interview or beyond gets the survey, whether they get the job or not, whether they’re internal or external.
So we take that information and we’re talking about tens and tens of thousands of responses since 2020 and we can really dissect it into very finite populations of who has a positive experience, what part of the experience was the best for them, and open it up to free text comments as well to really capture a lot of great anonymous feedback.
[0:16:57.6] RS: At what point do you distribute the survey, if I just go on a phone screen and the recruiter and I decided it doesn’t work out, am I going to get a survey in my email?
[0:17:05.9] KF: No, so there is a trigger to where you move in our ATS workday. If you make it to the bucket of hiring manager interview, so if you get an actual interview with someone past the recruiter, at that point, if you get dispositioned from the job or you get that, “Sorry, we have moved in a different way.” You will get the survey about three days afterward and it’s open for a week.
You’ll get a couple of reminders or on the converse, if you get hired, right after you are hired you will get the survey as part of your, “Welcome to your new job. We’d love to know how your experience was.”
[0:17:41.5] RS: Do the people who make it to hiring manager but don’t either get an offer or take the offer, do they bother to respond? I am not sure I would.
[0:17:49.2] KF: Yes. Actually, 45 percent of them do.
[0:17:52.5] RS: No kidding.
[0:17:53.4] KF: Yeah, I was shocked about that too. I was like, “Why?” But think about this, a lot of people that respond on Yelp and stuff and leave comments, they’re doing it because maybe they didn’t have a great experience or they want to provide specific feedback and kind of alert others. To your point too, we thought it was only going to be those people that got the job or already worked at Comcast, what we found is that it’s a pretty consistent spread of each of those populations.
So how we actually break it down is it’s internal, not hired or internal hired, external not hired, and internal not hired, and outside of a couple of variants of like few percentage points, they all respond about the same percentage about 40 to 45 percent of the time.
[0:18:39.3] RS: Got it, yeah that is surprising but I guess like you say, if there is a text field below something, people tend to fill it out, right? That’s just a reality of the Internet. Yelp is a good example, people do tend to only respond when they have a negative experience though, right? There is that old saying, if you have a good experience, you tell one person, if you have a bad, you tell three.
But I feel like, with NPS, it would almost be the opposite. I almost feel like you’d be more likely to respond if you had a really good experience because you know that whoever you spoke to that feedback is going to look in for them and you want to like give that person a little bit of a leg up, I’d definitely do that. So is there a positivity bias or do you find that this sentiment is sort of distributed with what you might expect?
[0:19:18.4] KF: There could be if you take it at surface level but fortunately, we use a great tool that allows you to dive into a more granular splicing of the data. So yeah, the overall score of plus whatever might look awesome but what I want to know, “Okay, what are our trends with internals that did not get hired? Wow, that’s not as good, or external is not hired.” That might not be as positive, clearly externals that were hires.
So yes, data, of if you don’t know how to read and manipulate the course it is going to look a false positive but the other thing even with that is that I like to look at trends of even those people that were hired, how positive was their score because we do have benchmarks baked in and if it dips a little bit, I could then go back and say, “We’re all for processes taking too long.” How long did it take people during that timeframe to get through background check?
We’re we negotiating, going back and forth? All those variables that you know, people took our jobs but they weren’t as excited as maybe when it was just a quick, “Here’s your offer, yes I accept” and they go through background in a timely manner. So a lot of those things can tell a story even with those very highly positive trends but of course, what we look at is how do we really manage those that don’t get the job. I mean, a lot of times, it comes down to them just wanting timely feedback.
[0:20:40.2] RS: Yeah, that’s a good point and I think folks really need to put on their decision that a little bit and really spend time with the data because I am sure the most reliable response in terms of sent, versus converted, is external who got the job or internal who got the job and the idea is, “Okay, I got the job. I feel good because they wanted me and they made this offer and it’s more money than I asked for and it’s a position that I wanted” et cetera.
So you feel great, honeymoon phase, 10-10-10-10-10, right? But like you say, not the whole story. I am really interested in the internal not hired crowd. You mentioned that you kind of bucket it in a few different ways and that bucket is interesting to me because we speak about internal mobility on the show a decent amount but I don’t think we have ever talked about what do you do when someone applies for a role?
An existing employee applies for an internal role and they don’t get it, have they painted a target on their back? Are they like, “Okay, I’m never going to get the job I want here” are they just immediately disgruntled? How do you handle that situation?
[0:21:38.8] KF: It’s a great question and that feedback is really valuable. One thing we even dive in deeper into the feedback and outside of just that zero to ten score is a favorability scale of each part of the process. So not only can we splice it into internals not selected but we can also see what about them and what part of the process did they score the lowest and what we have found with that was that it was really getting timely feedback directly from the hiring managers was driving a very low score.
So that population of course to your point is looking to grow, looking to move into something different and so we all clearly want to care for them and so that’s why it’s so important that they get timely and meaningful feedback because what we can do with that is that we can put them into maybe stretch assignments. We’ve actually have adopted this whole gig type of concept where they compose for short-term or longer-term projects if another team just needs help or someone is going out on paternity leave or something along those and then you get that different experience.
Either develop those skills that the feedback said they did not have and the reason why they didn’t get the job to hope to just continue to drive that engagement and the other nice thing I think Comcast does is we really only tried to post jobs that are viable and open. If we know it’s just going to be someone left the team and you just want to inline promote someone else on the team into that role, we can do that without having to post the job and put everyone else through a process, which wastes a lot of people’s time, energy and can really demotivate people.
But of course, I mean, if someone is looking I think it’s one of those things that’s like, “Okay, so then what else? What’s that next step outside of them just getting that standard disposition email?” — that can really feel a little deflating if that’s the only type of communication you’re getting after you invested time into the interview process?
[0:23:45.1] RS: Yeah, invested time, and also you kind of showed your hand a little bit, right? You kind of said, “I wanted this job” and the assumption there is because “I’m okay in my job but I could be more happy, right? I’m a little dissatisfied. I want this one more than I want the one I have now.” The important thing I think there is to do something with these people like you can’t just do nothing.
You can’t be like, “Oh well, hey, thanks but no thanks. Here’s a few that why you didn’t get it. Have fun back at your job that you tried to get out of last week.” I would be hesitant as a candidate to apply for internal role because if I don’t get it then are they going to start thinking, “Oh Rob is not happy, he is going to leave in six months. What do we do about him?” Can you speak a little bit more about the plan for, like you said, you have like the stretched projects or the other goals or the development opportunities? How do you make sure those people stay grunted?
[0:24:30.4] KF: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s a great question granted you’re not going to save everybody, movement is natural and a healthy part of the business but it can just give you a couple of examples even it’s happened on my own team lately where I’ve had some senior recruiters apply for TA manager jobs and have not gotten it. I have been fortunate enough to be able to ask for that feedback and action on it.
What were their skill gaps, is it just time and maturity and development of leadership skills and how can I help them with stretch assignments across my team? Or just helping them maybe find something else but I do think it is good as a leader to know if you have people on your team looking, so you can either plan for the growth on their team or prepare for the “What’s next?” for maybe that backfill or just movement and an opportunity for the rest of the team.
One other thing we do I think really well at Comcast and we continue to drive it is we have an EMPS, so employee net promoter score, where we actually pull our employees quarterly on just their motivation, their engagement as an employee so we can kind of see trends in that as well.
[0:25:41.6] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. Like you say, you just need to have some sort of plan of action and it sounds like as a result of this survey, a lot of it is about feedback, it’s about communication and it is not just like thanks but no thanks but there’s a larger conversation there to be had. Are there other insights you can share that you’ve gleaned from doing the candidate and PS work?
[0:26:01.3] KF: Yeah, people ,of course, don’t like to go through long processes with poor communication. I think that once you go over two to three interviews, there is a good chance you are going to lose out on your top candidate or they’re going to get disenfranchised or just generally feel like the process is lagging. We have really tried to encourage our hiring teams to really consolidate their interview processes, adopt meaningful interview processes through skill base, competency base interviewing rather than just having them talk to three different people for 30 minutes and ask the same, “Tell me a little bit about yourself, why are you interested in this role” all of that that we all have been through.
Having some standard scoring and rating, so there is a little more parody in why and the feedback loop really helps as well and helps us document our decisions. I’ve also found that candidates really like and usually are a little more positive in the responses to interview processes that have some type of digital self-automated tool whether it’s they can schedule their own interviews or they can do a phone screen on demand at any time they chose fit, that really adds another element especially for us being a tech company as well.
[0:27:23.3] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. I love that trend putting the power in the hands of the candidate a little bit and I think you need a probably sufficiently resource team to be able to do that but in general, the more you can automate, the better and you don’t have to be robotic but I think just like letting people schedule on their own, that’s something that you are still going to get to talk to a human, right?
It is not just a chatbot but yeah, you just empower people a little bit. It makes all the sense in the world. Keith, before I let you go I would just ask you to share a little bit of advice for the folks out there in podcast land who want to have a role like yours and a company the scale and size with the resources of a Comcast, how can they forge their career to end up in that sort of role?
[0:28:00.2] KF: So I don’t have all the answers for sure and being humble is one of the things I think really helps you go far in business but kind of going back to what you’re talking about with internals and then being afraid about showing their hand, being able to foster an environment of trust and understanding and empathy in tandem with driving excellent results, understanding your business and really being able to collaborate with all of your talent partners, I personally think has been the key to my success so far.
If you do that and you come across authentic, really open to learning and listening, and then following up and auctioning off of that, people are going to trust you, people are going to be open and direct with you and you see that, just business just becomes a little easier. You can break down walls and get to the root of people’s needs a lot quicker and then that just really makes everyone feel a lot less stressed.
So I think that has been a big thing and just a lot of that has been because of my sales background helps to be able to listen and empathize with people.
[0:29:04.2] RS: That’s great advice Keith. This whole episode has been full of great advice. Thank you so much for being here with me. I love chatting with you today.
[0:29:10.1] KF: Thank you so much for having me Rob, I really appreciate it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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