Head of Talent Acquisition at EyCrowd, Matt Bonitt, shares how he ended up at EyCrowd and how their unique work culture cemented his decision to stay. We find out what recruitment policies Matt found in place when he arrived at the company, and what he chose to focus on as his first orders of business. EyCrowd prioritizes aptitude and attitude over skill and Matt gives us examples of the character traits he is looking for in prospective employees. You’ll get a close look at his interview process as he tells us of the most difficult aspects of hiring executives. For Matt, it’s all relationship-based and his interview format is loose and almost informal, to put the interviewee at ease so that they can feel comfortable enough to portray their true selves.
[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.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions, where are they willing to take risks, and what it looks like when they fail.
[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off-the-cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.
[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between, and everybody knows you.
[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.
[0:01:00.2] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the head of talent acquisition over at EyCrowd, Matt Bonitt. Matt, welcome to the podcast, how the heck are you?
[0:01:08.6] MB: Rob, I’m doing great, super thrilled to be here and thanks for having me.
[0:01:12.0] RS: Yeah, pleased to have you as well. You have not only actual guitars hanging behind you but also, it looks like guitar-themed art behind you, is that right or am I looking at that wrong?
[0:01:22.5] MB: I do, yeah, this is my home office/studio/guitar room, that’s kind of the theme, and you can’t see it but my living room is like a beach theme. So this is the guitar room basically.
[0:01:33.0] RS: Nice, so this is your office/beat lab/studio, kind of like me.
[0:01:37.5] MB: Yeah, you could say that, I didn’t know that about you actually.
[0:01:40.8] RS: No, I’m not a musician, this right here is the only art I create, but there is – there’s editing and there is audio equipment involved so I’m lumping myself in with the much cooler guitar player here with me today.
[0:01:53.3] MB: Got you.
[0:01:53.6] RS: But we’re not here to talk about your music career and my lack of artistic output. We’re here to talk about talent and I’m glad we are. So Matt, would you mind before we get too deep in the weeds, sharing a little bit about your background and how you kind of wound up at EyCrowd?
[0:02:10.4] MB: Absolutely, yes. So like I think we’ve talked about before, no one really plans on becoming a recruiter. So I fell into it after working as a musician and working in TV production and entertainment industry for a few years and essentially, was kind of getting sick of recruiting. I love the people aspect but I was a little bit getting sick of the corporate structure. You know, I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy, I speak very informally.
I’m a firm believer, you don’t have to speak formally to be professional, you can just be real with people, and so I was just getting a little bit sick of the buttoned up, super over structurization of the corporate America work lifestyle. And essentially, I was thinking about a career change and going back in a different direction, and when I got a call about this job, something completely different, their business model really interested me and meeting the people is really what did it.
I absolutely love the people I work with. So that’s really how I really ended up here, and what’s kept me here is the amazing culture that brand name and our founders have cultivated.
[0:03:07.6] RS: Got it. So just for the folks at home, would you mind sharing about what EyCrowd does?
[0:03:11.4] MB: Absolutely. Yes, so EyCrowd is the first crowd-based smart marketing app that allows companies to expand their business by using real people as micro-influencers, as an alternative to the increasingly expensive digital and broadcast marketing and advertising, and so it really is mutually beneficial to both businesses and consumers by rewarding that consumer for supporting their product, using that organic word of mouth marketing and advertising.
[0:03:37.2] RS: Got it. So you came in head of talent. How far along was the talent operation? I’m guessing, they understood they had recruiting needs, right? But what was the state of things when you started?
[0:03:49.1] MB: So when I started, I think I was employee, I think 17. Now, we’re approaching 50. So yeah, there’s been a lot of changes, I have done a lot of hiring. Zack Wise, our amazing chief of staff was really in charge of the recruiting and he probably wears more hats than anybody in the company, and so he hired someone to find me. I’m certainly glad he did because I feel lucky but yeah, I mean, the recruiting was fairly nonexistent, which you know, why they brought me on and frankly, I’ve loved being able to work with these people and bring out more talent.
[0:04:21.8] RS: Where did you start if there was not that much installed? What were sort of the, obviously, you have all these hires you have to make probably, but in terms of setting up tools or processes, what did you prioritize?
[0:04:31.1] MB: Sure, so yeah, I mean, that’s a great question because the first, you know, like you said, my title is head of talent acquisition but I didn’t acquire any talent the first couple of months. It was really all strategy and planning, a lot of brainstorming meetings, both of our founders met at Harvard so they’re big intellectuals, big in critical thinking
Essentially, a lot of those meetings were just talking about what types of people that we wanted to bring into the company. We place aptitude and attitude over skill. We have an excellent training and development program so we just want smart people with good hearts and we can train them up that way. But we were also, you know, we’re trying to change the world and so we’re also hiring top talent from all over the world as well for specialized positions also.
So creating a foreign team concept where we’re looking to hire amazing, bright, up-and-comers or early in their careers and train them, utilizing that top-tier training and development program we have and, like I said, also combining that with a specialized top talent that we need all over the world.
[0:05:28.6] RS: Got it. So are you all remote, is it kind of hybrid, what’s the state of that?
[0:05:34.0] MB: So yeah, we are all remote. Our marketers meeting these in person campaigns, obviously, they have to be onsite but we have employees in Saudi Arabia and Serbia, as well as the United States. Most scattered over, across the west. I’m one of the few employees on the east coast here in Florida and as far as—I kind of skipped over your last question, I went off on a little bit of a tangent.
The first couple of months of planning and whatnot, we were really brainstorming the type of people that we wanted to bring into the company as far as their characteristics or qualities. Types of companies that we liked where we liked their customer service, we were impressed with the employees that we met while working there, things like that, and so it was a lot of what types of individuals do we want to bring on.
How are we going to find these people, what platforms to utilize? Whether it’s LinkedIn, indeed, as a recruiter, all of the above, et cetera, et cetera and also, just thinking outside of the box as far as recruiting goes. I mean, that obviously can incorporate a myriad of different things. So there was a lot of planning and strategy before I even began interviewing at all.
[0:06:36.2] RS: So was that an exercise in deciding on a company culture, when you were trying to determine what are the characteristics of employees we’re looking for?
[0:06:45.7] MB: Very much so. Company culture is huge with us. It’s really why I’m here and Brad and Ayman cultivated this amazing culture, but it’s my top priority to preserve it. So before we began even searching or thinking about search engines or anything like that, or really even the positions that we needed to hire first, we thought about what types of values that we want to see an individuals. You know, what types of character and behavioral traits that are important to us.
[0:07:12.1] RS: Could you give an example of some of the traits.
[0:07:14.5] MB: Absolutely. Open-mindedness for one, honesty, as well as being okay with making mistakes. A lot of us are constantly learning, so continuous improvement, continuous learning is a big value with us, so people were open to improvement, but I would say the number one value over everything would be humility. That is really, I think, what separates our culture and really was the cornerstone for our culture, when it comes down to it, is that the humility that Brad and Ayman lead with.
I’m a firm believer that happiness in a company culture stems from the top and you know, they treat us well and that’s really the culture that we want. We want a positive, supportive, collaborative, inclusive environment and they’ve done an amazing job at doing so and it really is my favorite thing about adopting in here.
[0:08:01.0] RS: Got you. So the world was kind of your oyster at the beginning, right? When there’s not that many processes in place. It’s been my experience at that point that interviews happen, kind of accidentally or like by ad hoc. It’s like the actual interviewing group is different, they’re not really aligned to what questions are being asked, was that an opportunity for you early on to sort of codify the interview process?
[0:08:23.7] MB: Yes and no. The interview process honestly, it’s evolved a little bit, but particularly with some of the more entry level marketing positions that I have been working with and in my career, my specialty was more executives and upper level and so I hadn’t had a ton of entry level recruiting experience.
So what I was finding out at first is that a lot of the candidates I was meeting with seemed very intimidated and very nervous, and I can empathize with that completely. It’s a very nerve wracking situation when you’re going in an interview with somebody, and so one way that I augmented that was telling them all the questions I’m going to ask them upfront and not having them answer them right away.
But just saying, “Hey, just so you know and just to prove that I’m not trying to have you on edge, these are all the questions that I would like answered and we’ll answer them as they a naturally flow out through the course of our conversation.” And that really is, it’s the same reason why I wear a T-shirt or a hoodie when I interview people. It’s impossible to be yourself in that type of setting when you’re on edge or nervous or you know, worried about stumbling over your words.
So the more relaxed I can make them, the more honest they’re going to be with me and the more comfortable, and the more transparent they’re going to see into our culture because that’s how we’re laid back like that in our team.
[0:09:37.4] RS: It feels like the interview is just the best idea we’ve had so far just because it’s so unrelated to the way people do work and the way that people prove that they’re good at doing work. Like you say, if someone’s nervous and intimidated, which is totally normal, they’re not going to be putting their best foot forward.
They’re not going to be answering the questions in a meaningful, like thoughtful, best way possible for them and so, your role is to put them at ease but even if you do that, don’t you think that the interview was sort of baseline clunky?
[0:10:08.5] MB: Not really because there is a little bit of a lose structure to it. I do have a list of set questions that I want answered and typically, the way I leave questions open ended, they usually end up qualifying themselves without me having to ask too many technical questions, and you know, particularly when character and behavioral change traits are important as well, I’d like being able to see what’s important to them.
So there is a little bit of a delineation sometimes when we get off topic and on tangents but frankly, I think that’s where the interview, honestly, becomes more of a conversation, and it becomes more natural and authentic and frankly, more meaningful.
[0:10:45.3] RS: Yeah, I agree with you. What I am getting at though is just like it just feels different from the way people do work and as a means of assessments, I don’t know, is it fundamentally flawed? This is why you see period coding, and I am just trying to imagine, can we replicate paired coding for other job functions, I think you probably could. That is why salespeople do role playing. So that feels like at least one way to make it more realistic.
[0:11:07.2] MB: Yeah, I think so and to be honest, I mean, our interview process is different because we’re a different company. I know every company says that but what we are trying to change, the world, and we’re doing that by building a one-of-a-kind culture where people want to work, where great people, smart people, talented people want to work and so—sorry, I lost the—what was the coding part of that question?
[0:11:30.4] RS: Can we replicate paired coding for other functions? Is that necessary?
[0:11:34.9] MB: When you said paired coding, do you mean like?
[0:11:37.2] RS: Like engineers working side by side, like you are an engineer at the company and you work alongside with the candidate to kind of figure, “Okay, how do you actually do work?”
[0:11:46.4] MB: So we actually—our engineering team is all in Serbia, so they actually do a lot of paired coding as it is. They have an office that they all report into. So actually, I misspoke earlier when I said that we are all virtual remote, a lot of them do work together in that office. So they have the ability to work remote but they enjoy working together. For them it is beneficial and they also have their own kind of internal camaraderie that’s great to watch, and I think it helps with that.
[0:12:11.6] RS: Yeah, definitely. Could you tell me more about your background interviewing and hiring executives?
[0:12:17.1] MB: Sure, absolutely. So my approach, as before, is what I was hiring C-level, and that was mostly done back in the agency world executives, and I think the reason I had success with that is that obviously it had different questions for them than I would an entry level candidate, I essentially treated them the same way. I try to treat everyone the same and I try to act the same with them.
As far as yeah, I might speak informally because I am just being me and I am being real and authentic, and I think that they appreciated that. I was always still obviously very professional, but I think they appreciated the fact that I was one of the maybe the few recruiters who wasn’t calm, and I am always trying to kiss up and use that fake salesy, “Oh, hi! I’m…” blah-blah-blah and just talk to them like a normal person.
So, that was really my favorite thing to do, is also just the most intellectually stimulate, it also can be the most insight into how companies are structured based on their size, their industry, their needs, things like that, and really what makes a good management team learning from those people, even the ones that I have never placed, ended up being some great mentors for me because I just learned a lot about the corporate structure in general.
[0:13:28.7] RS: Is that a relationship-based game, the executive search and the executive placement?
[0:13:34.2] MB: Oh, one hundred percent, because those people are getting calls from recruiters all the time, and so I think when they find one that they trust that’s generally their go-to, and I think probably every C-level executive most likely has a least handful or two or three maybe but I don’t think that they are taking calls from every recruiter.
I think, I mean I know for me personally, I get inboxes all the time that I can’t even open and honestly don’t have any interest to open because I wouldn’t leave EyCrowd. There is nothing that could tear me away from this place but yeah, I think it’s 100% relationship-based.
[0:14:12.2] RS: Yeah, and all recruiting is to a degree, but I think in general, it’s such a big move and the compensation is so high and they’re so public. There is such a high level sort of visible roles. I think no VP, so C-level is going to our career’s page and hitting apply now, right? That is just not how senior people get jobs.
[0:14:32.0] MB: No and frankly, it’s a bit of a red flag and I am laughing a little bit saying this, is when there is a C-level executive out there and he’s contacting multiple recruiters all the time, and particularly to the point where recruiters like know this guy, it is usually a red flag that they are maybe not the best and their probably a little bit desperate for a reason.
[0:14:52.3] RS: Yeah, it could be. What was the hardest part about placing execs? Is there a specific kind of search? I know companies do struggle with it because you also make the hire along this, right? And it is such an impactful hire, right? They really can make or break a company. So for you, sourcing these folks, getting them through the process, what do you think is the hardest part?
[0:15:10.3] MB: It is really kind of a two-sided question because one, sometimes the client would be the roadblock. There was a situation where I was searching for a general council attorney. I had one guy who is just a lot more qualified on paper and just a horrible guy and has credentials, working sky high above the other candidates. The guy likes this guy’s style more. Well, that guy ended up being fired after three weeks because he wasn’t experienced enough.
So that was frustrating because I knew I had the right candidate and he didn’t get picked, and so dealing with clients that can be the most frustrating because they get to a point where was top position and the CEO is making that decision that’s based on his hunch and nothing else and there is nothing that you can do. So that can be frustrating, but I think really getting the candidate there is going to go back to building that trust first of all.
Did you say the right things? First of all, did you even get their attention? Then kind of establish credibility and prove yourself as someone that they want to talk to and work with in the future. That’s really the biggest hurdle I would say. After that, it’s pretty easy to call them and they’re usually happy to hear from you even if you are just checking in to say hi. I mean, you know I have been asked out to lunch tons of times just for that reason, when there is no real business on the table, they just wanted to stay in contact.
So that is really again, just going back to that relationship and that trust building, is just ultra-important with the C-level executives particularly more than anyone else, I would say.
[0:16:33.1] RS: Yeah, definitely and I had reported to me that a lot of times these folks don’t even really interview, particularly at early stage companies. They are sort of like appointed or they skip rounds of interviews or they’re just kind of completely outside the talent vehicle really, for lack of a better word. Has that been your experience?
[0:16:49.5] MB: Yeah, very much so. And because they move so fast and usually good executives, if they are open to leaving, they have other offers on the table. They are not just filling one. Even if they are being recruited, they are either checking those emails or they’re not, and I actually have like a C-level finance guy, more of like a financial modeler, and he was in final talks with the position of a boss, but I got him placed a day before he had to accept his offer up there down here in Florida and relocated him down.
So the timing there was everything. When I came to him and he was about to accept this other offer, we had to fly them down immediately to meet the CEO. So there was no first interview with HR or any other guy, it was like I had to call my client and say, “Hey, he literally has to make this offer or accept this offer by tomorrow. So if you want him, you have to fly him down tonight.”
[0:17:41.2] RS: Right.
[0:17:41.9] MB: So I had to get on the phone and you know, flew this guy down from Boston and it happened like that and he got placed. So yeah, talk about skipping steps there, not even having a phone interview to being flown down and meeting the big boss.
[0:17:53.3] RS: It is funny how that works because to me, on the one hand it’s like, “Okay, these people, there’s a different set of rules for them” but also, I’m trying to imagine what a meaningful initial 15-minute phone screen with these people would be like. It is almost disrespectful to be like, “Okay, let’s walk through your resume and do you have any questions about the company?” to make sure they’re going to fit. Surely that stuff, you can figure out without that call.
[0:18:15.8] MB: It is. You have to be very careful not to insult their intelligence and so you really have to come in with humility, but also balance that out with the fact that you know what you are talking about and immediately highlighting why this matters to them, why I think this is going to stand out based on what I know about them before I’ve even spoken with them.
Whether that’s anything from just the relevancy of the job versus maybe they went to the same school with the CEO or something like that, there is someone they know or they were referred by, whatever the case is, but just immediately showing that value of talking to me is so important versus growing them, which is just going to insult them and they’re going to wonder the whole time, “Is this a waste of my time?”
[0:18:58.5] RS: Yeah, exactly. It’s a different game I think. So Matt, I am curious for you, because you shared with me that EyCrowd brought you back into the talent fold a little bit, how you’re thinking about your own career development, the next roles for you, and just how to upscale and what’s next for you in your career?
[0:19:15.3] MB: That’s a great question. So I think one of my favorite things about being at EyCrowd so far is being able to see the potential that I bring in, and just adding encouragement and then watching the result. It is extremely gratifying and fulfilling and it just literally puts a smile on my face and when I see someone that I brought in, really taking that potential to the max.
So I think, eventually, after I’ve built up the company and get us all staffed up appropriately with a great team, I think at that point I want to build the recruiting department up so that I can leave it and go more into a leadership and development within our company, and taking that enthusiastic leader mentality to a role in that realm.
[0:19:58.0] RS: Got it. Well hey, Matt, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. So at this point, I’d just say thanks so much man for being with me here. I’d love learning about EyCrowd and your own journey and this stuff about execs. I think is really great too because this is a hard thing to hire for and you got still view, add to that. So thanks for sharing all of that with me as well and at this point, I would just say, hey, this has been great. Thanks so much. I love learning from you today.
[0:20:19.2] MB: Thanks so much Rob. Go ahead and download the app and I will talk soon.
[0:20:23.3] RS: Absolutely, talk soon man.
[0:20:24.4] MB: All right, see you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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