All Episodes SeatGeek Sr. Director of HR & TA Frank Cebek

How to Recruit in the Midst of Big Challenges with SeatGeek Sr. Director of HR & TA Frank Cebek


SeatGeek Sr. Director of HR & TA Frank Cebek

Navigating Recruitment Challenges and Fostering Talent

This episode features Frank discussing his extensive experience in recruiting for SeatGeek amidst the challenges of COVID. He highlights the importance of their new finance and HR teams, emphasizing the balance between planning and agility.

Frank also shares insights into his current projects at SeatGeek and stresses the significance of foresight in talent acquisition for large companies.

He concludes with valuable advice for advancing in the recruitment field. Key takeaways include the necessity of proactive talent acquisition and the supportive role of recruiting within organizations.

The Full Episode

Key Takeaways of Episode featuring Frank Cebek

  1. Introduction and SeatGeek Overview: The podcast episode features an interview with Frank Cebek, Senior Director of People at SeatGeek, starting with a casual discussion about March Madness and then delving into Frank’s multifaceted role at SeatGeek, where he oversees recruiting, talent acquisition, HR operations, people analytics, and sometimes total rewards.
  2. Company Growth and Challenges: SeatGeek has experienced significant growth, especially post-COVID, with plans to reach over 1,000 employees by the end of the year. Frank discusses the challenges of scaling the recruiting team to meet the increased demand for talent and the importance of strategic planning in the face of rapid growth.
  3. Focus on Executive Search: One major focus for Frank is building an executive search function within the recruiting team to fill senior-level positions. He emphasizes the need to build an external talent bench, as these decisions are critical and require a longer-term perspective.
  4. Strategic Approach and Learning: Throughout the conversation, Frank stresses the importance of understanding the business needs, building relationships with stakeholders, and continuously learning and adapting to new challenges.
  5. Key Takeaways for Aspiring Professionals:
    • Bring value to the organization by being proactive and understanding strategic goals.
    • Build relationships with stakeholders and continuously learn and adapt.
    • Consider building an external talent bench, especially for senior-level positions.
    • Networking and in-person interactions remain crucial for career advancement in the tech industry.

Overall, the episode provides valuable insights into the complexities of talent acquisition and HR operations in a fast-growing tech company, with actionable advice for professionals aspiring to advance in this field.


Introduction & Seat Geek Overview

Hello, again, all of you wonderful recruiters out there in podcast land. talk down to me once more takes to the airwaves from the cozy, cozy confines of a blanket fort here in Denver, Colorado. And I have another wonderful guest for you. Can you believe it? He is the Senior Director of People over at SeatGeek Frank Cebek. Frank, welcome to the podcast. How the heck are you today?

Frank Cebek 1:20
I’m doing great. It’s a weekend so super excited. And also March Madness is in full motion and watching games all day yesterday. And hopefully after work. We’ll catch the second part around one

Rob Stevenson 1:32
like Christmas morning for a college basketball fan. And if Christmas lasted, you know, a few days, so that’s gonna be exciting. Do you have a team?

Frank Cebek 1:39
So I went to school at Siena College, which is a small mid major there unfortunately not in the tournament this year had a rough year. But my go to pick basketball school that I’ve been rooting for my whole life growing up has been UNC North Carolina, so target blue. So yeah, they have their game today. I’m can’t wait to watch it.

Rob Stevenson 1:57
Yeah, that’s a good one to follow. They’re always a strong team and my Purdue Boilermakers There you go, our number one seed this year, which we distinguished ourselves the last time we were number one seed by crashing out to a 16 seed. So let’s hope for not a repeat of history that time. But that comes later today. I too, am tuning into it. So yeah, it’s a fun time. And in addition to college basketball, you’re a very busy man at work. And when you kind of describe to me what you what you do, it sounds like you have like four jobs. Is that fair, I would love to just hear you kind of describe your remit to the audience, and they can decide for themselves whether you’re fairly compensated,

Frank Cebek 2:38
for sure. So I definitely started my career in talent acquisition. But I’ve had the opportunity to wear many hats, because the majority of my career has been in tech mainly at startups that are, you know, in growth stage. So currently, right now, at CPQ. I oversee recruiting talent acquisition, HR operations and people analytics. I was overseeing total rewards for about, I think, eight or nine months as we’re going through some change in leadership there. Oh, yeah, definitely have my hands full. It’s been a really great opportunity to learn and really do it at scale as we’ve been getting bigger. But yeah, team player, whatever the organization needs for me, you know, I try to step up and do what I can.

Rob Stevenson 3:18
I am a fan of Seek Geeks’ product, I, you know, relish any opportunity to not use Ticketmaster. Frankly, that’s gonna hurt me if I ever tried to review something from Ticketmaster. But you know, you got to stand for something. So anyway, how big is a company? I’d love to know a little bit about it, because besides using it to buy tickets last minute, I don’t have that much experience with the org.

Frank Cebek 3:38
Yeah, for sure. We’re about just short of 900. So I think like 875 or 885, by the end of the year, we shouldn’t be around just over 1000 If I had to guess. So we’ve definitely gotten pretty big. Over the past couple of years, I would say our growth from a revenue standpoint, and employee base endpoint has really taken off post COVID. Obviously, COVID was not a fun time to be working in the live event space or ticketing space. But it definitely provided us a really good opportunity to come out of it guns blazing, we had a really good opportunity as being the more smaller agile company compared to our competitors, such as Ticketmaster and stuff up. So yeah, we’ve gotten pretty big over the years. And I would say coming out of COVID heading into 2021, I think we’re about to 85 or 295, so to 85 to 95 to about hopefully 1000 By the end of 2024. So definitely a lot of growth, we’ve been experiencing a lot of great things as well. But as I said, there’s definitely given us a lot of opportunities as the people team to really step up and support our organization as we go through this massive growth period.

Rob Stevenson 4:40
So that’s like, you know, four or five exiting the company in a in a short period of time you in addition to ta you have a lot of other stuff you’re responsible for but were you overseeing the recruiting and that massive growth of all those new employees where do you have a hand in that do?

Frank Cebek 4:55
Yeah, I was I was overseeing team during that growth. It was a unique time. It was fun. It was challenging. So one of the first challenges that we faced heading into it, we didn’t have a true growth plan, just because it was very reactionary on how well the business was doing coming out of COVID. And the second challenge was we didn’t have the recruiting team to meet the business demand. So we had to do a lot of hiring, I think we more than doubled the recruiting team. So hiring those folks, making sure they’re qualified, onboarding them, ramping them up to be productive in a relatively short period of time, was definitely one of our biggest challenges. And also, I would say, since we are becoming a bigger, more mature organization, we definitely went from a star to be generalists approach in terms of what type of talent we were looking forward to, like more specialized skill set for business need. So yeah, it was it was a whirlwind for sure. I’m very fortunate to work with a lot of great people on the other operations team, especially in finance, where we had a good partnership to really, you know, build out a lot of processes to ensure we were in taking information that we needed from the business to execute against a pretty aggressive hiring plan for those two years.

Rob Stevenson 6:01
So in those early stages, where there’s not as defined of a growth stage, it’s more like hiring managers. They want resources they want to hire as everyone wants to grow, right? Everyone wants to make hires. So how do you go from that to Okay, let’s be a little more prescriptive about headcount.

Frank Cebek 6:17
Yeah, we’re definitely in that mode now. So we’ve actually started a new team internally on our finance, and within our finance department called business operations. So you have your true, you know, I would say up PNA, which is doing the forecast, building the budget working with the board to get that approved. And then on the other side, you have business operations with finance partnership. So that’s the team I work with a lot. So the in partnership with with a lot of other teams across the organization, they’ve been really building out a full fledged planning cycle that happens every six months within the org. And a large part of it is obviously identifying net new incremental spend, and the majority of net new increment spent is always going to be on your personal line in terms of the hires that you make. So we have a really good flow in terms of how do we get the information out to the business, telling them the why we landed on a certain figure in terms of what they can spend. But also, we’ve had the fortunate opportunity about two years ago to really start building out our HR business partner team, which we rely heavily on. So they’re essentially like our mouthpiece of the organization, but also the middle person in getting the information we need. So we’re not a part of every conversation, we don’t know the need the pain points that the organization’s having. So really relying on them to identify what is the strategic goals of that department or team and then try to articulate a talent approach to it to say, what what is needed. So not only do we go into this process, looking to identify the net new needs, right off the bat, the first part of the process is actually allocating your current resources to your strategic initiatives. And then we build on top of that to identify what the net new incremental need is. So it took us three and a half years to get to this point. So it was a lot of work. It’s not easy. We definitely messed up multiple times, we definitely had stakeholders who were not happy with us in terms of how we were going about this process. But I will say working at smaller companies, to Fortune 500 companies in my past, everyone does it differently. It’s super challenging. And I would say there isn’t one size fits all, you know, you have to tailor it to your business and to your stakeholders. So really proud of where we are today. But definitely was a learning curve, as I said, coming out of COVID, because the need was really identified only about three or four months in front of us. And we were being very reactionary, in terms of how fast we were growing and our revenues creeping back up to normal. And then also exceeding some of our growth projections that we had early on coming out of COVID.

Rob Stevenson 8:45
When you say the need was projected three, four months out, is that like a hiring need, what what is the thing you were being forced,

Frank Cebek 8:52
the higher the hiring needs. So I would say no, in current state right now, we feel pretty good going into the year, what our 12 month look is in terms of hiring needs. And then at six months, we make the reassessment coming out of the pandemic, it was definitely more of a very reactionary to the business health and how we were doing. And as I said, we didn’t expect to grow as quickly or we didn’t also expect the pent up demand to be as as high as it was coming out of COVID for people going back to live events. So it was definitely challenging navigating that. And then of course, when you are growing at that clip, and a pandemic comes out of the blue and completely changes the course of the the company. Priorities change within each department, right. So that means a priority changes the type of people you’re bringing into the organization, the skill sets that change. So it’s really just making sure that we were keeping a close pulse on everything and really just making sure we were getting all the information that we can from our stakeholders. But to be honest with you for about a year and a half, like we didn’t know the need past three months, right. So we would get, I don’t know in three months. Typically we would we would identify I would say anywhere from 30 to 60 roles that were incremental now. And then once we hit that three month Mark, we would then reset, get new, you know, 30 to 60 roles and then identify what those needs were so little reactionary, but obviously, that’s what it called for at that point in time.

Rob Stevenson 10:09
In an agile company, I mean, how far out can you project you can make a educated guess. But things change that quickly. So it makes sense to me that in a 90 day period, you, you might have a different realize a different need.

Frank Cebek 10:22
You want to be agile, I would say that was being a little bit too much to be honest with you. Just because, you know, even when we identify those roles in that short period of time, they changed throughout that three month time period. And I believe as you do become a more mature and bigger organization, you have to have better foresight, just because there’s a lot more moving parts. And also that p&l line is a lot bigger in terms of managing it. So I’m not saying like we shouldn’t be agile by any means. But we do put the onus on leadership and our leadership minus one layer, to really have a good idea of what the next year looks like when we’re doing our planning in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish and the resources that they need. And not saying like we don’t want add it throughout the year or change direction by any means, like we definitely do. And we definitely have a good process to make sure we’re getting that information as quickly as we can. So we can meet the needs of the business. But I still, I still believe that at our stage. And as we mature, we need to continue to get better at it. And we have for sure. And the other challenge as well, right now is, you know, a lot of the business knows that the talent market is pretty flush with talent, given some layoffs that are happening in the tech industry. So we’re trying to find that appropriate balance of being super aggressive right now, but also being conservative for the second half of the year. So that’s like something that came up opening year thinking that, hey, we believe the industry is going to reset, it’s going to get back to normal, it completely blew up, it did not do that in January, you had a lot of bigger companies doing a lot of big layoffs followed by a lot of series, ABC companies doing that as well. So that’s definitely changed our approach already. So for example, we took a good amount of incremental spend that was positioned for each two and pull it up to each one to take advantage of the talent market. Some still being agile, but definitely want to put the onus on leadership to have a good idea of what the next you know, six to 12 months looks like in front of them.

Rob Stevenson 12:10
You know it would it be understandable for someone in the position of a company growing as fast as SeatGeek to fill the roles in front of you a little bit. And you know, there’s so many hires going on, it’s a hectic time, it could be all that you can manage just to get the pipeline filled and get those people in place to do the job. It seems like you are really committed however, to plugging in these, these more grown up versions of processes and teams to meet the increasing maturity of the organization. One of those would be like the the HR VP team, I guess, or just function. And I’m really interested in that sort of triad, the HR VP, ta, and hiring manager trio seems like that’s how anything gets done outside of like the parliament, individual team, you know. So I would love if you could share what that what that looked like getting those people in place. And then what is kind of your expectation for them.

Frank Cebek 13:08
Yeah, highly recommend having a BP team. I know a lot of smaller startups typically wait a couple of years to hire one or two of those folks. But it’s certainly been a game changer for us. So we have a close partnership with that team. We’re not on the ground floor in the day to day working as strategic advisors to their talent strategy. And that’s what the BP is essentially doing with their stakeholders. So them having that information, and also providing guidance. And what we should be doing from an organizational design standpoint, really helps us guide the stakeholders decision making process. So that’s one way it really helps. And the second way is we’re not getting information late. So like say, for example, there is a talent assessment going on or potential performance terminations coming up. We’re getting that in advance notice so that we can proactively plan on when these backfill wrecks will be opening. And also we’ll get information from the BP, knowing if it’s like the highest priority if it’s something that we can plan and wait on? Or should we focus on the incremental needs that came in at the beginning of the year. So it’s definitely been an advantage for sure. It’s like I said, we hadn’t we hadn’t had this team until two years ago. And it definitely took a good year for the business to really understand the purpose of the BP organization. And we’ve been very fortunate to hire some senior folks from larger organizations to join here to bring their experience. And we’ve recently just hired a senior director, leading that team who’s also from pushing them even further and, you know, making sure that we had influence into the organization and how we manage our talent here. And of course, there’s a lot of backend processes that we did, as we adopted this this mindset and leveraging these bps, like for example, we just really flushed out our job architecture about a year and a half ago, which helps drive conversations doesn’t have consistent language around what we’re talking about from a seniority standpoint, the need standpoint or what have you. So not only having those people in place, but more of a structure from a talent perspective has definitely helped.

Rob Stevenson 15:12
What is would you say the, the pain of not having those folks in place, you mentioned how you recommend that people make the jump and get this team installed, what happens if you don’t,

Frank Cebek 15:22
I mean, when we didn’t I, I was going crazy, I worked a lot I was I was kind of doing the position of being a TA leader overseeing the operational component, and then being the BP and trying to work with the organization to make the the appropriate decisions. So it definitely was a burden. And just in terms of being a lot of time allocated to that which was taking away from other parts of the business I was overseeing, but also, not having that voice in a stakeholders ear to continue to, like I said, push our programs and push our strategies around how we approach talent, it really was just, you know, difficult to get everyone on the same page and speak the same language, but having that person continuously doing that. And having a good idea of what the need is based on the information they’re collecting throughout the year, has really helped. So for my sanity, it was great. But also, it definitely just has made us a more well oiled machine as a people organization.

Rob Stevenson 16:19
You know, Frank talent is a multidisciplinary type of role. And you strike me as a multidisciplinary type of fellow just based on, on what you shared me over the last several minutes, but we had to actually reschedule this recording, because you were pretty swamped with something regarding internal like equity grants, or I don’t know, it was a little a little too advanced for me. But that I think, was an indicator of you, as this like strategic member of the business that you are participating in those kinds of conversations. My question is, like, being in those kind of conversations very different from being very good, the role of talent acquisition, you know, it’s kind of a new thing. So I just want to know about you, like, how do you manage to be effective in those kinds of organizations? What is your background that would, you’d say allows you to take part in those conversations?

Frank Cebek 17:05
Yeah, I mean, I think just in my current situation, no, I’m a pretty well tendered employee that joined pretty early on. So I had the opportunity to build a lot of important relationships with folks internally, and understand how to navigate the business. And because I joined at such an early stage, I had a lot of opportunity to share my ideas on how to operate and how we navigate some of the changes that we were going through. But I’m definitely going to give kudos to my prior experience to before joining Sikhi, as I mentioned, majority of my background has definitely been in startups and tech. And even though a lot of my focus early on in my career was on the recruiting side, I definitely had to wear multiple hats of various startups. So like, for example, I worked at a startup where I developed the compensation approach to our base salary and our equity. So working with our legal team and presenting information to the board to get buy in and how we granted equity from an option standpoint, I worked at a company that got acquired by Pay Pal, so I got to see how big fortune 500 company, how they operated and how they leverage different parts of the within the people organization or HR organization, how to navigate the business itself and change. So I like learning. So I’m very curious. And I always ask a lot of questions and do a lot of self research on topics. But I would definitely say, you know, my current position, just being here, as long as I have, you know, having the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different things work with the people that I knew that were making these decisions, and also having some influence on how we operate even today, definitely put me in the position to touch a little bit more. And also, you know, just had been very lucky to have a lot of mentors internally here, not even on the people team, but on other parts of the organization that have definitely invested in me as a professional.

Rob Stevenson 18:56
What kind of questions are you coming to those mentors with?

Frank Cebek 18:58
Yeah, so one of them is a is in is in our r&d or leaned on him a lot built a great relationship with him. A lot of my questions and conversations are definitely more focused on how do I how do I get buy in when making a decision? Like what’s the appropriate route to go? So like I said, Really navigating the business at hand in terms of like, who are the main players and how to gain influence. And also, I think also just mentorship on becoming a more mature manager as well. The higher you get, or the more you move up, it’s not just managing direct reports, but it’s managing indirect reports having a bigger scope having bigger influence, so how to really make sure the people that you might not be working with in the day to day feel valued, how do you get them to be productive? How do you give them clear foresight and idea what we’re all trying to accomplish? So yeah, anything and everything just being a great leader, right. And you know, there’s other folks in the organization I also lean on just you know, if it’s something from a tactical standpoint, I’ve never been exposed to like how Have you approached this? Or what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced when working through a problem set like this? So, yeah, it’s been great. And you know, I’ll give some props to the recruiting team here. I think we have a high talent bar. So anytime I interact with somebody, they’re smart, they’re engaged. And they typically brought good experience or past experience with them here to CT.

Rob Stevenson 20:16
Now, Frank, we’ve spoken about Frank thus far, right? We’ve met the recruiting Ghost of Christmas Past, let’s meet the recruiting Ghost of Christmas Present. So what’s the what are you working on right now? What’s kind of keeping you busy?

Frank Cebek 20:29
Yeah, for sure. So our biggest I guess, challenge in front of us right now is that we have a lot of executive roles open. And we quantify executive roles as VP plus, so VP, and then like your chief executive life layer, typically, we usually have one or two of these searches going on at one time. Right now, we currently have six. So it’s definitely been a challenge. And given historically, that we’ve only had one or two active in play, at any given point, we typically have relied on external firms to really usher us through that process. So even before heading into 2024, knowing what these needs were, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to build out an executive search function within the recruiting team. Just because you know, we’re at the point of our lifecycle where we should be really doing this building a thoughtful succession plan is really important. And a lot of people think succession plan is only for internal folks, that’s not the case, you need to build a pretty strong bench externally as well. So really being going out to the market and building these relationships with these senior talented folks. And what comes with that is really just understanding the business need and having some foresight, and what that looks like moving forward. So working with our stakeholders to identify what that what that might look like and understand what the strategy is. So that’s been top of mind, it’s definitely been a challenge and within itself, because while we have these six roles actively open, we’re kind of building out our process from an operational standpoint. And I also have a very talented team underneath me, but a lot of folks on the team never been exposed to this type of level search, let alone worked with an external firm. So it’s definitely a lot of mentorship and leveling the team up and then really trying to develop our approach to executive recruiting. I’m excited about it, I haven’t really touched myself executive recruiting outside of being like the recruiter on the role providing support to the hiring manager. But from a philosophical standpoint, and operational standpoint, we really haven’t thought about it much in the past couple of years. So super excited about it, and also a lot of good momentum for Sikhi in terms of our growth, and all the PR that’s been coming out. So it’s a really good opportunity to like really go to the market and say, Hey, let’s build this relationship, guess what? We’re kicking butt? Do you want to potentially be part of this journey at some point in the near future?

Rob Stevenson 22:51
I imagine, you know, this idea of building an external bench is important for any role, but more so the more senior you get, because these decisions take a lot longer, right. And the roles come up more infrequently those people move around less. Is that the case?

Frank Cebek 23:07
Yeah, for sure. For sure that definitely is the case. And one thing that I’m really trying to stress on my team right now is, you know, it’s a different ballgame. When you have these searches for a couple of reasons. One, just the risk is higher, you want to make sure you’re getting it right, especially if you’re hiring external talent, this person who’s going to be coming in is most likely going to be driving some sort of like part of the business from a strategic standpoint and overseeing a large portion of our organization. But also, just from a resourcing standpoint, you know, it does cost a lot of money to obtain this type of talent, just from the acquisition standpoint, to whatever we’re going to pay this individual when they come into the organization. So historically, like these positions haven’t opened up, as frequently, in the past, I would say this year, it’s definitely ramped up. Because one, we did change our company’s strategy in our approach. So we had to bring in some new talent to really push that strategy moving forward. But also, we do need new skill sets as well. Right. And we need to bring in people that have been there and done that experience, right? Not to say like we have strong a strong internal bench we definitely do. But there’s a lot of folks in the organization like myself, who potentially have grown up with with the organization seeking and has only seen or been exposed to how we operate. So bringing in people who that who have that experience from other firms, who can potentially gain influence when they come with their past experiences is super important.

Rob Stevenson 24:33
Well, Frank, we are approaching optimal podcast length here. So before I let you go, though, I wanted to ask you to speak to some of the folks out there listening in podcast land for those forging their career in this space. What advice would you give them so that they can be more effective and, you know, move up into more senior exciting strategic positions?

Frank Cebek 24:51
Yeah, it’s a great question. My advice is always try to bring value to the company that you’re working at. So well. do I mean by that, you know, especially as a recruiter, I would say make sure that you are working closely with stakeholders to understand their need. You know, let’s not forget, at the end of the day, recruiting is a support function. And the way you support stakeholders is by guiding them to make informed decisions. And then from our perspective, as being recruiters is bringing in top talent. So, you know, work hard network a lot, I would say, you know, I don’t do much hiring at all these days. But when I do, I typically when a recruiter is working on a rack, and like, oh, I actually know someone from my past experience, or someone I spoke to, here’s someone that might be a fit. And that’s led to, you know, 1012 13, hires, even last year, just coming from my network. So really understand that your support your partner support function, and in order to bring value to the business, like understand the need and execute against it. And just from a recruiting perspective, build those networks, we’re getting away from the pandemic, in person interactions is super impactful still, and I think that’s becoming a lost art, especially in the sales and recruiting space when we used to rely on it so much. And it’s funny, like, especially, you know, I lived in San Francisco, the tech scene is a lot bigger out there. But in New York, it’s not nearly as big. So once you get yourself and make a name in the industry in like, for example, in New York, it really just opens up a lot of doors just from a networking perspective, and you know, helps you to maybe even find that next opportunity, or as I mentioned, like, get somebody in the door for a requisition that you’re that you’re working on.

Rob Stevenson 26:30
That’s great advice, Frank, and at the end of an episode full of great advice, frankly. So thanks so much for being here. Man. I’ve loved chatting with you. I really learned a lot from you today.

Frank Cebek 26:37
Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Rob Stevenson 26:41
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