We have a special guest on the show today: Lou Adler, Founder and CEO of the Adler Group. A fountain of knowledge, he is also the author of the Amazon bestsellers, Hire With Your Head as well as The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.
[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.
[0:00:59.5] RS: I am truly excited about today’s guest here on Talk Talent to Me. Joining me is the founder and CEO of the Adler Group, also, the author of the Amazon bestseller, Hire With Your Head as well as The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired and in addition to all that, just an all-around gentleman and total delight. Lou Adler, welcome to the podcast, how are you, Lou?
[0:01:21.8] LA: Yeah, I’m doing great, thank you very much Rob for that really nice comment. Hopefully we can deliver on the goods.
[0:01:27.2] RS: Yeah, definitely. Did I miss anything? I was hoping to encapsulate a very storied career in a paragraph there, is there anything that we should add for folks?
[0:01:36.3] LA: If I added, it will only to detract from your lofty comments, so we’ll keep them there.
[0:01:42.1] RS: Fair enough. How have things been going for you, Lou? What have you been kind of working on lately because you have a million things going on? I feel like this interview could go on a lot of directions but I guess, let’s just start with what’s topical, what are you sort of thinking about these days and working on?
[0:01:54.0] LA: When I wrote Hire with Your Head, the fourth edition came out in September 2021 and the first edition came out 25 years prior to that, which was 1997 and in that original book, there was talk that the war for talent was going to be won because we have ATS systems, we have job boards and new job boards were populating every day and companies were building in-house corporate recruiting departments.
When I had a cartoon drawn at the time and it said, “I believe this is going to happen.” I said, “We’re spending all those money on trying to be more efficient doing the wrong things. The best people don’t apply to job postings. They might see it and then they’ll try to get behind closed doors, meet someone in a company, but the process for hiring great people is not the same as filling jobs for everyone else.” So that’s 25 years ago that I made that statement.
Tens of billions, if not more, have been spent in the last 25 years on trying to be more efficient. Every day, new tools come out so if you ask me what I’ve been working on is trying to change the trajectory of how the best people are hired and quite frankly, Rob, it’s been frustrating. It’s like pushing the rock uphill and every now and then, someone pushes it down and you’re crushed and you’re trying to get up and push it.
I’m a pretty old guy but I’m still working on it and I’m kind of maybe now a little more cynical than I have been. It is a tough challenge but it can be done and it should be done, so that’s what I’m working on.
[0:03:27.1] RS: Well, now, for our next episode, I can add Sysiphus of the HR tech industry to your list of interest there. It’s interesting, you called out in the 90s that the best performers weren’t necessarily applying to jobs, that the process of getting them in companies is different than filling roles, right? It strikes me that that’s still the case, when you think of the way that the top performers get jobs, it’s usually through referrals, maybe they had a boss who hires them into a new company, there’s poaching that’s goes on, et cetera.
What has changed with this new edition that you released the end of last year or last fall? What’s the update there? Is there a different mindset for candidates, what do you think is the update?
[0:04:08.9] LA: Yeah, I think that there is just too much emphasis on trying to be more efficient finding candidates and I think HR leaders and recruiting leaders and corporations in particular believe that, “Hey, if I’m more efficient, get the latest technology, I will be able to be successful.”
Let’s say that there’s this new great tool that’s just coming out. Every year, new great tools come out but if everyone has these great tools, nothing gets better, everyone has average performance. What hasn’t changed is the best people still get hired via referrals and it’s the idea of, if you’re only going to hire a stranger, the probability that person will be successful on the job is problematic. For the candidate being hired, he or she is a stranger to the company and the manager and the team, the likelihood that that person will be successful is also problematic.
You’ve got this dealing with strangers. When you deal with the referral, you’re converting, let’s call it an acquaintance or a semi-acquaintance. So that’s my whole focus is, no, you’ve got to combine high tech with high touch and you will be very successful. Those companies that actually leverage high technology to find and surface good candidates, but then talking to them and spending more time with fewer people, actually has great results. They basically convert a stranger to a semi-acquaintance before they’re hired and they become an acquaintance when they are hired.
I always say, if you’re hiring a stranger, the likelihood this person will be successful is remote. I say a lot about the candidates too. If you’re still a stranger to the team you’re going to be working for in the hiring manager, you don’t even know what the job is. Your success is going to be maybe good, maybe bad but you’ll likely more chance than not, you’ll be disappointed because you over emphasize the package you’re getting on the start date not the work you’re doing.
[0:05:56.9] RS: Where does that leave sourcers? If your role is to go out and find people who maybe don’t have a connection to the company or to you as the talent acquiring individual, how do you structure that approach so that you can maybe make that less remote that they’re going to be a success?
[0:06:12.0] LA: This is where I got kicked out of a couple of sourcing conventions. I think sourcing is, you don’t have to be that technical. Basic Boolean, a few words and a phone and you can hire people. The point is, being this great sourcer, coming up with all these great names, misses the mark. You got a couple of people who know the person – “Hey, whose the best person you’ve ever worked with Rob over at company A and B?” or I can look on your LinkedIn profile and say, “Hey Rob, I see you’re connected to this person and this person. What do you think of those people?”
If you think about LinkedIn as a network of 800 million people rather than a database of 800 million people, the world changes. I’m just going to find five or 10 people who know other people, maybe some of them are good and it’s not hard to find what I call semi-finalist. You get five or 10 of them, 15, you start getting on the phone with them that afternoon by next day, you’re talking to candidates. You just have to be good at generating referrals and being very comfortable on the phone.
Good recruiters do this naturally, I don’t know why sourcers said, “I got to be this great Boolean expert and do all this?” No, get on the phone, you got to be good in Boolean, enough to know what an “and” and an “or” is and what the title is. Once you get the person on the phone, if you don’t know the job, it doesn’t matter. I think you really got to combine basic sourcing skills with excellent phone skills and knowledge of the job and good recruiting skills and you’re going to hire great people.
Sourcing skills by themselves aren’t going to get higher grade people, then I’m as efficient, you just need to be decent at it. We’ve seen my best recruiters are okay with Boolean but great on the phone and really work closely with the hiring manager, that’s the secret to hiring great people, not being a sourcing expert. Now, I got kicked out of sourcing conferences because of that because they sell, in my mind, the wrong stuff but so be it.
[0:07:54.9] RS: This reflects what I’m hearing from folks about what is to the glove the best, most successful recruiters and it’s that they are a network effect themselves, is that they have over career, cultivated a Rolodex or a digital Rolodex of people who they can call on who are high performers who they know get the job done, and then when those individuals are ready to move, they let this recruiter know and then are like, “Okay, let me place you somewhere” right?
Those tend to be the people who are most valuable to a client, to a hiring organization because they are able to just point to people who are ready to move and who they know are already really great. Would you reflect that, that the best recruiters are network managers?
[0:08:35.6] LA: I think, definitely part of it without question. A deep network of contacts whom you’ve worked with in the past is critical. On the other hand, that deep network also allows you to tap into their network. Let’s assume that I’m looking, and I just was talking with the VP of engineering the other day, he is looking for principal engineer. Let’s assume that you’re doing similar work in another company.
They say “Hey Rob, I know you’re doing this kind of work. If I’m to connect with you on LinkedIn I can search on your connections?” I could ask you, “Hey Rob, I know this is not, job’s not big enough for you, but who do you know who will be great doing this kind of work, who is ready for a step up?” That will be a proactive question and you might – one out of five times you’ll have somebody, the best person you’ve worked with and I really push you.
More importantly, I can search on your connections and say, “Hey Rob, when you were over at this company, you work with this person and this person. What do you think of them through this job?” I’m being proactive and rather than ask you, “Who do you know?” I’m saying, “What do you think of these people?”
Now, all of a sudden, I’m tapping into that deep network I’ve already established with you, other engineers in the similar field and taping into your network as well. I’ve taken one person and I multiplied it by a hundred. Now I got a hundred people, I got the whole world.
Employers can do that. I mean, any recruiter who works at a big company, they don’t know everybody in the company but I guarantee, someone in that company could handle the job they’re trying to fill. You just look up, “Hey, who would I know who is as project engineer who might have worked with this kind of person?” You look up in your company on LinkedIn, you connect with the person, they’ll obviously connect with you because you’re a recruiter in the company and you search on their connections.
You don’t need to be a great sourcer to do that, you just need to – but you have to know the job and I think – so not only the network but it’s also a close relationship with the hiring manager and full knowledge of the work itself. This is the only way you have enough confidence to talk to these top 25% people and convince them, “Hey, we should talk about this as a possible career move,” Without that, you’re pushing on the cloud.
[0:10:31.9] RS: Yeah, that’s the more measured approach to the message I’m sure everyone’s gotten, which is from a recruiter that says, “If you or anyone you know would be interested in this role?” To me, when I receive that, it’s an instant turnoff, I don’t know you and now you’re just asking to be granted access to my personal relationships. No, of course not. If you are to do that step for me, right? If you were to say, “Hey Rob, I don’t think you’d be a good fit for those but I’m looking at this person from your network, would they be good?”
Then, if it’s like, if it is a good possible match, which if you’re a good recruiter, it will be, then I’m thinking, “You know what? My friend like, this could be a good fit for them.” I could help them get a better job, get paid more, whatever. I might be more likely to make that connection because you’ve done the work for me.
[0:11:19.0] LA: But I wouldn’t even have called you if I didn’t know you, Rob. I think the – let’s assume that you and I worked at the same company and it’s got 5,000 people. We might not have known each other but I would call you up and say, “Hey Rob, I’m a recruiter over in this city. I know you’ve worked through these kinds of jobs, could I connect with you and ask you about a few people you’ve worked with in the past?”
Now, right away, I’ve taken you as a stranger but since we’re in the same company, you would at least say, “Of course, I would.” So then I call you up a couple of days later and say, “What do you think of this person and this person?” Now, I’ve established a relationship and now, as important, I can call this other person up and say, “I was talking to Rob, he didn’t say you were looking, he just said you’re a remarkable person, I just would like to see if you’d be open to talk about something that could possibly be a career move.”
What I’ve done is I’ve taken a stranger who, I don’t know this third-party who you know, but I’ve used your name and now, all of a sudden, “Oh, how’s Rob doing?” They will call you back a hundred percent of the time because they don’t want to offend you, the person who referred it and I already know they’re good because I wouldn’t have called them if they weren’t good. You’ve just kind of – I mean, this is so logical.
Now, I’ve established a relationship with you for the person to give me the referral whom I don’t know. And I have to be credible and I have to know the job and I say “Hey, I got this spot, the situation.” I’ve got to be a good recruiter and understanding the job. Sourcing on skills and experience, it’s just like, it’s so high tech that it’s silly. I mean, you’re not going to – I don’t know what the logic of that is, it’s a silly approach to even use.
Why would someone spend time doing it when that’s not the way the best people look for jobs, unless they’re needy and desperate and the best people are never needy or desperate.
[0:13:04.1] RS: Yes, even – without being desperate, you have to just hope that you hit them at the precise moment when they’re –
[0:13:11.5] LA: Right.
[0:13:11.5] RS: Coming to market which is such a tiny window, it’s just very unlikely that it’s going to be the case.
[0:13:16.3] LA: Then, every now and then you’re going to get lucky but it’s random. I wouldn’t build a search firm or a sourcing career based on that concept.
[0:13:25.0] RS: The second part of that is, as you had mentioned, knowing the job cold, right? Having that relationship with a hiring manager to really understand what the ins and outs of the role are and that I think is challenging because a lot of hiring managers don’t really know, right? In terms of what the actual needs their team are and how that translates to candidates in the marketplace.
What is the other part of that, where you are sitting a hiring manager down and forcing them to be prescriptive about the needs of their team, and putting them in terms of what’s actually out there?
[0:13:58.6] LA: Well, let me give you a couple of examples. I’m working with one company earlier this week. VP Engineering of a company, most of you would be familiar with this company, a special area. He did a list of skills, 10 years of this, five years of this, must have three years of this, must have AWS and et cetera, et cetera. I just said to the hiring manager, “This is really not a job description, this is a person description.”
“A job doesn’t have skills, experiencing and competencies. Let’s put this aside, what does the person need to do to be successful?” In this case, he was a principal engineer and I’m listening to him and I said, “This doesn’t sound like a low-level engineer” and he said he’s going to help redesign the system. I said, “That’s not a principal engineer.” I said, “What’s the big thing?” “Oh, they’re going to re-architect the system so that the company can grow 2x in two years.” I said, “Now, we got something that looks like a principal engineer.”
What would a person want? Well, they got to develop and lead a team of six engineers to accomplish some pretty complicated technical work. Fine, I can put that down. I won’t compromise on that work, they have to be able to do it, but don’t tell me its 10 years. Maybe its 20 years, maybe its two years. In fact, I would tell you the best person’s probably three or four years, yeah, they got to have some experience, I don’t know how much they need. What you won’t compromise is being able to architect the new system that changes the whole nature of this specific product that allows your company to grow two times that in two years. That’s a big jump.
Don’t compromise on that, but the best people probably can do it, maybe in four years and one company and one year in another company. So they’re familiar with it but they can adapt to it. That was one this week. This afternoon, in three hours from now, I’m talking with another company that at one point in time was looking for a president. And it’s a company that’s probably $200 million, it sells agricultural products through a tractor supply company, one of the fastest growing retail companies in the world. I’m dealing with the board of directors and the owners and the president.
They said, “We want a new president.” I just basically asked, “What do you want these people to do, the person to do?” It was really, set the stage so that they could really control cost and control margins while they expand dramatically. I talk about the culture and I said, “You know, I don’t think that’s a president, that’s going to – you’ve got such a remarkable culture. I think you initially should get a strong CFO who’s got real operational planning and controls that can implement that kind of budgeting and control system.”
This is me talking to the board of people and I never even talk to them. They ask me if I want to do the search. I don’t do search anymore, I just need to sleep at my age so I don’t do the search. I don’t know that job, I don’t know that company but I understand how to organize work and what it takes to do that job.
If I did do the search, I could clearly call up the CFO and be credible, clearly call up the CFO and get referrals, call partners at Price Waterhouse Cooper or Coopers in that lot, whomever it was and get referrals. That’s the idea of, you have to know the manager, you have to know the team, you have to know the work. That gives you enough confidence to talk to people to get these referrals and have enough confidence that you’re talking with the person giving you the referrals as well as the candidates that this person really understands this job.
It’s something other than a bunch of skills and competencies and academic background. Sorry for that long answer Rob, but it got me going.
[0:17:11.7] RS: No, that’s what I’d hoped for. The focus on skills, I mean, I guess it’s like a table stakes kind of thing. You need to have it so that there’s like a jumping off point but it’s not a job like you say. It’s like, the job is not to have had two years of experience in this language, you know? Also, you’re not going to – on the phone with someone to rattle off a bunch of qualifications, right?
“Do you have experience in this, do you have experience in this?” I guess people do it but that is not as compelling as, “Here is the actual job, do you think you can do this job and why do you think you can do this job?” Is that kind of the approach you would prescribe?
[0:17:46.3] LA: Let’s take a look. I call it “Having to doing.” I remember a client from many years, this is the first .com boom back in 1998, ‘99. The hiring manager said, “I need someone with an MBA from a top school, double E from a top engineering school like Cal Tech or Stanford and probably wanted MS in engineering too, from the top.” And he didn’t want me there. The board brought me in and he didn’t – this is the time I was a recruiter and I did want to search, this was for a VP marketing.
I said, “Hold on Lee, think about a year from now, you hired the right person. What would you have accomplished with the MBA, the double E degree in terms of on-the-job success?” He said, “That’s finally a good question you’ve asked.” I mean, he didn’t want me there. It was kind of fun and he said, “I want someone to put a three-year product roadmap together because we – the internet is expanding dramatically, we’re putting the infrastructure piece in there, I want to have a niche that would really allow us to leverage our capability and technology.”
I said, “Fine. Obviously, they have to have some technical background but if I can find someone for you who can put – who has put comparable complicated three-year product roadmaps together, would you at least see the person, even if they didn’t have the MBA from Stanford or a double E degree? And my sense is they probably got to have pretty strong technical skills to pull it off, but would you at least see someone who’s done something as dramatic as that?” He said, “Of course I would. I just told you I would.” It was like once I described the outcome, the skills and experience didn’t matter, so then you think about competencies and communication skills, have that strong communication skills.
That’s such a personal thing because you might have someone who’s got a slight accent to you that appears to be weak communication skills but I just say, “Well, how do communication skills, and I understand they need to be important, how are they used on the job? Are they going to make quarterly presentations to the executive board?” Fine, I’ll find people who made quarterly presentations to a similar executive board.
Even if they might have an accent but they’ve still done it, don’t worry about the accent. Worry if they’ve made presentations to the executive board, so that takes away some subjective criteria like communication skills in the reality of the real work that takes place. And it’s just a game-changer and it just opens a pool to everybody. I know they’ve got to have, I recognize, they got to have good communication skills but I am not going to judge that.
I am going to judge the results of the work they’ve done and using those communication skills, and that’s why I say confer to “having to doing,” no matter what it is. “They got to have 10 years of experience in this.” “Okay, what are they going to do with that 10 years of experience?” “They’re going to accomplish this.” “Okay, would you see someone for me who can do that even if they don’t have 10 years of experience?”
99.9% of hiring managers say, “Of course I would, what a great question.” It’s just amazing how they just – when you kind of take that to, “What does it look like on the job?” the world changes and then that opens a talent pool to as many people who can do that work, and I don’t compromise on the work, that’s the difference. I compromise on the skills.
[0:20:49.2] RS: Yes and that strikes me as if it will be particularly useful when hiring for leadership, because 10 years of experience, what does that mean? It just means like you’ve been in the workforce for 10 years and also the soft skills, shall we say, of leadership are often different than the technical skills of an individual contributor, right? It is more about, “Okay, what is the actual…” in the example you gave, then they’d be able to give this presentation to the board, right?
They’d be able to represent their department in a meaningful way very different than a list of bullet points you could come up with about particular skills or tools. Is that the case? Is that kind of how you think about leaders versus IC?
[0:21:29.0] LA: Well, that’s exactly the case, no question. And I think that’s the issue is when you say hiring managers don’t know the job and even this person with the – I am not doing the search tools we’re doing, we’re helping in other company define work as a series of performance objectives. I think the VP of engineering was blown away. He said, “Oh my god, this is so great.” I mean, you could just see that I as a recruiter, and I told him I am going to have this conversation with you as if I were a recruiter, but I am not going to do the work.
I mean, I don’t want to do it and he said, “Lou please, do it.” I said, “I don’t want to do it.” I mean, literally when I talk to people, so many hiring managers need help in clarifying expectations, but if you can kind of walk them through and wean it out of them, because I know they’ve got to talk to candidates and tell the candidates, a good candidate, “Tell me a little bit about the job?”
“Oh, you’d be working on this project and that project. And this project is important because you’re going to be re-architecting the system. This is going to help us grow 2X in two years, which is our company mission, and you are going to be the key driver to that.” The candidate says, “Oh this is great.” As a recruiter, you really have very little credibility. I mean, you’re still the go-between but if I can get the hiring manager to say it, high probably the candidate will say, “This is pretty exciting job.”
I think so it’s the idea that lack of knowledge of the job, in my mind, is probably the key reason why companies don’t hire the best people, and candidates don’t take the best jobs for that. And this has been proven by Gallup’s Q12, Google’s project Oxygen and populous.org just came out with the American Workforce Index on what drives on a job performance. It’s satisfaction, the work they do and the people they do it with.
While money is important, once it’s above a threshold, it becomes you, have to be above a competitive threshold but once you’re above it, five or 10% more, yeah, it’s nice but it is not going to be the deal breaker. It is just interesting that lack of knowledge about the work is the key to hiring better people and making more accurate assessments.
[0:23:19.9] RS: Can I ask you about that boundary you set with the hiring manager in this case? Were they like, “Lou, would you just please do the search? Will you please just fill this role?” and you’re like, “No, no I don’t want to do that.” Obviously, if you’re not a direct employee of that person you have the power to say that. You have more of a circle around your work, like what is the skills that you are bringing to the table.
What is the offering, and I want other talent folks, even internal folks to have that same kind of energy to be able to know when something is not a good use of their time or not their job, just so they can up level themselves and be more strategic in the organization. Is that a reasonable expectation if you are internal, you’re a director of recruitment and head of talent to like push back on the hiring managers and be like, “Look, you need to take this much responsibility. I can’t do XYZ.”
How do you kind of set yourself up I guess, to be thought of more as a strategic partner as oppose to an order taker?
[0:24:13.0] LA: Boy, that is such a great question and I think the answer is complicated. Complicated because if I ask a corporate recruiter how many recs they’re handling and it’s over 10 or 15, we can’t do it. I just sit. It’s a mechanical, they’ve made it an overhead process, so the company strategically has said, “No, we don’t really consider talent important. You’re an overhead transactional kind of a person.”
What I tell recruiters is, learn how to do it the right way at least once with an important project and then do the other assignments the normal way and then you can at least leverage it. And in my book, Hire With Your Head, and the training programs we offer, we show how to do it exactly what I said, how to define the work, how to get referrals, how to push back on hiring managers, how to conduct a proper assessment, how to close the deal and how to negotiate offers, et cetera, et cetera.
We cover all of that and it’s highlighted in the book but from a practical standpoint, if you are working 10 to 15 recs, it can’t be done. The reason I say I don’t want to do it is I used to do it as a recruiter. I was a full-time recruiter for 30 years, I did pretty well, better than pretty well. The reason I just don’t want to do it anymore but even if I was doing it, I could never handle more than six assignments at any one time and most of these assignments are all different.
They were the same manager, director level or higher so I am working six jobs that would be equivalent to let’s say 125 to 250k in today’s dollars. You can’t put that much work and be good at it with any more than that. I mean, it’s a limit of how much you can be that. Once you’re at 10 or if you double that, it’s just paper pushing and hopefully and I think that’s really – it’s that issue right there. It’s a know rob that you’ve kind of hit that.
You cannot do this high touch work given that many recs, it just can’t be done and if you look at retained recruiter would never work that many recs. It wouldn’t happen. Corporate recruiters want to have all these efficiency but they get the recruiters too much work that it can’t be done. That’s a strategic issue that the company has to define. How they would solve that problem total, that’s an organizational issue on how do you – let’s take our important job and assign a subset of recruiters to do important jobs, et cetera, et cetera, but totally different decision making rather than hiring at scale.
[0:26:25.8] RS: Yeah and I suppose it’s on the leader of the recruitment team or talent department to reflect that back to executives and whomever else, I believe they call it recruiter load balancing, which is, “Let me just figure out what is the – given these benchmarks we’ve hit before and given the kind of output that this team historically has had, what can they reasonably be expected to hire” right?
Okay, they could get a little more efficient, they can maybe work harder but there is a limit, right? It was like, “This is how many people we have, this is how many roles we can fill with these people.” And if the expectation in the organization is higher than that number, then it’s either an unreasonable expectation or they’re under-investing and whose job is that, I guess, to reflect that back to the organization.
That stood out to me when you said if someone is handling ten or 15 recs that it just proves that the company is under-investing in talent. Who’s responsibility is it to – back to Sysiphus – to push that rock uphill and be like, “Hey, come on, this is unreasonable.”
[0:27:24.0] LA: Okay, so one you can say is the talent leaders but on the other hand, it should be the CEO. We want to invest in the right people and the talent leader has to be strategic enough to make the case. This was interesting that yesterday we got an email from one of our recruiters who was going through one of our training programs and he said, “How do I convince my hiring manager that I have to expand the search?” And it turned out, he did a supply and demand analysis.
Whatever it was, he looked in his local area and it appeared to be four or 5,000 – no, I think it was 2,000 people who could do the job looking on LinkedIn, using a basic search on LinkedIn but it also turned out there was like 5,000 open jobs for exactly the same person. You’ve got 5,000 open jobs, 2,000 total active and passive and 300 people who were ready to move who said, “I am open to look.”
I mean, so you’ve got the demand for that talent is so far greater than the supply. They’ve got to change the job spec. I said, so I think that’s one way to start at least convincing people to rethink the work as doing a supply and demand analysis. Now, you can be more sophisticated with it on LinkedIn and they’ve got all of these data tools to do that. Now, you can test me real quick. How many people are looking for these jobs, how many people there are, how many people who raised their hands and said they’re open to look. And you can do that in five minutes.
That pretty much tells you, “Hey, we got a challenge here.” In my mind, when the demand is so far greater than the supply, you’ve got to use a high-touch approach. If it’s reverse, you could say, “Okay, let’s take all the high demand jobs and let’s kind of automate these.” And I think the talent leader has to have enough knowledge and logic to kind of go through the mathematics, have the strategic issues, put together the ROI analysis, look at the tools they’ve got but I dealt with a lot of HR people and talent leadership.
“I am going to go get this new ATS system, that’s going to solve my problem” or “I am going to use [inaudible 0:29:18.0] and that’s going to solve my problem” or “I am going to use this new predictive thing and that’s going to solve my problem.” It doesn’t solve the problem, it just masks the problem and mistakes activity for progress until people get a look at it and say, “Hey, you know it’s a strategic issue and we got to get there.”
That’s where my cynicism, which I kind expressed at the beginning where I’ll be and it still exists today because these problems I have that you have raised today 25 years ago is exactly the same.
[0:29:40.9] RS: Yeah. I am pleased that you said it’s the CEO’s job first and foremost because you do hear this from or I hear this from talent leaders that it has to come from the top down whether it’s employment brand, values, just the prioritization of talent. The problem is that no CEO is going to say to anyone, “Oh, hiring is not a priority” right? They’re all going to say, “Our people are our best asset, we’re committed to finding the best people to build this team” et cetera, et cetera.
How do you figure out if that’s actually the case? Because it’s easy to say that, it’s a lot harder for that to make its way into investment and into various goals of the business, so if you are a talent leader and you want to work at a place where the CEO is bought in, and prioritize the talent in a big way, how do you make sure that they’re actually bought in and that they’re not just whistling Dixie?
[0:30:32.2] LA: I don’t know that you can actually make it bought in, so I will give you a rough story. I am going to say it was eight years ago, I met a 22-year-old guy, a brilliant young man starting a new company. Somehow, he met someone from LinkedIn, who I had given his talk to and he said, “Lou, I like your book and I want to implement performance base hiring at my company.” Over the last eight years, we’ve done a lot of remarkable things and he totally bought into this.
I mean, he was more bought into talent than I was. I mean, he is really over the top. Last summer, his company raised $200 million and he said, “Lou, my priorities have changed. I just got to fill jobs and I got to make money for the investors. They have taken me away from what I believe to be true and I just can’t keep all my objectives directed in the right way.” Which is kind of what always happens.
Everybody has a boss, everybody has things that drive them and prioritizes their work and their activity and it’s hard to make that happen. What I think it’s the result of the hiring manager, that individual hiring manager says, “I am going to hire an A-level person for this job and that person is going to drive that process” and recruiters have to find those hiring managers totally committed to making that happen.
I believe that the CEO can set the stage but then he or she has to say, “Your hiring manager is going to be measured on the quality of the people whom you hire.” And to me, it means that you are developing talent. They get promoted into other jobs, you open up your team to other people and the quality of the people you hire get promoted is going to be the measure of your success or not and until that’s part of a company culture, it’s not going to happen. This is where I say I am kind of cynical with respect to it.
[0:32:17.1] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. It needs to be reflected like you say in the culture in existing KPIs, are they public commitments being made, performance-based commitments being made. That is usually a good indicator but I tend to agree with you like you can never really know for sure until you work in a place, right? I want to ask you a question and I want to have you reflect a little bit on just your own career.
Because you are someone, like you said, you were a recruiter for 30 years, you had a really good go of it, you have found all of these varied and exciting ways to sort of bring your skillset to your market. And I think now is a really exciting time to be a recruiter because they are very valuable and in demand and there is a million ways that they can kind of offer themselves and make money and make a career out of this.
If you were starting over in the year of our Lord 2022, if you were like a few years into your career, you were going to make a go of it in the talent space, where would you start and how would you be thinking about the best way to structure your career and set out a path for yourself to make the most of the current state of the industry and technologies at hand?
[0:33:16.1] LA: Well, I had a different kind of a background because I didn’t aspire to be a recruiter. I was running a manufacturing company when I was 31, 32 years old, 300 people on a very good corporate track and I was probably a bit over my head but not that much but I hated the group president, I just hated him. He and I clashed every other week he came down to my facility and I quit four times in one year, but I was using these recruiters at the time who were very successful, so I just started talking with them.
I said, “You know, this was kind of a background” and so I had this idea that maybe I could be a recruiter but it was more a wild idea but one day I just quit. The fourth time I quit is I’m actually going to do it. I called these guys up and I said, “I am going to be a recruiter” and I actually gave a six month notice, literally the six month notice. I said, “I’ll turn this division around” and I did and I got my bonus and all that but I became a recruiter and I realized recruiting was a business process.
Now, I’m going to kind of answer your question, I have an engineering background. I really was an engineer, really was running a manufacturing company, really was the director of supply chain and logistics, really was director of financial planning and budgeting and really was an assistant controller for a company that made handheld consumer electronics. I did all of that stuff and on them was every year, I got a different job, just going, “I want to try this and I want to try that” and they gave it to me.
When I told that to somebody yesterday, he said, “How do you get in the top 25%?” I said, “You volunteer for stuff that you probably can’t do because if you screwed up nobody is going – they knew you couldn’t do it so it’s easy to do it.” I just – somebody else told me that idea and then I started doing it and it worked, nobody – you are not going to make it. “Okay, fine” and nobody, so they had low expectations and if you do make it, “Ah you’re pretty good.”
I mean, as kind of stupid as that is, but the real point for being a recruiter to answer your question is I really understood work at the personal level and I have seen good recruiters know the job and that snowed. It is not a bunch of skills, they just know. I know there was one search firm that only placed finance and accounting people. They only use CPAs to be recruiters. I hired a few of them, they weren’t great CPAs but they knew enough to hire better CPAs, but it’s the idea being if you know the work, you’ve got confidence in understanding it with someone else.
You can’t be snowed as easily. So when you ask the manager, “Tell me a little bit about the job?” you got it. If I was going to do it I’d say, “Okay, where area do I want to be in?” Nowadays, if I was like 50 years younger, it would probably be in business intelligence machine learning and something related to that because I like that, so that would be it and I know that’s going to be real advance, so I’d start there.
I’m going to be in this field, this is where I want to go. I am going to specialize in that, I’d start going to seminars, I’d start taking courses, I’d start meeting people and I’d build that network up. I probably in my mind, I’d rather be a third-party recruiter than a corporate recruiter just because I don’t mind being a sales rep and being on a 100% commission kind of a business. That’s a personal risk because you really are in sales but in respect to that, let’s assume you found that situation an industry like what you said it earlier Rob, it is about building a network.
You got to get on the phone and talk to people, meet people, go to conferences, speak at conferences, get in front of business groups and become a subject matter expert in your field and then when you call someone up and understand the job and they say, “I’d like to have you be the recruiter for our company” but if you know the job and can relate to people that way and understand what drives human performance, you’re in the game.
[0:36:45.1] RS: I love it. Lou, that’s fantastic advice and this has been a fantastic conversation. You are an absolute mensch, so I would just say at this point.
[0:36:52.0] LA: You got that right.
[0:36:52.7] RS: Thank you so much for being here and sharing your wisdom with us and to the folks out there in podcast land, if you haven’t read the book, you need to check it out. We’ll put the links to both of Lou’s books in the episode description, so make sure you check that out. Lou, thank you so much for doing this. I really love chatting with you today.
[0:37:09.7] LA: Happy to do it Rob, thank you very much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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