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Talent Speaks: Interview Series Episode 3

“I tell my team all the time, “you own your career, not me”. I can coach you on the soft skill gaps, or I can provide input on what I think would benefit you with your career in terms of new responsibilities. But ultimately, it is your responsibility to own your future.”

Welcome back to the 3rd episode of our ongoing interview series “Talent Speaks”. This week we sat down with Talent & Human Resource Leader, Chad Harcus. I’ll start by giving everyone a bit of context here, Chad and I worked together closely at my time at ACCO Brands and was very instrumental as I continued to learn more about talent strategy and relationship building in general. He doesn’t have a solely HR focused background and has continually had to learn and adapt as talent acquisition has changed so I thought he would be the perfect person to gain insights from. Enough pumping his tires, let’s dive into the interview.

NTF: So, tell us why you chose to lead the talent team within ACCO (as you previously were leading HR across the organization).

CH: By nature, I’m always thinking of opportunities to improve processes, products, etc. Within HR, talent acquisition has always been one of those teams where processes impact multiple stakeholders and as such is ripe for making it more efficient. I knew we had a good team and we were exploring opportunities to modernize and make things more candidate-centric and I was really interested in getting involved. I also wanted to manage an area I didn’t have previous experience as a career challenge. If you are too comfortable in your role, then life gets boring!

NTF: Agreed, I feel a lot of companies are dealing with modernizing the recruiting process. I know you have been working on a large career website relaunch. What did you learn about the way companies are building their career websites?

CH: Since this was our first major initiative of its kind within HR, we didn’t have a roadmap or standard process to go by. I think honing our message and selling the candidate marketplace on our employment proposition is what we were after. What I learned throughout the process was that we should always be thinking “would the candidate see real value in our messaging?” The other thing I learned was stock photography was not representing the authentic company experience. We had to invest a lot of time, energy and resources in capturing the true essence of our employees through an anthem video we created. This video became the backbone of our site and I’m real proud of the work our team did to create it.

NTF: Plus, I’m pretty sure you are featured quite prominently on that website! Within that project, you worked with a variety of recruitment marketing companies. What have you learned about recruitment marketing as a whole?

CH: Recruitment Marketing is key to navigating the Black Hole that is Recruiting. Would you sell a widget by only cold-calling a few potential customers? The Four P’s of Marketing hold true within Recruiting as well. I think the traditional recruitment model can’t and won’t work moving forward, which is why partners like Shaker Recruitment Marketing were so important in launching our career site; but also in educating me on the current landscape. To be effective, you have to have dedicated and passionate marketers who can not only sell a candidate on the role but also have them visualize what it would look like to be an employee. I felt so passionately about Recruitment Marketing that I went out and got a Certification in Recruitment Marketing.

NTF: I see more and more open positions around recruitment marketing at large companies so it definitely is a growing concept. So we in the HR community hear a lot of noise around applications — applications with long questions to LinkedIn “1-click applications”. Where do you see this trend going, and what side of the proverbial fence are you on?

CH: I had a Business Law teacher in High School who used to say “K.I.S.S.”. You can enable a seamless application process through a simplified application and simple, mobile-friendly technology. Only intake what is needed and move the process along.

NTF: Couldn’t agree more. The sad piece is even if the company asks for a ton of information, the recruiter generally only looks at their resume and LinkedIn profile. Then, if that candidate moves on in the process they are forced to fill out the application again! Everything is trending towards easier and faster (think every app you use on your phone), and applications are no different.

From working with you, you love the term “millennial”. What do you think the misconceptions are surrounding millennials, and where are the criticisms of millennials correct?

CH: I had three jobs in four years fresh out of college, because I was constantly trying to find my lifelong work passion. How is that any different than a millennial today? I think millennials get a bad rap and I enjoy prodding them on the stereotypes that get thrown around in the media. That being said, they were raised in a time where they had two working parents, a mobile phone, easy access to the internet and social media and where education was emphasized regardless of price. Those are unique pressures and opportunities that my generation didn’t have to encounter. It’s important that businesses understand these differences and find opportunities to embrace them, and even create benefit programs to support them.

NTF: Case in point where I recently wrote a blog about millennial misconceptions (shameless plug to my own content). Speaking of millennials, your team still attends a variety of career fairs at local universities, where do you think the world of recruiting is taking career fairs?

CH: I think for campus fairs, college candidates are looking to make a connection with someone who has “like” experiences and to the generational gaps, someone they can relate. I think it is EXTREMELY important to be genuine and reflect your actual company culture. Don’t wear a suit, if your office only offers business casual.

Career fairs are a point in time. I would rather invest time and resources in something that can allow candidates to reference your company well after the fair. Going back to Recruitment Marketing, change the “Place” in the Four P’s from a small branded desk at a college fair to a website, a video or something else they can visualize. I find that is more impactful and allows you to standout better.

NTF: I agree that being memorable or even “known” helps, but I do feel companies approach college recruiting the entirely wrong way. It is my driving rationale for founding Nine to Five.

Building on that, how do you think the job searching landscape has changed since you entered the workforce?

CH: Now I’m dating myself, but when I came out of college I found my first few jobs directly through recruiters (some I still stay in touch with today!), or through reading the newspaper. You had to network for your future role, either through coffee or lunch. In today’s candidate market, it is 100% about Information exchange. From a candidate perspective, you have Google, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, WayUp, etc. From an employer’s perspective you have similar sourcing tools to get access to candidates. This free exchange of information allows both sides to be data rich and potentially disseminates a lot of the noise in the past we experienced in job searches.

NTF: From a budgetary standpoint, where are you seeing a lot of companies invest their money (for instance, LinkedIn, agency recruiting, or job search sites like Indeed or Careerbuilder/ZipRecruiter)?

CH: My ideal spending mix would be: invest 25% of my budget in Technology (bots, texting, data reporting capabilities), 25% in Rich Content Media (social media, career site), 25% in Sourcing tools and 25% in a reserve for my team to propose new ideas. The marketplace is constantly changing and you cannot get locked into one specific tool or technology. We have such a diverse business in challenging locations, so you need to remain nimble to find the talent in the marketplace.

NTF: What do you feel is missing from getting the best return on investment from these recruiting platforms?

CH: The challenge is most vendors want to lock you into long-term contracts, which only help them. I can’t pivot quickly enough and evolve with the candidate marketplace. When I joined the team, we had an extremely expensive contract with a vendor that generated less than two candidates per role. That is why I’m migrating to a programmatic environment, which is data driven and flexible in arrangement. The key is to find the right partner who knows your budget and your organization.

NTF: Where do you see your team or recruiting in general changing in 5 years? We constantly hear about the “war on talent”, where having the ability to go out and get the best talent is key, compared to the “sit back and wait for them to apply” methodology. How do you think this will continue to evolve?

CH: I think they used to call it the “post and pray method” of recruiting. I would rather have a Recruitment Marketer who could recruit, than a pure recruiter. With lean budgets and doing more with less, I would rather have someone I could create an isolated marketing campaign with; than someone who could just source candidates all day.

NTF: Switching gears here a bit. I know you have a pretty lengthy tenure here at ACCO and my guess is you are seeing younger employee’s likely switching jobs more often than ever. What are your thoughts on this notion? Are there any glaring negatives or positives you see from employees switching companies/roles more often than ever?

CH: In my ten years in HR with ACCO, I’ve had five (5) completely different HR roles and I entered the workplace with a Finance background. I personally think it’s important to go through two (2) cycles in every role…for example, two merit cycles, two engagement surveys, two open enrollments, etc.…the key is during your first year you are learning your role and gaining trust of your managers and peers; but in that second year you are adding value. You don’t want to get stale in your skillset, so I see no issues with career mobility. I would just encourage employees to keep a running and open dialogue with their managers, to ensure both parties understand expectations.

NTF: I also have heard you mention how even for your daughters at the high school level, teachers are hammering home the idea that they’ll need an internship during college. Personally, I did not have an internship and was lucky enough to travel the country playing hockey. Perhaps this set my career back initially, but what is your advice to those college students who are under an incredible amount of stress to find an internship, pay back student loans, find a good job, etc.?

CH: There is no easy decision here. I likewise had to fund 100% of my college education, so it was trying to find the best paying summer job that also provided the best opportunity to learn and develop. I took an out-of-town internship in college that was in a field I knew I didn’t want to pursue, but it was with a Fortune 500 company which presented endless opportunities to learn about a corporate culture and learn another industry. I would just say that student loans can be paid off over many years (in my case it took 20 years!), so enjoy your college internship and do whatever is needed to get you that first job out of college.

NTF: Let’s talk about interviewing, since I know you have interviewed thousands of candidates over the years. We hear a lot about “best practices” throughout the interview process and there is a lot of research behind interviewing. Where do you feel companies are missing the mark with their interviewing approach?

CH: I have generally mixed feelings here. In Work Rules by Lazlo Bock, he speaks to the data-driven approach, with structured interviews as the best approach to ensuring success in hiring candidates. The research has proven this out, but not as strong as you’d think and I tend to allow a bit of flexibility base on the organizational culture. I tell my team that the interview is to allow both the employer and candidate to get to know each other and to make sure it’s the right fit for both sides. Therefore, I emphasize that the employer should still have the candidate in mind going through this process. If you need ten rounds of interviews to make a decision, than maybe it’s time to look into the mirror!

NTF: Do you see the interview process drastically changing over the years? Technology has certainly been added to the process, but do you feel a bigger shift is coming in the way companies interview?

CH: We tried to embrace video interviewing, and using technology to pre-screen candidates. Although that made the recruiter’s job easier, the business didn’t see value in it. If there was a way to eliminate all bias in the selection process through technology, I would think that would be the Atlantis of recruitment.

NTF: From a candidate’s perspective, what advice can you offer to someone preparing for an interview?

CH: Be the most prepared individual in the room! Understand the role, the company, the team structure, the culture…but most importantly, know yourself and be authentic through the questions you ask your interviewers. Remember, it is a two-way interview process.

NTF: What is the biggest mistake you continually see candidates make in terms of the interviewing process?

CH: As I mentioned earlier, not asking any meaningful questions. I always leave time for candidates to ask me questions and if they don’t have any that is a red flag in my book. I find that hiring managers ultimately want to have a dialogue with the individual they want to hire, not someone who they have to drag answers from. Ask the same question at least once, to two separate interviewers and see if you get a consistent response.

NTF: Do you have any funny or memorable interview nightmares to share? (Either you interviewing or you being the interviewer)

CH: Early in my career, I interviewed with a large bank in their derivative division. I had only had minimal experience with derivatives in my public accounting background, but listened to the external recruiter’s advice to “just go on the interview, you have the experience”. Well, after twenty minutes of technical accounting questions, the hiring manager told me “you don’t have the technical knowledge I’m looking for and this isn’t going to work out”. Instead of the interview ending right there or me walking out, he kept me in his office for another 90 minutes interviewing me and probing further. It was the biggest waste of both our time. Shame on me, but rest assured, I never engaged with that recruiter again!

NTF: Yeah, you’re not exactly bold enough to walk out of an interview that early in your career. During one interview early in my career, I was once forced to sit in a room by myself and take the Wonderlic test- the test given out at the NFL combine to all rookies. When I finished, the interviewer said he just thought it was a “funny” test to see if candidates do better than NFL hopefuls. Needless to say, I didn’t work there but also never found out how I did. Maybe I have some Andrew Luck type testing abilities and I never realized it. Moving on…

One of the greatest pieces of advice that you told me during my time working for you was to simply get to know my coworkers, to walk around the office, and get face-time in such a “remote hungry” workforce. I took that to heart and will continue to heed that advice as I continue my career because I truly felt it was simple, yet amazingly effective and meaningful. To expand on that, explain your reasoning for giving that advice.

CH: We all know that talent acquisition is a relationship business, but even more so, talent acquisition is trying to learn the business so well that you can actually be a talent advisor to the business. I think too often a recruiter accepts a job requisition and takes their 15 minute in-take call with the hiring manager only to instantly begin sourcing for the role. However, if you aren’t spending an hour or more with the manager understanding their goals and what makes the hiring manager successful, how can you translate that to the candidate? And you certainly cannot do that sitting in your cubicle. If you can “talk the talk” with your hiring manager, you will gain their trust and they will listen to your advice on candidate selection, job offer parameters, etc.

NTF: What else are employees that are new to the workforce “missing” from a general skillset? (forget technical skills — think people and relationship building skills).

CH: I tell my team all the time, “you own your career, not me”. I can coach you on the soft skill gaps, or I can provide input on what I think would benefit you with your career in terms of new responsibilities. But ultimately, it is your responsibility to own your future. You and I have had this discussion many times, but every project or activity you do is just adding another building block to your background.

NTF: Anything else you can think of to share with our audience? Keep in mind most of our customers are in school or recent college graduates and they love taking advice from grey haired men!

CH: When all else fails, trust your gut. If you are bright, hard-working and respect others, no matter what decision you make you will land on your feet. You will make the wrong decision sometime in your career, but trust yourself and believe in yourself that no matter what you will succeed.

NTF: Thank you so much for taking the time, such a pleasure to pick your brain.


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