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Jen Paxton, Director of Talent at LevelUp, drops in on The Growth Recruiting Podcast and dishes on how her team built the #1 place to work according to the Boston Business Journal. You’ll learn Jen’s candidate experience strategy, goals, and the pillars to her hiring process. She also offers advice on how to get out of your comfort zone with HR technology. Get ready to level up your recruiting!

The Growth Recruiting Podcast is available in iTunes!

Show notes

1:15 Jen’s path to LevelUp
4:29 Transitioning from agency to corporate HR
6:01 About LevelUp
7:58 How LevelUp’s recruiting works
9:20 Jen’s recruiting goals
10:30 Jen’s pillars to hiring
12:50 Getting out of your HR tech comfort zone
14:36 Deciding how to investigate HR tools
15:50 Creating an award-winning employer brand
19:34 Jen’s candidate experience strategy
22:09 Initiatives to improve company culture
27:51 Fostering career growth
30:37 How to make HR programs stick
33:29 Jen’s favorites
36:44 Jen’s contact info

Resources mentioned on the episode

Stack Overflow
LevelUp Careers page
Contact info – Jen’s LinkedIn, @Married_2_IT jen@thelevelup.com


Josh: Today I am joined by Jen Paxton, the Director of Talent at LevelUp, which is building next generation digital experiences for over 200 brands nationwide empowering businesses to engage customers, grow sales, and build a longterm scalable digital strategy. LevelUp was ranked the number one Best Place to Work by the Boston Business Journal and named one of the top 10 Boston Globe Best Places to Work in 2017. Jen joins the podcast with an amazing track record in HR and talent acquisition at some of the fastest growing companies in the Boston area and I’m excited to chat with her today about the strategies and initiatives that she’s been a big part of. So Jen, welcome to the show. How’s it going today?

Jen: Good. Good. Thanks so much for having me.

Josh: For sure. I’m excited to chat with you, so probably best place to start, give us a little bit of an introduction to yourself, your current role, company, anything you want to share.

Jen: Great. Yeah. So it’s probably worth noting that I did not start off in a recruiting background. Um, I actually graduated from the Boston Conservatory within master’s in vocal performance back in 2008. And then I was actually going on a lot of auditions and was not finding a ton of auditions being very lucrative and kind of financially lucrative, really. So I actually started working at a recruiting agency called Job Spring Partners, and that’s kind of how I kind of cut my teeth was on the agency side. I was working with various tech companies here in Boston, mostly placing system administrators and network engineers. I did that for a little while and then hopped over to another agency to place people on contract and temporary roles as well. I had so much repeatable business, and I really liked that kind of opportunity to foster relationships and really focus on one company. So that’s when I made the switch to an in-house corporate recruiting role. Started working over at Fiksu, which was this mobile marketing company. I actually joined them when they’re about 150 people and grew them to over 300 in that first two years! That was amazing and crazy all at the same time. That first year I was doing most of the recruiting on my own and then on that rapid growth kind of warranted us to bring on another member of the recruiting team. I recruited basically everything on the company side from sales to finance to engineering, and also learned how to really work on a really lean recruiting budget over at Fixsu. Then I did a small session at this company called Logentries before they got acquired by Rapid Seven. And then after Rapid Seven, joined a very small startup called TrueMotion they were actually a team of 20. And they wanted to really start rapidly growing. So in that first year I grew them from 20 to 40 people and we moved out of the Harvard Launch Lab into an actual space in Chinatown. So that was my first kind of real, kind of grassroots startup and now I’m over at LevelUp, being able to grow their team. I actually started with them at about 150 and now we’re about 216. It’s really been a great experience. Helping the company scale, improve efficiencies in their interview process, and just try and scale faster and smarter.

Josh: That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s really cool. I love a lot of the things you’re saying. I love the idea of running a lean recruiting operation because you really have to maximize every tool and every strategy and really every channel to produce good recruiting results. I think it’s awesome that you’ve recruited for so many fast growing startup companies. I mean, like you said, growing from 150 to 300 people, like not many people get that experience to work at a company and handle talent for a company where you’re literally doubling the company size in a short period of time. So I’m sure you’ve taken away a lot of learnings from there, but I’m interested. So you started on the agency side, Jobspring, Robert Half, and then you moved into the corporate side. So what was that transition like? What were some of the learnings from your staffing experience that you took with you to the corporate side?

Jen: Yeah, well I think starting off on the agency side is really valuable, especially if you’re going to go to a company that is scaling or growing quickly, which I feel like so many startups in Boston are now in that kind of rapid scaling, kind of rapid growth phase. Really at an agency, I learned how to get comfortable working with high volume reque’s and managing multiple hiring managers with various competing personalities – no, some competing priorities, not personalities, sorry!

Josh: Maybe a little of both.

Jen: True. Kind of getting exposure to working in kind of that fast paced environment where, things change a lot. I think I developed kind of this hustle mentality that I just kind of kept as I went in-house because you think that things might slow down when you go in-house, but nope, they move just as quickly. Especially if you’re at a high growth startup kind of like LevelUp is. I think kind of getting that foundation at the agency also helps, if that agency has high recruiting standards and also if they have a solid training program, which I’m both Jobspring partners and Robert Half, the agencies I was at, had a really solid technical training program and just kind of solid recruiting training program.

Josh: That’s awesome. Nice. So let’s talk about current company Levelup. So if I were a candidate, because I’m assuming that’s most of the people that you’re talking to on a daily basis, if I were a candidate, how would you explain to me what you guys do?

Jen: So I’d probably just start off first by saying I joined Levelup because it was disrupting the market and in high-growth mode. So what Levelup does is we empower restaurants to capture and engage both existing and new customers everywhere. So that’s where they live, they work, they play. We provide a seamless digital ordering/payment and loyalty experience for these consumers. Level up is extremely employee-focused and I’m really proud actually to work with such an inclusive and collaborative group of people.

Josh: That’s what it seems like. I was checking out your guys’ careers page, and a lot of the content you’re putting out. It seemed like a really good, diverse, fun group to be a part of. So that’s really cool that you’re a part of building that. So you said about 216 people now. What’s the breakdown of engineering, support, and sales? What does that look like?

Jen: Yeah, I would say we have a really strong focus on engineering and support. If I had to give you complete, formal numbers, on the engineering side, we have about 89 people. This includes software engineers, mole? developers and product managers. On the support side we have around 56 support professionals, which includes both our bilingual and our English-speaking support professionals that are working daytime overnight and weekend shifts. And then we have about 27 people that makeup our design and marketing team and some sales people are in there too. And then G&A is about 21 people and then our account managers and strategic partnerships make up about 23 people. So I did my math right. I think that is around 216 people.

Josh: Sounds good to me. We’ll call it that. So, recruiting for positions and they all span, you know, a variety of skillsets. I think you even said something about bilingual support team. So how many people are on the talent team?

Jen: I have a three person recruiting team. Pretty lean here at Levelup. We have a technical recruiter, Pat. He’s amazing. He has a great growth story. He actually started off at Levelup as a sales co-op from Northeastern. He did really well in his co-op and my predecessor, Aneek, saw a spark within him that he might be a great member of the recruiting team. So when Pat graduated, they reconnected and Pat joined our team as a coordinator. Pat has actually grown, with the team to take on full cycle recruiting and now he actually is handling most of our technical recruiting. We also have a very bright co-op Lauren on the team. She’s handling some of the coordination now and a few other projects. I see that kind of same spark in her and I’m excited to have her continue her growth at Levelup and join full time when she graduates in May. Even though I said we’re a team of three here at level up, it really is kind of an “all in this together” mentality. So really everyone at level up is a member of the recruiting team. A good portion of our hires actually come from referrals I think are actually around 30% at this time.

Josh: Nice. So what are the goals this year? Do you guys have like aggressive targets? You’re trying to hit a certain number of people, you’re trying to hire, double staff. What does that look like?

Jen: Yeah, so I came on board right after we received $50,000,000 in funding from JP Morgan Chase last May. So this really kind of paved the road for us to hire about 50 new employees before the end of 2017. So 2017 was really our breakout year. We pretty much doubled the entire company in size, we rolled out a new product called broadcast and that support team that I talked about tripled in size that year. So the 2018 hiring for us right now is more going to be about strategic hiring. So in the month of January, we actually hired 17 new employees, mostly mobile developers and members of our support team. So looking forward at the growth for this year, things can definitely change from our new partners and potential new product developments, but we’re not going to probably have as rapid growth this year. I think it’ll be a little – knock on wood – slower at this point.

Josh: Well it sounds like either way, if it was fast you’d be ready for it.

Jen: Yeah, definitely.

Josh: Cool. So I was doing a lot of research, I was a scanning of your linkedin profile in heavy detail and it looks like I found several consistent themes across all the companies that you’ve worked at, talent acquisition strategies that you’ve been involved with. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but these seem to be big things to you: using modern software and tools, and I see it looks like you’re using lever right now at levelup as, as your ATS, employee branding, candidate experience, company culture, career growth. These all seem to be the big focus points for you. Is that fair to say?

Jen: Yeah, totally fair to say. I mean, I think that, building a successful recruiting function, you need a mix of kind of operational and strategic strategies. So having a software that actually elevates the recruiting and interview process is definitely key. I mean it comes down to like if hiring managers are not enjoying the recruiting software, then it’s going to be a lot harder for them to put in their feedback, which then that slows down the entire process. You don’t know if you’re going to move the candidate onto next steps or you’re constantly emailing back and forth as a hiring manager, which might actually slow down your process completely and you might even lose a candidate that way. And then on the candidate side, you need to build out this employer brand that excites candidates, entices them to answer your email or your linkedin message. And this also starts, initially with just having a positive company culture. And I really believe this positive company culture is really shaped by the employees

Josh: For sure. That’s awesome. So I guess let’s go through some of these points, rapid fire here a little bit. We’ll dive into each one and hit on them because I think it’s, I think it’s unique. I think definitely when I was looking at your experience like it’s very unique that you’ve been able to bring all these things together and just come up with like a really cohesive recruitment strategy. I think there’s a lot of companies that do one of these things or some of these things or they do all of them, but they don’t really do it that well. It seemed like you guys really have your ducks in a row. So it was pretty cool to see. So I want to touch on each thing very quickly. As we’re talking about modern tools, I know we talked about Lever as your ATS. And you mentioned that it’s obviously really important if your recruiters and your hiring managers don’t like the software you’re using, they’re probably not going to use it very much or use it very effectively. So obviously that has a big impact on the results that you’re seeing. So for the people that are listening for people that are in talent acquisition and they’re thinking about trying new tools or new solutions, like what can you say to them that will help them get out of their comfort zone? Because a lot of times people are just satisfied with the status quo and they don’t want to try something new. So what would you say to people to get them to take that next step?

Jen: Yeah, I would probably, you know, even take a step back. So it doesn’t have to be the newest or the hottest tool out there. I mean, I have some tools that I’ve used, you know, linkedin, is a tool that is been around for a long time. It’s tried and true. I’ve also used Stackoverflow that I’ve also been using for years. So it doesn’t have to be kind of the hottest, or newest tool out there, but it needs to work for your team. So you really have to look internally, ask yourself the question, “What is this tool going to do for my team and is that actually going to impact my team’s productivity?”That’s a big thing to talk about first. And some of the newer tools out there, they may be great, but also some of them are just repackaging of kind of the same ineffective tools from before that I used, but just maybe have a better UI potentially. Or a better, you know, X. You really do have to think about, “Is this going to make my team more effective?” And if it isn’t then move on to something else or explore something else further. I also think getting sandboxes from vendors is important as well so that you can kind of use the tool and see if it’s gonna work for you. There have been tools that I’ve signed up for on contract before and I’ve gotten into using them and for some reason or another, my brain just does not work the way the tool wants it to work. So being able to actually try out the tool first and make sure that my brain is going to understand what’s going on with the tool and it’s going to work. That’s really important as well.

Josh: Nice. And so as you guys were thinking about the tools that you’re using in your recruitment strategy, are you like meeting as a team and coming up with goals or things or metrics that you want to improve on and then trying to identify certain tools that you’ll want to look into in the future? Like are you planning ahead, you know, let’s say 90 days from now, you know, we’re hoping to have looked into, tools x, Y and Z or what does that planning process look like for you guys?

Jen: Yeah, we’re definitely thinking about the tools that we want to use and actually trying to think as strategically as possible on what’s going to help us. Trying out anything that’s going to maybe streamline our interview process or potentially even in our sourcing process. I talked to a good amount of vendors, at least at least one vendor a week now, where they will do a demo with me on their product and I have a running list of all of these softwares and I’m kind of seeing if that solution is actually going to solve a problem that I have right now or, as you kind of alluded to it, is it going to solve a problem in the future? Um, that I feel like that regularly occurs at this point.

Josh: Right on. Let’s jump into employer branding. Obviously this is a big focus for you guys and definitely a strong point. I mean, number onebest place to work. It’s not a bad honor to receive but that definitely doesn’t come without strategic efforts being put towards, achieving that type of goal. Right? I mean, it’s not just something that happens. You guys definitely have a big focus on it. So what are you guys doing right now to showcase your employer brand to tell the story of your employees? Like what do you guys doing?

Jen: Yeah, I mean, I honestly think it is a team effort. Like I don’t think one person creates the employer brand. We’re using our entire team to really help us define our brand. It’s the people that are working on the product really shape it, getting an understanding of what they do and why they joined Levelup is important to help us actually create a story. What makes them stay at Levelup and the things that they’ve learned while working here. I feel like that ignites these talking points from me when I’m talking with candidates on my phone screens or when we talk with people on site. I can talk about these individual employee stories and that helps the candidate to personally engage with members of our team. Even if it is not a candidate that is interviewing for a specific role that this other person has been on, but showing and talking about the growth path, that employees have had here. That just alludes to the the employee-first nature, that Levelup has.

Josh: Sure, sure. And you guys do a really good job though of not just building that but showcasing it. So just in my communication with you, I saw in your email signature you’ve got a link to your glassdoor profile, you’ve got a link to an article about you guys being a best place to work. So it’s something that you’re strategically inserting into these touchpoints with your candidates. I’m on your careers page, I see quotes from employee testimonials from people that work there. It seems like you guys have a really well thought-out approach to making sure that not only do you have a good employer brand, but you’re showcasing it and you’re telling that story and you’re getting that content in front of candidates.

Jen: Yeah. We can help the information to the candidate marketplace pretty much trying to leverage any publication we can. We work with VentureFizz, we work with Belts in Boston?. We post things on our Levelup blog. Another thing that we implemented recently, about two months ago at this point, and we did an office tour video and so we have put that into our phone screen. So anybody who gets a phone screen invite will also get a link that says, “To familiarize yourself with Levelup, take a look at our office tour!” and it goes through our entire office, it talks about all of our employee perks, you get to meet some of the people in the office and hear from them why they joined the company. So it’s just another way for us to highlight our kind of culture to potential employees.

Josh: We just did something super similar. We have some sales candidates that we’re introducing that aren’t local, so we wanted to give them like a tour of the office. So we had a sales manager do like a selfie style . Probably didn’t seem as professional as the one it sounds like you guys have, but we did like a selfie-style tour just showing the different floors of the office and the different spaces and I think it goes a long way. I mean it really gives candidates – because they’ve never stepped foot in your office – so it kind of gives them an idea of like the type of people that work there, what are people dress like, what are they doing and what’s the energy like, what does the office look like. So it’s a good behind the scenes differentiator I guess, right? Your candidates are talking to other companies too, so those are the types of things that definitely sets you guys apart. So that’s awesome. You guys are so ahead of the curve there. So let’s talk about candidate experience. Is there anything you guys are doing strategically to focus on the candidate experience? Like making the whole hiring process better for the people that are trying to work at Levelup?

Jen: So I think candidate experience is really important. Each time somebody interacts with our company, it’s important. So I think going in with that mentality that how we treat every candidate impacts the overall experience of Levelup. So having the mentality of even if they’re not the right fit for this position that they’re interviewing for right now, they may be a fit for the future or they might know somebody that knows, somebody that might be a good fit. So I feel like making sure every candidate has a great experience at Levelup has been really important. So we try and train our managers on that. We’re going to be rolling out later next quarter at this point, a candidate survey so we can actually just improve our process. But we also have started to build in this baseline for interviewers. So not just asking the candidates what they’ve done, in each of their roles, but focusing on specific traits that the hiring manager thinks would be a good attribute for the person coming into this role. Having those focused interviews to be specific to one or two traits I would say that’s also improved our candidate experience and I feel like it makes it more enjoyable for the interviewer and for the candidate because they’re not asked the same question, during five interviews, you know?

Josh: Yeah, for sure. And I think, subtly, having a good candidate experience is also a recruiting advantage. So not only are they having a good experience that are going through a hiring process, but it just says a lot about your organization that you put thought in these types of things. And that’s the type of company that I think any candidate would want to work at. So while yes, in the moment it’s creating a great experience and the candidate will tell their friends about it, how amazing the hiring process was and how seamless it was now organized it was, sublty it’s making them really want to work for your organization because they had such a good experience and a good impression of your company because you guys are the front lines. You’re essentially in the face of the company. It’s..

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“Anyone at Tesla can, and should, email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company.”

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk recently stated these communication expectations in an in-depth email to employees. After explaining that there should be no hierarchical chain of communication, he went on to explain why.

“We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.” he wrote.

Musk’s demand for open flow of communication between all employees isn’t just above the movement of information. Instead, his communication philosophy is a call for true collaboration throughout all of Tesla — for the betterment of Tesla.

By applying this philosophy to the hiring process, HR pros can improve the quality of hires and the candidate experience. With strong collaboration, they can also stop wasting time and losing the impact of messages by siloing information between departments and employees.

Here’s how Musk’s communication philosophy will increase collaboration and improve your hiring strategy:

Cultural fit gets taken up a notch

Cultural fit is a company-wide issue. So, it should be approached in a collective and unified manner. Remember, “we are all in the same boat.”

Unfortunately, many HR pros drip information through departments. They talk to department managers about their cultural fit needs for a position, then managers speak to their staff, and the information is funnelled back around to the decision makers. This delays the flow of communication and lessens the impact of the messages relayed.

Don’t let important cultural fit information up to the company grapevine. #hiringprocess
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However, by stepping outside of departmental lines and openly communicating cultural fit needs, the entire workforce can directly focus on improving the company with better hires.   

Drop the middleman.  

Go directly to current employees to discuss cultural fit. Ask them what beliefs, attitudes, and personalities excel as part of their team and what an ideal candidate looks like.

Encourage them to discuss their own experiences. Did they immediately feel like they belonged on the team? Of employees they’ve seen leave, was it because of poor cultural fit?

Once you have a clearer picture, take collaboration even deeper into your hiring strategy. Bring employees in on interviews so they can assess a candidate’s cultural fit firsthand.

New talent pipelines are cracked open

When information is free-flowing between employees and the HR department, employees feel more connected with the hiring process. They’ll feel trusted and know their opinions are important when HR pros come to them for information.

This bond is crucial for the success of your hiring strategy. This is especially true when it comes to finding and nurturing those valuable new talent pipelines.

And if you’re like most companies, this is a major priority. In fact, in my team’s latest report, 2018 Growth Hiring Trends in the United States, 67 percent of the fastest-growing companies noted finding new talent pools as their highest priority in 2018.

Focusing on finding new talent pools becomes exponentially easier when you’re collaborating with your team. When employees feel valued, they’ll be more open and willing to share referrals. This creates an increased flow of new and high-quality talent delivered directly to you.

Candidates immediately feel welcomed

Inclusion and belonging aren’t important factors just for new hires and current employees anymore. Recruiters and HR pros are now making them a top focus in their hiring strategies.

Over half of companies in LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 say they’re “very” or “extremely” focused on both.

Tight-knit communications with all of your employees will shine through in every part of the hiring process. The more candidates see and interact with your current employees, the more they’ll feel welcomed early on in the process.

Strong internal communications will shine through in your #hiringprocess.
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If employees are already included in interviews, encourage them to open up and discuss their role, what they love about it, and even something personal about themselves.

If bringing employees in on interviews isn’t plausible, ask a few employees from each department to make selfie-testimonials. These personalized videos will show off your team’s culture and company atmosphere, helping candidates make an immediate connection.

How do you collaborate with all the employees at your company? Let us know!

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Just like candidates, hiring professionals come in all shapes and sizes. A combination of personality traits, experiences, and professional skills on the hiring team ensure companies hire diverse top talent.

In fact, too much of one hiring process style can stunt your growth. This causes your process and client relationships to drastically suffer. It’s important to consistently look at your overall hiring strategy with a critical eye and maintain the ultimate stylistic-balance.

In my 6+ years in the HR tech world, I’ve witnessed many types of hiring professionals. Each unique style has proven its own way of finding, attracting, and hiring quality candidates. I’ve learned hiring professionals typically fall into four general categories.

Let’s take a look at which style best describes you and your hiring process:

1. The all recruiting, no play hiring pro

The ‘all recruit and no play’ hiring pro doesn’t mess around when it comes to finding the right talent for their teams. To do this, they tend to play by the book — rarely ever straying from guidelines, job descriptions, or even interview scripts.

They often miss out on truly connecting with candidates because they’re so focused on checking boxes. This style makes it difficult to see when a candidate shows cultural fit and the ability to grow and excel in atypical ways.

Focusing too much on checking off #hiring boxes limits your ability to find top talent.
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If this sounds like you, add open-ended cultural fit and fun experience questions to your interview questionnaire. Fully focus on candidates’ answers and make room for deeper, more meaningful connections.

2. The overly enthusiastic hiring pro

This type of hiring pro is the recruiting and hiring world’s cheerleader. Everyone they meet knows they’re hiring.

Having a passion for finding amazing candidates and placing them in roles where they’ll flourish is a positive trait. However, an unsolicited explosion of energy and passion comes off as disingenuine and too in-your-face — a major candidate turnoff.

Candidates want — and deserve — someone who is excited to put them in a new role. They also connect better with someone who can slow down, get real, and relate to their experience.

If you find yourself trying to convince talent the role is the best fit for them instead of finding out where they want to fit in the equation, stop and take a breath. Step back and consider how you’re approaching candidates. Give them time to evaluate the details and ask questions before showing your unabridged enthusiasm about the opportunity.

3. The fill-it-and-move-on hiring pro

Saving time and money while attracting top talent is a dream all hiring pros can relate to.

In fact, 56 percent of rapidly growing companies want to shorten their hiring process, according to the new 2018 Growth Hiring Trends in the United States report from my team here at Spark Hire. Even more surprising, of the companies that take less than a week, half of them responded they can still improve their time to hire.

While a shorter hiring process is a benefit, the ‘fill it and move on’ hiring pro is so focused on a short hiring time, they’re more likely to miss opportunities to fill positions with the best candidates. As a result, company growth remains stagnant and retention rates deteriorate.

If you’re focused more on a role’s closing date than on candidates, this may be your hiring style. Stop looking at a timeline and hone in specifically on finding the best-suited talent for your open roles. You’ll find switching your focus to the quality of your talent saves time and money in the long run.

Shorten the #hiringprocess by focusing on candidates, not a timeline.
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4. The modern tech hiring pro

Sixty-two percent of companies in our previously mentioned survey said following the latest hiring trends and using modern tools are very important for rapid growth hiring.

While keeping up with new hiring tech and trends propels your hiring strategy forward, you need to proceed with caution. Putting too much time and energy into trying every new recruitment and hiring tool will result in a sluggish hiring process.

If you find yourself caught up in new hiring gadgets, gizmos, and latest hiring trends, pause and take the time to reevaluate what is already working. Focus on the tools that have improved the candidate experience.

Candidates don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out the latest and greatest app. They want to be empowered to apply, showcase their skills and personalities, interview, and take the next step in their career paths.

Keep track of the effectiveness of your hiring tools by collecting ongoing data through candidate surveys. Before adding a new one to your process, ask yourself if it will enhance the candidate experience and improve your ability to quickly and effectively evaluate top talent.

What type of hiring pro are you? Let us know!

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Eric Siu, CEO of Single Grain, one half of The Marketing School Podcast, and voice behind the Growth Everywhere podcast, joins The Growth Recruiting Podcast to share how he recruits for his fast growing digital marketing agency. In this episode, you’ll learn how to use proven marketing techniques to drive amazing recruiting results. Eric discusses his role in the hiring process as CEO and gives tips on improving your candidate conversions.

The Growth Recruiting Podcast is available in iTunes!

Show notes

1:24 About Eric
4:22 About Single Grain
6:20 Eric’s recruiting strategy
11:00 Hiring for positions outside your wheelhouse
13:35 Single Grain’s end-to-end hiring process
14:44 Eric’s secret to getting candidates completing video interviews
16:41 Applying Marketing techniques to hiring
18:50 A CEO’s role in Hiring
21:03 Single Grain’s hiring course
22:07 Eric’s advice to scaling your team
25:45 Improving candidate conversion like a marketer
28:36 Eric’s favorites
30:53 Eric’s new SaaS product (clickflow.io)

Resources mentioned on the episode

Spark Hire
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
The A-Player Hiring Blueprint
LinkedIn Recruiter
Careers at Single Grain
Contact info – eric@singlegrain.com or Twitter @ericosiu


Josh: Welcome to The Growth Recruiting Podcast. My name is Josh Tolan and today I am joined by Eric Siu, the CEO of Single Grain, which is a digital marketing agency that helps fortune 500 companies along with venture backed startups scale their revenue. Eric is a contributing writer to Entrepreneur magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Fast Company, and Time magazine. He also hosts two tremendously popular podcasts Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere. I’m a big fan of Eric’s work than I am so stoked to have him on the podcast today. Eric, what’s up man?

Eric: Josh, thanks so much for having me.

Josh: For sure. For sure. How’s everything going?

Eric: Things are great, man. I trust things are good in your world.

Josh: Everything is good. I can’t complain. So I gave the audience a little bit of a teaser about your background, but the best place to start is if you could give a little bit of an introduction about yourself and your company and what you’re up to.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. So my background, let’s see. I worked in tech before led marketing for a online education startup called Treehouse.Long story short, we basically were about to run out of cash, but now the company is a $100 billion company. And then from there, I had the unique challenge of, being able to save a failing company instead of a stagnant company. I decided to take the challenge because, you know, what am I going to lose right? But one year into it, I actually ended up taking over the entire company. So I own the whole thing now.

And, you know, I’ve just really enjoyed teaching people so, all the stuff I learned around marketing, from guys like yourself, and other entrepreneurs, I have the Growth Everywhere Podcast for that. And then Marketing School is just where I get to nerd out with my colleague Neil Patel and just nerd out on those things and kind of hold ourselves accountable to staying good at marketing as well. And then beyond that, right now we have a SaaS tool that we’re working on. I have my hands in many different cookie jars,cause I like working on different things.

Josh: That’s awesome. Yeah. Well I have to say that I’m a huge fan as you know, of all of the marketing content did that you guys put out. I definitely am a big follower and learn a lot from what you guys are putting out there. So I have to ask and enlighten the audience as well. So we both went to UC San Diego. We both studied economics and it looks like you… Did you minor in history as well?

Eric: I did.

Josh: That’s the exact same path that I took. So now I’m the CEO of a company that is a technology company serving, the HR and recruitment industry and you are the CEO of a digital marketing agency. So we both didn’t go down the economic path. What really led you into the marketing world?

Eric: Honestly, coming out of UC San Diego, this is like right after the whole financial crisis. So the only job I could get, and I live in downtown LA right now. I’m actually looking at the building that I first started working in. It’s the Wells Fargo Building and you know, the first job I got was a dead end data entry job and I was like, man. I remember Mike Judge who created Silicon Valley and Beavis and Butt-head. He was the commencement speaker and coming out of college I was like, “Man, this is it, huh? Like you sitting in a cubicle like this is it.” And that’s exactly what happened to me. Then, I knew it wasn’t for me anymore when there was a guy that was nine years older than me, graduated from Harvard and he was just sitting there. And, his life was just looked like it was over, right? So, my friend told me about digital marketing and I ended up getting into that and then, I just think kind of compounded from there and I never looked back.

Josh: That’s awesome. I mean, you’ve just been all over the place. I’ve seen you traveling, you’re speaking… How many different countries have you been to or can you even keep track anymore?

Eric: Oh man, if I open, TripIt, I’m sure I’ll find out. But I can tell you this year, I was gone 32% of the year.

Josh: That’s nuts. That’s very cool. That I’m sure you’ve seen some pretty cool places. So Single Grain, digital marketing agency. You said you took it over when it was a failing company. What does the company look like now? How many people do you guys have? What does growth look like and what are the goals going forward?

Eric: Totally. So, the numbers I can speak to, we have 30 people. And we’re adding another like three, four people next month. So things are growing, in of kind of growth rates on the employment side, it’s going pretty quickly. And then, you know, I think we’re … closing things out 2017 versus the last year. Grew about 140% and … adding another three or four people next month.

Josh: That’s awesome. And then going forward, I mean, are there plans to really scale head count at Single Grain? I know you talked about the new SaaS tool that you’ve been building out and starting to market that. So. So what are the plans in 2018 and going beyond that?

Eric: Yeah, the plan for Single Grain. I think we’ve been fortunate where, you know, this is funny because I kind of, you know, I had a debate with my team. Two people from my team were saying, and we’re putting all this money into content marketing, but what’s the ROI? And then I broke it down for them.

All of our clients are from content marketing, everything’s inbound, but had guys like, you know, it’s good that we have inbound, but sometimes it’s feast or famine, right. So I said, hey guys, we need to build, we’re going to build a sales team and in 2018 so we can really scale things up so we can have like, we can kind of diversify a little bit. So that’s a really big focus. But at the same time, we’ve really added a lot of kind of senior bench strength, … especially the last couple of months. So I’m really excited to see kind of where that goes and what manifest from that in 2018. So I’m really excited about the team at Single Grain.

And there’s the SaaS product, you know, that’s something, because, I’m not married or anything like that, no children, I can … burn all the way until you know, midnight every single night. Just working on that.

Josh: That’s awesome. So as, as the team is growing and as you’re hiring more and more people. I know you said you’re looking to bring on at least a few people right now and I’m on your site right now and I’m looking at your careers page to see a handful of openings. So when you look at your recruiting, are you the one that’s handling all the hiring as the CEO of a 30 person organization or do you have other people that are involved?

Eric: Yeah, great question. So my, ops guy right now, he’s kind of the first line of defense and then we’re also bringing on kind of an operations associate to, kind of be another one. We actually might consider, I’m just thinking a couple of months down the road, maybe Q3 or Q4, we’ll probably be looking at an HR person/recruiter. But, to answer your question directly. I’m basically involved in all hiring decisions. I don’t think I’m going to let that go, maybe until, a hundred or 200 people because I want to be able to make the final call and ultimately it’s my fault. Right. Like if, we make the wrong hiring decision, …I’m going to put it on myself at the end of the day. So at least [I] want to have some kind of … touch on it because I think I have a good sense for who we should have and you know, I think everyone thinks that. So that’s just kinda the way it is with me too.

Josh: Yeah, that’s for sure. And, I’m assuming that’s because, I mean obviously you have a good feel for skill set, you know, you’re a digital marketer, you’re hiring for your digital marketing agency. So I’m sure you can vet that out pretty well, but I would imagine that you want to have your touches on the hiring process for as long as possible so you can continue to make sure that the people you’re bringing on board match like the characteristics and personality traits. Mainly like from like a cultural fit standpoint for the people that you’re bringing on.

Eric: Yeah. You know, people, I think people will talk about culture like this, you know, that you can kind of just brush over and I think you and I have probably realized over time that this closer thing is, is really important. And so, you know, sometimes it’s, you could have, the person with the right skills, but they’re not the right person, right? So wrong person, right seat, those people need to go. But if a person is the right person, the right cultural fit, and they might be in the wrong seat, so at least you can move them to another seat. But I think it’s really important because if you have some guy that can, you know, a really good individual contributor, but he’s, toxic and makes other people feel bad that it’s a lot and I think that kind of, makes the company, you’re kind of incurring this debt for the long-term and you don’t want to be doing that.

Josh: Definitely. And so, at your company, are there specific characteristics or personality traits that you individually look for in a potential hire?

Eric: Yeah, I think number one for me just kind of stems from the top. I think is growth, someone that’s really growth-oriented. So I can tell really quickly, how do you learn how you go about getting better, right? You can kind of see it.

I remember I was asking this one guy, I was like, “So tell me how do you learn, how do you get better?”

And he’s like, “I don’t really learn, I don’t follow anybody, you know?” I was like, “Who do you follow in marketing, Dah, Dah, Dah.”

“I don’t do that, you know, because I don’t see the need to whatever.”

Well that’s pretty damning, right? Like, if you’re not trying to get better then you know, probably that’s good for you, but not the right fit for us.

So we look at growth and we looked at people that have [it]. I think that’s the first thing.

And then also people that have really long-term vision. So, I’ll ask people and sometimes people still can’t answer me directly. I don’t know why, but just tell me like if you were to pass, you know, what’s one thing that you’d want to do to consider your life success, right? Could be like find your mom a home or something like that. So I really want to get kind of an idea of what they think, what they’re aiming for and then try to align with that also and try to get, help them get there too. So I think that’s important to have that long-term vision.

Josh: Yeah, I mean I think being growth oriented is, is huge. I definitely vet for those same things. Like in our hiring process, I always ask two questions during an in-person interview. One, I want to know like if the person has any personal goal set, even it could be outside of work, like it could be learning to play the guitar, but I want to see like how they go about setting a goal, what they’re working on, um, because I want to make sure that they’re motivated.

And then I also like to ask, what is the hardest you’ve ever had to work for something? Because I like somebody to take me through the process of, like, they set a goal, it was maybe a big milestone that they had to achieve. They had to work really hard and I want to know like what they consider hard work, because I want that type of person in our organization, somebody that like can set a really high level goal. Maybe it’s a three year goal, but something that they have their eyes on and they’re really motivated to achieve it. I love asking those questions.

It’s interesting that we’re both aligned on, on that same type of thing in both of our hiring processes. So looking at your jobs right now, I see Paid Advertising Manager, a Sales Development Rep, which I imagine is part of building out the sales team and a few other types of roles. So, you’re not just hiring marketing people, right? Like you’ve got the, the advertising manager, you’ve got the salesperson, you’ve got an executive assistant. So you’re from a marketing background and you’re involved in the hiring process for these roles that are non-marketing roles. What do you feel like are some of the things that you’ve learned when you’re hiring for these roles that like you might not necessarily have ever done this job before or really know the skill that it takes to do this job.

Eric: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think that’s the thing, right? Like, for us, at least for me, you know, being a non-technical person, how do you hire developers and how do you manage them? Right? So I think it all starts with, kind of what are the tasks for us, right? Because every single job is a list of responsibilities and tasks, right? But I think at the very least, if you can map that out in the very beginning, that’s super important and if you don’t know what those roles and responsibilities are, you can do, what I used to do. I just go look at the job description and then what I would do afterwards is I would, pick up some of my friends, that are developers or are in the CTO position and ask them, does this make sense? Is this outdated? What else should I be looking out for? And sometimes I might have them come help vet.

I’ll give you like a kind of more tactical example from a sales perspective, before we were kind of just hiring off of gut feeling. You know, did they play any sports, can they do a role play with me, are they coachable. Right? Those are all important. But what we did was we added a sales assessment. I forgot what it’s called, but it’s, I’ll have to share it with you afterwards, but there’s a sales assessment we use that is really spot on when it comes to, hiring people we’re looking for consultative sellers and for every single person that we’ve put through that test, some people say they’re too emotional. For some other people they’re not a closer, but they’re a great hunter. Right? And you find out through the interview, you basically tailor the interview questions around that and you find that to be really true and you can drill in.

Without going too much into the weeds, for developers, you could ask your developer buddies, are there any kind of code test or challenges that you can run these people through to see if they fit. And then, you know, sometimes what I do with people is I’ll also run them through aa project, right? So, you know, one or two week project, you know, if it’s a designer/developer and we see how we work together and if it goes well then let’s, let’s think about full-time, if not well then you know, that’s OK.

Josh: That’s awesome. That’s really good advice here. So as you’re going through your current hiring process, and I’m on your careers page right now, it looks like you guys have an ATS, are using Workable from what I can see, what does the hiring process look like from end to end for you guys? Where are you sourcing people? Where are you posting your jobs? Where are you finding them? How are you screening them through the process? What does that end-to-end cycle look like?

Eric: Yeah. OK. So let’s see. For the SDR kind of role and the executive assistant kind of role. I think the more mid level or you can even say junior to mid level roles, we could actually, you know, put a job posting up on Workable and it will post to, 15 different job boards.

And then what we’ll do there, I think this is what a lot of people do is usually, we’ll put in the job description, something like if they’re applying for a sales job we’ll say you must put sales is cool in the subject line or else your application will be disqualified. We find that about 92 to 98 percent of people do not follow directions. If they can’t follow directions, and be detail oriented in the beginning, probably not going to be a good fit for your company. Right? So right out of the gate we can just disqualify a ton of people make life a lot easier.

And then after that, we will, if it’s like an executive assistant or mid level role, or even like an intern for example, what we’ll do is we will say, “Hey, are you open to doing a video interview?” Because what we’ve found in the past is instead of just, we used to send them links, people just kind of go away. Getting that micro commitment from people saying, would you be open to doing a video interview, through our video interview, app, Spark Hire? Yes, we use Spark Hire. And they’ll say yes. And from there,we have a template in the ATS and they’ll basically run through that. If they pass through that, then they’ll go to the next step which is an in-person and then, that’s with, my ops guy and maybe someone else. And then the next level is me. And then finally it’s, reference checks, background checks, and the offer.

Josh: Nice. Nice. So it sounds like you guys have a pretty systematic approach. I think that’s for a smaller company, sometimes that’s rare because either things are growing too fast and they can’t get things in order or there’s just not enough focus or importance put on a hiring process. But it sounds like you guys are doing a lot of stuff to make sure that you’re ending up with the right people.

Eric: I think it’s one of the most important things you can do. Right? Or one of the most important things. Like it’s all people at the end of the day, I don’t care if you tank, whatever, like everything’s tech nowadays anyway. So like if you can’t get your people process down, I’m still not happy with our process. I’m still trying to tweak it every single day. I look at it like we’ve got to make sure it’s more consistent, whatever. Cause if you, have bottlenecks in that process and you have a couple of bad eggs come through because your process wasn’t buttoned up, then that can cost your company, six, seven, eight figures, nine figures in revenue

Josh: For sure. Yeah. I mean hiring, especially at a startup company or an early stage, young company, a bad hire can seriously bankrupt the business. It’s that important where you really need to make sure you’re making good, quality decisions and not only getting the most skilled people, but also the people that, you know, have the right personality and characteristics that you’re looking for to help the company grow.

So being a marketer, I think that there are so many things that were marketing comes into recruiting, right? Marketing and sales. So with your marketing background what are other things that you have used to convert candidates at a higher rate or get them more excited about working for your brand. Like what things from your marketing background are you applying to hiring?

Eric: Yeah. We’re continually trying to improve our career stage, right? So what we’re doing right now is we’re going to have a – we’re making a video because we’ve built out video production capabilities just to give people a sense of what it’s like to actually work at Single Grain. I think it’s cool that they can see the clients that we work with, but I think it’s really important, like we have a pretty good class or a review. I think it’s good to call that out because the fact of the matter is they’re spending, what, eight hours a day plus sitting with a bunch of people. They want to make sure that they actually liked those people. I think that’s really important. I think also the reason why I also want my touch on every kind of every candidate at least right now is so they can understand what my vision is, and what I see happening with the company, and they can tell that I also care about their future as well. It’s not just about, Eric wants to hit his goals all the time. So I think it’s that mutual kind of trust. I think that’s really important and the more trust you can show the people, the better. I’m not saying we’re perfect by any means, but it’s something that we’re always trying to optimize

Josh: For sure. I think the other thing that’s really key about,you being involved in the hiring process and at Spark Hire, I take a lot of pride in this as well, is I use these touch points with the candidate because they’re interviewing you as well, right?

So you want to make sure that you’re putting everything out there are being transparent with them about like what the growth path looks like at Single Grain and where you can see them going and why, you and other people that are working at the company. You think it’s a great place to work.

So I think like the touch points that you have with a candidate are probably the most critical because they’re looking at you as the leader and the visionary for the company. So if they feel like you’re somebody that they can get behind, it’s definitely a company that, they’re going to want to join for sure. So I think it’s really important to get involved early. Because you don’t like somebody like fester in their own thoughts about what the company and what the vision is like until they meet with you at the very end. You can like kind of get ahead of that.

Eric: Yeah, totally. The other thing I’ll add too is you bring..

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In case you missed the press release, Spark Hire is proud to announce its partnership and integration with TalentEd!

TalentEd Recruit and Hire is a talent management solution built for primary and secondary education. Their all-in-one platform supports the entire employee lifecycle.  TalentEd supports data-based HR decisions from job advertisement, to assessments, onboarding, and evaluation.

TalentEd Recruit and Hire K-12 customers can now take their decisions to the next level with Spark Hire video interviews.

“Traditionally, the K-12 hiring process is resource-intensive and involves a large group of people,” said Josh Tolan, CEO of Spark Hire. “Working with hundreds of school districts, we’ve seen the ROI of video interviewing first hand.”

Hundreds of school districts currently benefit from Spark Hire making it the #1 video interviewing platform for K-12 hiring.

Customers such as Amarillo ISD  are saving thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in their hiring process.

“As a technology partner to thousands of schools and districts, we get excited about every new opportunity to deliver the solutions and services education leaders need to hire, develop and manage top talent,” said Jack Blaha, CEO of PeopleAdmin, TalentEd’s parent company. “This strategic partnership delivers key functionality our customers need to quickly and affordably screen and hire top candidates, so they can maximize time and resources spent empowering student achievement.”

Mutual Spark Hire and TalentEd customers will reap the benefits of both platforms after activating the integration. The integration enables the sending unique interview question sets to qualified candidates, reviewing candidate responses and seamless collaboration between all key decision-makers.

If you’d like to learn more about Spark Hire and the integration with TalentEd, request a demo today!

If you’re an existing Spark Hire customer and want to use the integration, follow these steps to turn it on.

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“Inherent biases exist.”

As much as everyone hates to admit we often allow biases to dictate our decisions, Mary Pharris, Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss — a marketplace for professional women looking for jobs, career advice, and the inside scoop on companies — is right. No matter how hard we try to extinguish them, they linger over hiring processes.

In Mary’s experience, she’s found these biases exist particularly around gender, which leads to stereotyping candidates.

“It can definitely affect a recruiter’s ability to place candidates, especially if the recruiter is unaware of his or her biases. By giving in to stereotypes and making assumptions about a candidate based on gender or appearance, recruiters can actually miss rockstar candidates.”

For example, only 15 percent of hiring professionals would consider hiring a frowning woman, according to a recent report by Fairygodboss. Along with their demeanor, the report also found women are judged on their weight, age, and race.

Even though these gender biases remain in the interview process and can present hiring challenges, there are a number of ways your team can combat them:

1. Conduct bias training

It seems counterproductive to highlight biases when you’re trying to get rid of them. However, Pharris says, “Training and education around inherent biases, and how to overcome them, is essential in making the best possible hiring decisions.”

Training and education around biases is essential to make the best #hiring decisions. @marypharris
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Take the power away from preconceived notions around gender by participating in unconscious bias awareness training. Use the training to help your team recognize that everyone, including you, has biases.

Explain what unconscious gender biases are prevalent in today’s workforce. Teach your team how to make decisions based solely on qualifications and cultural fit. Use interactive role-play interviews to show your team direct examples and solutions for harmful biases.

Immediately after training, create action-oriented solutions with your team. Discuss what biases you found stick out most during the interview process.

As a group, brainstorm how you will actively address gender biases and increase a feeling of candidate belonging. For example, you can invite more team members to meet candidates to enhance comfortability and accountability for everyone.

Reconvene after interviews to see what’s working and where improvements should be made on an ongoing basis to improve unbiased workplace diversity.

2. Embrace the power to stop and step away

During unconscious bias training, you became familiar with your own biases. While it was likely uncomfortable, you’re now equipped to check yourself during interviews.

When you feel as though you’re judging a candidate based on something as trivial as hairstyle, appearance, or accent, make a mental note. To stop yourself from defaulting to your personal biases, stick to a structured interview process. Have candidates take skill assessments so you can directly see their talent before interviewing.

Keep this list of qualifiers in front of you. However, ask experience questions first during your interviews. This gives candidates the opportunity to break through your initial gender biases and immediately impress you with more personal recounts of their fit and abilities.

3. Get everyone on the same scoring system

You’re looking for a qualified candidate. Someone who will add value to your team and help your company grow. Their gender, age, or ethnicity plays no part in these qualifications.

So, before going into interviews, it’s crucial to review the most important qualifications for the role. Check the list your team made during training and assess each candidate’s skills before noting any personal traits.

Take it one step further by using the list of qualifications to create a scoring chart. Stick to this scorecard to stay on topic and honestly assess each candidates’ skills fit. Distribute this scorecard to anyone you involve in the interview process.

Of course, this won’t be how you make your final, end-all decision. But until it’s time to start looking at a candidate’s personal attributes to determine cultural fit, this will keep you on track and away from gender biases.

4. Call in reinforcements and collaborate using video interviews

Regardless of what is distracting you from making a confident judgement call, there’s no shame in asking a fellow hiring pro for their opinion on a candidate. Video interviews allow you to gain first-hand feedback on the exact same interview. Rather than relying on your notes or witnessing your responses, co-workers can draw their own conclusions.

There’s no shame in asking fellow #hiring pros for their opinion.
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Don’t fill anyone in on your insecurities before they give you their honest assessment. You don’t want to taint their opinion.

List of all the pros and cons they provide about the candidate and compare this to your initial evaluation. Review the video interview once again and use this list to determine if your biases were getting in the way of making the best hiring decision for your team.

How do you squash gender biases during interviews? Let us know!

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Brad Wilkins, Vice President of Human Resources at Altisource, joins The Growth Recruiting Podcast to showcase how their 150+ HR team produces incredible results. In this episode, you’ll learn what a well-oiled recruiting machine looks like. Brad discusses their hiring process, from end-to-end, and provides actionable tips that can be applied at organizations of all sizes.

The Growth Recruiting Podcast is available in iTunes!

Show notes

1:35 About Brad and Altisource
4:06 Incorporating startup mentalities into a global organization
6:10 Structuring a 150+ HR team
7:37 Bringing Organizational Development into the hiring process
8:57 Types of recruiting processes
10:00 Implementing specific new roles into the hiring process
11:20 Brad’s signature on job postings
13:27 Brad’s approach to organizational development
15:12 Recap of Brad’s hiring system
16:58 How organization size changes the recruiting approach
17:54 Brad’s goal to improve his hiring process
21:45 Avoiding paralysis by analysis
27:22 Increasing adoption of new processes
28:56 Using Minimum Viable Product in HR and Recruiting
30:30 Brad’s book recommendations
32:30 Brad’s advice on productivity
33:24 Brad’s HR productivity tool of choice
34:53 Brad’s daily routine
36:37 Brad’s contact information

Resources mentioned on the episode

The Startup Way by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential
Exponential Organization
Pure Chat
Connect with Brad on LinkedIn
Altisource Careers


Josh: Today I am joined by Brad Wilkins, Vice President of Human Resources at Altisource, which is an integrated service provider and marketplace for the real estate and mortgage industries.

Before we get started, a few things to know about Brad, he was named in the Top 25 HR Executives under 40 by Workforce Magazine, and the #1 corporate recruiter in America by theladders.com. He has been featured speaker for Linkedin, theladders, Workforce Live TLNT and more. So, I am really excited to have Brad on the podcast today. And I know he’ll provide some awesome tips for all of you that are listening. Brad, how’s it going?

Brad: Hey Josh, it’s my pleasure. Though, the thing you didn’t tell them is that I’ve been using your platform probably almost since the beginning of your present induction. I’ve been a big fan of your guys’ work so it’s a pleasure to join the podcast.

Josh: Thank you, Brad. I appreciate the shout out there. Yeah, we go way back so I definitely know a lot about all of your great recruiting experience and I know you’ll be able to bring some awesome tips to the show today. So, I guess real quickly I gave you a little bit of an intro, but maybe you could introduce yourself a little bit more. Talk about your current role, your current company, and what you guys are up to.

Brad: Sure! So Altisource is in a really neat juxtaposition as a VP of HR, although by the time you listen to this we may have launched out our rebranding. We’re launching as “People Solutions” next year with the catchphrase that “We’re solving business problems with People Solutions.” Depending on when you listen to this, the VP of HR may not be the accurate title. The company’s really cool because we’ve got a combination of some really mature businesses that are multi-million, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue serving the top 10 banks in America with their servicing needs on the mortgage side. As well as a lot of the mid-market originators in the loan space. In fact, 15% of loans across the country every year go through Altisource in some way. It’s a really mature mortgage business.

And then on our Real Estate side, we have a number of initiatives that are growth initiatives. [Those] are really incubation style. One of those being owners.com, which is a marketplace to buy and sell real estate. An online platform that has a brokerage built in that’s really in massive expansion mode. We just hired a new president about 6 months ago. And then we have another business, a real estate investment function, that’s doing a lot of things that frankly I can’t even talk about on this podcast. But by the time it comes out, you’ll get to hear about it. That’s also in major, major growth mode.

So both of those are at completely different juxtapositions than the mature businesses. And so it’s balancing out these mature along with the growing internal technology group that’s surfacing and trying to find where there are opportunities for automation, etc. We have a mature, big, global, 6,000 employees in India, almost a thousand in the Philippines, 2,000 in the United States, and then spread out through Luxembourg, Uruguay, Romania, etc. Global, fast-growing, but also stabilized, mature, businesses in a very, very interesting industry at this time in the world right now.

Josh: Wow. That’s pretty crazy. So, that’s pretty cool because it sounds like you’re pretty much in charge of the recruiting and human resources on a global enterprise scale. But also it’s almost like you guys have these startups underneath the umbrella. It’s a balancing act between recruiting, managing human resources for a company that’s new and growing like crazy and has a whole lot of people coming on board. Versus a huge, global organization.

Brad: Absolutely. In fact, one of the interesting challenges and the reason they brought me on with my background is they were going through massive hypergrowth. They were the fastest growing stock on NASDAQ two years in a row. And during that type of growth, frankly, there are a lot of things in the HR function that had been patchworked or pieces put together that we wanted to flesh out and build out into world-class systems, processes, and opportunities. And so we’ve got the startups here today but even the whole machine itself feels like a startup, that we’re getting to build up and flesh out some of these world-class things in a very modern perspective. That’s the interesting component.

The clarification on my role. My role has a unique twist to it. I am in charge of what’s kind of called “traditional” human resources with regards to the United States, Uruguay, and Europe. And then I’ve got a global responsibility for what I call talent management. That’s recruiting, learning, development, and organizational development, things of that nature. So it’s a nice juxtaposition where I’ve got a little bit of classic, traditional business partnering here and then global perspective for some of the more progressive things that we’re looking to do as well.

Josh: Yeah, that’s really interesting. That’s a lot on your plate and I know we’re going to get into a lot of that stuff here so with the company right now, globally, I think I read that it’s 9,000+ employees? How many are you guys at?

Brad: I think we’re just slightly under 7,500 , plus a large contingent of contractors and vendors, Especially in owners.com, we have over 300 real estate agents that are part of our brokerage exclusively. And so, you know, they don’t show up on the headcount report. But, yeah, a little under 7,500 currently.

Josh: And how big is your team?

Brad: Whew, uh, right now? And, uh, I haven’t counted this week yet, but we are somewhere around the range of about 150-200 people all-in, with the recruiting team actually making up a significant portion of that population.

Josh: Interesting.

Brad: Yeah we’ve got about 90 in India, about [raspberry] 40 or so in the US, eh, a little bit more I think we have about 10 new openings coming up in the beginning of the year, so we’re probably about 150. Counting Uruguay and the Philippines are a little smaller.

Josh: Wow. Wow. So what is the structure of that team like? I’m assuming there are some people that are in charge of sourcing, you’ve probably got it pretty well segmented given that you have to recruit such a large volume of people. You need these people focused on specific functions within the whole recruitment lifecycle.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve got kind of three recruiting populations, essentially. They’re segmented out with not too much overlap, more of a system and process overlap than a admin or leadership overlap, all rolling up into me. So obviously you’ve got the US kind of, what I’ll call “corporate” recruiting. I’ll talk about that in a second because we’re doing some really interesting things there. Then we have what’s focused on our owners.com real estate agent recruiting team. That by far is our biggest team. It’s a group that’s structured in a very traditional kind of high volume recruiting way. We’ve got a sourcing team, and then we’ve got kind of these roles that we call Regional Leads, and the sourcers are literally going out and dialing real estate agents every single day, trying to convince them to have an opportunity to join the brokerage. Then sending them up to the Regional Lead who is obviously doing much more of an organizational development-style behavioral interview, assessing them and then getting them over to a hiring manager, the managing broker, and pushing them through that way.

We’re actually doing some pretty cool things in the future where we’re pushing a lot of the assessment components of the real estate agent experience into training and development. Josh, you know I have always been a fan of capturing information around candidates during the onboarding phase, so we’re doing that here which I’ve done other places in my career a well. Instead of just relying on the recruiter and the hiring manager, continuing that data loop all the way through the entire process. That’s the agent recruiting, then we have the A-Pac corporate recruiting team as well, as well that handles India and the Philippines.

On the US corporate team, the really cool thing that we’ve done, we’ve just launched it here in the last couple months, is. If I look at where is recruiting shortchanging themselves it’s typically about the assessment of the candidate. You typically have a recruiter, whose job it is to hire people. They’ll do whatever they can to get a person on board, that’s the nature of a recruiter. And then you’ve got a hiring manager who doesn’t have time, doesn’t necessarily become an expert at behavioral interviewing. They trust their gut which means they’re bringing bias to the process, etc. It’s really a recipe for disaster at a lot of companies. You’ve got someone who’s number one bias is trying to get someone hired, and another whose bias is trying to find people that they, you know, “like” without any real data or validation behind it.

The really fun thing that we did which is very much in the spirit of some of the work I’ve done at previous companies as well but I’ve never really had the time to flesh out like I’ve gotten to do here. We have actually inserted organizational development in the middle of the interview process. So we have a new function called a Talent Partner. A Talent Partner is essentially a traditional senior recruiter. The Talent Partner’s job is to extract the requirements from the hiring manager. I look at recruiting as having four components, or four steps in its journey. Step one is where you’re reactive, a requisition comes in, and you start working on the requisition. A step below that where you’re really bad is retroactive. Where a rec comes in and it’s 90 days or more until you’re even going to pay attention to that rec. A step above that is proactive. Where you start saying, “Oh, hey we’re about to close this contract on this deal and we’re going to need ten of this role, let me start building a pipeline of talent. Let me start building a social community, whatever it may be.” So we’ve got retroactive, reactive, proactive, and the top level is cliched, but I call it partnering.

Where we’re aspirationally going in the next year, and we’ll see how it plays out, is we actually want people to call our Talent Partners, and not open up a requisition, but come with a business problem. Say, “Hey, I would like to increase efficiency on my team 10%. What’s available in this market – Let’s say Atlanta – efficiency 10% will yield me an increased pre-tax margin of $250,000. You have $250,000, go see what the market can bear.” And that might be one senior project manager to set up a PMO with two coordinators. Or three project managers, or it’s a data analyst and a medium project manager and a coordinator. There are different ways of slicing that business problem based on what is in real time availability in the marketplace.

So a Talent Partner is supposed to understand the market, and the roles, and the requirements of the business and solving business problems, not necessarily doing the requisition.

A lot of times, manager calls and “Hey, I need to open up this role.” And if you really ask them why, “Well, that’s what we had before when Bob left”. It’s like, okay Bob’s gone so I’m going to replace him with the exact same person. That may not make sense because Bob’s been here for 6 years and you haven’t looked at the structure since then. The Talent Partner then passes the requisition and key requirements on. If you look at any of our job postings, you’ll notice a few unique attributes. Anyone who’s ever worked with me, there’s some pretty distinct signatures on most of my job descriptions for the last couple companies I’ve worked at.

Number one is that there’s a maximum of four requirements. And that’s really hard for hiring managers to get into their ecosystem. You can’t tell me twenty bullets. Because with twenty bullets, two things happen: 1) either you find someone who doesn’t read the job description and they just spray and pray and apply anyway, or 2) and this is the worst one, they actually read all those twenty bullets and think, “Well, I’ve got 18 of them, but not two, I’m not going to apply to this role, I clearly don’t have the requirements they’re looking for.” I love when companies put “nice to have’s”. Nice to have is just code for “Don’t bother me if you don’t have these.” In fact, in a lot of their ATS’s completely stream out even the “Nice to have”’s that don’t meet their requirements.

A sidebar on that, I just saw a study last week that women are actually less likely to apply to a job in which they are not a 100% fit for the requirements. So we are actually getting in our own way in terms of diversity initiatives whenever you’re posting 20 bullet-long job descriptions.

The other interesting thing that I’ve focused a lot on is you’ll notice there are no degree requirements on any of our jobs except the few accounting ones where a CPA is required, or a law one where a law degree is required. For 95% of our jobs, there are no education requirements, and we try our best – though one occasionally slips through – where we don’t say years of experience required. Instead of saying 5 years of experience, well this candidate only has 4 years and 11 months, so they’re not going to cut it. “Oh, well that’s different Brad.” Well, then is 4 years and 10 months okay? “Well no, it’s about 5.” 4 years 5 months? What about if someone worked 4 years but put in 80 hours a week verus someone who worked 4 years and put in 40 hours per week? Are those the same candidate? Are those the same 4 or 5 years? There are so many nuances to it, we get in our own way a lot of the time.

The way you kind of get back in the way of getting out of the way is this new role that I talked about with organizational development. We actually have a psychologist that we’ve hired that are in this new function called Talent Asesser. And the Talent Asesser really fits well into, Josh, some of the work that you guys have done around the video interview, where it’s – and I’ve said this for a number of years now – show me instead of tell me that you can do the job.

Typically in part of our interview process there are a couple batteries, some of them very practical, a knowledge check around a particular specialized area, some of it is more basic. If we have a compliance role, having an attention to detail assessment might be built into there along with a compliance and regulatory knowledge check. Doesn’t mean that those become eliminators, it might mean that those become prescriptions for when someone starts how we build a talent development program for them. They were really good at this, but they had a knowledge gap around this particular area, how do we make sure we shore that up when they join the organization. Then the Talent Asesser, the hiring manager, and the Talent Partner – again their final job is to understand the market, understand the conversation, work with OD team to finish up the job analysis and market data – and then they’re responsible for closing out the candidate. So the Talent Partner kind of pops up at the beginning and the end of the process with the sourcer, the Talent Asesser and the hiring manager filling in the meat of the sandwich.

Josh: So is there a rover for you that is constantly assessing your hiring process and making it better?

Brad: Exactly. Using data.

Josh: Yep, which is the most important thing, obviously. So what’s really interesting to me – and I hope everybody replays that like ten times because I think that was a really good job at giving a nice overview of a super refined process. To recap I guess a couple of things on that. As far as building a really strong talent pipeline when you have to source candidates for an organization that is thousands and thousands of employees, growing really really fast, you have to have a good mix of inbound and outbound strategies to source candidates. So like you said you’ve got people that are dialing all day long, calling real estate agents, trying to get people interested on the outbound side. And then the inbound side, you’re constantly looking at your job ads and job descriptions and seeing how you can make them more effective to not only attract a good quantity of candidates but also a good quality and a diverse set of candidates. Also sounds like on the screening side you’re using some video interviews, you’re using assessments and doing a whole lot of touchpoints to make sure the people you’re advancing are going to be a quality fit for the organization. Also, I thought that was really interesting that you’re almost identifying weak points of the candidates even though you’re still willing to bring them on because those are that person’s opportunities to grow once they’re within the organization.

Now, are you using that as like a selling point through the hiring process? Because I know, like, since I’ve known you at previous companies and at your current job, you’ve always been a big fan of promoting growth and promoting from with in and making sure there’s paths for people so they feel motivated not only during the hiring process but also once they come on board. I’m curious if you’re using those organizational development components you built into the hiring process as a way to attract people and get them excited about coming on board with you.

Brad: Yeah, you know I’ll be candid that’s more aspirational at this point and I think it’s okay for us to say that. A lot of times people are like, “Oh, I can’t do that because I don’t have the next piece figured out.” You eventually put yourself into apathy or paralysis by analysis.

One of the big changes, Adcap candidly was at seventy five people, here’s 9,000 people. It’s a little different. With 9,000 people, I think it’s a little more challenging. And I mentioned the company grew so quickly that even getting job descriptions, job analysis done for all the positions. We’re still working on in tandem through a lot of that. I think as that refines itself and I think it’s a really critical component, to not only take internal candidates but external candidates and push them through.

But one of the things we’re also doing in parallel related to that topic is making a big push for internal lateral and diagonal movement. One of the ways we’re doing that is also in the same exact way, frankly, that we’re assessing external talent. We’re benchmarking that against internal talent, and trying to capture additional data points in a substantive, tangible way to classify people with a particular skill set, hashtag them.

So one of my objectives when I got here was that by 2019 I wanted 80% of my director plus promotions to be internal. Just to give you context, the industry benchmark, 45% is about the top 99th percentile of the curve. So it’s almost double what benchmark says. When I got here it was about 15%. We’re up to 40% so far.

So, in a less formalized way than I’d like it to be we’ve really made a push for the internal talent pool being the first place that we look and allowing that to drive some of our recruitment processes.

One of the nice things is when we’re looking for talent, and sourcing – again you mentioned a lot of different ways that we’re doing that – building a brand, pushing towards different ways of looking at job descriptions, those that say “Come on in” instead of “Stay on out”.

It also means that for instance, I’ll give you another subtle version of that. For a lot of companies, the second place candidate normally goes into a dark black hole never to be heard from again. Well, we’re tagging that second place candidate the same way we’re tagging our internal employees which allows us to then say, “Hey, three months ago you were a top candidate, but we have a new role that you fit 80% of the search parameters for.”, and we’ve engaged with you through common communication or updates or just little messages, etc.

So we’ve kept in touch with them, we’ve driven the internal talent pool, so we’re looking much more holistically than just sort of building a passive social talent pool which is even more progressive. That tends to be the most progressive companies use an internal or a social talent pool. We’re actually driving internal talent assessment to be able to have a real time example and a real time opportunity to tap into our internal talent pool along with our second chance or our third chance.

One of my favorite things that I’ve done is when I see an interesting resume across my desk and I don’t recruit as much in my current role but – as I was building out my team. I joked as I was building the owners.com recruiting team I got a call from my CEO and he said, “Hey Brad, we need you to build up the recruiting team to be able to hit this massive goal to take this company that’s going to change real estate to build out the real estate agent pool.” And I said, “Great, you know that’s wonderful Bill. The problem is I’m a little short staffed on recruiters to hire these recruiters.” And he said, “Well, hire a recruiter then.” And so, okay, great, I need to hire a recruiter to hire these recruiters. And he said, “Well, okay, I don’t know what to tell you Brad.” Well, okay I guess I’ll be the recruiter to hire the recruiters.

So as I was building out my team and then hiring all these functions that..

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According to a recent McKinsey study, there is a statistically significant correlation between more diverse leadership teams and better financial performance.

This comes as no surprise to most HR professionals. It’s a longstanding best practice that diverse teams create better business decisions. But hiring for diverse teams proves more difficult than “Just hire some women.” or diversity training.

Making a decided effort to improve your hiring for diversity is challenged by many factors. Identifying and eliminating them can be difficult.

But don’t fear! In this month’s Growth Recruiting webinar, we’ve teamed up with JazzHR to present 6 Steps to Better Diversity Hiring.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Processes for diverse hiring practices

The conscious elimination of potential biases is key to diverse hiring. How to go about it can be more complex, but just as important. Biased hiring can land your organization in hot water with candidates, the government, and hurt your hiring brand. Avoid these pitfalls with a methodical examination of your hiring process and tools before problems arise.

How to expand your organization’s talent pool

Growing and diversifying your talent pool can make your organization smarter. Including employees of varying backgrounds likely increases your team’s creativity too. These results of diverse teams are well-known but difficult to achieve. It is the task of HR professionals to find the root cause of a lack of diversity. One culprit may be your talent pool. Nuances like how to apply for positions and your location narrow your recruitment. Awareness of new methods can help fight improve your pool.

Applying merit-based hiring into your efforts

Downstream of your talent pool, the application and interview process may keep your team from seeing and moving forward with qualified, diverse candidates. From inside the organization, identifying where you can improve may be hard to find. Take an outside look with the steps presented in the next Growth Recruiting Webinar.

About the Webinar

Join us on Wednesday, May 16th at 12PM Central as Corey Berkey, Director of Human Resources at JazzHR, explain how to implement diverse hiring practices, expand your hiring reach, and merit-based hiring.

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“When I first walked into the office, I immediately noticed the atmosphere. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there.”

That’s what Ben Stein, one of our rockstar sales development representatives, had to say about our company culture in a recent feature article. From the bright color of our walls to the smiling faces of his future co-workers, Stein immediately felt welcomed — and we’re proud of that.

We work hard to create a culture of belonging filled with fun and passionate team members. So, when I hear that’s exactly what drew an employee in, I get excited. Unfortunately, like many companies, showing off our atmosphere isn’t always possible during the early stages of the hiring process.

When we’re trying to attract the right candidates for our culture, or first “meet” them via video interview, they’re not interacting with us face-to-face. That’s when video becomes a crucial recruiting tool.

Here’s how you can use video to give candidates an insider-glimpse into your company’s atmosphere:

1. Show them around on a virtual tour

Your wall colors, office design, and workspaces radiate a specific energy. Candidates want to envision themselves working at their desk or grabbing a cup of coffee with co-workers in the break room. If you wait too long to help candidates realize these visions, you’re missing opportunities to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Set your company apart by taking candidates on a virtual tour. Let them see what it’s like to walk through your doors each day, where the hallways lead, and the dynamic spaces where they can make magic happen.

Let candidates see what it’s like to walk through your doors without ever stepping foot inside….
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Consider your team’s favorite part of the office when designing the tour. From paint color to lighting, or the ultimate boardroom, it’s important to highlight the smallest details that make your atmosphere unique.

2. Let them say hello to the team

Your team is the most valuable aspect of your atmosphere. If potential hires don’t meet them in the early stages of the hiring process, they won’t get an accurate feel for the company’s overall energy and passion.

Give your team the freedom to show off their personalities — and have a little fun! Ask them to introduce themselves in selfie-style videos that you can use at any time during the recruitment process. Get a couple employees from each department to create a video, allowing candidates to get a personalized glimpse of their potential future co-workers.

Ask each person to share specific details about their role. What does their day-to-day look like? Do they interact directly with customers? If so, what do customers say about the company? Is there something special about the company’s mission that motivates them every day?

These small moments of interaction create openings for immediate bonds that impress the candidates you want to join your team.

3. Create a company culture video

There’s one rule when it comes to creating a company culture video: there are no rules. You can be as creative, professional, off-the-wall, and personable as you want — that’s what makes them so great.

One of my favorite examples is CloudLock’s KungFu style culture video. Of course, the video is entertaining. However, it also gets down to the nitty gritty and truly showcases the company’s culture.

@cloudlock shows off their #companyculture kungfu style.
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With our company culture video (which we plan to update this year) we give candidates a detailed look at our mission, what our team is passionate about, and what our customers say that keeps us motivated and moving forward.

Spark Hire - Connecting You with the Best Candidates - YouTube

Obviously, the styles of these videos are very different. And, most likely, yours will be too. There’s no clear right or wrong way to go about culture videos. However, here are a few things to consider when deciding how yours should look:

  • What’s the message you want viewers to take away from it?
  • What emotional reaction do you want to evoke?
  • Does the majority of your team agree with the messaging and emotional reaction?
  • How long does the video need to be to keep the message concise, but powerful?  

Once you have these questions answered, it’s time to start writing a script. Get your team involved by making the writing process a contest. Whoever writes the script that gets picked, receives a day off, a gift card, or simply office bragging rights.

How do you incorporate video to impress candidates in the hiring process? Let us know!

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A remarkable 77 percent of rapidly growing companies plan to increase their staff by 25 percent in the coming year, according to research for a recent report done by our team here at Spark Hire. With such a high rate of growth anticipated, companies must be strategizing around large hiring budgets, right?

Not necessarily.

Actually, only 16 percent of rapidly growing companies said they’re increasing hiring due to the lower taxes they expect to pay this year. Even without new money, companies are finding ways to create a competitive and dynamic hiring strategy.

We spoke to a few experts who are attracting and hiring the best talent for their teams without breaking the bank. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Show off opportunities that make a difference.

Most of our hiring strategy efforts are focused on recruiting young people. The most important thing that small businesses have to offer millennials is that every employee has the potential to make a difference.

When you are in a small company, your efforts and accomplishments have an excellent chance of being recognized. You are never more than a couple levels away from the decision-maker.

Additionally, the flexibility that we can offer as a small company is practically undefeatable. We currently have 30 people working remotely and have a policy of working from home on Fridays.

We’ve also tried to make our structures more flexible so that every employee has direct contact with senior management. Even I, personally, have participated in many interviews to show our candidates the growth opportunities that our company offers.

Sophie Miles, CEO of QuotesAdvisor.com

Show younger talent they have a chance to make a big difference in your #smallbusiness. #recruiting
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2. Provoke greatness.

Recruiting people simply means, “You gave me a job.” Getting people into the job only fills the position until something better, closer to home, and more challenging comes along. The goal should be provoking greatness!

Provoking greatness requires a culture of passionate employees who are eager to go the extra mile and radiate a sense of joy (not indifference) in their job. So, one rapidly-growing, Baltimore-based company put a stop to all talent acquisition, brought the executive team and, ultimately, the whole company together to get clear on their collective vision and values.

They identified the kind of person who fits best into the culture and then asked the entire team to refer that kind of people. Each time a new hire was made, the person who made the referral got a cash bonus, along with bragging rights.

Misti Burmeister, Author and Chief Provoker

Provoking greatness requires a culture of passionate employees. #talentacquisition @mistiburmeister
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3. Offer out-of-the-box perks.

A unique perk we offer to all of our current or future employees is a music room. Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices.

The brain is a muscle and learning and playing music is like a full body workout. It strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities — like productivity.   

This has helped us hire talent that is above our pay scale. It’s something fun that is not offered in larger corporations we are competing against.  

Gene Caballero, Co-Founder and CEO of GreenPal

Find unique perks that get candidates excited about your #career opportunities. @gene_caballero
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How do you build an efficient hiring strategy without breaking the bank? Let us know!

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