True North Podcast: Strategic Insights for Recruiting the Best Candidates

Updated: May 6

How effective is your organization in recruiting the best candidates for hard-to-fill roles? Join me for this True North podcast with Mark Bradley of The Recruiting Consortium.

In this interview (17:40), Mark provides insights from his extensive experience as an external recruiter working across industries that include Government, Legal, Aviation, Biotech, Pharmaceutical, and the Life Sciences. He specializes in working with organizations looking to hire highly-skilled team members – who often are not actively looking for a new role.


Mark also offers practical tips and strategies for organizations looking to enhance their success in bringing top talent on board and retaining these valuable team members.



Strategic Insights for Recruiting the Best Candidates - Transcript


Beth Offenbacker

Hi, I'm Beth Offenbacker. Thank you for joining me for this True North podcast on “Strategic Insights for Recruiting the Best Candidates,” featuring my interview with Mark Bradley of The Recruiting Consortium L.L.C..

Mark has over 20 years of corporate and agency recruiting experience. He's worked for companies that include PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, and Fannie Mae. He has managed teams in excess of 50 staff, and has a record of providing top-tier recruiting service to his customers. More recently, Mark founded The Recruiting Consortium, L.L.C., that provides recruiting services to both government and commercial clients. He has serviced industries that have included Government, Legal, Aviation, Biotech, Pharmaceutical, and Life Sciences. He has helped organizations hire staff with information technology, financial accounting, legal, corporate operations, and human resources backgrounds. Mark currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Mark, one of the things I really appreciate about you is that you have a very strategic focus on the recruiting process. And so when thinking about the type of work that you do with a range of organizations, I'm very curious, could you tell me a little bit about some of the biggest challenges that you see right now and hiring for hard to fill roles with the clients you work with?

Mark Bradley

Beth, I would say hard to fill positions, in my experience, tend to be roles where the demand for specific skills and experiences exceed the supply of qualified candidates in any particular geography or industry. On the one hand, technologies and tools like LinkedIn have made it easier to find people with unique skills and experiences, but on the other hand, tools like Google, Glassdoor, and Facebook have also made it easier for candidates to know material details about an organization. So one of the biggest challenges for some organizations is understanding the market perception of their brand and how that directly impacts their ability to hire top talent. So for instance, what is it truly like to work at your company? How does your company take care of their people? Is it easy to get promoted at your organization? How easy is the interview process? What's the culture like?

Given the accessibility of general information about how organizations function, it can be challenging for organizations who may not have a well-received or positive brand in the market to attract, recruit, and hire top talent. It can also be difficult to change your brand perception if it's not positive. And further, I think it's hard for executives sometimes to wrap their heads around the fact that they may have brand issues. Because it may take significant time, resources, and focus to make necessary changes. And often times, it's very hard for senior leaders to accept. So in short organizations that are unwilling or unable to address brand issues, while they may be able to find the high demand candidates, they may truly struggle to attract and hire them.

Beth Offenbacker

Well, so these are some very strategic issues that organizations of all kinds really need to be cognizant of when they consider the hiring process. What advice do you give clients -- and maybe any examples that you have -- for how they can best position themselves or the hiring process, Mark?

Mark Bradley

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think, from my perspective, thinking about the economy over the last 12-18 months -- companies today I think should realize that the days of quote, why should we hire you end quote to a candidate are over. The interview process is as much as a sale activity as it is a screening activity and to that end, I would have three different recommendations.

So first, hire the absolute best recruiters you can find if you have an in-house recruiting function. I believe that recruiting at its core is a sales function. So consider paying your recruiters market-competitive salaries plus incentive programs that truly match their productivity. When you think about it, many companies hire sales professionals with the expectation that most of their compensation will be received in incentive pay, based on the amount of business they bring in. Some incentive programs for recruiters pay 10% of their salary as a year-end bonus if they meet expectations and 15% as an example, if they exceed expectations. While I think this is a good step, I believe a recruiter that hires 200 people in a year versus a recruiter that hires 80 people in a year should be compensated with greater incentive pay. There are exceptions and considerations of course, like the complexity of the role, location of the jobs, etc.

Second, when you have a critical position to fill, build a compelling Value Proposition, not only for your company, but for that job, for the manager associated with that job, and for the team associated with that job. So most companies have really solid mission statements and they have Value Propositions at a high level. But often I find that the step of crafting a Unique Value Proposition for each job is skipped as it does take time. Take the Value Proposition of a team, as example, associated with a job. If you were, you know, a pro football player who's a free agent, and you had two offers to play for two teams and the pay was relatively equal, would you rather play for the Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes or for the Jets? I'll just take a moment to apologize to any Jets fans who are listening. I hope you continue to do so.

So before companies go to the external market, it's important to ensure you have very well-defined Value Propositions that address not only the job, the manager and also the team. And most importantly, Beth, I think it's important to ensure that all of the interviewers know what these messages are and share those messages consistently with candidates in the interview process.

Lastly, I would say, it's really important to look at your pay, your interview process, and your brand. So where you have gaps, definitely, you know, take action to make changes. Don't just accept those gaps or deficiencies. Maybe your interview process has three rounds of interviews with 12 people, you know, consider going to two rounds of interviews with six people or from two rounds down to one. Trying to make changes that will have a positive impact on the candidate in the process.

Beth Offenbacker

Wow. So marketing and really building the position around the Value Proposition -- those are all concepts that fit hand-to-glove is what I'm hearing, Mark.

Mark Bradley

I would say so, and as I mentioned, you know, many companies are very good at the high level and like I said, their mission statements are well defined, their high-level Value Proposition is well-defined but tailoring it down to each job, you know, that's what's going to help in the conversation when you're talking to a candidate who may not be really actively looking. So trying to attract the passive job seekers, you really have to have a compelling story and they want to know, what's great about this job? Who's the manager? What's their management style? So taking that extra time upfront can really yield results down the line.

Beth Offenbacker

Absolutely, absolutely. So let's talk a little bit more about pay. You mentioned that and I'll apologize I'm a Jets fan. It's true. What trends are you seeing in terms of pay and I know right now we are in the middle of COVID-19, of course, is pay always the key determining factor when it comes to bringing on especially those hard to fill positions?

Mark Bradley

I would say that at a high level, based on my experience, I believe that the salary market is just like the stock market. And what the salary range was last month is not necessarily what the salary range is this month for high-demand candidates. So some organizations they use salary surveys or other online tools. And if you think about it, salary surveys are inherently outdated when you receive them. It's based on things that happened in the past. The best barometer for me of what a salary range is in any market is based on conversations that recruiters have with candidates in real-time.

So, if you're working on a position and you're not at the correct salary range for a role, it's important to make the case to adjust the pay range based on information received from real-time candidates. If the pay range cannot be altered, then sometimes I would suggest consider adjusting the requirements for the role. You know, tweak your expectations if you can't afford the people who have all the original skills you're seeking.

And for those of you who may be thinking well, it's easy to say that the hard to do, I would say, I agree. It's very hard to have these compelling conversations with hiring managers. I can say that I have seen many clients adjust either the salary or the requirements based on information we found out by talking to real-time candidates this past year.

Now, if you have the conversation, and ultimately you cannot change the salary range, because that does happen for various reasons. I would suggest consider other perks that are very attractive to today's candidates. For instance, consider hiring virtual workers who may live in lower-cost areas, or offering some work-from-home options. Over the last year, I would estimate that about 80% of the candidates I talk to either want remote or work-from-home options and as a trend, more companies are offering virtual and work-from-home options as well.

The worst thing to do I think with regard to salary is to continue to hire people at salaries that are not in line with the market. This only perpetuates salary inequities, hiring less qualified staff, and higher turnover potentially. So if you have employees that are not in line with the external market, that should be addressed separately without impacting the hiring process.

And then lastly to your question, Beth, while pay is not typically the key factor, I would say it is typically a top three priority for most candidates -- and often those deemed as top talent. You know, they're currently working as they have a job, they have flexibility, whether that's, you know, virtual or some work-at-home time, and they're paid very well. So to have any chance at those individuals, I would suggest making a true real-time market-based offer that may also include other perks as we discussed.

Beth Offenbacker

Those are great points that we need to all bear in mind as we think about bringing the best people on for the role in our organizations, Mark. What expectations do candidates and the hiring organization have about the hiring process? How do you guide them, effectively on both sides of the equation?

Mark Bradley

Yeah, that's a good question. I think the most common expectation for hiring managers and candidates is speed. So hiring managers, they expect all their jobs to be filled very quickly, and applicants expect the interview process will not take three months.

So if your company tends to offer less pay as example, you know, consider having an amazing interview process. Think about the interview as more of a conversation, rather than an evaluation. Think about the mechanics of the interview. It's like, have you ever gone on an interview and met with five people who all ask the exact same 8 questions? I mean, for the candidates, it's very exhausting and it really doesn't so well.

So when I work with hiring managers and candidates, I lay out up front what is going to happen, what they can expect and when, as well as how long each step may take. Most candidates are okay with an interview process that may take a little longer, if they know what's going to happen at the beginning of the process. So for hiring managers, we discuss roles. Here's what I'm going to do, and here's what you need to do. And if there are process issues, because of, you know, experiences we've had in the past, I try to address those up front before we go external.

Beth Offenbacker

That’s great -- having everybody understand the game plan from day one is always valuable.

Mark Bradley

Absolutely.

Beth Offenbacker

Mark, one of the things I'm hearing it over and over in our discussion as a theme is that branding element here and so thinking about social media, that is a hugely popular and valuable tool that organizations use, as they think about the whole hiring process. What are you seeing, that employers need to be mindful of?

Mark Bradley

So if I think about things like, you know, how well does your company treat its employees? What is it truly like to work at your company day to day? What is the temperament of your CEO and is leadership well respected? There's a pretty good chance today that the answer to these questions exists, either on social media or other online platforms. So the question is, you know, what do you do if your company is not portrayed favorably on social media and other online platforms?

I've seen some organizations that will respond to all reviews given by employees and job applicants on Glassdoor, as example. And typically, this is done by a senior leader within the organization as they reply not only to the bad reviews, but also to the positive reviews as well. So if someone had a bad experience, some leaders will offer to talk by phone or meet for a coffee to discuss what happened and in some cases, leaders may actually apologize and share actions they've taken to address an issue.

Another action to take is to leverage your in-house marketing department. So literally, appoint marketing professionals to work with recruiting to enhance their online brand. Leaders, should be mindful that recruiters while they have sales skills, other skills, process skills, they're not necessarily marketing gurus. So, connecting marketing with recruiting is a very good action to take to address your brand.

And then lastly, I would say if there are negative systemic issues within the organization, the best thing to do is to address the real issues at hand. So marketing cannot cover up the fact that some employees feel they need to leave your company to get an earned promotion. So consider doing a deep-dive on the career development and promotion process. Do interviews with those who do leave your company and actually create tangible actions to address issues raised. Build Tiger teams to analyze the reviews, the data and the process breakdowns and create real tangible solutions and process improvements.

So, the bottom line here is, with some things like pay structures, it may be very hard to change. However, typically there are other solutions that may have a direct impact on your culture, thereby impacting your overall brand and social media.

Beth Offenbacker

Mark, as we start to wrap up our discussion, what top three pieces of advice would you have for a company that's having challenges with hiring?

Mark Bradley

I think if you're just going to have a couple three takeaways. Number one, for organizations to invest heavily in your recruiting function. Offer incentives to recruiters that are tied to results, just as you would for any sales professional you would hire. So if you're small, and you do not have a robust recruiting function, find an external partner to work with you on your jobs on a case-by-case basis.

Second, I would say as we talked about, really focus on your pay, your interview processes, and your brand, and address those gaps. And while it's not easy to do, address issues that will directly impact your ability to hire top talent.

And then lastly, one thing that we did not discuss, is to reduce the number of requisitions your recruiters may individually carry and I call this workload management. So, the level of service a recruiter with 20 positions can provide may vary greatly from a recruiter with 50 requisitions. Lower requisitions equal higher service, lower costs and better talent in my opinion. So those are just a few things to focus on and be mindful of.

Beth Offenbacker

Excellent advice all the way around. Mark, thank you so much. These are some great observations and recommendations as organizations think about the strategy, the branding, and the process related to bringing really excellent people onto their team so they can accomplish their business goals. Thank you so much.

Mark Bradley

Thank you, Beth. It was a pleasure and I really enjoyed the time with you and sharing some ideas together. So thank you as well.

Beth Offenbacker

Wonderful and Mark, for people to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Mark Bradley

Yeah, thank you. I'm very accessible via phone and my direct dial phone number is 703-489-1979 or they're also welcome to send an email to Mark@TheRecruitingConsortium.com and as well as my website which is www.TheRecruitingConsortium.com, but as I said, I'm generally accessible via phone as well as email. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Beth Offenbacker

Wonderful. Thank you again, Mark.

Mark Bradley

Thank you.

Can we help with advancing your Green Talent Management strategy? Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, Ph.D., at beth@waterfordinc.com or via phone or text at 703-623-4811 to discuss if our Talent Management services are right for you. We work with organizations of all sizes and types whose missions focus on sustainable objectives. All services are customized to your needs.

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