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Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: Managing Hiring + Talent


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: Managing Hiring + Talent

In this week's Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup, we're featuring insight into managing hiring and talent. Enjoy!

1) What to Look for When Hiring Your Startup Team from

“There's a multitude of ideas to consider when building your team, and far more information than can be discussed in a single article. But if you keep these five basic suggestions in mind, you should be able to create the world-class team you had always dreamed of, and on a budget you can afford in your startup's early days.”


Brand Like a CMO: A Recap


Brand Like a CMO: A Recap

Last week, we hosted our inaugural class - Brand Like a CMO - as part of our learning series. We invited speakers from non-HR functions to educate employer brand practitioners on the fundamentals of consumer marketing. Speakers included: Steve Hoeffler, a marketing professor from Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of ManagementMitzi Gaskins, VP of Luxury Brand Management for Marriott InternationalCaroline Frisbee, VP - General Manager for Delk; and Peter LaMotte, Chief Digital Engagement Officer for Levick. Participants came from all over the country (and Canada!) and from a variety of industries. 


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: Why HR is Important to Your Business


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: Why HR is Important to Your Business

When thinking about "business," what comes to mind first is finance, selling goods and services, advertising...Human Resources is not necessarily at the top of the list. Yet it's a necessary function to keep a business running because no matter what, there are people involved in a business. And not only is it necessary, it's important. Below are some thoughtful pieces around why HR is important to your business. 

1) What Organizations Need Now From Human Resources from Forbes

"The job of Human Resources today is to make people and organizations grow, yet it has only marginally evolved since its inception around the end of the nineteenth century. Starting as 'Personnel,' to protect women and girls in industrial environments, it gradually morphed into other realms including employee hiring, firing, attendance, and compensation. Motivation, organizational behavior, and selection assessments were added to the mix in the 1960s and ’70s. Over the last decade or so, the title of H.R. Business Partner – essentially a business-focused H.R. Manager role – was introduced with little impact."


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: New Trends in Human Resources


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: New Trends in Human Resources

Human Resources is all around us. It's more than just benefits and personnel issues too, and the field has earned a seat at the table in recent years. After all, once the recession hit, the world realized how important jobs really are to a functioning and thriving economy. As the HR function has grown, here are some new trends and thinking in the space. 

1) Why It's A 'Glorious Time' To Be in HR from Forbes

"Last month employers in the U.S. added 288,000 jobs. It marked the best five month stretch of job creation since 2008 and the U.S. economy has now officially recovered from the job losses of the last great recession. Of course this is great news for everyone. But there’s one tech industry in particular that particularly benefits when more people are working. Those are the companies that make human resources (HR) software."


When Experience Is No Longer Relevant


When Experience Is No Longer Relevant

I was listening to a radio show on NPR the other morning, and the debate was around the “Sharing Economy,” which is disrupting the way consumers purchase certain services. Uber and Airbnb are two major players in this new way of selling to consumers.

The debate around these companies right now is that they are circumventing the highly regulated industries they are touching. City taxi cabs are under strict state and local regulations. Cities are trying to find how Uber fits into the rules. Some people argue Airbnb should be taxed the same way hotels are taxed.

On this radio show, they spoke about how cities are approaching these new entrants. They spoke of panels made up of people who had decades of experience in each respective industry. It got me thinking about the value of all that experience in an era where the old rules don’t apply anymore. That “experience” comes from a time that is completely irrelevant to the current situation.


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: What HR Associates Legally Need to Know


Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: What HR Associates Legally Need to Know

Startups and small companies don't always have knowledge of or easy access to all the legal information that falls under Human Resources. Big companies, on the other hand, have dedicated HR professionals or even entire legal departments who specialize in this. Here are some resources about what HR associates legally need to know. 

1) Running Criminal Background Checks? Be Careful, at Least in the Big Apple from The Wall Street Journal

"While criminal background checks are a common part of the hiring process for many companies, there has been legal pushback lately, with federal and state authorities both launching cases against employers they say are using the checks unfairly. How do you define unfair in this context? The thrust of complaints by both the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and New York State has been that blanket rejection of all applicants with a criminal background is not OK — especially if it can be proven that such a practice has a disproportionate impact on black or other minority applicants."



Talent and HR News Weekly Roundup: Best Reads for Recruiters

There's a whole lot of content out there for recruiters. Some good, some not so good. If you're looking for some of the best reads for recruiters, we've sifted through recent content that's out there and highlighted some of our favorites below. And please share anything you have come across in recent months in the comments below. 1) Recruiting: Darwinism or Creationism? from Recruiting Blogs

"Baby I Was Born This Way: Uh, no you weren’t. You were in a really good job that required either A. Good sales and client development skills B. Good research and/or organizational skills, or C. a love for making money.  Nobody grows up wanting to be a recruiter. We happen to luck into to it, and for some of us (the lucky ones?) it becomes the found career path."



Big Data Employee Style: The 4 Kinds of Workforce Data You Really Need

Big Data Employee Style: The 4 Kinds of Workforce Data You Really NeedIn my experience, HR is usually a year and a half behind the curve for many business trends. From TQM in the 1980's, balanced scorecard in the 1990's -- we're usually behind the curve. When I was in HR for a F500 company in 2007 and first started talking about using social media in HR, people thought I was nuts. It took a two years to bring it to life.

Enter Big Data. Sure, HR prognosticators like John Sumser get it. He's been writing about Big Data for awhile and was the only HR representation on a Forbes list of the top 20 influencers in Big Data last year. But in true HR fashion, the idea of using Big Data to look at workforce data is only picking up steam as of late with conferences, skeptics, and predictions that Big Data will be, well, a predictive tool for HR.

But while The New York Times focused earlier this year on the power of all of this collective data, I care more about what this means for you, for your startup or your high-growth company. Whether you have five employees or 500, what kind of workforce data do you need on your employees and why?

1) Demographics

There's no doubt you need to know plenty about your workforce, including the range of ages, percentage of each gender, time in position and tenure with the company. But this data is so simple to collect we often forget we have it or what we can do with it.

Gender and age data can help manage recruiting and discrimination risks (especially if you have federal contracts). Age data can also help you better manage the workforce. If you're a Gen X founder, its helpful to get a sense of where the Gen Y pockets are and where challenges exist.

Tenure demographics help you pinpoint where turnover is happening and where progression is happening. You may think you know (especially if your team has fewer than 30 people), but are you tracking these trends over time? They can have huge implications on your workforce.

2) Performance

Even if you're a team of five, hopefully you have some sort of performance management system in place. You don't have to use a stodgy, corporate form, but you do need to set goals for employees and measure performance against those goals.

What you can do with that data is powerful. As you grow, correlate that data with demographics. Again, it will help you avoid risk and also isolate where there are management issues on your team and with certain pockets of employees.

3) Climate

I know, the employee opinion survey is dead. In its traditional form, sure. But it is important to get a pulse on how your employees feel at any given moment. What's working for them? What isn't? How are they reacting to a recent pivot, news, departure of a key leader?

Don't rely on the grapevine or what you think you hear. Gather more formal data on a regular basis and compare over time how employees really feel. Then use the data to help better your communications and your decision-making.

4) Culture

Finally, the holy grail of  internal workforce data is doing a deep dive on culture. The qualitative perspective is hugely important -- especially if you can bring in an unbiased partner to get the real skinny from employees.

How leaders define the culture and describe its existence is never exactly how employees describe it. And it's important for leaders to understand who their employees are -- what they are passionate about, what their lives are like and how work fits in.

This kind of data helps to evolve your workforce and your business to be the place you want it to be. Culture data is anthropological -- marketers go to a great extent to learn who their customers are. Imagine the value of doing this for your employees.

Big Data and Your Workforce Data

Sure, the trend of the collective data is compelling -- and you shouldn't ignore the implications for your business. For example, if you're in marketing, you can't ignore Leslie Bradshaw's presentation on engagement through Big Data. If you're an HR Technology companay collecting data, you can't ignore John Sumser's primer on Big Data as you explore the future of your product.

But for you, for your company, for your people, your workforce look inward first. The value of Big Data to your workforce is how you can use data on your own people to drive culture, engagement and productivity.

Note: there are a ton of technologies to help you here. Check out our weekly roundup highlighting a few.

exaqueo is a human resources consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to grow in the right way.


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Dissecting the Tribe

Judging by the retweets, comments and direct messages, my post A Member of the Tribe--over at HRExaminer--resonated with folks. Seems we care about culture but we don't know how to define it, grasp it, understand it.  Several you wondered about the job seeker role in this. If companies are bad at defining and communicating their own culture, can job seekers figure it out on their own?Yes and no. I actually spent quite a bit of time as a career coach and that's what's driving my perspective. I often told clients--don't compare job offers to each other--compare them to what you actually want from a company. I asked them to ponder: "what does belonging mean to you?" I also told them never to take a job without (a) making sure they interview with their future boss and (b) asking a series of questions about how work gets done.

There are ways to understand a company culture even if there's no manifesto or the clues aren't defined. Aggregating social data is one way--when I was at Marriott I asked many a data mining vendor if they had the ability to mine data from employees the way they do from customers on sites like TripAdvisor. None of them had ever done it before.  Why? First, HR is usually about 18-24 months behind marketing in utilizing technology. Second, much of the way work gets done isn't documented in online mediums.

It's the sidebar conversations, the lunches with mentors. 

Sure, sites like Glassdoor can be mined for insight, opinions, opinions strong enough to drive someone to write about them online. And that leads to trend aggregation. But unless you can mine--and make public--insider conversations (even on a medium like Yammer), you won't get the true extent of culture. You'll get generalities on the culture, not specifics on how work gets done.

Even now, when people ask me what it's like to work at Marriott Corporate HQ, my responses are tempered. I speak in general terms: "it's hierarchical, a buy-in based culture that pre-sells and moves slowly." But that's because the culture at Marriott, while strong, isn't well-defined in terms of how work gets done. There are core values that have created a foundation, but like most companies, they're lofty, positive and open to interpretation.

Employees aren't going to be open and transparent publicly unless the company is.

And for job seekers, anonymous content is just that anonymous. And at exaqueo, we're on a mission to change that. As organizations, we have a responsibility to define who we are and how we work--and be honest about it. Culture isn't all Zesty, hunky models, roses and candy. It's the warts, the thorns and the candy corn (I absolutely hate candy corn).  But YOU might love candy corn and that's the thing.  The more you know, the more you can decide if it's the right place.  I'm a neat freak. My husband is the opposite, and yet we still married each other.  That's fit.  And for talent acquisition and HR professionals, this is the holy grail. And this is where culture comes in.

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Why Start-Ups Matter to HR

Last week, my colleague Rajiv wrote about why start-ups need to care about HR.  Newsflash--that sentiment goes both ways. HR needs to care about entrepreneurs too. If you're in HR, you've heard of SHRM--the Society for Human Resource Management. You might even be a member. While I'm certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), I've let my long-time SHRM membership lapse even though my home office is only a few blocks from SHRM. Here's why--I'm an entrepreneur. My company, exaqueo, is in the business of talent. And yet I still decided the value from SHRM wasn't worth it for me personally. Or anyone on my team.  We're in the business of helping start-ups and high-growth companies solve the talent problems that impede their growth.  They need advice. They need HR. They need help. And right now, SHRM isn't the answer.

As I prepared to write this post, I turned to my colleagues in the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only membership organization comprised of hundreds of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. I asked if they struggle with HR issues.  "Who doesn't?" one answered. "Talent is everything," said another.  When I walked around the entrepreneurial event Day of Fosterly, a few weeks ago, I asked if the founders and entrepreneurs had heard of SHRM. Few had. And those that did weren't members. Fellow members in my DC Tech Facebook group were mixed on whether they'd heard of SHRM, but all saw HR as hugely important to their business growth.

It doesn't surprise me.

This morning's rotating flash on the SHRM page touts the conference and a webcast on HR departments.  The emails I keep getting throw the carrot of a tote bag if I join. I'm an entrepreneur. I don't have time for a weeklong conference. I don't have an HR department. And I certainly don't want or need a tote bag (NPR, I'm talking to you ,too.)

But, it does scare me.

In HR and recruiting we've become a content nation of boring. We cater to the middle man, the average HR gal. We talk about the same companies over and over. We rely on lists and rankings that mean nothing beyond a fluffy press release. We write the same articles over and over (with the same advice). And we do all this without regard to our audience -- small company, large company, hourly, managerial, tech, union -- it doesn't seem to matter.

The most popular articles on SHRM will make any entrepreneur's eyes glaze over. Today's "most popular" list included HSA, pension, e-Verify, FMLA...most entrepreneurs don't care or want to care about these things. It's up to us as HR professionals make them care in a way that matters to them--money, risk, talent, growth. A Q&A on social media policy? Entrepreneurs don't have time for that. They don't even have or need policies.  Content needs to cater, to be specific to this audience.

They are HR's future customers.

Entrepreneurs need to care about HR and we need to both make them care and show them we can actually help them. I did find a few entrepreneurs getting value from topics like training and employee relations with SHRM:  "I like HR people who like to do lots of training and education. So they get a good resources from SHRM," said one founder. Yes! Many start-ups hire novice or neophyte professionals who want to learn HR and can do it on the go as the start-up grows. But they have to be drawn in.

One entrepreneur shared her perspective on SHRM this way: "Keep in mind, they tend to take the most conservative stance on HR matters so it may or may not be relevant to start-up issues." This is the perception in the marketplace among entrepreneurs who do know SHRM.

HR organizations like SHRM need to think more deeply about the future of the profession and not just coast along appealing to vanilla audiences. There's a place to support entrepreneurs and their work style. Content channels? Sub groups? Communities? Places to show the value of HR to entrepreneurs so they don't ruin their businesses over talent issues.  Believe me--this is more common than you think. (A client recently told me: "I don't understand how I ended up with a group of employees who are incredibly smart but all hate each other.")


Don't you want to be relevant to organizations in the early stage of the organizational life-cycle? If you don't, you should. Ask me how. I'm just down the street...I'll even buy you a Misha's. In the meantime, our little boutique consultancy will continue our mission to build cultures, employer brands and talent start-up at a time.



Why You Should Care About Candidate Experience

We're marketers. That's what we are. Talent acquisition is about promoting opportunities. Driving brand loyalty. Evaluating customer sentiment. Participating in the conversation about our brand. Whether you like it or not, if your game is talent, your playing field is strangely similar to a marketer's. And that because it's all about the experience. Ever find yourself running to post a review on Yelp, TripAdvisor or OpenTable? And when you do--you're always talking about the experience. That's why marketers live to transform the brand experience. It's an operational exercise.  You want to look at every step of the process, get feedback and then look at it again. You want to think big too--how does the experience make the customer think and feel? Would they come again? Is there loyalty there? Would they recommend you to a friend?  Marketers live, eat and breathe all of these things. And so should talent acquisition leaders.

Enter the Candidate Experience Awards. Designed to showcase companies delivering the best in the experience job candidates receive, the Candidate Experience Awards provide insight into an often overlooked part of the talent process--the experience.

I'm lucky to be joining a great collection of HR professionals as part of this year's Candidate Experience Council.  As the Council elevates the importance of candidate experience, we'll be encouraging your organization to apply--because get this--it's not about the award. It's about the experience. "The CandE Award process is a competition, but it is also designed to provide every organization that chooses to participate confidential and specific feedback on how they can improve their candidate experience." Winner or not, you'll get valuable feedback you can't always attain from inside the organization.

Whether you're hearing about this for the first time, or sighing and thinking "Is this really worth my while?" We say yes. Want to know more? Ask me or any of these fine folks joining me on the Council:


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QUIPS #3: What Your Employer Brand is Desperately Missing

QUIPS = QUIck Problem Solving*. Quick ways to begin to address and solve common talent challenges when resources to tackle the challenge holistically or over time aren't an option. Here is QUIPS #3: What Your Employer Brand is Desperately Missing. You know your organization. You know the politics, the business, the industry, the challenges. And you know the people. At least you think you do. Especially if you work in HR. But you don't. You may have a pulse on their happiness or engagement, but do you know who they really are? If you don't, then you can't build or execute a real employer brand. So what do you desperately need?

Research. Real, detailed, holistic research.

I'm not talking your typical engagement survey. That's just a measure of satisfaction and productivity.  And according to Gallup, we're all in big trouble when it comes to engagement anyway.  Stop asking employees if they have a best friend at work. Start asking who they are. Then use the results to understand the composition of your workforce: the actual people who are doing the work. That's the heart and soul of your employer brand.

And yet almost NO companies do this. They create employer brands based on assumptions or what creative agencies pitch. They focus on best practices instead of what makes their organization unique. They package it up and call it an employer brand. It isn't.  No real brand can be created without consumer research. And in your case, your consumers are employees and candidates.

Consumer marketers know research is essential but expensive. However, the results can be mindblowing--and have multiple purposes. But here are four ways you can get started:

1) Create a new knowledge base 

Categorize  and ask for employee information in a way you never dreamed of. Go beyond the basic demographics your HRIS captures and brainstorm--what would you want to know about our employees if you could know anything?  No one has 9-to-5 employees anymore. You have real people. So what about them as people would be helpful to brand development and HR decision-making? Think about the impact data on their commuting habits. hobbies, social media use, family structure and personal interests could have.

2) Hold employee focus groups

The classic marketing tactic, when done right, focus groups are powerful. Don't think about developing or evolving your brand without them. Make sure they are moderated by a trained facilitator, are representative of your workforce and are planned well.  They have to have a purpose and scripted questions that allow you to probe for deeper feelings, emotions and reasoning that you can't get from a simple engagement survey. They answer the "why" to all the data you've already gathered.

3) Use orientation wisely

Wow. A group of new hires all in one place at one time? Don't ignore this opportunity for feedback. I don't mean simple feedback on the hiring process. I mean detailed feedback on who these new hires are and how they feel. What did they do when they got their job offer? (Jump for joy or stress about the low starting salary). What are they most excited about in their new role? Most fearful? This is the kind of valuable data you can use.

4) Completely rethink your  surveys

Sure, there's validated research that says it's valuable to ask employees if they have a best friend at work. But what if all they're doing is commiserating together?  You don't know if you don't ask. Follow those questions up with questions that get at the deep detail--why does having a best friend matter? And what do they talk about? How often do they talk during the day and where?  THAT's the kind of data that you can use to develop a brand. It gives you the essence of your brand.

You wouldn't market a peanut butter without tasting it, understanding what it's made of and how it's different from other peanut butters. Don't market yourself as an employer without doing that research first.


*Speaking and consulting with HR professionals, I often hear how hard it is to take best practices and actually implement them. The grand solutions shared at conferences and in whitepapers often come from companies with big staffs, big budgets and a supportive and forward-thinking HR team.  What if that’s not you?  QUIPS = QUIck Problem Solving. These are quick ways to begin to address and solve common talent challenges. We give you simple, easy ways to address the problem in the absence of time, staff and money. Previous QUIPS include:

  • QUIPS #1: quick ways to address the candidate experience problem.
  • QUIPS #2: why brand ambassadors are good for business.

Have a problem you need to solve but don't have the resources? Let us know what problem you want us to tackle in our next QUIPS.


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The University of Sumser

Class is in session at the University of Sumser where the Dean is opposed to idea that there is a quick fix to everything. If you’ve taken a class here before, you know that staunch opinion and firm beliefs always make an appearance. But there’s always an interesting discussion in the works. Next week, John Sumser takes his thought university on the road to keynote recruitDC, the region’s premiere recruiting conference and meet-up, for a course on localizing recruiting.  The king of industry analysis, John’s been diving into all things recruiting and technology for much of his career. His recent leadership in the field includes a deep look at social technology in recruiting and HR, a multi-year investigation of influence in HR and a number of engagements with recruiting operations, employer brand initiatives and product designs. I snagged John on his virtual campus to talk a little bit about his upcoming class, his history and ironically, his own influence.

Susan: You create these great influencer lists sharing great leadership examples across multiple disciplines. And yet, you’re actually a key influencer yourself. Where did all of this begin?

John: I’ve always worked in sales and influence to some extent. At eight years old I was selling magazines. When I made my way to college I decided to major in philosophy, which entitled me to be a door-to-door Santa Claus. It’s a great story actually. Polaroid had just developed an instant movie camera and for $1500 you could get an instant movie and Santa would come to your house for a party. But it was the same year that Sony introduced Betamax for $100 less. So technically my first post-college job was a bunch of Santas sitting around an office, smoking cigarettes and waiting for phone to ring. I think I was terrified that was going to be my life.

S: Santa to recruiting is a pretty big jump. I imagine there’s something in between?

J: There was. I cut my hair and then moved into the defense industry in Washington, DC and became the lowest paid employee in all of Westinghouse. As a copy boy I made $19,000 but surprisingly, really liked it. So over the next five years I [complemented that philosophy degree] with certificates in organization development and engineering. And I learned how to code.

S: And then you went from coding to recruiting?

J: Not quite. I became a technical writer and then a trainer. I didn’t even know half the stuff I was training on, but I had a mentor who told me “all that matters is that you’re an hour ahead of the class at the end of the day.” So I taught all day (crazy subjects like teaching the Chinese Navy to make frigates—don’t ask) and then I learned at night.

S: Fast forward some technology projects and proposals and then what?

J: I ended up as the VP of R&D. I had become the guy who was interested in the [new thing called] the Internet and the future of publishing. I stayed there 15 years.

S: It makes sense that they’d want someone interested in the future to be steering the future of the company, namely, research and development. But I still don’t get the connection to recruiting.

J: It came through technology really. I moved from Westinghouse to run a non-profit. But it was staffed by a bunch of hippies and I ran it like an engineer. I got fired. Since times were tough and the non-profit was ground zero for the commercialization of internet, I got three T1 lines for my severance. I used them to start to look for a job online in old usenet groups but it was boring and it wasn’t working. Then I decided to see how many jobs I could apply for. I applied for 70 jobs a day for 17 days straight before I needed a break which got me wondering--how long would it take to apply for these all at once?

S: And that’s how you became an analyst, delving into statistics and trends in recruiting?

J: That’s right. I founded interbiznet in 1994 because I had the statistics. I became an analyst for an industry by default. Many people then know the rest of the story. I sold it in 2006, edited for a year, worked with Jason Davis to build and then started HRExaminer.

S: I know there were other things in there too—you started and also played a role in the Jason Davis versus Jason Goldberg blogging controversy. In fact, it seems you gravitate towards controversy.

J: Look, I’m an analyst for an industry who evaluates technology and trends and in the world I operate in, (the world where you evaluate for a living), the truth is a scarce commodity. The culture craves big dramatic solutions.  It’s normal for vendors and consultants to paint their products and services in very stark relief as if that was how one solved problems. Most real world answers are nuanced and subtle. I stay neutral and honest. I have a habit of noticing that the emperor is naked.

S: It’s funny how honesty can build and burn bridges at the same time.

J: Yes. I’ve often positioned myself as the guy who knows how the game ought to played and people don’t always want to hear that.  But that’s fine. I’m okay with people being mad at me. I think high performance teams prefer candor. But high performance is not what everyone wants. Candor and civility are not always compatible.

S: Because of, or, in spite of the controversy, you’re clearly influential. What role or experience has had the most influence on you?

J: I learned as much from mowing lawns and selling magazines and bartending, so I am not sure. What I do know is that showing up and doing shit has an amazing effect.  Showing up and talking doesn’t get you anywhere.  But talking (which I learned as a bartender) is important while you’re doing stuff.

S: Is that part of the analysis? You’re talking out a solution, learning as you go?

J: Learning as you go is. I really didn’t know anything until I was out of work and started a company. There’s nothing but you and the cash flow and you have to decide between a ream of printer paper and a box of mac and cheese for dinner.  The bottom line is I bore easily and am really curious and I’m capable of getting interested in what’s right in front of you.

S: I’ve been there—there’s no better learning experience than being an entrepreneur. You can make some serious mistakes and still come out the better for it.  Would you brand yourself as a learner? Is that what drives the influence?

J: I guess. I think I’m most like a university. The essence of what I do [as a leader in the industry] is teaching. But I also take pride in being a laboratory for ideas. And then I never let my assumptions go unchecked.

S: Because of that you’ve predicted a lot of recruiting and technology trends. It’s a real talent of yours. What’s one you were ahead of the curve on?

J: I still really believe in talent communities but I was writing about them 15 years ago. I guess I was exceptionally ahead of the curve there. But everyone’s still getting the idea of communities wrong. It’s not about you throwing it out there and letting people decide if they’re a member of your community. It’s honing in on who the target is and focusing there.

S: Have you ever hung your hat on something that was totally wrong?

J: Honestly, not really. I’m a scout and I like to be able to see things ahead of their time.  What helps is getting in early to understand it. There’s a great book, “The Timeless Way of Building” that talks about the only way you can really understand something in a way that matters is to get dirt under your fingernails and build it yourself.  I try not to ever, have an idea that I haven’t tried to turn into something. You have to figure out how to do it before you tell people it’s a good idea.

S: Before I let you go, let’s talk recruitDC. Coming on the heels of some cities that have a really strong recruiting community (like Minneapolis), DC is coming together stronger than ever. You’re keynoting the upcoming recruitDC conference. What advice would you give recruiting and TA professionals about working effectively within their local market?

J: Most people assume that the world is like the place they live in. But everywhere is really like a weird bubble. That’s why recruiting is local. But you can’t assume that everyone outside of your bubble is like you. What I’m going to talk about are the solutions that work in the world you operate in.  If your company is in Washington, you need to recruit in Washington.

S: So what’s next for you?

J: I’m actively looking for that next opportunity. I have a real interest in problems people have. I actually want to move away from controversy into something deep and new. That’s really the trajectory of my life as a whole.

S: Well then maybe it’s time for a university sabbatical of sorts? Teaching back to problem-solving and R&D? Sometimes it’s easier to be controversial when teaching – you can blame the school. Either way you can still be influential.

J: Isn’t that the truth.


Have a problem you want John to solve? Contact him or

This interview was compiled by Susan Strayer. Contact Susan at



10 Tips for a True Expert's Personal Brand

This blog post is co-written with the super-smart Pete Radloff, recruiter, talent leader and all-around nice guy. The internet. For all its beauty and brawn, it’s like candy to a kid.  There’s always room for more. Unless you’re managing a personal brand, meaning, you’re calling yourself an expert and purport to be the “industry’s leading…” or the “foremost expert on….” The field in which we work, human resources, has it’s share of experts—from recruiting to Gen Y to organizational design.  But for every expert, there’s an online personal brand and many of them are painfully obvious.

It may be a lost cause for those floating in the ego clouds but if you’re looking to make a career as a subject matter expert (or if you are one and you’re willing to listen for a wee second), here are ten tips to brand yourself as an expert while keeping it real. And bearable.

1) Let your experience speak for itself.

As an expert, you don’t need to continually remind everyone with every post, promotion and page on your Web site, that you’re the expert. Headlines and promotional materials may be a necessary evil, but let the work speak for itself. Share a client list. Blog regularly. Provide feedback and testimonials from clients that matter. Your experience and expertise isn’t about what you say it is.  It’s what your reputation says it is.  Self-promotion has a tipping point and humility can be a beautiful thing.

2) Show that you’ve worked in the corporate trenches.

Expertise is earned best through experience.  And while consultants get great, often long-term, experience from client relationships, there’s no substitute for having been a client yourself at one time. To be an expert is to say “I’ve been in your shoes.”  There’s credibility and understanding to having managed a Fortune 500’s budget or gone through an RFP or vendor selection from the inside. Relationships are built on common understanding and the "I've been there before" is a great place to start.

3) Don’t spam - have a target audience have concise useful content.

It’s not to say don’t market. But a surefire way to make sure that your audience tunes you out quickly is to focus only the “Look at ME” factor. We’re in a society constantly inundated with this offer or that new shiny toy.  Break from the herd and offer clear content that is rich, focused, and stirs debate among the readers or followers that you are targeting.  Aside from promoting yourself, and marketing your brand and services, you also have to provide a value-add to the audience. Always ask yourself “what can they take away from the content I’m delivering right now?”

4) Speak on topics you have real experience with, not just pure opining.

Looking at the profiles of “gurus” on LinkedIn, and their bios on their websites, there are repeated patterns in many of the profiles – little to no experience in the field that they are allegedly “experts” in. There are pedigreed educational experiences, and then once off into entrepreneur-hood – an expert is born.  While there’s almost always a segment of the experts that have tenure in the field that they opine about, the law of averages doesn’t allow for them all to be experts. Your credibility is, in the long run, ultimately based on the wisdom you can share from deep, genuine experience and research into your topic.

5) Don’t assume you know everything about said, expert topic.

Even if you’re the go-to guy (or gal) in a particular niche, you have a perspective based on your experiences, your education and your age. Not only do you not know everything, but you’re not in a place to predict every trend either.  Pay attention to up and comers in your field or industry and publicly highlight what you learn from them. It shows that you respect the full range of thought and debate any area of expertise needs to stay vibrant and energized.

6) Stop with the “thought leader” crap.

“Thought leader” – say it aloud. These two words are pure marketing gold. Gold plated that is. It’s an incredibly overused term, and usually misappropriated in its use. The definition of thought leader is a “person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights”. This is a fine definition, but it explicitly says "innovative ideas." And much of what is out there is far from innovative, but rather recycled and repackaged as new. Only truly innovative, unique ideas can make you a thought leader. (And we have to be able to come up with a better catchphrase or label for it, right?)

7) Don’t let your life become your brand.

Social media has allowed experts to become more personable, sharing more insight into their personal lives and interests. But your life can’t become or overtake your expertise.  If it does, you’re not an expert in your area of expertise. You’re an expert in your personal life. And we're not in the market for that. If you decide to open up all of your thought streams to your public, do so carefully.  Then take a count. We want to know who you are at your core, but when your wisdom starts being outweighed by Tweets about your pet peeves and Facebook posts about your unhygienic neighbor, your credibility sinks. Fast. There’s no doubt that social media means a professional and personal profile is often merged. But you’re managing a brand here and authenticity isn't digestible when you're sharing everything that comes to mind.

8) Don't throw others under the bus that you "compete" with and don’t attack others that disagree with you - your side is only 1 half.

The internet means the world is much smaller now.  With that comes responsibility for the brand owner. You’ll always have supporters and detractors. Not everyone will see your ideas as right, some will be flat out competitors, and others may even call you out publicly. You must be willing to engage all parties professionally and with mutual respect.  It’s evident to an audience when you are in attack mode, as opposed to when you are in competitive, but substantive debate. Part of being a leader is respecting the ideas of others, even if not always agreeing with them.

9) Don’t be untouchable.

Now that you're big and branded, find new talent to mentor. When you start getting dozens of calls for informational interviews, you've hit the big-time. Just remember you too were once unknown and someone helped you. Pay it forward and offer a talented up and comer a chance to guest blog on your site or join you as a guest at a big conference.  Share something you learned from someone much greener and younger than you and answer as many emails and tweets as you can to stay connected.

10) Age often equals wisdom.

You may be rich and a expert in your own right in your 20s, but respect that some learning only comes with time (and gray hair). There are certainly outliers, those who are wildly successful and experienced early. However, the vast majority of people need to have an array of experiences both good and bad over a long period of time and have navigated many different situations to truly be considered an expert. Take time and be patient. Immerse yourself in as much of your industry as you can. Have an open-minded approach. Know what you don’t know. You've got plenty of time to learn it and plenty of time to be the expert.

So, are we experts with perfect personal brands?

We’re not professing to be perfect.  But from where we sit, we see hundreds of experts' brands just by reading, blogging, working and traveling. And all we want you to do is help you take a fresh look in at your own. The foundation for your brand is your credibility. Credibility built through the efforts that you have made to immerse yourself in your field, industry, the experience you have gained, and the continual ability to listen.

Keep your brand lean and let it lead itself. If you find yourself having to constantly work at your brand, then you’re not doing enough of the real work that gets you to be an expert.