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Preparing for the HCI Talent Conference: “Exceptional Service” the New Business Imperative

Jun 19, 2017
Industry Region Resource Type

HCI's 2017 Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference is coming up fast. Taking place in Boston between June 26-28, the conference is set to engage the most successful talent acquisition leaders and explore how leading organizations are not only bringing in but likewise keeping the very best people. As I gear up to attend the conference on behalf of WilsonHCG, there are a number of topics I’m most excited to share, discuss and listen in on. 

Specifically, today the best recruiters and search consultants understand that providing truly exceptional service and experience to all stakeholders – clients/hiring managers, client leadership teams, candidates, interviewers, among many other parties – are imperative to business success, both short and long term. Unlike selling an off-the-shelf product or service, recruiters are not selling but rather uniting multiple, unique individuals and stakeholders around a multifaceted, factual idea:

  • The idea that there is a talent-based business imperative to achieve bottom-line objectives.
  • The idea that culture and organizational fit are integral to success for both hiring managers and hired candidates.
  • The idea that candidates have been vetted against position requirements and are worth your clients' time.
  • The idea that, once an offer is made, the candidates being presented are genuinely engaged, made to feel valued, and motivated by the opportunity.
  • The idea that all stakeholders can confidently align and agree that the most informed hiring decisions are being made. 

So, what does it take to align all parties in understanding the importance of exceptional talent acquisition and management, how to deliver exceptional service, and beyond that how to genuinely promote your organization as a provider of exceptional service? Leading up to the HCI Conference, based on my experience throughout the executive search industry, these are my conclusions on how to provide exceptional service and what I hope to learn more about as the conference arrives.

Treat All Stakeholders with Care and Perspective. Who are your stakeholders through the course of a search and how are they managed? One might say “first and foremost, it’s the client/hiring manager.” However, in reality, recruiters must view each stakeholder as imperative to the success of not only that individual search, but the success of long-term, trusted relationships with your clients, candidates, teammates and extended networks. Each should be treated with care and individual perspective against their business/individual goals. 

Credibility and trust should be established and delivered upon within every interaction. While your client/hiring manager can be and in most cases should be viewed as your most critical stakeholder, your candidates also have a lot on the line as they’re considering a career change and potential relocation. In addition, your long-term brand and reputation will be impacted positively or negatively depending on how you handle each stakeholder in every interaction.

Set Clear Expectations, and Deliver. Some say “under promise, over deliver.” My opinion is: Promise. Deliver. We will get to transparency and other key tenants as well as expectation setting below, but any business professional should understand that – in the example of recruiting – your search is not the only thing your client is working on. Your search is not the only thing your candidates are thinking about. Therefore, setting clear expectations week to week and delivering upon them establishes credibility, demonstrates effective project and stakeholder management, and gives your stakeholders the confidence that they are in good hands. 

Be honest. Be humble but effective. Always maintain a healthy sense of urgency. Establish cadence, send timely emails and text messages, and pick up the phone when the situation requires. Do not hide behind an email or text if a difficult conversation needs to occur or feedback/follow up needs to be given – especially if the candidate interviewed onsite.

Demand Authenticity, Trust and Transparency. Recruiters need to think and act like salespeople, but never used car salespeople. You need to believe and remain authentic in what you are pitching to candidates, and you need to create trust through consistent transparency with each of your stakeholders. Overselling will typically come back to bite you in the end. Do not mislead a candidate to get them to the table, do not misrepresent your pipeline (just put in the extra hours to build one!), and most of all do not misrepresent who you are or what you are working to accomplish for each stakeholder. 

As Vice President, Executive Search here at WilsonHCG, one tactic I use – after I assess a candidate, if I see a gap in their experience against the role requirements, I call it out in a way that shows respect but also gives them the indication of where they might fall short. It’s often said that feedback is a gift, and sometimes that gift can be delivered in your very first conversation. You don’t want to lose a great candidate, but you also don’t want them to think they are a sure thing; we want to inspire engagement and motivation but also make sure candidates understand the competitiveness of the opportunity right from the start.

Never Confuse Activity with Progress. One of my most trusted advisors, a mentor and a former manager, once told me to “never confuse activity with progress.” To this day it remains one of the most important pieces of professional advice I’ve ever received. When it comes to search/recruiting, no matter how many calls you make or emails you send, without a qualified pipeline of viable, interested candidates, little to no progress can be made. It takes activity (and a lot of it) to make progress, but never confuse the two. In the case of your client or clients, it is important to inform them on your strategy and funnel, but it is more important to demonstrate your systematic progress against the strategy. 

This also gets back to the previous two bullet points; accurately set expectations and transparently deliver upon them in an authentic manner to establish trust. If, over the course of one week, no progress has been made on a given role or project, explain why and how you plan to adjust. This will establish your credibility through authenticity, trust and transparency, and ensure you are developing the right-fit strategy to inspire better progress moving forward.

Anticipate and Prepare. The best recruiters in the business often know how a situation is going to play out before it happens. This is based on experience but also instinct and gut feel. Plant seeds with each of your stakeholders on where you think things may head and why. Ask your candidates and clients the right questions – for example, “Do you feel more, less or equally motivated by this opportunity after you interviewed onsite?” Your candidate’s answer to that question could dramatically impact the way you proceed to offer or turn them off from your pipeline. And when you think you’ve got your match/solution, make sure all of the data and preparations are made, and all potential objections are considered as you approach the offer stage. You can never be too proactive.

The Rewards of “Exceptional” Service. When you create and manage exceptional stakeholder experiences, your relationships and reputation in the market will pay dividends like Apple Stock. Year in, year out. Two clichés, albeit very real ones, apply here. The first is that people will remember not what you said or did, but how you made them feel. The second is one of the more commonly used Warren Buffett quotes, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” Each interaction will either positively or negatively impact your brand, effectiveness, impact and ultimately your career. In high volume environments, this can be a difficult challenge but it is without a doubt worth the investment.

The HCI conference is set to include presentations and conversations by the likes of Matt Charney, Editor-in-Chief of Recruiting Daily, Tom Davenport, Cofounder of Institute for Analytics, Jill Larsen, SVP, HR & Talent Acquisition for Cisco, and Colleen Truitt, Head of Talent Acquisition for North America at The Hershey Company, among many other brilliant thought leaders. I look forward to taking part, joining the conversation on Twitter, and sharing with WilsonHCG's takeaways at the event's end!

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Jonathan Edwards

By Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan joined WilsonHCG in April, 2017 as Vice President, Executive Search. Previously he spent 3.5 years at Red Hat as a member of the Talent Acquisition Leadership Team and was responsible for leading Executive Recruiting globally across each region and every business function. During this period the company grew from roughly 6,000 employees to +11,000 and grew from $1.5B to +$2.5B in revenues. Previous to Red Hat he was an Associate and Research Leader at Egon Zehnder and a member of the firm's CIO, CTO and Technology & Communications Practices. Here he served as the North American Lead for Egon Zehnder's Global Software Practice supporting Software and PE/VC clients across all functional responsibilities including CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, COO, CHRO, Heads of Sales, Heads of Engineering, Heads of Product, Head of Services, Heads of Support, Heads of eCommerce, Heads of Mobile, General Management, among others. Jonathan began his career as an Industry Analyst at IDC and Yankee Group.