Jerome Ternynck is the CEO of Smart Recruiters, a global talent acquisition suite rated as the most strategic provider by industry analysts. With more than 30 years of recruitment experience, Jerome has a ton of insight into why 85% of Fortune 500 companies say that they don’t hire great people.
In his new book, Hiring Success, Jerome uses his expertise to guide companies through attracting, selecting, and hiring the best talent in today’s global economy where the pool is ever larger, and the positions being hired for are ever more specific. In today’s Author Hour, Jerome specifically discusses the two biggest mistakes most companies make when it comes to recruiting and hiring and what you can do to alleviate them in your business, in order to unlock your access to the best talent available today.
Nikki Van Noy: Jerome, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jerome Ternynck: Thank you for having me, Nikki.
Nikki Van Noy: Congratulations on your new book, how does it feel?
Jerome Ternynck: It feels great, to be honest, I spent a good amount of a year writing through this book and probably the best part of the last 20 years thinking about it. I’m excited to see it published.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s a milestone, that’s awesome. Talk to me, 20 years is a long time to be mulling over an idea. Why is this book so important to you and why do you feel that now is the time to do it?
Jerome Ternynck: You know, it’s a book about recruiting and how companies find the talent they need, and how people find the job they love. I kind of fell into recruiting very early on in my career. My first job was starting a recruitment agency. Since then, I’ve been obsessed by how you actually solve recruiting. How do you make sure that people can get access to the right job and that companies get the talent they need to grow?
Nobody’s really solved that problem, it remains a pain. It’s a pain for companies, it’s a pain for people, and it’s really hard to find a good job. So actually, writing a book about it and helping organizations understand how to better their recruiting, how to reach hiring success, as we call it, was a much-needed effort.
Nikki Van Noy: You know, it’s always interesting to me, the issues that have and have not yet been cracked. This is a perfect example of a function that literally every single company does. I’m fascinated by the idea that there is still this uncertainty and mystery about it. Why do you think that is?
The Problem Defined
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, it puzzles me as well. I mean, 85% of Fortune 500’s say they don’t think they hire great people. You can imagine that if a fortune 500 can’t hire great people, what about entrepreneurs and smaller companies who have less access to talent and fewer means? I think the real problem behind recruiting boils down to a simple thing which is transparency in the market, it’s hard to find the right person and for the person, it’s hard to find a job.
Just quite frankly, it was really hard to rent a two-bedroom apartment with the view of the ocean in Miami beach for next weekend before AirBnB arrived, right? I think with technology, we have the opportunity to bring transparency and fluidity in the labor market and to make it easier to match people to jobs again.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s exciting. So, you’ve been doing this for 30 years, let’s talk about how you’ve seen hiring and recruiting evolve and also where you see us being at today?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, you know, 200 years ago, the recruiting was pretty straight forward. One would post an ad in front of the factory, people would line up and get a job or not get a job. The number of skills that were available in the market was in the dozens, maybe in the hundreds, right? You had several manual crafts and you were working in your community and things were fairly straightforward.
But then, as the economy globalized, as jobs got more and more skilled and tenure jobs got smaller and smaller, the problem became bigger. Because now, the level of skills that are needed is higher. So, if you are an iOS developer, you build apps for the iPhone environment, it is just a very different job than actually being an android developer, where you build apps for the Google environment, right?
This is how deep we go and it makes the matching more and more difficult and people are increasingly mobile and more remote–you’re not hiring within a 10-mile radius of your factory anymore, you’re actually hiring nationwide and sometimes even globally.
The problem of recruiting has just become exponentially more complex. That exposes companies and frankly candidates as well, to a problem of matching, which forces companies to hire people that are not really a good match and forces people to accept jobs that, they’re not passionate about.
I think that’s where the market is at today and that’s where the pain comes from, hence the 85% of Fortune 500’s think they don’t hire great people.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, if I’m understanding this right, it sounds like there’s a big dichotomy right now, which is that the hiring pool, because of all of this global access we have is bigger than ever, but it sounds like what we’re getting to is this issue of almost finding a needle in a haystack, because jobs are becoming more specific, am I understanding that correctly?
Jerome Ternynck: Yes, you are. In economic terms, it’s called friction in search–friction in the labor market. Actually the 2010 Nobel prize for economics was awarded to three professors–one of them, Dale Mortenson, who is an American–for their work on measuring friction in the labor market. You know, that’s how much friction there is in that market, you can get a Nobel Prize for measuring it.
Nikki Van Noy: That says a lot.
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, it says a lot. It is really a fact of life for companies today and something that I think needs to be solved. There are some fairly straightforward and simple recipes on how to solve that, and that is what I’m writing about in the book, Hiring Success, how visionaries see or acquire top talent.
Nikki Van Noy: Perfect. Obviously, I want to dedicate most of our attention here to the solutions for this, however, I think it could be helpful to listeners, just to self-identify a little bit, to know what some of the most common mistakes are that you see companies making when it comes to attracting and hiring the right talent.
Jerome Ternynck: You know, I think there are two sets of mistakes or problems here. One is, how do you find the right person? This is advertising jobs, asking employees for referrals, calling people that already are employed, asking a headhunter, attending events, doing marketing campaigns. There are many, many ways actually that you can market jobs.
Most companies are still thinking, “Well, people are going to find my job somehow, they’re going to apply, and I’m going to filter through these applicants.” Where in fact, recruiting has become a marketing function. Where, as an organization, you market your jobs just like you market your products, to attract the right candidates just like you attract a customer.
That failing to recognize that recruiting is essentially a marketing exercise is the first mistake that companies make. Most organizations still think of recruiting as an administrative function that needs to be automated, needs to be faster and cheaper, and not as an investment where they market their job.
The second big mistake that companies make is in the selection of candidates. Because once you have a number of candidates interested, how do you actually meet with candidates? You know, very much, we still live in the era of well, you have an interview with your boss and at the end, your boss decides that you are a good candidate or you’re not a good candidate.
Unfortunately, that is a fairly simplistic way of doing recruiting and although every manager in the world probably believes they are a great judge of talent, they usually aren’t.
The error rate, the bias, the discrimination sometimes will lead to mistakes that happen as a result of the single-threaded selection process that are far-reaching and have big consequences for the companies and for the individuals. So, understanding that recruiting is a collaborative process where multiple people need to weigh in on the hiring, where the science of assessment can help, and how you can make professional evaluations and professional hiring decisions. That’s the second mistake.
One, consider recruiting as a marketing exercise to have a good pool of candidates to choose from and two, organize your assessments and your evaluation of candidates in a professional way so you don’t have bias and discrimination and you end up making the right decision and picking the right candidate.
The Job as a Product
Nikki Van Noy: Fascinating. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about how these major issues are resolved. It makes so much sense when you say that recruitment is really marketing but I don’t think I would have thought about it that way. How can companies begin to market effectively to reach the talent that they want to bring in?
Jerome Ternynck: I think it’s really a question that every CMO, every Chief Marketing Officer would answer fairly easily. The moment that you think about jobs at your company as a product and candidates as your targets, segments, your target customers, then actually putting together a marketing plan is not very difficult. In the book, we identify a method to that which really starts with segmentation and it starts by saying, “How do I segment the people I am looking for?”
Obviously, if you’re looking to hire a hundred young graduates for a call center, or you’re looking for the next data scientist or a chief scientist who understands data model for self-driving cars, you’re going to apply very different marketing techniques to reach potential candidates for one or the other.
Start by segmenting your talent between those that are hard to find or easy to find, those that are very impactful to the company or less impactful to the company, so you have this impact scarcity of framework that I describe that actually allows you to understand what the dynamics are of the talent segments you go after.
Once you’ve done that, you can then allocate proper talent attraction strategies. So, for example, if people are fairly easy to find, then job advertising is going to be a good source. You can advertise your jobs on the job boards or Indeed, or Monster, or LinkedIn and you’re likely to have good candidates coming in because they belong to a pool that is fairly easy to find–there’s lots of them.
But if you advertise your job for a chief scientist for self-driving cars, you’re never going to find the right person. This kind of person, you’re going to have to go around, pick up the phone and call these people. Or maybe you’re going to have to do more advanced marketing campaigns, for example, have a white paper or book about data science, get people to download it and then invite them to your office for a meetup or a discussion about data science, get to know them, nurture them over time, and then convert them into candidates.
In fact, that’s exactly what you would do for a normal product. If you’re selling a five-dollar cup of coffee, as seems to be the going rate here in San Francisco at Starbucks, you will afford some advertising, but you’re not going to call people and say “Hey, please come to my coffee shop and have a coffee.” But if you are selling a million-dollar mortgage, you actually might be able to call customers and that might end up being a good customer acquisition channel. The same applies to talent. Segment your talent and define your marketing mix in accordance with the talent that you are supposed to reach.
Nikki Van Noy: This sounds to me, from what you’re describing, like a function that really extends outside of HR. Is that correct?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, that’s the core of the problem, or maybe the core of the opportunity actually, because really, recruiting inside HR is administered as an administrative function. You know, applicants apply, we attract applicants and we select applicants, which is very different from a sales and marketing function.
Really, we’re seeing smart organization and smart cultures, and we work with a lot of very large successful organizations like Twitter or LinkedIn or Visa. In those organizations, they really have reinvented talent acquisition into a hiring success function that has a strong marketing component. We’re seeing new jobs appearing in the recruiting function that include jobs like talent attraction specialist, like recruitment marketing managers, we’re seeing bloggers, we’re seeing community managers.
All of the digital marketing jobs that have appeared in marketing departments over the last decade are now making their way into the recruiting department.
Nikki Van Noy: Interesting. What I am taking away from what you are saying is that recruitment should not happen necessarily because there is a position that needs to be filled. This needs to be an ongoing program where you are creating awareness about your company and getting people in your target sector to understand who you are.
Jerome Ternynck: It absolutely does. I think reactive recruiting has been a problem because by the time a job is open it is urgent, it’s late, and you enter compromising and hiring the first acceptable candidate you see, as opposed to the best candidate you could have found. So, anticipation is everything in terms of building relationships with candidates and having a proper candidate relationship management.
It is also critical in building your brand as an employer. The employer brand today, as evidenced by review sites like Glassdoor and overall trends in recruiting, the employer brand is as important as your shareholder brand or your consumer brand or your customer brand. Think of Google as an example, right? Google has a very clear employer brand, as in people are like, “Oh you work at Google, whoa” right? And they’ve worked very hard to build that employer brand.
To a certain extent, you could say that Google’s growth has been really fueled by their ability to hire better talent than other people in the market, and not surprisingly, they actually invest four times more per head in recruiting than anybody else, which is counterintuitive. You could think “Hey, they are Google, everybody wants to work for them. Why do they actually need to invest in recruiting?” That is exactly their point.
The Best Talent
Nikki Van Noy: Fascinating, I feel like that fact right there says everything.
Jerome Ternynck: It does, and it is no coincidence. I think people, smart CEO’s and smart companies compete for talent in their market just like they compete for customers. They understand that at the end of the day in a world where we are more and more in the knowledge economy with jobs that are more and more skilled, the company with the best talent wins. That’s it, it’s as simple as that. The difference between Google and Motorola is their talent. The difference between McKenzie and other consulting companies is their talent. The difference between Goldman Sachs and other banks is their talent. Your ability to attract amazing talent defines your ability to compete.
Nikki Van Noy: The other thing I want to touch on, building upon that, you also talked about the importance of the science of selection. So, once you’ve got the company out there and you are attracting the people that you want to, how can people begin to parse out selecting the right candidates among those people?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah and you say it right in saying, once you have been able to attract the right candidate, because I think the thing that sometimes people oversee is the first key to actually making a good choice is to have a choice. So, if you have 10 excellent candidates to choose from, you are obviously more likely to make a good choice than if you have two average candidates that you must choose from. So, your ability to attract talent is the first component of how to make a good hire.
Then once you have 10 good candidates, how do you recognize that they are good and build a consistent selection process? I think the consistency in the selection process goes into two main factors. One, is having a proper human evaluation of candidates and that goes with a clear job-specific scorecard. So, what is it we need this person to achieve?
Two, that goes into having a team that has an opinion on the candidate and not just one person. So at least two people interview, so you have at least two opinions, I recommend three. It depends on the job. You are not going to have three people interview every candidate for a low skill job but in general, two to three people interviewing candidates with a clear scorecard that people fill-in to evaluate candidates. So that you reach a rational evaluation of, “Do we think this is a good candidate and why?”
Just this simple discipline is not applied in most organizations. The simple discipline really helps and then you back this up with science, with a personality test, a skills test, and an overall actual test that gives you a scientifically proven view of the candidates. So, you do a bit of both. It is the art and science of selection.
Nikki Van Noy: This all just makes so much sense. So then with that selection and when you have multiple shareholders contributing to this uniform process, how big of a role does HR play in that? Are they one third or is this something that should be decided more by the people who are actually working with these candidates?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, I think that HR, or certainly the recruiting team, the talent acquisition owns candidate attractions, all the marketing and things we talked about. When it comes to selection, I think they own the process and the rigor associated with the process. For example, HR should enforce that there is a proper criteria to evaluate a candidate, that there is a scorecard. They should not accept that interviewers go into meetings and they are interviewing candidates and they don’t give proper feedback, they don’t give feedback on time, and they are not prepared for the interviews. So, the quality of their process needs improvement.
Now in some cases, HR can be a participant in the process but that to me is optional. It depends on the job, it depends on the context, but for sure they must be the owner of the process and the quality controller of the process. So, they ensure that the business is making a good decision about the candidates.
Nikki Van Noy: Got it. Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned transparency, which I wanted to come back to. Talk to me about how that plays into all of this, why it’s important, and what that looks like?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, I think transparency in selection is critical when you’re trying to change what is very often a subjective decision into a more objective one. Today, many recruiting processes are held behind closed doors without formal feedback, without transparency to the criteria, and it leads to bias and it leads to mistakes. It sometimes even leads to discrimination.
I believe that transparency in the process is a very strong foreseeing function, not only for more diversity and objectivity in recruiting but then ultimately for better decision making because as human beings, we have bias. Maybe I like sailing, I don’t know if you like sailing Nikki, but if you say, “Oh my god you like sailing, I love sailing.” You know, now suddenly I like you more than 30 seconds ago because we share something. Often who we are as humans, we have bias. I prefer people who like sailing because I like sailing and I think sailing is cool.
So, if I am applying this bias into my interviewing then I am going to end up with a lot of sailors and it turns out that this doesn’t build good companies. Good companies are built with a diverse workforce. Actually, diverse teams outperform a less diverse team every time in every study, every survey, and it is not hard to know or to understand why.
Imagine we are going to a trivia night competition tomorrow, who would you want on your team? Five buddies, who all like sailing or would you actually like five people who have radically different backgrounds? Therefore, I am more likely to have more answers to more different questions. Obviously, you want a more diverse team and I think businesses would benefit from a more objective selection process that takes the bias out and allows them to build more diverse teams and make better selections.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, I mean I can see how that is such a human trap because the truth of the matter is these interactions are so brief when you are going in to be hired when you are interviewing people, even if you have an extensive process there is still a limited amount of time and it can be hard to break through that wall. There are nerves and expectations and all of these things.
So, as much as we all know that it is best to be authentic and to really show who we are in an interview it is a tough situation to do that. It makes perfect sense how bias comes in here because you are getting those glimpses of humanity that way that are more difficult to get to when you are in an interviewing situation.
Jerome Ternynck: Yes it is. I am very passionate about diversity in general. I talk a lot about it and there is a whole chapter about diversity in the book. I think recruiters and hiring managers have a historical responsibility in making the world more diverse. Who we hire kind of defines the world we want to live in. If you want to live in a diverse world, well start by building a diverse team and have diversity in your own organization, in your own team.
We’ve seen this time and time again at our customers. Those efforts to bring a more diverse source of candidates and to reduce bias in screening and to reduce bias in selection are paying off. You know sometimes people say “Diversity is the cherry on the cake.” I actually think it is the cake itself. If you have a diverse team, you are going to perform better.
Advice for Job Seekers
Nikki Van Noy: So, I would be remiss not to ask you in this interview, obviously as the CEO of Smart Recruiters, you are working with businesses all the time but you are also working with people who are seeking jobs. So, with that in mind, do you have any advice or insight for people who might be in the job market or looking to make a leap?
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, we actually do work with a lot of people who are looking for jobs, about two-million of them sign up to Smart Recruiters every month.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s quite a few.
Jerome Ternynck: That’s right. That is a lot of lives touched, a lot of traffic. Initially, when I started Smart Recruiters, we started surveying people and job seekers and asked, “What do you guys want?” And you know what their number one answer was? It was, “Oh, can you please tell us what happened with my resume? Can you tell me what happened with my resume?” So many people apply to jobs today get into some black box and they never hear back from the companies.
That is not a message for job seekers. It is a message for companies–can you please answer the candidate? These are your customers, these are your partners, these are your friends, these are just human beings. They took the time to apply for a job to your company, please answer them. Sorry, that was my infomercial for recruiters to actually get better.
But for job seekers, I think my key message is your dream job is out there. It is painful, it is hard to find, you are going to get 50 no’s before you get a yes. Organize your job search just like you would organize an apartment hunt. Don’t settle for the first one you visit. Don’t lower your expectations, your bar, apply to jobs methodically, network and put yourself in a situation where you have a choice, where you can actually get to an offer and say, “You know what? I am going to turn this one down because I don’t feel the company. I don’t like the culture. It is a good job, but I don’t like the culture, I am going to find a better one.”
So, put yourself through your job search, put yourself in a position where you are in high demand, you have options, and you make a good choice. And it won’t help the companies on the other side to convince you that they are the best place to work and that is how it should be.
Nikki Van Noy: I love framing looking for a job like you were looking for housing. It makes so much sense to look at it that way. I think it is easy when you are in the market especially if you have been out there for a while to just make that jump, but I know I can speak from my own experience that those jumps, when there is any hint of desperation to them, never work out well and you lose more ground in the process than you have gained by getting employment.
Jerome Ternynck: Yeah, it is a difficult process and especially as the market doesn’t have transparency, it is hard to know what you are going to find. That limits the movement and it is no coincidence that over 60% of Americans would like to change jobs in 2020. That is over half of this country saying, “I don’t like my job. I am going to find a new one next year.”
Nikki Van Noy: That is a lot.
Jerome Ternynck: I think we can do better.
Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely. Jerome, you’re fascinating to talk to.
Jerome Ternynck: Well, thank you, Nikki. It is a big topic and one that we are all involved in. I hope people who read the book get inspired to better their hiring practices and people who are looking for jobs get inspired to say that there is a better job out there and take the leap to actually resign and go for it.
Nikki Van Noy: You’re right. This is a truly universal topic. So, let’s give listeners an idea of where they can find you. The book is Hiring Success: How Visionary CEO’s Compete for the Best Talent. Where else can listeners find you?
Jerome Ternynck: So, the book obviously is going to be on Amazon and other platforms, and they can find me on LinkedIn, Jerome Ternynck, and on the Smart Recruiters website, smartrecruiters.com and I am always happy to connect. As you can tell I am passionate about the topic. So, if you have an opinion, a question, or just want to chat, feel free to reach out, I’d be happy to respond.
Nikki Van Noy: Love it. Best of luck with the book. Congratulations and thanks for talking to us today.
Jerome Ternynck: Thank you very much, Nikki.