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The Caring Side of Recruiting

July 22, 2008
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Retention, Workforce Planning, Featured Article, Recruitment
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You’d expect small and midsize companies working on tight budgets to care about retaining top talent, considering the cost to replace an employee these days is 30 percent of their salary.

But a business powerhouse like Bellevue, Washington-based T-Mobile? With so many employees to keep track of and no shortage of positions to fill at any given time, retention wouldn’t seem to be top priority in the wireless company’s recruiting department. Just fill the positions and call it a day, right?

Not true, says Marty Fisher, director of talent acquisition for T-Mobile, adding, "Acquisition and retention should be the goals of any staffing organization. It’s not just about forcing the count and flipping résumés to hiring managers. It’s about finding the person that’s both functionally sound and a good cultural fit."

Fisher, who started his career as an English teacher before heading into the corporate world, where he has held various HR positions for well-known national brands such as Starbucks and Abercrombie & Fitch, says he’s always tried to connect people to the path they want to be on. It’s been a guiding force in his career, which seems to have culminated at T-Mobile.

Since taking the director of talent acquisition post about a year ago, he has recognized that too many companies interview mainly for functional expertise. While he admits T-Mobile still does this to some extent, there has been a shift in thinking.

Fisher and his team have implemented new processes to ensure that a few things happen in order to strengthen attraction and retention practices.

A key aspect to the hiring process, Fisher maintains, is to adopt behavioral interviewing. " ‘Can you give me an example of a time when … ,’ is always a great beginning to a question," Fisher says. "Another important question is, ‘Tell me about the company’s culture that you’re currently working with.’ Those types of questions, I believe, are a good predictor of the cultural fit and ultimately the likelihood of that person being retained."

The importance of retention hardly ends there. The recruiting department at T-Mobile also anonymously surveys new hires at milestone points throughout the first year of employment to gauge their satisfaction and what suggestions they have for their department. Fisher says T-Mobile even has been participating heavily in alumni recruiting, keeping in touch with talent that may someday be wooed back.

What T-Mobile is doing may not be so much of an anomaly, though. Judy M. von Seldeneck, chairman and CEO of Diversified Search Ray & Berndtson, says her Philadelphia-based firm has been centered on retention for a long time.

DSRB, an executive search firm that has a national presence in major cities like Miami, New York, Washington and Chicago, has been in business for 34 years. Seldeneck founded the company and has built it into one of the largest women-founded and -owned firms in the country.

She attributes much of that success to the work she does for clients and job seekers. Similar to Fisher’s T-Mobile success story, Seldeneck stands behind her product, which she says is "the people we place and the job that they do."

So in order to place the right executives in the right positions, DSRB does its homework.

"Whenever we start a search, the first part of our process—whether it’s a new client or old client—is to do stakeholder interviews," Seldeneck says. "We meet with key individuals within the organization that the person would have to interface with and assess the culture to get a feel for the organization."

On top of that, Seldeneck believes her firm has a distinct advantage in the executive recruiting space because it also builds relationships with candidates before and after positions are filled. Seldeneck has put metrics in place to track executive placements, and she is so confident with DSRB’s interview process, research and ongoing surveys that she has a one-year guarantee on placements. 

She says DSRB’s dedication to getting it right the first time has put it in good favor with high-profile clients like Disney, Cisco, Lincoln Financial and Citizens Bank. It’s likely that other recruiting firms will follow suit, especially if companies are more insistent on this type of service.

"In the future, if companies are smart, they should hold search firms’ feet to the fire about [adding that personal touch]," Seldeneck says.

Even a relative newcomer on the recruiting scene seems to understand the necessity of customer service. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, recruiting and consulting firm Vaco was founded in 2002 by Jerry Bostelman and has seen remarkable year-over-year growth. This year it was ranked No. 33 on the Inc. 500 for its percentage growth over a five-year period.

Vaco supports various LLCs throughout the country, and each has expertise in the fields of their focus. For example, the three heads of Vaco’s San Diego LLC—Brandy Sloatermen, Ryan Buell and Joe Kudla—all came out of Big Four accounting before specializing in recruiting for the finance and accounting industries.

According to Sloatermen, "Our mantra has been about expertise and relationships from the beginning. We leverage not only our backgrounds but also a high level of customer service to create successful business relationships. Clients and candidates seem to mostly be concerned with the fact that we care about their success and that we do right by them all the time."

What a concept.

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