8 Questions With Will Staney On Starting Proactive Talent Strategies & The Evolution Of Recruiting

What is social recruiting and what does an effective strategy look like? If you’re a small or medium-sized company with very limited resources, what free tools can you use beyond LinkedIn and job boards to improve your recruiting efforts? Does your company have an employer brand and does it matter? How do you go about building a strong employer brand to help your company attract and recruit top talent?

Our Founder and Principal Consultant, Will Staney, was invited to speak on the Win-Win@Work Radio Show last Friday and share the Proactive Talent Strategies story as well as his thoughts on these topics. If you’ve been thinking about these questions, read on for his answers and top tips on how you can tackle these challenges to help your company take your recruiting and employer branding efforts to the next level. You can also listen to the full interview on SoundCloud below.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you came to found Proactive Talent Strategies.
I came into the Recruiting and HR industry the same way many other people did – it was not intentional and it just kind of found me. My education is actually in Mass Communications and Advertising, and I’ve spend about 10 years of my career in Sales and Marketing before "falling" into Recruiting.

One of my clients was a recruiter, and I was showing them some online marketing strategies they could use to find candidates through social – a time when social was just becoming a big thing. They later introduced me to the folks at VMware for a sourcing position. And it’s actually a funny interview story because I went into the meeting, started talking about my experience and what I heard about the company, and at the end totally pitched a different job to them.

They really liked my proposal and hired me. I ended up getting to write my own job description and built sort of a mini marketing agency within their global sourcing and recruiting organization. From that experience, I just fell in love with modernizing recruiting and building modern recruiting machines – taking reactive, transactional recruiting processes and turning them into more proactive, dynamic content marketing-focused ways of both attracting candidates and creating a better, more human experience in the hiring process.

I was with VMware for almost three years and then was hired over at SuccessFactors. This was a great experience for me as I not only built out SuccessFactors and SAP’s employer brand and digital strategy, but also had the opportunity to influence the products we got to use to drive our strategy.

After that, I moved into more recruiting leadership roles at startups. I went and headed the global recruiting organization at Glassdoor, where I got the chance to build a recruiting team from the ground up. Following Glassdoor, I went over to Twilio and helped them build out their recruiting organization as well.

Then I took paternity leave, and as I was reflecting over my career and all these recruiting machines I helped build, how many companies that need this so badly, and what a hard time our industry is having with catching up with some of the consumerization of technology and the changing behaviors of the workforce, I decided I wanted to build a company that could help as many companies as possible to modernize their recruiting strategy. So I founded Proactive Talent Strategies in December of last year, and it’s just been blasting off since then.

Q: Tell us a bit more about what Proactive Talent Strategies does?
We’re a consultancy and advisory, and we offer a deep range of services that covers the front of the funnel to all the back-end processes. Our core products are recruiting optimization, employer branding and training services.

With recruiting optimization, we come in and audit companies’ recruiting strategy, everything from their technologies to processes, teams and candidate experience, and help identify gaps where they could move forward in the talent acquisition maturity model and become a more efficient recruiting machine through technology and data.

And with employer branding, we come in and help companies with anything from developing their employee value proposition (EVP) to building out a digital and social strategy and employer brand audits. We also do trainings, and these include social sourcing and interview trainings for recruiters and hiring managers.

Another gap we’ve noticed that a lot of our clients are having is, once we start building our digital strategy, they lack the capabilities for creating content, specifically video, which, in my career, has been the most impactful from a digital marketing and employer branding standpoint. So now we have a full video production team to help clients, for a fraction of the cost of outsourcing to an ad agency or full video production company, so they can have great videos to tell their employer brand story to attract top talent.

So it’s all of the things that I loved about and have a passion for doing over the last decade, and started a company so that I can just focus on doing those things. And I’m having a lot of fun.

Q: What is social media recruiting? What are the key aspects to developing an effective social media strategy?
I really see social as one of many digital channels, and it’s one of the newer ones that a lot of companies are trying to figure out. I would first have them look at who their target audience is and where that talent lives online.

For example, if you’re trying to hire truck drivers, social may not be the thing for you. They’re on the road, so they’re not really checking Facebook or on Twitter all the time. So social recruiting may not be something you should focus on, if you don’t have the internal resources for it. However, if you’re hiring tech talent or salespeople, there are definitely some social strategies that you need to build.

I always have companies start with who you’re trying to go after, then decide on what your channel strategy is. And social is usually a big part of that, especially now that you have over 70% of the internet population on social media every day.

Q: If, for example, a company has 10 software engineering openings, what can the company do from a social perspective to try to source, attract and hire software engineers?
I think it’s the same thing those companies hold standards to when they’re looking at candidates. When they look at software developers online and Google them, if they don’t see things like a GitHub profile with their coding information or projects, they are likely thinking that this person isn’t all that great of an engineer – that they’re really not out there, giving back to the tech community, and showcasing their skills through their online presence.

The candidates are thinking about employers in the same way. If companies aren’t giving as much information for candidates to make an informed decision as they possibly can, they are really leaving it up to disgruntled ex-employees and other people to say who their company is and what it is like to work there. So companies need to understand where candidates are going to research them, and make sure they have a lot of great content that is authentic about their culture there.

For engineers specifically, I think it’s more about the open source community, and being a company that really sets guidelines to allow engineers to feel empowered and be out there sharing open source projects and what they’re working on – to me, that’s what helps companies build their tech credibility, which helps them hire great engineers. So it’s not so much just about being on social, but it’s about empowering your employees to have a voice and going out there to give back to their perspective communities, and thus building their brands and their company's brand with it.

Q: If I’m a small to medium-sized company, what else can I use beyond LinkedIn and job boards for my recruiting efforts, from a technology perspective?  
Again, I think it depends on who they’re trying to reach. If they’re trying to reach millennials, it's worth looking into things that are free that you can just experiment with and try, like Instagram and Snapchat.

A lot of people have been talking about Snapchat since 77% of all college students are using it every single day. Having a presence on there, but more so having employees on there sharing their work experience, can be helpful.

I really love Instagram from a brand awareness standpoint because you can really give ‘a day in the life’ look into a company. I’ve done things that cost nothing at all, like hashtag campaigns when I was back at SAP, where we crowdsourced hundreds of great pictures on Instagram showing what life is like at the company, and we amplify and share those out.

There are lots of programmatic things that cost time because you still need someone to manage social and community and build engagement, but nothing that you need to dedicate full budget to when it comes to social.

*You have to remember, though, that for many of the most popular social channels it's now a pay to play model. You need to invest in promoting some of your content on these channels to reach a broader audience (in many cases just the audience you've already built--like on Facebook). So dedicating a little budget to make sure some of your best content is seen by your audience through targeted advertising and to promote and build your communities can be a great investment.

*In addition to social, technologies like Entelo and WebClipDrop are examples of sourcing and candidate outreach tools that can create efficiencies in the sourcing and recruiting process by automating sourcing on multiple channels at once (not just Linkedin), quickly migrating data from these online sources to your internal databases, and measuring your outreach effectiveness.

Q: In order to create a reputable employer brand, would you agree that you need a partnering relationship with the CEO and their commitment to improving employee engagement and company culture?
Absolutely. When I was working at SuccessFactors, we had a very dynamic and energetic CEO who was fanatical about culture. We had a really innovative Chief People Officer as well. This created a really amazing culture.

I’m a firm believer that the CEO really owns the company’s employer brand, culture and values. That part of the company is a top-down strategy, with the culture, values and mission coming from the executive team down to employees. Leaders should be building the company based on these pillars, and they should be using these values as competencies to assess candidates they bring in to build the kind of culture they want at the company.

It is then the employees who come in that reaffirm through the experience they have, through how they talk about the company and through the feedback they give, that those values and culture come to life.

Without the CEO openly and regularly talking about those values and having meaningful conversations with their employees about their mission and why it’s important to what they do as a company, the company’s purpose and culture can get lost.

There was this study on employer brand and culture that surveyed executives and HR professionals, and one of the main findings was that the CEO really owns the employer brand and HR is that partner that helps to make sure that the experience employees are having matches the culture you want your company to have.

I’ve seen companies where they didn’t have that partnership. Their culture eroded and hiring became harder and more expensive and employee morale was down, but once they did have that partnership they became much better and more profitable companies.

If you take the top 50 Best Places To Work from Glassdoor and compared against their revenue or NASDAQ (*Correction: S&P 500 performance) to see how they perform on the stock market, they all outperform above the stock exchange's average.

Companies that have highly engaged employees and executives who are very much focused on the culture, people and the mission of their company just do better.

Q: While employer branding has become a must-have and not a nice-to-have, many companies still don’t have it. So what are the key components of a good employer brand, and is employer branding really just the messaging tactic of your culture that you send out?
To me, employer branding is something that every company actually already has. Now, an employer brand strategy, like an EVP, that’s something not every company may have.

The thing is, people, including your employees, are out there talking to others about your company, whether that’s through word of mouth, social, or at events and conferences. A perception of who you are as an employer exists at every company, it’s just that most companies are not actually taking an active role in being a part of that conversation.

The element that I see with companies doing employer branding well is that they start with employee engagement – they talk to their employees, they’re fanatical about getting employees’ point of view about their experience and empowering them to tell that story. Employer branding shouldn’t come from just the company. People trust employees much more than what the CEO or corporate handles say.

So employer branding is around communicating to employees what makes the company and workplace unique, helping and empowering them to be out there talking and sharing their experience, and getting involved in building a culture of recruiting, with the mindset that everyone is responsible for bringing great talent to help the company to continue to be successful.

For me, that’s the core element of employer branding. It really starts with employee engagement then storytelling, executed in a way based on who you’re trying to attract, and you create a digital and content strategy around that to put as much authentic information as you can out there for candidates to see – both the good and the bad, so you’re giving a true sense of what it’s like working there.

What happens with a lot of people, after they start a job, is that they have buyer’s remorse because the experience turns out to be different than what they thought it would be. In fact, 61% of people who start a new job feel this way (*according to a Glassdoor/Harris Interactive Survey done in May 2013). And that’s a byproduct of poor employer branding. If you’re doing employer branding well, you’re giving people clear and accurate information to make an informed decision.

When companies are being transparent about who they are, and they share their culture openly, two things happen: one, they can attract talent that better aligns with their culture and values, which decreases attrition and leads to a more engaged workforce, and secondly they discourage talent that doesn’t align to their culture and values from applying, which improves efficiencies in the hiring process because recruiters and hiring managers aren’t wasting time on interviewing candidates who ultimately are not the right cultural fit.

Q: If you pull out your crystal ball, where do you see employer branding and talent acquisition evolving?
I think we’re going to see a lot more automation of the administrative part of recruiting and HR as a whole continues to happen, and shift perhaps the role of HRBPs and recruiters even more so to being that strategic business partner and consultant at the table, given that they’re no longer administrative but truly strategic functions.

So HR and recruiting will be moving into the boardroom and thinking more proactively around workforce planning, and aligning what they’re doing from a talent acquisition and HR perspective with overall business goals and objectives.

And with automation, I also think recruiters and HR practitioners will have to change their skill set a bit, and really embrace technology and understand how to use it to attract, assess and hire the best talent out there.

*=Comments added specifically to this blog post and were not mentioned in the radio appearance due to time constraints. 

Do you need help with building or optimizing your recruiting and employer brand strategy? Contact us here and let’s chat about how we can help your organization with attracting and hiring top talent.