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Deborah Campdera: Grant Thornton's Alumni Network

theGrid: Staying Connected at Grant Thornton


"Referrals are over 35% of our hires in terms of the source for us and I anticipate that will continue to grow, so being able to have all of the Grant Thornton jobs posted on the alumni side of theGrid as well as enabling our alumni to post jobs in their current company which is marketplace jobs and we’ve recently launched TalentVine which is a new product that SelectMinds has developed and we’re really excited about it... it’s going to make it really easy for alumni to refer potential candidates using their other social networks, be it LinkedIn and Facebook." Deborah Campdera

Welcome to an Talent Acquisition Channel’s special edition of TotalPicture Radio recorded at the SelectMinds 2010 Annual Client Conference in New York. Joining us is Deborah Campdera, National Alumni Relations at Grant Thornton, the US member firm of Grant Thornton International, one of the six global audit, tax and advisory organizations.

Complete Transcript: Interview with Deborah Campdera

Welcome to an Inside Recruiting Channel special feature on TotalPicture Radio, recorded at the SelectMinds Annual Client Conference in New York City. SelectMinds enables companies to revolutionize the way they acquire talent, by leveraging the social networks their current and former employees have already built to generate high-quality referral and rehire candidates.

The SelectMinds product suite, AlumniConnect and TalentVine leverage an organization’s most valuable asset – their people. With SelectMinds technology, companies can recruit top talent not only from within their employees’ social networks but also from their own private secure employee and alumni networks. These referral-based environments drive recruitment, new business development, brand evangelism, and ultimately — business growth.

Peter: Welcome to an Inside Recruiting Channel’s special edition of TotalPicture Radio recorded at the SelectMinds 2010 annual client conference in New York. Joining us is Deborah Campdera, National Alumni Relations at Grant Thornton, the US member firm of Grant Thornton International, one of the six global audit, tax and advisory organizations.

Deborah, thank you for speaking with us today on TotalPicture Radio. You joined Grant Thornton in 2000 as a regional recruiting manager, tell us about your history with the firm.

Deborah: Thank you for having me, Peter.

Peter: Thank you.

Deborah: I’ve been with Grant Thornton for about 10 years and I joined – I had been in search and talent acquisition prior to joining and joined in our Dallas office during a really exciting time, the firm was growing and changing and I came in to really help them find talent. Those people who are familiar with the public accounting industry would know that it really significantly changed in about 2002 with Arthur Andersen closing their doors, so we grew significantly and we still are; it’s just been a wild ride.

Peter: Tell us a little bit about Grant Thornton. Are most of your people in the US concentrated around the Dallas area?

Deborah: We are a global firm. We operate in most of the major countries in the world but the US firm is we’ve got about 50 offices, about 5,000 employees, headquarters are in Chicago, but again we have large markets – we’ve got seven large markets that we really focus and then a number of other offices as well.

Peter: Your current role is director of national alumni relations, tell us a little bit about what your responsibilities are.

Deborah: I, again, have been with the firm for quite a while and I had been in recruiting and my position prior to this was the director for national experienced hire recruiting. Under that, it fell alumni relations and I came back after a short leave in January and decided to focus strictly on alumni relations. This is an growth for us and a strong area of interest for the firm.

What we’re really trying to do is strengthen and deepen our relationships with our alumni and that includes our retired partners as well as employees that have left the firm.

Peter: You have alumni network which is called theGrid, which was created by and for current and former Grant Thornton employees and retired partners. That is of course, powered by SelectMinds. How long has theGrid been online?


Deborah: We have been a client of SelectMinds since about 2004 and in 2008, we started talking about coming up with a way to connect our employees with our alumni. We wanted our employees to be able to be empowered to build stronger relationships with their colleagues that had moved on to other opportunities and/or retired, so we work with SelectMinds. We brought employees up with a separate portal and we re-branded the entire site, theGrid, and this was we launched in 2009, so we have a portal for alumni, a portal for employees. Employees can also go to the alumni portal or door if you will, so it really enables them to keep connections with their former colleagues.

Peter: What was the reaction of the alumni having all of a sudden all the current employees being able to access their information?

Deborah: It’s been extremely positive. The first six months after the launch, which was in 2009, it was just incredible participation. We had people filling out their profiles, adding their photos, connecting with one another, and we really internally branded this as a way to stay engaged. It’s also a way for our employees because we do have offices spread throughout the United States. It’s a way for them to connect with each other on a more personal level, so theGrid is corporate social networking site, so we certainly have knowledge management where we have our technical information and it’s business focused and this is really on a more personal social way to connect.

Peter: Deborah, talk to us a little bit about – I mean we’re talking that this has been very well accepted, but what about the adoption rate from employees joining up with theGrid and your alumni?

Deborah: Again, the first few months after we launched and re-branded this as theGrid, we had, I think some of the numbers were, out of a total population of alumni, I think over 30% signed up right away. That’s in around 5,000 alumni and then on the employee side, its part of our onboarding process, number one, so anybody that’s joining, this is part of what you do your first few days. You fill out your profile and we have really 100% participation.

Peter: What are the benefits to the employees of being on theGrid?

Deborah: It’s kind of multi-prong, so you’ve got the ability, number one, to connect with alumni and former colleagues and to stay in touch, and that really helps from a number of different ways. It helps create from a business networking standpoint, referral standpoint for when we’re looking for new hires, and for employees, it also benefits them. We have affinity groups and this is where we really encourage our employees to join affinity groups. We have over 120 affinity groups that employees have created themselves. It’s very user-driven on theGrid and it’s been fantastic, a way for us to encourage and enable them to do that and also, it enables them to learn a little bit more about their colleagues on a personal level, because the profile that we have up for employees is personal interests. It’s “do you like movies or books, do you…” – describe what you do at Grant Thornton in your own words. Again, it’s getting to know people on a more personal level.

Peter: Now, do you mine any of that data, like for instance to find out who speaks Mandarin?

Deborah: That’s fabulous information for us and because it’s – there are certain – we have everyone agreed to the terms of use, so it needs to be appropriate information that people share. We have not had any problems with inappropriate information or anything else on there, so it’s been terrific.

Peter: When your originally launched theGrid, how did you get the word out to your alumni network and what was the benefit to them?

Deborah: When we re-launched and re-branded the site in 2009, we did a campaign where we sent out a very nice branded email announcement about theGrid and then we also sent out, because we did not have everyone’s email address, we also sent a very nice card through snail mail. With the URL, it encouraged people to register and really kind of talk to them about the benefits, and we will be rolling out other benefits.

The other thing that we offer are CPE classes for our alumni at no cost. CPE is continuing education that accountants and CPAs must satisfy every year. This has been very well received. We have a calendar on of what’s coming up, how to register. And then every once in awhile, we do special events for our alumni and this is how we sent all our invitations through the site.

Peter: In 2009 you re-launched theGrid, I’m very happy that year is in our rearview mirror as for most organizations, most businesses, it was a terrible year, so how did you get your senior management to agree to invest in pretty substantial implementation of this network?

Deborah: Again, we had had the alumni site for a number of years.

Peter: Right, so you had seen some benefits from this.

Deborah: We had seen some benefits and even though you have a down economy, one of the things particularly in our business is that we want to keep our good people and this was really seen – we had done an employee survey the year before in 2008, and the employee service is called Voice Your Experience and in that survey, what we got back was people really felt like they were disengaged and it was hard for them to keep connected to the firm and in our business, our people work out at clients 80% to 90% of the time, so they go to the client site and they perform a lot of their work onsite, so they’re not in an office every day where they feel connected to other employees. They’re not going to lunch with fellow employees every day and so, we really needed to come up with a way.

Again, we’ve got 50 offices across the US and we needed to come up with a way for them to feel like they were part of Grant Thornton and what is their experience in our culture and this was really presented to senior leadership to talk about how we could do that in a virtual way.

Peter: Put your recruiting hat on for just a minute and tell me what you have found since you’ve re-launched? What kinds of positive things or negative things have you seen as far as your recruiting efforts?

Deborah: Referrals are fabulous.

Peter: We all love referrals, yes.

Deborah: Yes and referrals are over 35% of our hires in terms of the source for us and I anticipate that will continue to grow, so being able to have all of the Grant Thornton jobs posted on the alumni side of theGrid as well as enabling our alumni to post jobs in their current company which is marketplace jobs and we’ve recently launched TalentVine which is a new product that SelectMinds has developed and we’re really excited about it. It’s only been two weeks that it’s been live, but it’s going to make it really easy for alumni to refer potential candidates using their other social networks, be it LinkedIn and Facebook.

I think we’re going to see a major uptake in our referrals, but it’s also going to be easier for us to manage, because our recruiters don’t have to do as much work to get the word out to our alumni.

Peter: That’s certainly been a challenge for the recruiting industry with integration of all these systems out there. The ETS System with other systems that HR is running and especially if there has been mergers or something and you’re trying to integrate all of that data and then you put the layer of social networks on top of that and that has been the big stumbling block with all of this, right?

Deborah: It’s just huge and I remember when I was recruiting, you sit there and you have all these things to do, all this paperwork, all these resumes you need to review and you sit down and you think when am I actually going to talk to potential candidates and interview them. That suddenly became how am I going to find time to do that and actually that’s the main thing that recruiters should be doing with their day, so coming up with a way to make this easy is – and alumni are going to be our best brand ambassadors out there and certainly as part of this, it’s an entire process. It’s everything from – it’s the employment continuum. It starts with recruiting. They start as a prospect. They come to the firm. They leave the firm as an alumni, but we need to treat them the same from start to finish and that’s – our chief human resource officer is very focused on that. She’s very, very good at really understanding the employee experience and the employee continuum.

Peter: What kind of metrics does your senior management – I mean you’re an accounting firm, you guys are dealing with numbers, that’s your job, so I imagine they like numbers. What kind of numbers are you able to extract from TalentVine and from theGrid and your other recruiting efforts to show the ROI on doing this stuff.

Deborah: That’s really important and you're right. I mean they’re very focused on numbers, so having a dashboard where we can get reporting is critical. Having the ability to measure our messaging in terms of how many people opened the message, how many people clicked through to see something as critical, which of the SelectMinds product gives us the ability to do. TalentVine has very robust reporting. Again, we’ve just implemented that two weeks ago, so I want to give it a month.

Peter: Sure, of course.

Deborah: I want to give it some time to really see what it looks like, but we’re going to be able to get very strong, how many alumni looked at the job, how many alumni referred it on to their network through LinkedIn or through Facebook.

What we’ve been looking at in terms of metrics is how many new registrations are we getting, how many people are reading the messages and as long as we continue to see solid improvement and that arrow going up and we know that it’s about the content that put on there. We’ve got to keep fresh content. It has to be interesting and there has to be a “what’s in it for me” for our alumni to stay engaged, so we are constantly looking at – I’m looking at a number of different things right now to offer our alumni that are benefits to them, be it news ahead of time, giving them press releases earlier than the market, given them mass purchasing opportunities. Certainly Grant Thornton, for our employees, we have good deals on different IT-related products or travel, so extending those benefits through our alumni, so that’s all really important to keep our alumni engaged and really value. I mean they helped build the firm. We wouldn’t be where we are today without our alumni.

Peter: Okay, so again, mainly from talent acquisition recruiting standpoint, rank the social networks for me: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter; what is most valuable for you? What do you use? What do you get the most return?

Deborah: I would have to say that the recruiters – absolutely, if we’re just talking about the social networks, LinkedIn has been the most valuable.

Peter: Do you have a LinkedIn group?

Deborah: We do. We also have LinkedIn licenses that our recruiters have, so that they have extra tools that they can use in terms of sourcing and I think that’s a very valuable tool for them, so I think that I’m very excited about some of the additional functionality that SelectMinds is going to be rolling out in Q1 next year in terms of a lot more integration with the social networks.

Peter: Yeah, especially LinkedIn.

Deborah: Yeah, that’s going to be really terrific for us and from a recruitment standpoint and I think that it will be really interesting to look at the referral possibilities. Right now, we just have TalentVine for our alumni. I think it will be a very powerful tool for our employees as well to make it easy for them because we are always struggling with how to keep our open jobs front and center.

Peter: Do you incentivize them for referrals?

Deborah: We do, yeah, significantly.

Peter: How about Twitter, do you use Twitter at all to push out jobs or have you been experimenting with that at all?

Deborah: Some of our folks use Twitter. Twitter has not caught on in our industry, in our space. We’re very traditional. Certainly this industry, I think we’re very innovative and progressive within the industry but I think that everyone is struggling with okay, there are all these social networks, we have a lot of regulatory, technical information that CPAs have to keep up with and it’s like oh my gosh, it’s one more thing.

Peter: It’s almost a ying and a yang kind of a thing when you look at the amount of regulatory compliance that firms such as yours have to contend with and then you look at social networks which are open and free and everybody’s having a nice time in discussing all these stuff and the reality is you really can’t go there in some sense, right?

Deborah: It can be really tricky but again, I think that I’ve really seen our firm, anyone that’s involved in business development within the firm which are partners or senior managers, certainly our sales team, our marketing folks, they’ve really embraced LinkedIn but Twitter is just a little bit, so it’s not happening yet.

Peter: Do you have an articulated social media policy in-house?

Deborah: We do.

Peter: Are your employees allowed to blog? Are they allowed to participate in Facebook and LinkedIn and all these social networks?

Deborah: Yes and we recently opened up. Our leadership is very open to be in progressive, but they opened up so the people within the firm on the network could access their LinkedIn, their email, their Facebook accounts.

Peter: They don’t have to do it on their mobile devices anymore.

Deborah: Right, it’s not blocked.

Peter: Is there a war for talent in your industry?

Deborah: A huge war for talent.

Peter: There is.

Deborah: Yeah. It’s very tough. The specialty and the niche areas that we need, it’s a very tough market. There are a finite number of people that do it. We typically know who those people are so it’s really about telling them about Grant Thornton and why they should work with us. We are always looking for good talented people.

Peter: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share with the audience about your experiences especially with using alumni networks in connecting with your alumni and recruiting?

Deborah: We’re very optimistic. We’re very excited. I also think that we’re going to see Grant Thornton, our new CEO who came into his position in January of this year. He’s a very progressive, very open minded and very global thinking and I’m very excited about the scalability with SelectMinds and the ability to open this up globally for our alumni.

Peter: Are you just using it in the US right now?

Deborah: Currently, you’re only seeing in the US but I think we’ll see in pretty short order that we’ll be opening it up with more countries and corporation.

Peter: Right, because they’re each individual businesses, right?

Deborah: We are. We operate individually in a global network but we are a global firm with global capabilities but I think it’s going to be really powerful to able to have our AlumniConnect with alumni from all over the world.

Peter: Thank you very much for talking with us today on TotalPicture Radio. It’s been great meeting you here.

Deborah: Me too. Thanks again Peter.

Peter: Thank you.

We’d like to thank SelectMinds’ client Grant Thornton and Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Deborah Campdera for her participation in today’s conversation. Visit Deborah’s feature page in the Inside Recruiting Channel on TotalPicture Radio. That’s TotalPicture.com to voice your opinion.

Working with the world’s biggest brands to acquire top talent and manage alumni, SelectMinds leverages the promise yet simplifies the complexity of doing business on the social web. It’s social networking with a purpose. Visit SelectMinds.com to learn more or call 877-276-3978.

This is Peter Clayton reporting. Thank you for tuning in to TotalPicture Radio, the voice of career and leadership acceleration. Our interviews link your business with your customers and prospects. 

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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