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IACPR Global Conference - The Successful Candidate Experience

Best Practices in Enhancing the Candidate Experience for Senior Executives.

Susan Blackburn, Regional Executive with Sabadell United Bank, TotalPicture Radio InterviewSusan Blackburn

There is always competition for A Players. Here's one very real, very timely story told by the participants.

"In three instances I was so taken aback at how what I'll call broken that process was, having used recruitment firms myself in the past and then being on the other side of the desk I really saw where the disconnects were apparent and it all boiled down to communication and understanding the corporate culture and being able to articulate that to a candidate." Susan Blackburn

Are you an HR leader or executive recruiter? You'll want to take the time to listen to this interview. Are you considering a career move, or are currently in transistion? If so, you need to listen to this podcast. Why? our special guest is Susan Blackburn, Regional Executive with Sabadell United Bank in Tampa, Florida. She shares with us, in detail, her recent experience of being recruited by four financial institutions, and what led her to accepting an offer from a bank (having spent over thirty years in the finacial services industry)... she'd never heard of.

This is Peter Clayton with a special Talent Acquisition Channel podcast from the IACPR Global Conference in Philadelphia.

Adam Lloyd Webber Kerr Associates, TotalPicture Radio InterviewAdam Lloyd
Joining in our conversation is Adam Lloyd, president of Webber Kerr Associates, a retained executive search firm. Adam conducted the search for Sabadell United Bank, successfully placing Susan in her new role. Prior to this search assignment, Adam had never met Susan.

As the competition for top talent in executive roles escalates, companies, HR directors and recruiters need to make sure they are optimizing the candidate experience and, at the same time, elevating their employer brand when conducting searches - especially when that search involves A Players like Susan.

At the recent IACPR Global Conference, Jeremy Eskenazi, Managing Principal of Riviera Advisors, moderated a panel discussion focused on the candidate experience. The panel was comprised of senior level candidates - including Ms. Blackburn - who recently have gone through the hiring process. Joining them on the panel were two corporate executive recruiters, Cormac Cullinane, Vice President, Worldwide Recruitment & Executive Search, Time Warner; and Kathleen Gioffre Global Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Gartner, Inc.

The Successful Candidate Experience - TotalPicture Radio Transcript

Reimagining, reinventing, meeting today's talent challenges. Welcome to Philadelphia and the International Association for Corporate and Professional Recruitment Spring Global Conference 2013. This is Peter Clayton reporting. TotalPicture Radio's official coverage here at the IACPR Conference is brought to you in partnership with Riviera Advisors, a premier global human resources consulting firm specialized in helping organizations develop stronger, internal recruiting and staffing capabilities. Visit rivieraadvisors.com for a wealth of resources focused on corporate talent acquisition issues and solutions.

The successful candidate experience. As the competition for top talent in the executive roles escalates, companies' HR directors and recruiters need to make sure they are optimizing the candidate experience and at the same time, elevating their employer brand when conducting searches especially for senior level talent.

At the recent IACPR Global Conference in Philadelphia, Jeremy Eskanazi, managing principal of Riviera Advisors moderated a panel discussion focused on the candidate experience comprised of senior level candidates who recently have gone through the hiring process as well as executive recruiters from Time Warner and Gartner.

Hi this is Peter Clayton. Joining me today for the Special Talent Acquisition Channel Podcast from the IACPR Conference is one of the candidate panelist Susan Blackburn who recently joined Sabadell United Bank in Tampa, Florida. Along with Susan, we have with us Adam Lloyd, president of Webber Kerr Associates, a retained executive search firm based in Tampa. Adam conducted the search for Sabadell United Bank and successfully placed Susan in her new role.

Susan, I'd like to start with you. You shared a fascinating story with the audience here at IACPR regarding your career transition and how you were approached by different companies in both internal and external recruiters.

Susan: Certainly. As I have shared, I've been in banking for quite some time, 30+ years, and had never found myself in the openness or being receptive to talent recruiter and when I found that I was interested in a search, I had several firms calling me. The differentiation between them all really was a difference in collaborative mode versus I have an agenda and that's coming first, and that's really what I saw early on in the process.

In my search there were several firms that had reached out to me whether they were in house recruiters or external companies that had been hired by firms to recruit.

In three instances I was so taken aback at how what I'll call broken that process was, having used recruitment firms myself in the past and then being on the other side of the desk I really saw where the disconnects were apparent and it all boiled down to communication and understanding the corporate culture and being able to articulate that to a candidate. Other disconnects were just timing issues, whether it was a what I'll call a discombobulated process that really wasn't well thought out and then was a poor reflection on the company that I might have chosen to work for or the recruitment firm.

When the process did work which ultimately led me to making a positive career decision it brought it down to where the stars aligned. I had a talent recruiter from an outside firm who first off had done a tremendous amount of homework in level setting what the expectation of his client was and then translated into him vetting with potential candidates in a more factual, open and transparent way. That process started on the front end, it carried out through the interviewing and ultimately my job selection.

Peter: You know a lot of what was being mentioned in this panel you took part in today was this whole issue around transparency or not right? So can you delve into that for us a little bit more specially with some of these firms that were really pursuing you quite heavily and weren't being all that transparent about the role and responsibilities?

Susan: You're so right. What I had found was in several instances they were more focused. When I would ask pointed questions about their company and their role, trying to help them create the compelling story as to why I should work for them and again, I was very transparent in saying I have several options on the table, it was very difficult for them to focus internally and the feedback that I was getting is why I shouldn't work for others as opposed to why I should come with them.

I believe now in retrospect that so much of that was either a recruiter or someone internally who felt uncomfortable with the balancing act that they had to play and I'll explain that. Obviously as the person who is doing the recruiting, my ownership, if you will, my paycheck is going to come from the company that ultimately is going to hire that candidate. So being able to feel that alliance is critical but the flipside to that is being able to work with a candidate that you can be equally open and honest. If there's some disconnect between what you think that candidate is looking for or what that company is looking for and that match isn't right, the 'silence is golden' doesn't work here and that, I think, is what trips them up.

As I started to do my own homework on corporate cultures of companies that I might choose to work for because you certainly aren't going to rely just on the one person If you're not getting that information it became apparent to me in the process that my talent recruiter whether that was internal or external was not able to keep that balance going.

Peter: You have mentioned that you had this Sally Field moment. Can you describe that for us, please?

Susan: I did. You know, having been an executive for quite some time and carrying the leadership role, I wasn't in a job search and so at the moment that I had what I'll call the aha moment that yes, I was, and people started calling me, it really bore to many, many years of not taking that recruiter's call. There is no gap. I'm satisfied so I'm not going on a search. I think I likened it to lint on a sweater. Once there's a gap in your satisfaction and you're more receptive to take the call, you're listening on the other end. And I had a period of time where my organization was going through a lot of change, outside recruiters knew that was taking place and so they were contacting me.

It was the first time in my career that I had ever considered looking outside and I call it that Sally Field's moment where it's, "They like me! They really like me!" You know, and I'm going to be able to say, "Maybe I will go look for another role." Well, then you start to dig deeper and you find out that there's quite a lot of research that needs to go into that process.

Peter: One of the things I found really interesting about your panel is the fact that the senior level executives on that panel were not used to going out and doing a job search, had never actually been in that position before. They'd always been recruited by someone who was a referral or moved up within an organization, had never gone through that process of being contacted by an internal or an external recruiter. You mentioned that the external recruiter did a much more professional job of when connecting with you. Can you explain that process to us?

Susan: Certainly. And I want to come back to when you're looking at C level or senior level the roles, those individuals have led companies. So regardless of what their mindset had been in the past, these are - I hate to use this overused term but Type A take charge people. I will tell you that that process for that person regardless of what the motivator is, they're interviewing you, they're interviewing that company to determine "Is this the place I want to work?"

And in my particular case, I was measuring up these other companies when the recruiter who I'd never met before presented me with a company that I've never heard of. And it was startling. My first reaction was, "No, I'm not going to have yet another player in the fray." What made the difference? It was that external recruiter who had done his homework, looked at the skills and my background, knew culturally what the company was trying to accomplish and I call the PhD, he read the person, he was humble or use humility in the process of being transparent, honest, he had a role, I knew what it was, he knew what my role was, he knew what the role the company would be, and then he was deliberate, and was persistent.

That process really formed that three-legged stool and at first it was the bridge between he and the company but he quickly was able to bring me into that so that through this process of level setting was this the right opportunity for me, for Sabadell United Bank the recruiter played a key role for both of us and it was a much different experience than what I would call the sales pitch that I was hearing from other recruiters and a process that was well thought out, well vetted, and yet very transparent.

Peter: You know, I think that's a really interesting perspective because so often, when these internal recruiters go out and connect with someone like yourself, they have this assumption, "Well, of course, you would want to work for our company. It's a wonderful company."

Susan: Absolutely! You know, the other thing I've heard used so often is relationship. And I get that. I am all about relationship. I sell on that. But today's person is not just saying, "Hey, because I like you," or "You're a nice person," there has to be far more substance underneath that. And I have had so many chummy recruiters call. I don't need any more friends. I have a lot of them already. I need information. And so I think again that approach- what I'll call that sales approach- it has to have substance. And oftentimes, all I'm saying is, you know, the people connector, but nothing underneath it and it really has to be a different game in today's market for someone to shop and then buy.

Peter: Let's get the recruiter into this conversation. Adam, you dealt with a pretty tough customer here. I mean, she knew what she wanted, she had no idea who this bank was that you were pitching to her having been in the financial services industry for 35 year, so how did you approach Susan and get her interest?

Adam: Yeah, well, Susan's quite a talent and she mentioned substance and information. In our assessment of the market and it starts with a research, we identified Susan as quite a talent in our marketplace. You can align skill set, we have an understanding of what her career path has been. So the mentality in engaging Susan and talking to her is, hopefully, I have a conversation with her and in doing so and I think our panel today did a great job in discussing the importance of long-term view it's really how can I connect with Susan yes, of course, I have an opportunity today that I'd like to discuss with her and maybe that lines with her interest, perhaps it doesn't.

But Susan is definitely somebody that we're interested in engaging and speaking with so really in talking to her and again with any executive that you have the opportunity whether it's sitting down and having coffee or speaking with on the phone, you want to maximize the time they have spent and I think in our profession, oftentimes that means maximize your time by qualifying which personally, to me, I like to use the time to talk about the organization representing the opportunity and really approach him or her with a more exploratory, soft conversational type of meeting.

So when I approached Susan, first thing I wanted to do is really just get an understanding of where her mindset is right now. Is she in the marketplace? Maybe she's not even open today to even listening to opportunities. So first we're going to understand what is her mind set, what are her interests, and then, based upon some that initial information that she's providing me, I can then, hopefully be informative as I can about the opportunity and we'll determine if it's something that makes sense to proceed with today, if not, down the road, hopefully, there are opportunities for us.

Peter: So you had one recruiter approach you with a "Let's have a conversation and just see if there's a fit here," and other recruiters come, contact you saying, "We want you to come to work for our organization," is that basically the way it went?

Susan: Yeah, it really was and until you get through that initial dialogue, how do you know? And so, again, once felt a little abstract and one felt very much like a well thought out plan, "Let's have a conversation," and carry it.

Peter: One of the other things I would love for you to kind of deconstruct for us which also came out in the panel discussion, is the engagement. When you first started talking to these various financial organizations that wanted to bring you onboard, what was the differentiator between Sabadell and these other players?

Susan: Again, I had one bank who candidly, my mentor from 20 years ago, was asking me to come onboard. He had a new opportunity. I had a very large bank that was looking at me to take a significant leadership role and then there was another bank that was a Florida bank that would have given me a lot of geography to say grace over and all three, by a job market standpoint, would have been intriguing. But what was the difference for me?

Well, first, I have to tell you that having hired so many executives in my career, I needed to make sure that not only today - this wasn't just a job - but that culturally, I would blend in with that leadership team. So some of my analysis was clearly on the financial strength and structure but more as the vision and where was that company heading. So I needed to understand that and I needed to understand the role that they were asking me to come onboard for, how would that fit in with the organization over the long haul?

For whatever reason, I'll share, that there was a disconnect, I didn't fall in love, the rose-colored glasses just came off, and nothing compelled me to take that. The other, I'll have to say is that as you're a banker in a market as I had been for so many years, I had my own reputation. And when you're selling brand A, and you're telling your clients and your market area "brand A is great." And now you're turning around and all of a sudden, "Oh, no, I really meant brand B."

You know, for me I was like, "How am I going to be able to that?" When I talked to my recruiter and I spoke with Sabadell, I really was looking not at tomorrow but I was looking at a vision for 5, 10 years down the road and when this bank said "Today, Susan, we are the 6th largest bank headquartered in Florida. But make no mistake - we intend to be the largest bank headquartered in Florida within the next few years." That perked my interest. How? In a declining market, how do you intend to do that? And that's where relevancy came in.

As I looked at the landscape of banks in the Florida market or even across the country, what's going to take place? Is the small bank going to be there even at all? Are they going to survive? What about a regional bank, are they going to be merging and forming super, you know, super large banks? How's the landscape going to take place? And then I thought, what is it that my clients and is the Florida market were I'm housed, where is that going to be?

When I look at a global company that's focused on international trade and I look at the Florida market and I see how the Florida market is emerging from this last economic slump to say we need to capture our piece of the global market, we have port systems, we have a quality of life, we have airport structure, we have infrastructure and technology, biomedical, we have phenomenal schools in the state - how are we going to capitalize on what we have, a good workforce - because we have a lot of people who need to go to work in Florida - and use that for a longer economic window of growth?

In my opinion, when I was going to go to go market with a new company, it was clearly one that had relevancy to the economic driver that Florida needs and when that matched up for me, it was totally apparent that I was going to go to work for a bank that was unique, coming into the market, had the strength and the stability but the vitality that was going to carry them forward for the next 10 years.

Peter: Adam, when you first spoke with Susan about disposition, did you think to yourself, "Wow, this is the candidate right here. I just spoke to her. Now, what I need to do is present her to my client at Sabadell and convince them that this is really the person that they need to hire?

Adam: My first initial take and impression of Susan was "Wow." This- and so she say self-proclaimed type A that you can even pick up in your first interactions with her but absolutely very impressive. I mean, again, we researched and we determined through our efforts in terms of tangibles and skill set, Susan appeared to be very qualified on paper. And speaking with her, personally, if you ever have the opportunity to meet Susan, I think her intangible attributes even outweigh her skill set on paper and I think that's where kind of that impressive factor sets in.

So to answer your question, yes, we had a shortlist of candidates that Sabadell United Bank was scheduled to meet with. In my opinion, based upon, weighing in those intangibles, the culture fit and then the challenge is, well, I mean you look at, what motivates Susan? What excites her? You know, she's very well entrenched in network within her community. She's very in-tuned with what's going on with the larger banks and regional banks, and then you know. So here's this bank that she's never heard of and this challenge and this opportunity, it was really interesting to see, once all these components and conversations took place, more so, my concern was, where's Susan's interest going to align?

Peter: So we have a highly qualified candidate that seems to be a really perfect fit for this position however there's culture that has to align in a role like this. So how soon once you met with the people at this institution did you realize that there was a cultural fit and this could be a great role for you?

Susan: You know I will tell you, the first engagement was what I'll call in my backyard and it perked my interest but I was a bit cautious because I wasn't certain. Here we have a male dominated organization and at the time they had no female executives on their team, it was out in Miami, would there be a cultural fit just with that dynamic and would there be communication issues, logistics, they had never moved outside of their South Florida region, how was that going to make the connection?

So shortly after that first meeting I was invited to come to Miami and visit the rest of the leadership team' the CEO of the company, the chairman of the board, a long time board member who had founded the company and what I found was energy. Now I have a lot of energy and that is one of the things I pride myself in bringing to a work place is enthusiasm and mobilizing a team through what I'll call a process of change. That's one of the things that I find just energizing and it really is probably my passion.

When I saw that that's where the leadership was, that they knew what it was going to take to move the organization forward and not just "Hey this is the way it's always been so we want to keep that." They were not compressing at all. They were blowing the top off this company and they were saying we want to bring in people who can help get us there and I spoke with so many folks that day that were on the executive team and one after another aligned.

So it wasn't a team that had disconnects amongst its leadership. Everyone was saying the same thing. They had bought into where they needed to take the company as a collective team and they had gone out and looked for someone who would complement that enthusiasm for change, not stifle it. So when I saw that it was a reaffirmation that Adam had done a good job.

Peter: Adam initial meeting obviously we've got a couple of excited people on both sides of this equation. From your perspective how do you then manage the process forward?

Adam: So again we've talked about, in my profession, finding that balance. You're working with both sides so I wanted to be transparent and open. Of course with Susan in terms of where they were right now in their decision making process, many collective feedback and thoughts that I could of course provide her following the meetings. Additionally it's equally important to really see where Susan was following some of those discussions and I say anytime you walk in to an organization and you meet folks you get a feel. There's a feel. It's sometimes something you can't describe but sometimes things they feel right or you feel "Gosh, I belong here. This is the type of organization I fit in." Aside of course of what you think individually.

So in moving forward, obviously, things such as compensation, you think of what are our time lines here, what are our objectives, are Susan's initiative within the first six months maybe in line with what Sabadell's trying to accomplish as well in their growth strategy. We want to see that everybody's on the same page. Hopefully there's mutual interest and then in addition to that hopefully we have all of our data and our information around logistics and compensation and things of that nature in place as well.

Peter: Susan, how long did this whole process take once you first met with the executives of Sabadell?

Susan: I think it was as short as 3 weeks.

Peter: Really?

Susan: You know what? If I think back it would have been inside of a month and in that respect, I will tell you that probably sold me as much as anything because when you know that it's decision that can be made where people are willing to collaborate quickly, I mean we were doing this over a holiday, I believe it was early December, we were wrapping up towards the end of the month, I think I actually was contacted with an offer during the Christmas holiday and I started to work on January 2nd so it was a rapid process. It sold me on the concept that the company was nimble. And I think that's as key as anything.

I've been on the other side of that desk so it's "Make sure you're going to hire the right person," but if you go at it with "We have our information, we've done our research, we have validated the research, we have dug in deeper and gotten comfortable with all of the cultural shift and we've vetted the issue, now let's just make that offer. If you can sense that that's the alignment with your candidate and on the frontend, salary and those discussions typically shouldn't be a deal breaker because you've gone in on the front end with your homework so everybody knows throughout the process, if you're discussing a position, what that range should look like, so it was just a matter of "Let's wrap this up," and there are some incidentals obviously that everybody has to kind of go back and forth and make sure you're validating, but really it, for me, demonstrated again that this company was nimble, they had people in charge who could make a decision at certain levels, they had delegated or put people in accountable roles that were decision-making roles that could have make those offers in the absence of somebody who's on vacation, if you will, or whatever. So it worked out well. Well, it was a quick and right decision.

Peter: One last question for you, and I really appreciate your time this afternoon, based on this whole experience that you have gone through with all of these different financial institutions and the way they approached you, the way they made offers to you, what recommendations or suggestions would you like to share for especially the internal executive recruiters out there who are out there trying to capture the interest of folks such as yourself?

Susan: I think first of all it's contacting people that you don't necessarily know are going to be interested. It's knowing the candidates in the market whether they're employed someplace or they're unemployed. Looking at do we have a library of executives that we keep track of, that we know upfront and have validated what their skill sets? That's how I would obviously approach it is to keep my inventory alive and when I do make those touches and someone is ready for more conversation be prepared with a lot of information. Busy executives don't have time to do an external focus particularly if they're employed somewhere else. They're focused on their own company.

So I think that's very key. I think the balancing act in understanding where the transparency with the employer and the recruiter needs to take place I think that's critical and then making certain that the communication touch points are timely and the best reflection of your customers.

Peter: Well again thank you so much both of you for taking time this week with us today on TotalPicture Radio. We've been speaking with Susan Blackburn who is a regional executive with Sabadell United Bank and with Adam Lloyd who is the president of Weber Kerr Associates, a retained executive search firm who placed Susan in her current role.

This is Peter Clayton. Thanks for tuning in to TotalPicture Radio.

You've been listening to the official IACPR Spring Global Conference 2013 podcast series produced by TotalPicture Radio in association with Riviera Advisors. You'll find a complete transcript of this interview in the Talent Acquisition Channel at totalpicture.com and a complete library of in dept interviews featuring talent acquisition and HR leaders in the newsroom and events link on rivieraadvisors.com. Take a moment to visit Riviera Advisors and learn what makes them different and please connect with Riviera Advisors and TotalPicture Radio on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This is Peter Clayton. Thanks for tuning in.
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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