TwitterCartoon1If you’re one of those recruiters who’s at all in tune with the conversation happening in closed Facebook groups, niche industry forums or consume content and commentary in the weird little world that is the recruiting related blogosphere, you’ve probably noticed a new trend surfacing on social.

It’s a trend that’s trending towards resentment, a final public pushback on those lists that rank as the most obnoxious and omnipresent cornerstones of crappy corporate content. You know what I’m talking about – those completely arbitrary, completely asinine “must follow” or “top influencers” lists that are simply a ploy to get promotion from the Top 25, 5o, 100, whatever people who they’ve subjectively included without any real method to the madness.

The same names reappear again and again, of course – most of these lists are likely cut and paste jobs or else rely on the same free, yet faulty, analytics platforms to gauge “influence” based on such scientifically valid data as, you know, someone’s reach on Twitter or how often they post content, irrespective of quality or engagement.

This has been going on for quite some time, of course, but for some reason the recent release of Glassdoor’s 2015 HR & Recruiting Thought Leaders to Follow seemed to set off a very vocal backlash about the validity of these lists and whether or not these reflect actual industry influence or acumen or nothing more than vapid public popularity contests.

In fact, writing posts decrying lists have become almost as common as the worst practice they purport to target, and much smarter people than I, including Paul DeBettignes over at ERE and Red Branch Media’s Maren Hogan have already weighed in on this phenomena with poignant personal perspectives which preempt a lot of the points I hold to be self-evident about these lists.

Both have very strong points of view about the validity of these industry influencer lists, or the vacuous vacuum such content creates, but for me, the truth is, as both a real recruiter and a recruiting blogger (which seem to be the two competing camps at odds on this particular issue), I really have no idea what to think about these lists in the first place.

Bullet Point to the Head: Lies, Laziness and Lists

funny-bucket-listsI guess I assumed, perhaps naively, that these lists were carefully curated by someone who closely followed the industry conversation and based their selections on either objective, standardized criteria or made a conscious effort to make suggestions for the people who they believe are actually worth listening to for their knowledge, insight or expertise.

But the more and more I see these posts pop up, the more I’m starting to surmise that it’s really just a ploy to get someone with a big social footprint to share proprietary content by appealing to their ego (never a bad idea for that set who cares about Klout), or else reward or induce someone for promoting their product publically.

At the very least, many of these are a thinly veiled attempt by the vendors who produce them to tie their brands to some of the more prominent (if not influential) personalities in our industry, an unendorsed endorsement that’s inevitably implied by this kind of content.

Now, I don’t want to take away anything from the companies taking the time to create these lists, nor the names they list, most often without the permission of the person in question. But I find it a little odd that most of the “best recruiter” or “top HR professional” posts almost always exclude anyone who actually does this stuff for a living – and many of those included on the list would themselves admit that they don’t meet any practical definition for defining themselves as practitioners.

But hey, the purpose of this post is not to belittle the people on these lists who do nothing more than provide grist for the content marketing mill. Nor am I intending to knock this genre as a whole, because hey, lists aren’t intrinsically extraneous. I like lists. I make lists. I live by lists. I have a grocery list, a laundry list, a to-do list. I even have a bucket list. The list goes on. But this isn’t what this is about.

Full disclosure: this one time, swear to God, I was on a list once. No, really, cross my heart. In fact, I was flattered and a big surprised when a friend, who was also included, gave me a shout out about the shout out. That list, which is prominent in my mind because, well, it’s the only one I’ve made was titled 10 Recruiters Who Should Be On Your Radar #SundayShoutOut, from the inimitable Bill Boorman. Considering the source, and the novelty, I’m not going to lie. I was honored to be on there.

In fact, I’m aware in hindsight that many of the people included on this list were recruited away to their current positions due in part to their inclusion in this one post, which is a pretty strong argument for the power (and validity) of these lists. And, come to think of it, I was on one that was way less prominent, but like most of these things, it’s really not even worth mentioning except to bring up that old Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to be a member in any club that would have me.

The Truth About Lists

181So it goes – lists aren’t categorically incipient or idiotic, but the only ones that have any sort of actual value or meaning are the handful that are written with some thought beyond specious social media analytics or lining up the usual suspects. Which is why I wanted to try my hand at contributing to the cannon by creating a list of my own.

I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes. But here’s the thing. My methodology is pretty straight forward. This isn’t supposed to be a list of the people who are the most influential on social media or on the conference circuit or the industry bloggeratti, like most influencer lists.

Nope, this is as subjective and arbitrary as those are, I admit, but that’s the entire point: because these are the recruiters, marketers, bloggers, HR folks and everyone else killing it in their jobs and moving our profession forward that I personally know, and who personally influence me.

The ultimate measure of influence is whether or not someone can inspire real change, and each person on my list more than meets that litmus test, profoundly impacting my everyday approach as an everyday recruiter while informing my mindset and my personal goal to be the best recruiting professional possible. These are more than handles and avatars to me; these are people who inspire me with meaningful conversations, who challenge my assumptions and the industry status quo, and with whom I can either talk shop or simply shoot the shit. These are my influencers.

My friend and fellow RecruitDC colleague Lars Schmidt recently started a kind of cool movement called Random Tweets of Kindness (#RTOK), which turned into a worldwide trending topic and powerful affirmation of the power of a simple “thank you.” I think it’s something we don’t do enough in this world, frankly, which is why I wanted to create this list as a way of recognizing the real recruiting influencers for at least this one real recruiter.

A caveat – there are going to be some names on here that you probably recognize, the kind who pop up on plenty of lists, and are very well known in our industry – and in these cases, I’d argue rightfully so, because I’ve seen first hand that, if nothing else, they actually know their shit and are willing to share knowledge and spread the love.

Conversely, there are going to be some names on here that you’ve never heard of, because, well, frankly they’re not recruiters per say, but who still shape the world of recruiting and sourcing while making it a little less dull and at least a little interesting.

35 Recruiting Influencers Who Actually Influence Me

56024941What’s interesting to note is that when I first started this list, I quickly brainstormed at least a hundred people I wanted to include but realized that it might be apropos to pare this down to a more manageable size – so I landed on 35 for a start.

I intend to add to this list in future incarnations, but for my debut edition, here are those 35 people who have helped me become a better professional, a better person, or at least, gave me some new insight or understanding, a fresh perspective or a renewed passion when it comes to recruiting. So to everyone on this list, I’d like to say, simply: thank you.

And for those of you who are going to hate because, well, it’s another one of those lists, if you disagree with me, well, go write up an influencer list of your own. This one’s all me. A quick note: these are in no particular order other than how I wrote them down originally. Just to clear that up.

    • Kathleen Smith (@YesItsKathleen): Kathleen is the person responsible (so blame her?) for getting me off teh sidelines and in the game with my first ever speaking appearance at RecruitDC. Kathleen gives more back to the community – and profession – than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s not only an inspiration, but she’s my fellow SciFi movie buddy. Live long and prosper, indeed.
    • Cathy Suzanne Anderson (@CathyMannis): Simply one of the smartest sourcers I know. Cathy knows her stuff and proves it every day building pipelines – and goodwill – as a senior sourcing specialist for Deloitte.
    • Michael Kelemen (@Animal): Say what you will about the infamous Animal, truth is the dude makes me laugh. His weekly radio show is hysterical – and informative – if sometimes maybe just a little awkward (in the best of ways). Michael challenges his guests, but fortunately, took it easy on me the time I sat squirming in his hot seat. Give him a listen – it’s (usually) worth it.
    • Jerry Albright (@Jerry_Albright): One of Animal’s co-conspirators, Jerry can be gruff and opinionated about recruitment, but that’s because he has a day job running a successful search firm. Jerry is probably the best third party recruiter I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with – and I’m lucky to get to learn from him every day. Dude plain gets it.
    • Shally Steckerl (@Shally): What can I say about Shally? He’s a mentor, trainer and most importantly, a friend. Shally literally wrote the book on sourcing, teaches talent at Temple University and runs the Sourcing Institute training program. He’s one of the originals in this industry, but always stays on the cutting edge.
    • Ben Gotkin (@BenGotkin): Another RecruitDC founder, Ben brings the awesome as a partner on the Recruiting Toolbox team. With his background recruiting for such companies as Marriott and McGladrey, he’s helping equip the next generation of recruiters today with the tips and tricks they need for tomorrow. Which is pretty cool.
    • Michael Heller (@Michael_Heller): Not only does Michael run a successful staffing consulting firm, but he’s also working to solve some of the industry’s most pressing problems as the brains behind iRevue, a killer app designed to help companies reduce turnover. Definitely a cool tool – unlike Michael, who’s just plain cool.
    • Pauline Rogers (@PaulineJRogers): From the first time we met in Sydney, I fell for Pauline’s infectious laugh and even more infectious enthusiasm for this business. She’s a brilliant hospitality recruiter at Little Black Book – and the person to look up if you ever need a job in Australia. Which I just might one of these days…
    • Sandra Thompson: Sandra is a firebrand of a lady and someone I both admire and respect – one of those head down practitioners whose honesty is a credit to the world of recruiting (even if she’s not a social media doyen). Next time I’m in Texas, I’m going out of my way to say howdy – and thank you.
    • Mike Wolford (@Mike1178)Mike is another one of those rare recruiters who obviously just gets it. Simply put, dude is a great sourcer who will constantly challenge you to think while also making you laugh. Want to know what’s new and what’s next in sourcing? Give him a shout (or read his book – definitely worth the time).
    • Ronnie Bratcher (@RonnieBratcher): When I think of “real” sourcers, I think of Ronnie, who is one of the first people I met in this industry, and whose kindness to others and passion for sourcing can be contagious. I really respect Ronnie, particularly the fact that he’s always willing to pay it forward and lend a helping hand.
    • Nicole Greenberg (@NGSEsq): Nicole might not be a recruiter, but she can build a Boolean string or perform pen testing with the best sourcers in the business. A licensed attorney, she knows the legal ins and outs of this industry, and her coverage of these cases proves she’s one of the best bloggers in the business.
    • Stacy Donovan Zapar (@StacyZapar): Most people know Stacy as the “Most Connected Woman on LinkedIn,” but I’ve been lucky enough to know her for years during my early days recruiting in San Diego, and has been a brilliant sourcer and recruiter for years before she became a social media superstar. This is one thought leader who lives up to the hype.
    • Bill Boorman (@BillBoorman): You probably know Bill, but if you’re in recruiting and the name doesn’t ring a bell, you should have your bell rung. Bill started this little thing called #Tru that has transformed into a global phenomenon. If you ever get the chance, take a day out to give #Tru a try, and you’ll likely never think the same about recruiting again. Bill is a brilliant connector of great minds and great topics, resulting in a great learning experience for everyone involved.
    • Gerry Crispin (@GerryCrispin): The “Godfather” of recruiting and the mastermind driving the concept of “candidate experience” into the mainstream recruiting conversation and consciousness, the man is not only a master of data, but he’s one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. Gerry is one of those people who has been a mentor to many of us, and deserves even more credit than he gets for his contributions to this business.
    • Mark Tortorici (@MarkNexus): Mark could be one of the world’s best hackers had he chosen a different path, but as is, he brings technical acumen and expertise to the sourcing world as one of the best in the business. He’s a master at finding those unfindable candidates – and a great travel companion, as I learned during our recent recruiting road show in Australia.
    • John Vlastelica (@Vlastelica): John is one of the founders and organizers of the annual #Talent42 event in Seattle, which is quite simply one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. If you’re a technical recruiter, than this event should be blocked off on your calendar every year. John has been in this business for a long time and
    • Carmen Hudson (@PeopleShark): Carmen is another of the brilliant minds behind #Talent42 and Recruiting Toolbox, and is one of the most talented and resourceful sourcing and recruiting experts out there. If this industry had a first lady, she’d make the short list.
    • Glen Cathey (@GlenCathey): Glen was one of the first influencers I encountered when I started learning sourcing. His Boolean Blackbelt blog is one of the most helpful resources for any hands-on sourcer or recruiter, with invaluable how-tos and insights on tools and techniques that will hook in anyone who reads his stuff. Trust me on this one – there’s a lot to learn, and Glen is one of the best teachers I know.
    • Mike Chuidian (@MikeChuidian): A fantastic sourcer and recruiter for Deloitte, he helps keep recruiting real – and he’s a damn good DJ who truly lives up to his reputation of being a “rad recruiter.” One of the original 3 Amigos.
    • Celinda Appleby (@CelindaAppleby): This girl. Talk about one of the brightest stars in social recruiting and employer branding, Celinda is now changing the game at Oracle, but has an amazing track record at building employer brands at some of the world’s biggest brands. The third Amigo, she’s also the queen of nametags, sharpies and smart conversations.
    • Pete Radloff (@PJRadloff): Pete is an amazing leader and recruiter who helps make the people he works with better. It’s rare to use the word ‘inspirational’ to talk about this industry, but Pete inspires everyone by being a great trainer and mentor to anyone lucky enough to work with him. He’s also a hell of a blogger, too.
    • Doug Munro (@DODRecruiterDC): You might not know the name, but that’s because he doesn’t like the spotlight. Which is silly, because it should always be on this quiet, humble and wickedly smart leader, mentor, friend and recruiting role model.
    • Casey Kugler (@CaseyHiresNola): What can I say about Casey? He’s done so much it’s hard to pin down the manifold ways he influences our industry. From starting and maintaining a great Facebook group for DC area recruiters to having to hire for some of the toughest to fill roles in New Orleans, one of the toughest markets out there, he never ceases to amaze me with his contributions to any conversation – recruiting or otherwise.
    • Will Thomson (@WillRecruits): If you haven’t read his stuff, you should – seriously, just go to the search bar up top and paste in his name. You’ll be glad you did. He’s one of the most capable international recruiters I know, and while I’ve never recruited for sales, I know that if ever I had to fill one of those reqs, I’m only one call away from the guy who knows everyone worth knowing across that entire function, pretty much.
    • Steve Levy (@LevyRecruits): Take one part New York street smarts with one part seasoned staffing pro and add a healthy side of snark, and you’ll start getting the picture of someone who’s been in this game as long as anyone and straight up kills it every day with his crazy smart content, awesome industry insights and an unparalleled passion for recruiting that shows up in everything he does. Just don’t let him know that I told you that despite the gruff facade, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more generous or giving.
    • Amy Ala (@AlaRecruiter): Not only is Amy one of the best closers I know, but she’s also got one of the biggest hearts in this business. She’s an outstanding blogger – and one of the few people I wish would actually write more – but hey, she has a pretty tough day job. I know, because she was the one who got me into Microsoft, and I’m forever grateful for her recommendation – and her friendship.
    • Pilar Hughes (@MaggieHews): Her smile can light up a room, which proves that nice people can finish first, as she’s one of the top recruiters in the DC area and truly one of the people blessed with that inherent gift at finding and connecting with top talent. She’s dynamite.
    • Jung Kim (@Azn_CyberSluth): He might not be the most experienced person on the list, but this crazy kid far outshines most of the most seasoned tech recruiters – because not only does he know recruiting, he can also speak geek as someone with a technical background who can write code as easily as career related copy. A true renaissance man, he also knows quite a thing or two about fine whiskey and bourbon, and is one of those people who loves life, and you can’t help but feel that vibe when interacting with him in person or on social.
    • Rob Dromgoole (@RHeadhunter)Think you have hard to fill roles? Rob has to find particle physicists for God’s sake, so if you need any highly specialized nuclear scientists in your next search, look no further. Despite his tough role running recruiting at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Rob keeps killing it – and inspiring anyone who thinks they’ve got it tough to suck it up and step up their game.
    • Teresa Bustamante (@MoxieSourcer): She’s too humble, in my opinion, so let me be the one to laud her for her knowledge of recruiting and ability to source purple squirrels for any position. She hates the spotlight, but shouldn’t stay in the shadows – she deserves a shout out for being one of the top recruiters out there.
    • Jeremy Roberts (@ImJeremyR): The lord of #SourceCon, Jeremy has a passion for this industry and a knowledge of the space that give him a unique ability to create killer content and control a pretty rowdy, extremely opinionated and often contentious community – and do so without pissing anyone off in the process, which is brilliant. He also puts on one hell of a conference.
    • Matt Charney (@MattCharney): Hey, he’s editing this, so I had to put him on there, after all. Plus, he hates being on these things so figured I had to bait one of the better bosses I’ve been lucky enough to work with.
    • You: To everyone who’s taken the time to read this – or really any of my rants – thank you. I know there’s a lot of stuff out there, and I’m humbled that you seem to like it when I commit some of my recruiting related ramblings to paper. You’ve got exceptional taste, too.

Last, but not least…

  • Carol Zeller (My Mom): OK, so maybe this is a little corny, but if we’re looking at who’s actually influenced me, the truth is that without her I would neither exist nor be the person I’ve turned out to be today without her. She lights up my life, and I can’t ever tell her how much I admire and respect her. Particularly for dealing with me all of these years. Mom, I love you.

So, there you go. As I said before, it’s a completely arbitrary list that isn’t even exclusively recruiters or sourcing practitioners, but these are the people who actually influenced me. I know all these people personally, and can personally attest to the fact that they’re not only smart, passionate and brilliant, but in some way moving our profession forward, too.

The fact is I truly believe that old aphorism that a stranger is a friend I haven’t met yet, so if I haven’t met you, hopefully someday you’ll see me at an event or conference, stop by, say hi (or just reach out to me online, if you’d like) and I can start being influenced by you, too.

Because this list, like all the others out there, can’t possibly do justice to everyone out there who deserves to be mentioned. But that shouldn’t stop us from recognizing the people in our personal and professional lives who truly lead our thoughts, influence our actions and make us better at what we do, day in and day out.

Derek ZellerAbout the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliancy. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.

He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.

You can read his thoughts on or or his own site  Derek currently lives in the DC area.

By Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.