In this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William speaks with Mark Fordham of CareerArc about how Covid has affected HR teams in different regions.
Mark is the chief revenue and client officer at CareerArc, where he leads an exceptional team of client-centric sales professionals, onboarding specialists, support gurus, and client success fanatics.
Tune in to the conversation and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 30 minutes
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Lead CareerArc’s sales and post-sales functions, including an exceptional team of client-centric sales professionals, onboarding specialists, support gurus, and client success fanatics for a rich community of Social Recruiting and Employer Branding customers.Follow Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Mark on from CareerArc, where we’ll be talking about how COVID has affected HR teams in different regions. Differently, clearly. And so I can’t wait to kind of jump into it. Mark, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and CareerArc?
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, William. My name is Mark Fordham. I am with CareerArc. I’m their head of sales and client services over the last, a little over two years and CareerArc is a social recruiting platform. We help our clients find the best talent through social media, through automated job distribution and employer brand scheduling as well.
Awesome. Let’s unpack COVID. Pre-COVID, now we’re technically still in COVID but how have you seen some of the, let’s just start with some of the basics. You’ve got a wonderful kind of vantage point or vista in which you look at HR and recruiting and kind of how they’re doing, how it has impacted their lives. And so let’s just start with some of the observations that you’ve seen.
Yeah. Great question. Obviously it’s confounded quite every TA leader over the last 18 months. I’d suppose I’ll start with the biggest shift I’ve seen, which is TA leaders kind of settling into the new, I guess I’ll call it the new abnormal. This idea that there’s just constant change that they have to kind of put up with. Their traditional techniques aren’t working quite as well as they’d hoped and things are costing a bit more. I think now more than ever, we’re seeing a lot of our clients, TA leaders really embracing things that they knew they should have all along like employer brand, putting their culture and stories much more forward than they did in the past because they’re finding that a lot of talent is taking more time to discriminate against which company they want to work for. Tactics they knew were important they’re now embracing full steam ahead. And quite honestly, they’re kind of moving more towards an agile approach to talent acquisition rather than a monolithic approach. Trying lots of new things more frequently is definitely something that we’re noticing quite a bit.
And it’s attraction, it’s once you attract them and you got to engage, you’ve got to make sure they’re productive and then you’ve got to retain them. Or if not, you’re just kind of cycling through, it’s a revolving door. And it makes it harder actually over time because we live in a transparent world and everyone has a Twitter account, Glassdoor and all these other things. If they have a bad experience, if you’ve been lucky enough to recruit them, if they have a bad experience, now they’re going to tell the world about it.
There’s no doubt that they’re that the TA leaders we talk to are more worried about that than ever. They are focusing more on their partnerships with HR, the post hire experience, the early stages of their onboarding to make sure that they’re creating a good alignment situation with candidates. What they said their culture was, does that actually manifest? And is it authentic? Because candidates and even new employees are out pretty quickly, that doesn’t smell exactly like you said it was going to smell. I think they’re definitely finding ways to further embrace retention as a kind of a backwards talent acquisition strategy, given that even existing sitting employees at companies are now starting to see choice in front of them like never before. And so there’s sort of this inherent fear that we’re hearing that’s really trying to be transformed into action.
One of the things is and thinking about the show I wanted to ask you from your customers, are you seeing the candidates are asking about how they handled COVID?
Yeah. It’s interesting that you ask that question and it probably more so than ever. one of our largest sectors is healthcare, among some others as well.
And what’s been interesting is to see almost a, well, not almost, absolutely a regional approach to this based off of any number of things you want to throw out there, geopolitics and all the things. We’ve seen some parts of that sector, for example, really embrace the idea of mandated vaccination as a badge of courage versus others. And other regions who are trying to tread a little bit more carefully in part not to further damaging any relationships they may have had with their existing employees, let alone making sure that they strike that right balance of we need talent but we also need to send the right message. There’s been an interesting bifurcation on a very regional level as a result of that, as one example.
It’s interesting because I think, first of all, it’s interesting that candidates would ask that and also just judgment or no judgment, it’s interesting to see how companies respond. If they went through furloughs and layoffs or whatever they did, it’s just there’s a story there. And it’s kind of owning that story and recruiters being on the front line, owning that story, which is not normally their bit. Normally they’re in positions where they’re got enough talent, they’ve got a full slate of candidates and they don’t have to really kind of get into the story. They don’t have to sell as much if you will. But I find, when I talk to recruiters, especially global heads of TA now, that they’re finding they have to sell harder the company, the culture, the project, the team, everything.
And also part of that, one of those storylines is how they interacted with COVID, just all the different things, the different what they did with their offices, how they tried to make it safe, how they communicated, et cetera. It’s fascinating. Innovations that you unpacked at the beginning. You started with, okay, well, we’re probably going to get here, but COVID kind of forced us to get here faster. Flexibility, we’ve been talking about flex time for at least 200 years. That seems to be kind of now table stakes. Remote the number one search term in Indeed. Turns out that’s probably here to stay for a while. But I love how you also talked about agility. And so let’s unpack some of these innovation because out of something horrible can come something wonderful. And so again, you get to see these things before a lot of other folks get to see them because you’re talking to the folks that are actually creating the innovation.
Yep. Yeah. I’d say the big shift that we saw was moving away from this sort of again, monolithic employer brand, that we are a company that embraces these types of cultures and values and finding that although they need to retain that, there seems to be a pretty interesting shift towards hyperlocalization, sort of the interpretation of that brand down into more local and regional areas. And so that’s where as opposed to saying, we’re going to do a, for example, a signup bonus across the board for all of our clerks. What we’re now seeing is, well that actually resonates more in this area because there have uphill battles against extended employment, unemployment benefits. But that sign on bonus is important in this other region where it’s clear that those folks probably more prefer the work life balance so amplifying that part of their story.
This notion of agility, it can be found I think in many ways in the way that they’ve localized the interpretation of that brand, which really resonates well with even a study we did a while back that talks about the values that candidates have as they’re looking for work. The things that have always been there are just a little bit more important today. Work life balance is one that’s trended up at least a number of percentage points since the last study we did this. Stuff like that. I think born into the agility is sort of hyperlocal interpretation, which has been interesting to see at least through our lens on social media, with our clients kind of trying to get that story out and targeting different messages towards different areas as a result.
One of the fascinating aspects of this particular topic is I go back to the beginning of COVID. I live in Texas and so Texas again, still kind of the Wild West and you can just apply all the stigma and things that you’ve learned about Texas. And most of them apply. But one of my dear friends lives in New Jersey and I remember talking to her at the beginning of COVID a lot and it’s almost like we were having different experiences. You know what I mean? Interacting with COVID in different ways and it wasn’t just the news media and things like that. We were just because of them being hit so hard at the beginning of it, that didn’t hit Texas like that until later. Of course it did, it just did it later.
And so it’s interesting as we talk about hyperlocalized in this way that teams have to adapt. Recruiting has to adapt. HR has to adapt to what works in Houston, Texas, might not work in Portland. In fact, we probably should start with the assumption it doesn’t work in Portland and what does? The question is how do they figure out hyperlocalization? What have you seen from some of your customers as they discover that world that okay, the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work. Check. Got it. How do they dis how do they then unpack that and start to figure out how to make it work in those different regions?
It’s interesting. The first thing that comes to mind in just the conversations that I have with clients and through our team as well is, and I actually think this is a positive byproduct of what we’ve all gone through. And that’s this notion of a stronger relationship with the local hiring managers and the recruiters than ever before. Previously, especially if you were a shop that had sort of more of a centralized talent acquisition approach where a central body is kind of recruiting regionally and locally and all that and it was sort of one direction, we’re going to feed you with candidates to hiring managers and local levels and you’re now responsible for picking them out. The clients that are being most successful in sort of either stabilizing or increasing their top of funnel for candidate flow have absolutely embraced this idea of a stronger partnership, getting feedback from the hiring managers and folks at the field level in terms of what’s resonating in their local communities because you can’t possibly detect that through good news reading and sort of social scraping you have to have for those conversations.
And how I know that’s happening is because a lot of our typical relationships with clients are more around the TA leaders and certainly less around the hiring managers. And we’re now starting to see a lot of them participate in joint strategy discussions, even with us. And so they’re starting to recognize rather this idea of that bond will allow them to more hypertarget the tactic versus applying through the one size fits all. That’s been something that I think is actually going to be a positive thing moving forward in part also just because candidates are moving more slowly on their decision making and have more choice now. I don’t think that that’s an avoidable thing at this point any further.
I love that. Who have you seen? And again, you talk to a bunch of people so you conversationally, you get to talk to a lot of folks about a lot of different things but now that we know now that we know probably should have always been looking at hyperlocal and make things hyperlocalization for candidates, employees, et cetera, who’s responsible for hyperlocalization? In your mind and as you talk to folks, who’s desk does that fall on?
Yeah, it’d be interesting to interview both sides of that spectrum and see what their answer was.
They’d point to each other.
Yeah, that’s exactly. Where’s that finger pointing? I think it’s a really good question and I’m not sure it can be answered with a this or that as much as a yes at the end of the day because you have your branding folks at the top, you have your local folks that actually live the real life down there and they both need each other. There’s just the dependency that is probably more and I think again, positively is exacerbated given current conditions. I’d also just say that born into that too, is the local level really driving more of that agility, like classic marketing techniques, AB testing, try this, see if it resonates, if it doesn’t move on to something else. Do them at the same time, see which one presents itself with more higher qualified candidates and stuff like that. You’re starting to see a lot more of those kind of classic marketing techniques to applied now towards elements of branding within the talent acquisition space, I think.
What’s interesting as you bring it up, I think employees and candidates also have a hand in this. They have a responsibility to be advocates and talk openly about what works. Not just for them but what works for people like them and define that any way you want to and in the region that they live in. They also can raise their hand both on the recruiting side but also as employees and give information as well.
Yeah. And to that point, obviously this is the space we live in but social is sort of this great equalizer. One, it’s instant and always on. Two, algorithms are smart enough to know who’s where and what they like to be presented with. This idea that even to your point, these brand ambassadors is what we’ll call them, these employees that are sort of embodiments of that brand, probably arguably the most authentic version of the employer brand, they’re on social and they’re sharing their stories. To the extent that even earlier in your question, taking really good care of employees has that positive byproduct into the reputation and authenticity of that story that they share with others on social.
Take us into social listening because it’s really important especially to this topic because a lot of folks that are listening, they might not understand exactly what social listening is and how you can use both the data and how it can inform decisions. Take us into social listening.
Yeah. It’s a great question. Social is obviously a place where people consume and produce. And in that almost always on mentality, they’re on there several times a day, they’re sharing and they’re explaining and they’re articulating their experience in their life as well as part of that life is their work. And so really smart brands understand that it’s critical to create sort of a consistent story but that does not feel manufactured, which is super critical. To the extent that they have an authentic brand, what they then want to pay attention to is are people engaging with it? Are they sharing it? Are they participating in the discussion? Because if they’re not, you have a problem with your brand not landing properly.
Again, whether it be global or local but more important to that, if there’s no notion that folks are even willing to share something they see about you with someone else, that’s an indication that you need to refactor who you are out to the social world in order to get the type of response that you want. Which is honestly virality, brand affinity and ultimately hoping to compel them to join your company. The smart ones are doing that all the time, they’re paying attention to it. They’re engaging it. They’re keeping it fresh because social operates at the speed of light at this point.
That’s actually where I was going to go with, especially with the EVP is understanding, because some people, especially historically people would look at that every year and a half or two years or whatever. There’d be this idea that, okay, we’ll revisit this at a period in time and throw that out the window because now you have the opportunity with feedback and with insight, you have the ability to actually be and the agility, the mindset of agility, you have the ability to then constantly be changing your EVP.
There’s no doubt about that and this is now really at the executive leadership level. Whereas EVP may have been thought of as sort of this really special thing to have. And let’s put a little bit of money towards it and effort. Now it’s like, oh man, this has a real positive or negative consequence to both our consumer side based off of what our employees experience is working at that company because there is a connection there. While also at the same, admitting that not having one that is not just built but maintained and iterated on actually has some strong cost consequences downstream into your cost per hire and all that. We’re now finally starting to see senior senior folks at the table on these discussions predominantly because they understand that an EVP can’t just be something you produce and walk away from. It’s only as authentic as the outward living of it on a day to day basis through your people.
Yeah. I tell people when they talk to me about EVP, actually employer brand in general, I’m like, write in pencil.
Yeah. That’s a good way to say it.
Just write in pencil and having an eraser close by. Whatever you come up with, test it like you said, test it with AB testing, test it, test it, test it and then just refine it. Don’t give stats to it because it is as you mentioned, it’s going to be how you live it that authentic experience that people have with your brand. That’s actually what you are. Sometimes people want to put an aspirational employer brand together.
Who do we want to be?
Who they want to be. Which I don’t hate. I just, I wish people would talk about it in those terms. This aspirationally we’d like to be here. Okay, that’s fine. Rather than kind of making it a statement and then folks finding out that that was actually an aspiration, not a reality.
But the best analogy that I had a client tell me recently to your exact point, William was, defining an EVP is me sitting in front of the mirror and saying, I want to lose 20 pounds but it doesn’t matter if in six months I actually do a picture and see how much I weigh compared to what I wanted to be. And if I’m still 20 pounds overweight, my EVP was nothing. This idea that you have to actually see it in real life and constantly compare it to what you thought it was and make those adjustments along the way, otherwise it’s just empty words.
That’s right. That’s right. And folks are getting, especially, I think COVID sped some of this up. Folks and maybe it’s generationally but I don’t think it is, folks they’re less apt to tolerate inauthentic experiences. If they feel, they sniff it out, if they sniff it out during a screening call or during an interview and they sniff out something that just doesn’t jive, they just move on.
Your line of questioning has definitely evolved. Candidates’ lines of questioning has definitely evolved and included things that they would probably have felt a little to less emboldened to ask in an interview because they ultimately wanted the job. And now they’re straight out with it.
Yeah. They’re going to ask the tough questions. They’re going to ask the tough questions, which we should have all asked those tough questions. This is, at some point, this is actually a good thing for recruiters, for HR, because those tough questions kind of get at the heart of, okay, well, if we have to fix something, then let’s fix it.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about was in the different areas, so let’s say we hyperlocalization really well. How do we share best practices? In your mind, okay, we can do it all over the world but let’s do it all over the United States for just to make it simple. And we’ve got hyperlocalization working really well in the different 11 different regions that we’re in. Great. How do we share kind of what’s working for one region with the others that again might have tried something, might not know something. One of the better parts of centralization and maybe even a cookie cutter approach is that, well, everyone knows what we’re doing. Well, when everything is decentralized and hyperlocalized, then folks might be disconnected from each other. And I’m not thinking about the negative part of that, I’m really thinking about how do they share the positive parts of what they’re learning?
Yeah, it’s a good and tough question to answer in part because and I just have always felt this way, having been in HR for a while and HR tech and all that, it’s you’d think that at this point in time there’d never be a better opportunity to see a lot of these sprouting communities pop up both at the local and sort of national levels around these best practices. The one benefit though however, that I have seen a lot more of even just in kind of perusal around LinkedIn activity is quite a lot more outreach with all the TA leaders that I follow and all that asking for advice probably in greater volumes than I’ve ever seen. I know that there’s an appetite for folks to do that.
The benefit of things like social is that it’s public. You can kind of take a look and see what your competitors are doing. There is the idea of folks kind of paying more attention to sort of the employer side of those activities. But I wish I could say that I’ve personally seen a bunch of stuff sprout out where people are sharing things like local Georgia TA leaders compared to Florida and Texas and all that. And I haven’t seen that propagate quite at the levels I think we’d probably want. That being said, I don’t see any way for TA leaders to avoid that increase in interaction. I know that virtual events have gone up in attendance in a lot of ways as well. You’re starting to see more of that but I think between you and I, William, I’d have probably hoped to see more than that by now, 18 months in.
Me too. Me too, me too. In whatever form, webinars. Again, there’s a lot of different ways to kind of get that here’s what we’re learning. It’s not like you’re standing on the mountaintop telling people, “We’ve got it all nailed down.” It’s like, it’s a journey and we’re learning this and this is what we’re learning. A part of the HR teams, a part of the topic is HR teams and how they’ve been impacted and affected. Let’s look at that structurally, from COVID’s perspective, how HR teams collaborate or work differently or maybe even structured different. Their workflows and processes, how those things have morphed and changed. And also maybe even the technology stack that you used pre-COVID and then adopted as a part of COVID and maybe even what we looked at as you said, the new abnormal.
Yeah. It seems to show up in a bunch of different ways. First I’ll start by saying and I think we’re now finally starting to see this warm up a bit. Call it 18 months or whatever, since we’ve all been on this journey. HR, at least with all the hundreds of clients we work with, hit very, very hard in their own staffing level, not just the candidates they were trying to hire but they were either halted in hiring more recruiters and or they had to experience some sort of attrition. That kind of really showed up sort of the middle to early fall of last year. That seems to have abated a bit now, as the volumes have come back to sort of normalized the new, in some extent, exceeding levels. That’s at least a positive development that companies seem to be reinvesting back into that.
But to your other question around part of the question around technology, this has been actually an interesting phenomenon. It affects anyone in HR tech as well. This idea of these several year, multi year, single year, longterm subscriptions to things. I think you’re starting to see some openness to other models. Partly just because I think HR tech is recognizing the need to be more agile alongside their clients who need to have more agile approaches to things. Sort of try and see, move on if it doesn’t work, optimize, et cetera. You are starting to see some divergence in sort of the standard approach to sort of packages and subscriptions. I’d also just say this whole idea of central versus decentralized recruiting. I get the impression just with who I talk to, that they’re trying to leverage technology to at least streamline aspects of the recruiting funnel that they don’t want to be left so on their own at the local level but also not so monolithic at the central level. You’re starting to see kind of a common use of tools, whether it be ATS’s CRMs, employer referral programs or even social.
Yeah. And some of that you can do. And this is the in interesting part about AI and natural language processing, conversational bots, things like that is you can automate some of those things and take some of those tasks and give people their time back so that they can then do some of the other kind of the harder things that are maybe a little bit more human centric. Wanted to get your take again, kind of around flexibility. And it’s just kind of what you’re hearing from clients, because on one, let’s just say on one end of the spectrum, you’ve got return to the office. Let’s go back to December 19, everybody go back, everybody’s back in the office. Done. Or you’ve got the other end of the spectrum is remote forever. And somewhere in between is all the different hybrid work models and workplaces and workforces, et cetera. Where do you see that kind of shaking out with what you hear from your clients?
Aside from many of the clients we work with where it’s obviously pretty critical that people are on premise, manufacturing, wholesale stuff like that, restaurants and retail, anything that’s outside of that, even to some extent, you’re even seeing this in healthcare as well, it’s almost this semi-permanent perhaps even permanent acceptance of hybrid at the very least full remote at the highest level. A good example of that would be a client of ours is Vistaprint. They went full remote during all of this. They made that commitment as a company. And then what they realized is, wow, there’s a super cool opportunity to hire wherever we want and that broadens the candidate base. And that gives us a chance to have more people to select from. What they didn’t anticipate though, is because they were global that they needed to localize their even just postings, for example.
How do I post at a different time in Australia than I would in the US? And things they never really had to think about before had forced them to be a lot more flexible and adaptable that way. That’s been an interesting phenomenon. I’ll just say too, that in all of the content that we see our clients publish out, at least there’s stories on social, there’s quite a lot of attention on two really key topics that used to be three. One is certainly the remote hybrid. Here’s our culture observed visibly through remote workers because they had to kind of refactor what their culture looked like in a remote world. They then as part of that, absolutely playing up additional perks that they probably wouldn’t have been able to make available to folks if they were on premise and local. You’re continuing to see sort of this safe workplace messaging for the hybrid sort of office scenarios as well. And you’re starting to sort of see a slightly demand focus on DEI but not anything that’s significant, just a small redirect of messaging around those first two topics for sure.
Yeah. Yeah. And I think some of the social activism though is happening from #MeToo, Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd. Again, I don’t want any of those things to kind of especially take over everything because of something bad that’s happened. Harvey Weinstein or something like that that’s happened. I’d rather we prosecute all of that type stuff and I’d rather we just fix these things. However, it seems like America’s one of these places where it’s got to get to something critical or something extreme for us to kind of pay attention. But I have seen the same thing with DEI in particular. It’s like, it’s the volume’s gone down a little and it saddens me on some level because it’s like, no, it was amped up for a reason. And it was a good reason.
I’ve definitely seen those clients that have a good story already and have done a lot of work around that area. It’s just now a part of their overall story rather than it being so specifically targeted.
That’s right. That’s right. And again, if it’s authentic and it is, they’re backing it up with. Brother, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
My absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me. It’s been a great conversation. I really, really, really enjoyed it.
All right. Thanks Mark. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.