The idea I could be paid to meet interesting people, learn about their hopes and dreams, and potentially help change the trajectory of their life for the better, was something that hooked me from the very beginning.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Thach Nguyen.
Thach is Chief Talent Officer at SWORD Health, a digital physical therapy startup based in NYC and Portugal. Prior to SWORD Health, Thach was VP of People at Care/of, a NYC tech wellness startup, and before that held leadership positions within HR and recruiting at Airbnb and Google. He is a southern CA native and moved to NYC in 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As I was wrapping up my undergrad, I attended the traditional university career fairs where I was being sold on jobs in architecture, engineering, accounting, etc. I remember having the very distinct feeling that none of those jobs really “clicked” for me. Then, I mustered up the courage to ask one the folks behind the table, “How do I get your job? You seem to have the best one of all.”
The idea I could be paid to meet interesting people, learn about their hopes and dreams, and potentially help change the trajectory of their life for the better, was something that hooked me from the very beginning. And the rest of history. A decade later, I am still hooked!
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?
I’m starting to see how treating people kindly early in your career can have a positive impact down the road. There was one candidate in particular who I met during my time at Google. Despite the fact she was clearly not a fit for the role, she was very passionate about Google and just wanted to speak with someone to “get a foot in the door”. We spoke, got to know another, and, after confirming she was not a fit for the role, agreed to stay in touch for the future.
Several years later, she was the perfect fit for a job I was recruiting for at Airbnb, and I was lucky enough to reconnect, hire her and close the job in record time. Although this story doesn’t sound particularly unique, I’ve come to find that many of us in recruiting have a tendency to have tunnel vision and focus on the roles we’re immediately hiring for. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve seen the value of cultivating those relationships even when they’re not immediately beneficial.
Good advice in regards to relationships. Now let’s jump over to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?
Thank you for that. With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
Through your network: not only are referrals generally the highest performers, they’re also typically easier to access! Additionally, candidates are more likely to respond to a job inquiry if it’s via a warm introduction, whether or not they are actively looking for a new role.
Make your employer value proposition (EVP) clear: I can’t tell you the number of generic “this is an exciting opportunity to work for a fast-growth startup and have massive impact” messages I get. Even if each of those things may be true, it doesn’t make a brand or business stand out in our crowded recruiting landscape. My recommendation is to be thoughtful about what makes your company unique, what you do absolutely better than anyone else, and find a way to articulate that in all the touchpoints of the candidate journey.
ABR, or always be recruiting: Folks so often think about recruiting in terms of inbound applications and LinkedIn sourcing. But there are so many creative avenues to recruit and the key is to always be recruiting. I’ve hired folks anywhere from my local coffee shop barista to a woman who sat next to me on a flight to SFO. When you meet extraordinary talent, don’t hold yourself back from recruiting them just because it’s IRL (in real life). In fact, those are often the best hires!
What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?
1. Build great managers: it’s true that people leave managers, not companies
2. Provide opportunity for growth: growth is the single most important thing to today’s workforce. We’re the first generation to be willing to take a bigger role for no pay increase. Ensure you are creating opportunities for every person to be growing.
3. Live your values: I’ve been a part of many companies that have core values but unfortunately do not live them. The hard part is letting go of that really strong performer who doesn’t treat his teammates with respect. Or that really strategic leader who doesn’t model collaboration or foster inclusivity. The value those individuals bring will almost always outsize the damage they are creating for the culture of the organization.
In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? Can you give some examples of what this looks like?
Yes, it is important for any HR team to be aware of the latest trends in order to stay competitive in finding and recruiting talent. It also helps us to augment our strategies and helps prioritize internal, cultural initiatives.
I’m not sure if I’d call this a trend, but the concept of psychological safety is something I think about more than ever. Research shows that people do their best work when they are in an environment to be free to experiment and ideate. But it’s not easy to do that, you need to be in a workplace where you feel totally safe to say things that may seem crazy without fear of judgment. If you look back on the greatest trends in the workplace in the last two decades in tech, some of them seem standard now but were at one time crazy ideas. Open workspace? Google providing free food to all employees? Netflix piloting unlimited PTO? Those “crazy” ideas could only have been incubated in companies that valued ideation without fear of judgment.
Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?
Yes! Recognition is the easiest way to make employees feel valued without much money. Research shows the act of giving someone a small monetary reward for a job well done (i.e. a spot bonus) matters more than the amount itself. We all have been there: getting a handwritten card by your CEO makes you feel incredibly grateful and valued. Yet why don’t companies do it more often?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Always assume positive intent. When someone has wronged you, assume it was not on purpose and seek to understand their intent. Rather than bottling up your anger, talk to them and give them a chance to explain themselves. You’d be surprised how this can form stronger relationships!
That perspective could be huge for many reasons, that’s outstanding. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.” I was born in Vietnam and grew up having very little. I often take pause and have a hard time believing I am where I am today. I’m the luckiest person I know and I hope I never forget that.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
I find Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, quite inspiring. He seems to be incredibly balanced and a people-first leader.
Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights with us today!