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How Companies Identify Talent with Ineke McMahon and Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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the Path to Promotion Human Resources Hiring Strategies

You are in the driver’s seat for your life and your career.

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 Ineke McMahon.

Ineke McMahon is the co-founder of the Path to Promotion (P2P) learning and development academy. She has almost two decades of Executive Recruitment experience placing CEOs, Board members, and C-Suite roles for both commercial and government clients. Ineke is passionate about diversity, specifically helping women ascend into senior leadership roles. Her many accomplishments include being featured in international publications such as Forbes, the New York Post, and being invited to be the keynote speaker at national industry events. Ineke has a Bachelor of Psychology and a Bachelor of Business majoring in Human Resource Management.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I studied Psychology and business at University, and my original desire was to be a clinical psychologist. I soon realized that my passion was more about helping people to succeed in business, so recruitment seemed like a natural fit. I have had almost two decades of experience in Executive Recruitment, placing CEOs, Board members and other senior executives. I have found it very fulfilling. We launched the Path to Promotion in September of 2019 (online learning and development academy to help people accelerate their career success), and it has taken off!

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

Interviewing people has been a privilege. I have so many funny stories about things going wrong in an interview! One gentleman got stuck in a chair; one lady fell over when reaching back to grab something out of her bag, and another candidate was so nervous that he couldn’t stop hiccupping. The lesson for me is that people are human and flawed, and there are great things to discover about each person if you dig deep enough. Never trust your first impression! There is a vast difference between a good candidate (someone who presents well at interview) and a good employee (someone who performs well in a job). Most good employees haven’t had a lot of interviews, so often their skills are poor in comparison to someone who has changed jobs regularly. A good candidate is all about presentation — however, a good employee works hard, is motivated, shows initiative etc. It takes skill to discover the difference. This is where most companies go wrong — they hire great candidates. We all know people that we have worked with who are not that great at their jobs, but every few years pop up in another great position. This is because they are great at interviewing. I will sometimes have clients say to me “I’ll know in the first five minutes is someone is right or not”. However, it usually takes weeks (or even months) to discover if someone is going to be good or great at their role, so that can’t be true. What the person is doing in that first five minutes is judging whether they like the person or not. As human beings, we are wired that way. I believe that it’s my role as an Executive recruiter to help my clients uncover the difference between assessing likeability and being able to uncover evidence of job performance.

I feel lucky because with almost two decades of recruitment experience, in my first few years, I specialized in interviewing Executive staff with mostly a sales focus. That candidate group interview exceptionally well! In my next role, I moved into Executive roles in technical spaces, where a lot of candidates were from backgrounds such as Engineering and were primarily introverts. It gave me an excellent grounding on how not to place as much value on the presentation skills of the candidate at an interview — to get to really know them and to ensure that my reference checking process was incredibly thorough to uncover the difference between someone who presents well at interview, and someone who will perform well in a role.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into 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?

The most important thing to do when trying to recruit the best talent is to recognize why it is so hard to be consistent.

Typical problems with hiring great talent consistently:

  • Everyone has their own system, which often conflicts with everyone else’s. It makes it challenging to reach consensus.
  • Moving job descriptions make it hard to find top people. This is very unproductive. Often halfway through a recruitment process, people on the hiring panel may add things that they are looking for.
  • Typical job descriptions usually describe the skills and experience required, rather than the real role, which is often very dull to read. Often even people qualified won’t apply unless the real job is described with the challenges to attract great performers. Most job descriptions and advertisements are written to eliminate weak people, rather than trying to attract the best people.
  • It’s hard to reach consensus when the hiring team isn’t using the same criteria to evaluate competency. It’s worse when they use flawed interviewing techniques.
  • The competition for top talent is high, even in a down market. Without a professional process used by all interviewers who are on the same page with each other, the chance of success is low. This is true even in an environment with high unemployment.

In order to combat these issues, the following five steps are required:

  • Firstly: get everyone to agree to a more compelling and complete job description. This is the Success profile. It outlines what success looks like in the first 12 months of the role in measurable goals. It’s very important to do this at the start of the process with the entire hiring panel so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Secondly: reexamine every aspect of the sourcing and hiring process and ensure that it meets the needs of top people. Constantly think — would this attract the best talent? If the answer is no, change your approach.
  • Thirdly: Write an enticing advertisement that highlights the benefits of the job and gives as much information about the REAL role. Having already built your Success Profile — this is very easy to do.
  • Fourthly: get everyone on the same page regarding an interview and assessment methods. Again, do this at the beginning of the process.
  • Finally, use a success based interview which is built on the Success profile that we created in step one. What this means is you ask candidates to describe outcomes they have achieved in past roles that specifically align with what we will want them to do in this role. This achieves two things. Firstly — it makes the candidate feel that you understand what you are looking for in a person and it eliminates “practised answers” because each interview is job-specific — allowing you to search for talent rather than just a “great interviewee”. Secondly, it generates stronger interest in the role from the people you are interviewing.

Here is an example of how to use each of these five steps. I was asked to take a brief for a role for a General Manager of Infrastructure and Assets for a large airport. They had given the job description to another recruiter who had come up with a shortlist. After the shortlist had been interviewed, the CEO did not like any of the candidates. They gave me the job description, which (as they typically do) described the skills and experience requires, rather than the real job. It said things like:

  • Must have at least five years’ experience in a property role, ideally in an airport.
  • Be a strong leader
  • Manage assets and projects

The recruiter presented a list of candidates from other airports around the country, most of whom were in Asset Management roles. When I undertook the success profile process with the CEO and Board, I discovered that they needed the candidate to deliver five key things in the first 12 months. These were:

  1. They wanted to secure a hotel to the site.
  2. They needed to undertake a review of the masterplan.
  3. They needed to deliver 300M of capital works.
  4. They needed a plan to re-lease several empty retail vacancies.
  5. They wanted to reassess team capacity.

None of this information was in the Job Description. We discussed that given the key criteria included heavy project management, master planning, and commercial acumen as well as the usual Asset Management functions, the best person for the role would most likely come from a Property Developer rather than another airport.

I undertook search activities to identify candidates that could do the five functions, and we interviewed them against those five criteria. The successful candidate came from a large property developer where he had been in charge of a large master-planned development — and he is still in the role four years later. The CEO is thrilled with his performance. The process was effective because we developed the success profile with the whole panel at the beginning of the process, ensured that our methods would attract top talent and we interviewed and assessed against the criteria that would determine success.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

The first step remains the same as the last question. Building a success profile where you identify the key outcomes that the role has to deliver in the first 12 months means that you can have more meaningful conversations with candidates. Not every job will be attractive to everyone, but if you understand the key deliverables for the job, you will end up attracting candidates that are motivated to do that work.

For example, I recently shortlisted a role for a National Sales Manager for a large national business that had recently acquired another company. Even though the sales function had the largest headcount in the business, the staff reported to the General Managers in each state. This meant that the National Sales Manager would report directly to the CEO and Board, and the role would be a truly strategic role to drive sales strategy unencumbered from the day to day people management issues. Some candidates I spoke to were not interested in the position because they got their job satisfaction from coaching and mentoring salespeople. The RIGHT people were attracted to the role because strategic thinking and driving change was the component of their positions that they found the most enjoyable. By starting conversations with candidates that I approached for the role with describing the reporting function and challenges of the role, talent either opted in or out in the first five minutes. Not only is it a huge time-saver, but it means that the people that you approach that are interested are more likely to be right for the role.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to see more women internationally complete our Success Accelerator course. The Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Lean in, have all reported that men are likely to apply for a job if they have 60% of the skills, whereas women need to feel that they check off at least 80–90% before they will put themselves forward. This means that women need to spend MORE time looking up, looking forward, and investing in the skills that they will need for their next career step now. While the Success Accelerator course is gender neutral, I would love for more women to be doing it and being able to contribute to an increase in diversity at Executive levels across the world. I’ve always been a passionate advocate for diversity and want to make a significant impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” I think that I have lived my life that way and encourage others to do the same. You are in the driver’s seat for your life and your career. I also love Warren Buffett’s quote that the most important investment that you can make is in yourself, as it pays the best dividends, and no one can take it away from you. He has a great story about how a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking changed his life. I have always invested in my own development, and it has seen me progress faster than the people I went to University/College with. I think a lot of people finish college and then stop studying. If you want something — you have to work for it.

Personally, I’ve been served with some big challenges in life — I’m a two-time cancer survivor, and I have two small children. My son was born prematurely with his esophagus joined to his wind-pipe instead of his stomach. He spent a long time in hospital and hasn’t been able to go into care. I want to provide an excellent example to my children that you can achieve whatever you want to, no matter what adversity you face.

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, 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?

Can I choose two? I would love Daniel Goleman and Shawn Achor. I read Daniel’s book “Emotional Intelligence — why it can be more important than IQ” when I was in high school, and it had a significant impact on me. That book was a substantial contributing factor to why I decided to study psychology myself. My second private lunch wish list person would be Shawn Achor, who wrote “The Happiness Advantage”. I am an avid reader and read at least two books a week — and his was my favorite of the last ten years. I also find him very funny — I love this TED talk! If you haven’t seen it — do yourself a favor and watch it now.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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