How Companies Identify Talent with Jim Sullivan of JCSI & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Jim Sullivan HR Strategies Human Resources

Anything of tangible value (money, house, cars, etc.) can’t be kept when you die. Don’t focus your decisions based on these tangible things and live your life with a goal of always doing the right thing, helping others and doing good.

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 Jim Sullivan.

Jim Sullivan is the CEO and founder of JCSI, a unique RPO firm focusing on a passive candidate search approach. Jim founded JCSI in 1999 to develop his own hybrid of best practices that combined the embedded knowledge of corporate recruiters with the resources of staffing agencies.

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

I started out my career working for recruiting agencies where I learned about corporate recruiting and staffing agency practices. After several years of working under agencies, I set out on my own in 1999 to found JCSI. The idea of JCSI was to create a new model to redefine what RPO service can mean. We forge strong partnerships with our clients based on flexibility, transparency, and accountability. We also pride ourselves on our expertise at finding A-level candidates who may not be actively seeking employment and engaging them to learn about career opportunities with our clients.

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?

Not necessarily a funny story, but the most interesting thing that has happened throughout my career has been surviving through 3 recessions. First, in 2001 we experienced the Dot-Com Boom recession which was only our third year of operations. All of the Dot Com businesses started to crash which made it hard for JCSI to prosper.

The Great Recession from 2008–2009 (mortgage crisis) also impacted our business as we were among several companies struggling to hold our heads above water. During the first recession, we were partnering with a large national bank, which did not help us very much. By the second recession, we were working with a smaller private bank that paid more attention to our financial situation which helped us survive the recession. Recently, by the third recession during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are partnered with a different small-town credit union which has been a huge help to us. We have been able to not only operate during the pandemic but continued to keep our employees employed as well. It was an interesting lesson to see working with different banks of different sizes, and being able to survive all three recessions within our 20 years of business.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time-consuming and difficult. What 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

There are many techniques to find A-level candidates and recruit top talent. One technique is identifying what qualities will best match your company culture. By understanding that culture and how it supports talent acquisition, making the right hire will not only fill your current openings but add to your team long-term. Culture is the company’s personality and work environment, and in order to assess this, it is important to take skill requirements as well as personality matches into account. An example here could be when recruiting for a company that is oftentimes throwing company events and focuses on a relaxed and open communication model. When recruiting for a position here, it would be important to ensure that top candidates are outgoing, personable, and maintain core values such as loyalty and respect.

A second technique is to effectively sell the opportunity and accurately assess what skills and experience are needed for the role. This would include determining the years of specific experience that is necessary as well as what skills are pertinent for getting the job done. For example, you may be hiring for a Project Manager who needs 3+ years of experience managing and leading a team. However, you’d want to also be aware of the communication skills and personality traits of your candidates so that they will not only lead the team but also get along with subordinates and teammates.

Third, could be selling the opportunity correctly to attract top candidates. Don’t be afraid to brag about what makes your company so great and why your employees are excited to go to work. It is also important to market the growth potential offered within the role itself and your company as a whole. An example here could be when recruiting for an hourly role or unskilled labor position and being sure to explain the benefits and compensation, as well as why this position is so exciting. Marketing messaging to candidates here is key.

A fourth technique here is to adequately assess job-hopping. This can be a red flag for most recruiting departments, as it can show a sense of unloyalty and give your candidate a bad reputation right off the bat. It’s important to understand differences in industries for the average length of a role. For example, candidates with a history in services industries tend to have a lower tenure whereas engineering and professional roles tend to have higher tenure. Never be afraid to ask about job movement, as it can sometimes prove to no fault of theirs. More specifically now during the COVID-19 pandemic, company consolidations and budget cuts have resulted in a large number of layoffs and furloughs which is much different than the average job hopper.

Lastly, a fifth technique to hiring the best talent is to make sure onboarding efforts are well planned and run smoothly. Many employees who are thrown into a position where they are not trained effectively will not be as motivated to perform well. Developing ramp-up goals and using multiple training techniques such as online, in-person (or via Zoom), video, and hands-on learning will help here. An example could be when hiring in customer service industries if you have an employee who is not trained correctly, it will most likely result in customers yelling at them. This will end up seeming like the employee is at fault when in reality, they didn’t know better.

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

When going after passive candidates, JCSI focuses on a multiple-touch process where candidates are reached out to via multiple channels in a consistent cadence. It also helps to personalize your messaging, pointing out some specific resume highlights and explaining why you think they’re the best fit for the job. At the end of the day, recruiting passive talent is essentially selling them on the opportunity. Using sales techniques, effective marketing and personalization will make the candidate feel appreciated and more confident when going for the role.

What are the most effective strategies you use to retain employees?

Retention rates are extremely important for employee morale, company success, and budgeting. It can be expensive to constantly recruit, hire and train new employees on a rotating schedule. To keep turnover low, it’s important to offer adequate wages, relatable and successful management, and a fun and enjoyable workplace. These strategies will help employees look forward to coming to work and also to perform their best.

We are 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?

I’d love to sit down with any of the following market leaders:

  • John Tyson — Tyson Foods
  • Glyn Bindon — Trijicon
  • Marion Wade — ServiceMaster
  • Norm Miller — Interstate Batteries
  • Bradley Tilden — Alaska Air Group

What’s the secret to continuing to drive revenue, improve employee morale, improve product/delivery/customer service, decrease costs and increase margins and overall profit while remaining strong to your Christian beliefs? Do you ever have trouble balancing the two?

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today!

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