How Companies Identify Talent with John Chuang of Aquent & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Aquent Human Resources Hiring Strategies

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.

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 John H. Chuang.

John co-founded Aquent in 1986 while an undergraduate at Harvard University and grew it to the 12th fastest-growing private company in America, serving as CEO from the beginning. His accolades include Boston Business Journal’s, “40 Under 40”, Mass High Tech’s, “High Tech All Star,” finalist for the Harvard Business School Club of New York’s, “America’s Entrepreneur Award,” and Ernst and Young’s, “Entrepreneur of the Year” for New England. He was the subject of a Fast Company cover story and was the protagonist in a Harvard Business School case study.

John has served as president of the Massachusetts Association of Staffing Services and as chairman of the board of directors of Angie’s List (NASDAQ: ANGI). He also has served as a board member for the American Staffing Association, AIGA, and the Recycling Advisory Committee for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. John earned a bachelor’s degree cum laude from Harvard College and an MBA with honors from Harvard Business School.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Back when I was in high school, I had a temp job. I thought it was really interesting to be part of the workplace. Not to mention, it was nice to have a sort of instant opportunity waiting for me, but I always felt like I was a bit ‘processed.’ You know, like I was not really a part of the team even though I was helping them with the work.

In college, my friends and I started a desktop publishing company out of our dorm room to help local businesses get work done and we could help out our friends by sending some work their way. The staffing business grew from there because our publishing clients wanted us to come to their offices to help them with more than just publishing. As the clients grew and grew, we just worked to keep up but always trying to do a little bit better each time. The rest, they say, is history.

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? Please share an example of each idea.

There are so many things that go into finding the right talent for a role, but there are a few things that can make it much easier.

  • We create technology to do the legwork for us. For example, in our industry, a candidate is so much more than a resume or a LinkedIn profile — portfolios are king. Sometimes the technology you need isn’t there, so we built a proprietary tool that harnesses the power of AI to find candidates by searching the images in their portfolios. Aquent’s Book does not rely on the inconsistency of manual tagging and lets you sift through millions of portfolios to find the right candidate for the job.
  • I always think that getting outside perspective is important and that trickles into our hiring process as well. We have a large network of subject-matter experts in a variety of creative fields who interview our candidates and consult with our clients. They provide a unique perspective on a candidate’s technical skills and weigh-in on whether they just talk the talk or have the skills to back it up.
  • More is always better, especially when it comes to recruiting. The more recruiters you know, the more talent you can find, so we found ways to bring recruiters together to work collectively to find the best talent for a company. The solution we created, Scout, is now the #1 hiring marketplace for permanent recruiting.
  • It is important to interview a candidate. When that candidate is a manager, it is equally important to interview the people that the manager has hired. You can tell a lot about a person’s working ethos by the people they’ve hired and manage. The greatest power a manager has is not necessarily doing all the work. It is assembling a great team.
  • It sounds obvious, but the most important thing you can do is write a good job description. You really need to understand what this person will be doing, how they will contribute to the team and the company and communicate that in a compelling way. When you have the right job description, you will be able to find the candidates that are a true fit for the job and want to be a part of the team.

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?

  • Think outside the box. It is easy to stick to usual recruiting platforms like LinkedIn, but why limit yourself! Don’t be afraid to use other methods or platforms like Twitter. Sometimes the best person for a role is a little harder to find.
  • One of the most compelling value propositions you can make to a potential employee is passion. When you communicate the passion that you and your organization has for what it does, that is palpable to a candidate. If that passion resonates with them, you are going to get an employee who emotionally connects to work. That type of connection creates even better work, for you and the employee.
  • People want to be part of something. Sure, profits and making a decent salary are nice, but the purpose is what drives people to come to work every day and put their best foot forward. A mission is also a great way to build camaraderie because you are all working towards the same goal in different capacities.

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

California’s AB5 may have been polarizing and it’s not a perfect law, but the gist of it is something that I want to see more of. Misclassification of independent contractors is a big problem. Freelance, gig, contingent, whatever you want to call it, this workforce of some 57 million people contribute around $1 trillion to the US economy and they don’t even get benefits or basic protections. I think that is crazy.

I hope that either by law or by conscience, companies that use these workers start to give them the same benefits and protections given to their W-2 employees.

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

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman president of an African Nation (Liberia) and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Another mantra I live by is that change requires you to get out of our comfort zone. If you are going to make a difference and challenge the status quo, it is going to be scary. If you don’t feel that little twinge of fear, you are not pushing yourself enough. It’s a little cheesy, but really, dream big and scare yourself.

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?

I would want to sit down with someone who has struggled to feel fulfilled in today’s job market. We would strategize to find them a role in which they are empowered to use their unique talents.

So much valuable advice here — thank you for sharing these fantastic insights with all of us!

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