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How Companies Identify Talent with Ken Crowell & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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EmployTest Human Resources Hiring Strategies

We all are the sum of our actions and experiences from the past.

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 Ken Crowell.

Ken Crowell is the founder and CEO of EmployTest. EmployTest administers more than 60,000 tests to job applicants each year.

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

My first job out of college was a disaster. Well-intended people hired me, based on college connections, but I was a terrible fit for the job. They really didn’t understand how to hire for the success needed, and I wasn’t introspective enough to realize it wasn’t going to work out. The people were nice, but the work was miserable. Because it was my first job, I toughed it out for a while before finally making the leap to a different industry and position. The new job was a much better fit for my work style and abilities and the industry is one that I grew to love and thrive in.

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?

I once had a customer who was the mayor of a small midwestern town. We worked both with him and the city manager on a hiring project. During the project, they became at odds with one another and each would repeatedly call us to hear what the other had said. Mayor: “Have you talked with the City Manager today?” Me: “Yes, just got off the phone with her.” Mayor (yelling): “Okay, ignore everything she said and instead do XXX. I’m gonna fire her.” The City Manager would then call and do the opposite, while talking about how they are working to recall him to remove from office.

It was hilarious, from the outside, but clearly there were communication issues in that small town. Lessons learned include “It’s hard to be reasonable with unreasonable people,” as well as “Stay out of small-town politics.”

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?

Successful hiring is a systemized process, not a single event, and one can’t skip the important steps, such as:

  1. Rework the job description for 2020 and beyond. Don’t just instantly re-use the last job description. Review what may have changed in the job in terms of reporting, responsibilities, desired industry knowledge, and skills. With technology always changing, an enhanced tech skill set may now be critical. Will there be a new reporting structure? A new mission? A new team focus? Then show this description to other team members to make sure it’s on the mark.
  2. Involve everyone on the team. It’s not only hiring managers and HR that should be involved in the hiring process. Invite co-workers, teammates, and direct reports into the process of talking with applicants. If the role is customer-facing, enlist a willing and trusted customer to weigh in. Ditto for vendors who may work closely with the new hire.
  3. Preview the job. Your candidates deserve to know what the job looks like, beyond the “marketing speak” of the hiring process. Allow them to see what your meetings are like and what desired work outputs are expected. Introduce them to their future teammates and direct reports. Take them on a video (or physical) tour of the workspace and let them listen in on customer conversations. It must be a match for both the applicant and the company, and both sides deserve a transparent view.
  4. Embrace the numbers. No more gut feelings. Hiring metrics, such as assessment scores, will give you a more complete picture of each applicant and can be useful to compare different applicants. Everyone on the hiring team may have a different opinion, so using the numbers can be helpful.
  5. Rinse and repeat. Evaluate the process 90 days and 180 days after the hire. Was it a success? What can be streamlined and improved? What was missed? Apply those lessons to the next hiring situation.

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?

You may be in HR, but it’s still a sales job. Attracting (and retaining) employees is similar to attracting customers. Highlight the benefits, while addressing the negatives. The top candidates will always have a choice of employers, so you want to make your organization shine.

Show how the company (and this job) is meaningful to customers. It’s always said that “people are a company’s most important asset.” For us at EmployTest, we help managers make the tough hiring decisions about applicants. What can be more important than that?

Work where you live. With our 100% remote work staff, you can work where you are, right now. I worked 8 weeks in Europe one summer. I was able to take a longer trip because I could work some days, as I wished, and vacation some days. We don’t need to see employees in person and in fact, we rarely do.

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

We all must realize “we are more alike than different.” Age, political party, gender, nationality, religion — all are easy ways to segment in our own tribe. But we have so much more in common with each other. We all want better lives for our kids. We all want a cleaner environment. We all share hope for a better collective future. We must just put aside our small differences to find those commonalities.

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

“Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This must be done before we can judge someone else’s intentions. We all are the sum of our actions and experiences from the past.

This is applicable across all spectrums of life, even with job applicants. Their experiences may not exactly align with what you need, but understand the decisions that brought them to that point.

I volunteer with Rotary International and, when working on projects, it’s easy to negatively judge how a person got into their present, unfortunate situation. But there’s always a story, a path they took. I was 11 years old when father died and left our family in dire financial straits. A few people saw potential in me — they “walked my mile” and gave me opportunities to succeed.

There’s no way for someone else to know exactly what brought the person to this place in life. But to better understand them, we must first “walk that mile.”

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?

Bill Gates. Without Bill, it’s questionable that the current state of technology would be as it is today. But his ultimate gift to the world will be how he harnessed his wealth to improve the lives of billions of people around the world through disease prevention and water sanitation.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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