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How Companies Identify Talent with Nicole Anderson & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Opportunity should not determine your drive. Your drive should determine your opportunity.

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 Nicole Anderson.

Nicole Anderson is the owner and CEO of MEND, a human resources solutions firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Before founding MEND in 2017, Nicole held corporate leadership positions in the legal, retail, and manufacturing industries. Nicole received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources Management from American InterContinental University in Weston, Florida.

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

I grew up in a very small town that lacked a lot of diversity, so when I got out of high school I moved to Orlando and had the biggest culture shock of my life, but I loved it. I learned what makes everyone unique and how we all play a dynamic role in life. While I finished my degree, I had my daughter and had to move back to the small town for a while. I got a job at a local prison in HR and realized that the diversity I came to love was not anywhere to be found within the walls of the business. I knew then I was going to spend my entire career fighting for businesses and employees to have a happy healthy relationship. I spent the next 11 years building my HR experience. Three years ago I knew it was time to make a difference, so I started MEND, an HR solutions firm. My goal is to help companies build better companies and help employees become better employees.

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 received an anonymous letter under my door at the law firm I worked at. The letter read that a fellow co-worker had been bragging in the lunchroom about poisoning her own food because someone kept stealing it. At first, I was like, “This cannot be true.” I pulled the employee into my office and she confirmed that she was indeed poisoning her food to get back at whoever was taking it. I asked her, “How long has someone been taking your food and why didn’t you report it?” Her response was, “Well, they took it six months ago and I let the prior HR know.” I said, “Why are you poisoning your own food now?” Her response was a shoulder shrug.

This incident reminded me that you just never know someone’s mental state and what is going on in their personal lives. So, this taught me to always handle people with care and no matter what, treat them the best way I know-how.

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?

1. Analyze Traits of Current Top Talent — When I am consulting on how to find the best talent, I always tell my clients to analyze the skills and character traits of their top talent (I practice this myself), with a focus on soft skills. What do you love most about them? What skills do they have that stand out to you? What makes the employee so successful and top talent at your organization? That way you can match those traits during interviewing.

For example, Jason is your top marketing employee and he spends the majority of his time researching trends, coming up with new ideas, sharing with his team and training new staff, he makes the team laugh and includes everyone. His whole personality is about growing himself, his team, and the company. Jason’s soft skills that he presents are great communication, leadership, influence, and interpersonal skills. If you break those major categories down even further, you get personal branding, inspiring, team building, coaching, listening, emotional maturity, and innovation. These are some traits that make Jason top talent. So why would you not want these same traits in new talent?

2. Job Expectations — I work hard with my clients on the actual job they will be hiring for so that there are no secrets during the interview process or once a new person starts. The quickest way to lose your talent is not being up front with what your role expectations are. Talented people know what they can and cannot do. They know their limitations well. They also know that they will not be successful if they end up doing something they are not passionate about.

Early on in my career, I worked for a nationally recognized retailer. This was my second HR position, and it was titled HR Department Supervisor. The job ad was all HR tasks and the requirements were related to the HR field. The job ad said there were no weekends, etc. So, based on the interview and the job description, this was an HR position. I interviewed for the position and got the job. I was super excited. My first week was great. I learned all the HR systems and met my new team. Week two came around and they had me assigned to front desk customer service. I was confused. The store manager said, “Oh, you will only be doing 20 hours of HR a week if that. The rest of the time you will be on the floor working retail. By the way, you will be working this weekend.” I was a single mom and daycare was not open on weekends. If it were, it was expensive and I could not afford it. They were not upfront and honest. Had I had another choice at that moment, I would have left.

3. Be competitive — Top talent does not come cheap whether in pay, benefits, or culture. If you do not want to pay for top talent, someone else will and you lose out. It does not matter how much you pay if your work environment sucks, you will have a revolving door of talent. If you want to attract the best talent in your industry, evaluate your workplace culture, your pay practices, and what benefits you offer (not just medical but benefits like vacation, tuition reimbursement, or student loan assistance).

The managing founder of the law firm I worked at spent years trying to get a COO he knew was a rockstar to come over to his firm. Finally, the timing paid off and the money was good. The issue, the executive culture at the firm was atrocious and it rolled to the staff level. There was never any recognition and the top guy was never truthful with employees putting the COO in a bad spot. He was unable to make good changes, ultimately leading to him move on from the firm. He has been extremely successful in his new endeavors and the law firm has not done so well.

4. Pay attention to technical skills but do not dwell on them — Technical skills and experience are important. In fact, in some businesses, you must have certain technical skills like nursing. You can teach or train the specific skills needed, but you cannot train someone to be a good human being or how to be compassionate. Just because the talent can do the job does not mean they help your workplace culture thrive and produce. It can do just the opposite. You can lose other top talents if someone is not well rounded.

I am a huge sports fan with the NFL being my #1 sport of choice. I am going to use a sports analogy here. Tom Brady was drafted 199th of the 2000 NFL draft. He had very limited football skills, only playing backup at Michigan. In 2001, he took over for Drew Bledsoe and has become the greatest quarterback of our time. Brady did not have a lot of technical skills that were demonstrated, but he had the desire, drive, determination, ambition beyond just money, and self-leadership to get himself there. Johnny Manziel is a Heisman trophy winning college quarterback, notably one of the most skilled football players to step foot on the field. He was drafted 22nd in the 2014 NFL draft. Johnny Manziel is no longer in the NFL. Why? Because his character traits did not live up to technical skills.

5. Look for diversity — In attracting and retaining top talent, you must look outside of your comfort zone. If you lack diversity in your business, then it means you are not reaching the best talent. Talent comes in many ethnicities, cultures, races, religions, etc. They all bring a different set of skills and vision that can boost your company and help attract additional top talent.

I remember hiring for an accounting position. Accounting to someone who is not a numbers person or in the field is boring. The new leader of the department was unlike any accountant I had ever met: rambunctious, loud, opinionated, and let everyone know he was there. His recruiting technique was to hire more people like him, but the CFO was not having it, especially when he knew the other accounting staff would have issues with it. There was no diversity in thought or actions within the accounting department. This status quo mentality burned through the new leader and many others who came in who were top in their field.

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?

1) Conversation — Being normal and casual, building a relationship.

2) Philanthropy — Showcasing the causes we are involved in or that our clients are involved in.

3) Honesty — Be truthful about the position and do not come across as needy.

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

Women Empowerment! Not feminist related, but just so that we can love each other. I was 34 before a woman helped me with my career. The other years I was just competition and they kept me under their feet. I read on social media all the time what women say to each other. It is sad. We do not value other’s decisions or choices if they do not align with our own thinking. We could just change so much together if we listened more and talked less.

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

“Opportunity should not determine your drive. Your drive should determine your opportunity.”

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 love to have lunch with Daymond John. Where he came from to where he is now is an amazing testimony to drive and determination. He gave me the hope that even with no money, you can still be prosperous. He also shows true leadership in his companies and models that behavior in all aspects of life.

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

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