How Companies Identify Talent with Rebecca Binder of RF|Binder & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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RF|Binder Human Resources Hiring Strategies

One can plan all they want — in their personal and professional life; however, unexpected things always happen and the critical question is what you do in those moments.

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 Rebecca Binder.

Rebecca Binder is a Senior Managing Director at RF|Binder, overseeing Strategic Initiatives, which is inclusive of talent, recruitment & culture for the firm. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, international organizations, non-profits, and start-ups. Further, she has supported diversity & inclusion initiatives for other consulting firms she has worked at, recognizing the importance of diverse perspectives and opinions to develop creative solutions and drive impact. Rebecca received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her B.A. with honors in International Relations from Brown University.

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

My career path was not direct but the common thread is my passion to drive impact on both individual and systemic levels.

In college, I studied international relations and sought out opportunities to drive societal change through social impact-oriented internships with non-profits and international development organizations, such as the UNDP. After graduation, I took my passion for solving problems, research, critical and analytical thinking and pursued consulting, in both the public and private sectors. I quickly broadened my definition of what it means to drive impact. While working on growth strategy and innovation projects for my clients, I came to realize how critical talent and an organization’s culture were to driving success on both an individual and company level. I loved working in cross-disciplinary teams, solving critical challenges for organizations and motivating people to adopt new systems and processes; however, none of this could be done without having the appropriate talent and culture.

In July 2018, I joined RF|Binder, a communications and consulting firm, as the member of the leadership team focused on building a growth and transformation strategy for the firm to drive our competitive advantage into a new era of communications and marketing. As part of this role, I undertook to oversee talent and culture at the firm. From my perspective, an essential step to preparing for the future and providing best-in-class service to our clients is fostering a positive and empowering environment where people love to come to work every day, have the opportunity to learn, develop, and grow, and ultimately fulfill their personal and professional goals while realizing the critical role they play in achieving our mission and vision. Every day I am humbled and honored to be able to have an impact on individuals, the firm, and society at large.

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?

When it comes to talent development, we are very structured and analytical in our approach, asking ourselves — what skill sets are critical to achieving our goals and how can we best develop them. One of the lessons I learned is that team building activities and informal gatherings, such as happy hours and game nights, are as critical to our growth as the formal mentoring and learning and development sessions.

Recently at an office, happy hour, a very engaging game of “giant Jenga” ensued late into the evening, hours after most of the office would have normally left. People were having fun, providing advice, and overall coaching, encouraging and supporting each other. As I was watching the scene, I realized all the key skills that we have been trying to foster and hone during our more formal activities — collaboration, problem-solving, and active listening, to name a few — were front and center throughout this entire game.

My big lesson from this is that it is important to be open to things happening organically, and sometimes those are the best forms of development — for individuals, teams and the firm more broadly.

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. Clearly communicate the expectations of the role and culture of the firm. Starting with a job post, focus on what success in the role looks like in one year — the impact the person will have and output they will be expected to produce. We want to identify people who are motivated, excited and inspired to drive this type of impact and ensure that the role is aligned to their professional aspirations. We also ensure everyone on the interview team is aware and aligned on the expectations for the role.

2. Ask for specific examples and follow up with questions in order to understand how a candidate thinks and makes a decision. Always ask for specific examples of projects the candidate has worked on or accomplishments they’ve had throughout their career — ask questions to understand why a candidate made a decision, and how they went about it (e.g., what did they say, what specific actions did they take). By learning more about a person’s thought process, the rationale for their decisions, and the steps they took to achieve the desired outcome, we’re able to gain tangible, objective evidence of a candidate’s qualifications and fit for the role.

3. Leave time for questions. When interviewing candidates, pay a lot of attention to the questions they ask. Questions can demonstrate if a candidate is thinking about the larger mission and vision of the company if they understand the industry, and their level of expertise, knowledge, and passion for the job. Through questions, we’ve been able to learn the way people think, and sometimes, it can change the whole course of the interview.

4. Identify a diverse interview team with multiple perspectives. Ensure that every candidate is interviewing with both direct and indirect team members, people from different parts of the organization, at every level with different backgrounds. By structuring multidisciplinary hiring teams at RF|Binder, we have been able to identify the strengths and development areas of potential candidates early on in the process.

5. Employ a consistent process. Ensure you have a clear and standard process for interviewing every candidate, regardless of the role. Our process includes guidelines for developing our interview team, types of questions to ask, and key touchpoints, including an interview kick-off meeting (to ensure expectations, roles and responsibilities are clear) and debriefs after every interview, via a formal scorecard and an in-person conversation with the entire hiring 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?

1. Hire people early in their careers. Every year, we have a best-in-class “Associate Program” to attract talent early in their career. We seek analytical and critical thinkers who are interested in learning about the communications industry, but who don’t necessarily have direct experience in the field. As such, we’re able to train them in the “RF|Binder way” and help shape their leadership style. Some of our longest-tenured team members and leaders started in the Associate Program; it is a very important talent pipeline for us.

2. Tap into your network to develop a strong talent pipeline. We are always seeking input from our current team members, alums, current, and past clients as well as general industry contacts. Whenever someone says they have a great person for me to meet, I always talk to them, whether we have a role or not, as you never know when an opportunity will arise. We have a robust talent pipeline we can leverage as a result of this approach.

3. Consider what prospective talent is looking for and cares about. Write job posts that outline what the person in a given role will learn and the impact they will be able to make. We all want to be proud of our work, know we are contributing to a larger mission and be recognized for these efforts. To this end, we write our job posts with the prospective talent in mind; separately we have a set of “job requirements” that we use to evaluate candidates but do not use this for recruiting talent.

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 think it’s very simple: a movement that inspires empathy and understanding. One of the most critical elements to drive a positive impact on people and our society is to recognize where others are coming from, listen to each other, and ask questions to understand their rationale. Frankly, there’s nothing we need more today. While the world and people are certainly not purely rational, there is usually a reason why something happened or why someone did something. If we could all try to understand each other’s points of view and be more empathetic to each other, I think it would result in a world that is much kinder, and many of the biggest political and social challenges we face today would be significantly mitigated.

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

“Your true character comes out when times are tough.” One can plan all they want — in their personal and professional life; however, unexpected things always happen and the critical question is what you do in those moments.

This happened to me when I was at a consulting firm and did not get the promotion I expected. While this was very hard for me, I took the situation as an opportunity to ask for more feedback, learn from others and focus on continuous improvement. As a result of these efforts, I became an even stronger consultant than I could have imagined. I learned so much from my peers and colleagues and in a strange way, looking back, I am now grateful that I did not get that promotion because it forced me to work even harder; even though I received the promotion six months later, that milestone was so much less significant than I thought it was. The insights I learned along the way have stayed with me to this day.

I know by viewing challenges as opportunities I am able to tackle any problem I face and learn from it — small or large.

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?

Beyoncé. I am continually in awe of not only her phenomenal music and dancing abilities but of her incredibly impressive business acumen. After seeing her in concert several years ago, I was inspired by the individual engagement she is able to instill when in a stadium of 50,000 people. Her leadership and work ethic is motivating for any business professional. I would love to have the opportunity to learn from her.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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