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How Companies Identify Talent, with Tessa White & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

She Team Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Train your recruiting team to call the best and brightest within your organization and have a real conversation to find potential hires. Smart people want to work with other smart people.

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 Tessa White.

Tessa White has over 25+ years of HR experience and has led HR in Fortune 50 companies as well as small start-ups to mid-sized organizations. Tessa has also been the President of the local Society for Human Resources and serves on multiple boards including the Huntsman School of Business, Utah Valley University Women’s Center, and Dahlia’s Hope, a recovery aftercare center supporting sex-trafficking victims. Tessa is now CEO of SHE Team, a company dedicated to building individuals, leaders, and companies.

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

I was brought into the HR and talent management field purely through an accident. As a young 28 year old, I found myself suddenly divorced, and with three children, no college degree and only two marketable skills — I was able to talk to adults well, and I had a knack for understanding people. Those skills led me to my first job in Human Resources as an entry-level HR coordinator for the Covey Leadership Center, working with Steven R. Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People training content.

It was a lucky path for me, because not only was I able to hone my people skills, but learn from some of the best and brightest teachers in the business world as my informal mentors including Steven R. Covey himself.

Eventually, I expanded my expertise in Human Resources by playing roles in recruiting, benefits, compensation, and training. I have now had over twenty years heading up Human Resources for all sizes of companies from fast-growing tech startups to direct sales companies to Fortune 50 companies. Each of these companies has had starkly different cultures, but they each allowed me to experiment with some very unique ways to attract and retain talent. My experience has helped me to know not only how to take risks with some crazy ideas, but also the importance of moving any process into a system that can be repeated and scaled.

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 can laugh now, but at the time, it didn’t seem very funny at all. I was given my first head of HR job at Corel Corporation, and only because the company had made a decision to shut down it’s entire US operations, and our local HR leader had left upon hearing the news. In an unexpected turn of events, I was given the task to take over and shut down our Utah division. The only catch was, the company did not want to spend money on severance or job placement services. And they wanted me to do the impossible job of keeping employees working productively until the shut down date.

I had to get creative and ended up using furniture, office equipment, computers — anything that wasn’t bolted down — as “currency” to keep employees in place. If I needed a software developer to stay, we negotiated. For example, “Joe, if I give you the Nintendo console and all the games, plus your computer and two large monitors, will you stay for 3 more months?”.

It worked, and we were able to keep many people that otherwise would have left, while at the same time, clearing our building of everything that needed to go. On a side note, I ended up with a new couch, the leather office chair of the original WordPerfect CEO, and some appliances from the break room.

Wonderful. 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. Make Every Employee a Recruiter

Finding people that have hard skills is often an easier task than finding the right mindset that fits into your work culture. A good place to start is by mining the contacts of your current employees and building a robust employee referral program. But one step better is to train your recruiting team to call the best and brightest within your organization and have a real conversation to find potential hires. Smart people want to work with other smart people. Every company I’ve been a part of has had a referral program (with varying degrees of effectiveness by the way). Depending on how it is structured, it can motivate great participation and uptick to successful talent acquisition. But I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve personally been asked who I would recommend working at my companies in a meaningful conversation.

Top recruiting firms understand this and their foundation is built upon talking to smart people who know other smart people.

2. Find People Where They Spend Their Time

Use social media as a free tool to find people. It’s inexpensive. It’s easy. It’s where the people are. If you think you’ll find your best candidates through a job posting, you are sadly mistaken. The best candidates are passive and already happily employed and hidden away. The good news is that finding them isn’t as hard as you think. Social media is this beautiful open space where we all live. Most of us check it throughout the day, and end our evening with one last check online as to what is happening with our friends and family.

If you are looking for professional and higher-level positions, consider joining Facebook or Linked In groups that are relevant to the population you are seeking. For a more entry-level position, consider YouTube videos, Instagram, or Tic Toc postings that drive interest to your job or company.

At Vivint Solar, we launched an Instagram contest, giving employees a fun Instagram background and a hashtag and website that could take people to our job openings and comments from our employees. The contest captured the hearts and imagination of our millennial workforce (and the community at large) and ended up increasing our applicant pool.

3. Tell Me About A Time When…

Interviewing a candidate isn’t just about getting an answer to a question. It is about assessing whether I believe the candidate can do what he or she says. Interviewees can tell you anything in an interview that sounds good. Past behavior predicts future behavior and hearing specific examples gives greater insight that either builds my confidence in the candidate or erodes it. Don’t tell me, show me!

I recommend asking questions that illustrate actual experiences and behavior by prefacing questions with “Tell me about a time when…”. The example an interviewee share helps me understand a whole host of behavioral patterns. It can illustrate how the candidate may react to conflict when barriers are presented, or collaboration and conflict styles. Most importantly, the story they tell gives me insights into how their mind works which helps me determine if they would be successful in the environment for the new job I am trying to fill.

4. Give a 24 Hour Assignment

If you want a deep dive that will give you insights into how a candidate behaves under pressure, give a 24-hour take-home assignment with 1–3 common scenarios he/she would run up against in the job, and ask for how they would solve it with only a few pieces of information. Some of the harder to gauge skill sets such as being able to think outside the box, or operate without a lot of hand-holding, will quickly manifest as you see the results of the assignment. For example, consider asking a potential Sales Leader to come back with a 30–60–90 day sales strategy and only outline 5–6 key problems they are trying to solve that map to your current environment. Or ask for a customer referral commission program that meets certain cost parameters and offer up some of the gaps that exist in your current offering. You won’t get the “hit the nail on the head” solution that someone inside the company might offer, but you will get a glimpse into the philosophy and approach a person would bring to the job.

5. Speed-Recruiting

Most people have heard of speed dating. It’s a way to get to know a lot of people in a short amount of time and narrow the field to the ones you are most interested in pursuing, saving both parties time and energy. The same concept can work for hiring high volume positions, such as call centers. Speed recruiting allows a recruiter (or team of recruiters) to create an event with all the bells and whistles that highlight the best a company has to offer. A short presentation about the company is given, and then recruiters meet with each candidate in timed, short spurts. The first part allows candidates to ask questions of recruiters and rotate through, and the second half allows recruiters to ask some key questions to narrow the field.

The advantages are that you quickly understand who your stand-outs are, and it allows you to put on the best company face by pulling out all the stops in the way you choose to market or present the company. The costs of putting on a good event –consider prizes, food, and a very strong company value proposition you can share- creates one of the lowest cost-to-hire metrics compared to any other approach.

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 would begin working with girls in grade school to help them understand what they are capable of doing and becoming. I would want them to learn early to love themselves, discover their gifts, and practice developing their unique talents. Learning early to get comfortable with acting in spite of their own insecurities could create a world of women who close the parity gap in light-speed.

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, 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 visit with Gwyneth Paltrow about how she found the courage to jump off the diving board into Goop, an area outside of anything she had previously done. She has built a company and a brand that is exceptional.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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