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How Top Companies Identify Talent with Cynthia Burkhardt of Philips & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Philips Human Resources Hiring Strategies

The most dangerous worldview is the view of those who have never looked at the world.

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 Cynthia Burkhardt.

Cynthia is the Global Head of Talent Acquisition for Philips. In her role, she has led the industry by being a forerunner in such ways as insourcing executive recruitment, building a talent intelligence capability, and anticipating future labor market shifts. Additionally, Cynthia is a Six Sigma black belt and efficiency expert who specializes in recruitment organization design, emerging and mature markets, innovation, vendor management, and diversity talent acquisition and management.

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

I used to work in outside recruitment, sourcing roles for different companies, but eventually came to the realization that it would be more fulfilling to watch the people I place in a company grow within their role. I worked for other organizations and then made the decision to move to Philips; and I was excited to bring what I call business acumen into the recruitment space. If you think about it, recruitment is a supply chain. Because of my past experience, I was able to run corporate recruitment like a business.

People have asked me: “You’ve been recruiting for a long time, how does it stay fresh?” The recruitment space is particularly exciting because it evolves faster than any other capacity within HR. It is constantly changing and growing more dynamic, and it’s heavily influenced by the macroeconomics of the labor market. It’s fascinating to think that in 2004, LinkedIn just had 1 million users — it now has at least 500 million and we have robots doing interviews.

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?

My career started with a focus on North America, but has now moved into a global role, I’ve been able to learn and experience the cultural differences that exist in the world. I’ve learned how to shift my approach to my work depending on what motivates people both individually and culturally. It’s important to be aware of how you communicate and structure the work across different countries.

That said, there are some universal themes. Generally speaking, people across the globe have a great underlying sense of care. As I’ve traveled around the world to various Philips offices, there’s this global consistency in people’s excitement and passion to improve the world. For example, during a trip to one of the Philips innovation centers in India, I was amazed at the passion and drive of our local engineers because they were making solutions that would really improve their cities. We were using technology from a global corporation (Philips) to help these local communities.

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. Narrow your search processes — As a company focused on transformation, we’ve tried to zero in on high-value company prospects to more effectively search from companies or industries that we think will make a difference for Philips. During this process, we speak with business leaders about what they’re trying to accomplish, and which companies are leaders in their space. Once we have established this, we build strategic company profiles to equip the recruiters to conduct their searches and approach their candidate conversations with an understanding of their employee experience. It provides a strategic view of the labor market and allows us to search more focused and narrowly. It’s been really effective for us.
  2. Customize your outreach — The days of a “one size fits all” employee value proposition (EVP) is over. To ensure that we maximize our impact, we choose to identify those talent segments that are most critical to Philips and specifically cater to them in our outreach. We asked ourselves: how do I attract this piece of the talent market? As an example, the STEM area is particularly difficult. Our outreach to someone in STEM differs drastically compared to outreach to someone in finance. For instance, there are not enough software developers in the world. To get their attention, we have to differentiate Philips from our competitors, especially because these developers are already inundated with outreach. We worked to find a way to get their attention and cut through the “sea of sameness” that exists in the marketplace. EVPs are useful to help figure out how you want to talk to candidates at a high level, but when you want to be effective, you have to go deep to make a real impact.
  3. Organize talent acquisition in a segmented way — In HR, we often live in a world of conflicting priorities. As an example, the labor market is shrinking and it is harder and takes longer to attract top talent. At the same time, there is cost pressure on functions at most companies. To harmonize this, we segmented our TA organization so that we could allocate more resources to the hiring that is transformational and critical to Philips. Our approach was to think of our positions as difficult vs. not difficult to fill, and then to apply a second cut of what was most critical. We then carved out expert teams to focus on the critical/difficult roles, such as software development. This was funded cost neutrally by offshoring the recruitment of less critical/easily filled roles. Additionally, we often put these recruiters where the talent is, and not necessarily just where Philips sits.
  4. Go virtual when able — The recruitment industry itself has been largely remote for some time. This evolved organically once the technology was mature enough to be effective. It also was necessary to build a remote model in order to access the global labor market. That said, the process has traditionally flipped to face-to-face interviews when the candidate moved to the hiring manager interview. This all changed with the emergence of the pandemic, and hiring managers had to quickly shift to virtual interviews. We’ve had to create coaching tools on how to effectively recruit when virtual. Recruiters were mostly prepared for this, but it’s been helpful to work with a workforce that is now entirely virtual. The silver lining of this is that it has given us more flexibility in recruiting top talent regardless of where they sit in the world. I am hopeful that we will see some of this remain as the ‘new normal,’ even beyond COVID-19
  5. Establish an internal talent intelligence team — External organizations that provide talent intelligence offer a menu of services that can include everything from lists of names to very specific information about a certain company, i.e. who runs supply chain at X company, how they are organized, etc. The problem with this is that it is expensive and the information is quickly outdated. At Philips, the shrinkage of the labor market increased our need for talent intelligence. It quickly became clear that it would be cheaper and more effective to insource this work. A few years ago, I hired someone to build our own talent intelligence function. Since doing so, we’re better equipped to consistently be proactive. Within this intelligence team, we have employees who are immersed in the labor market and constantly analyzing the macroeconomics of the world. Now, these insights are used for larger company decisions beyond TA; for example, finding viable locations for new Philips offices that are also rich talent environments.

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. Have an employment brand team — I find that many companies underrate the value of a strong employment brand team and, rather than hiring an expert, they promote a recruiter into that role. From experience, it’s much more effective to have an experienced brand manager. When you have a strong employment brand team and put them on the case of candidate experience, you find it’s similar to running a business. This is especially true now that the candidate is king — it’s a buyer’s market and will be for a while. You don’t have to have much money, just the right brains behind it. Our employment brand team structures the front end of talent acquisition like the consumer journey, which has helped us maintain a positive user experience throughout that process. They also build customized messaging for specific audiences, i.e. by building personas within certain segmentations. Lastly, they train recruiters on the populations we focus on most and how to most effectively communicate with them.
  2. Tell a good story — Philips has a really good story to tell and I’m lucky to work for a company that is changing the world. When we talk about having the ability to attract someone that isn’t actively looking for a job, I think of a billboard that we had in Israel. It said, “You’re building an app to find the nearest pub, and I’m building an app to find cancer.” Philips is a really purpose-driven company. Our entire vision is centered on improving lives and we don’t just say it, we actively count those lives. It’s an attractive story to share, even more so now that we see the extremes of what can happen in global healthcare.
  3. Leverage employee advocacy — A lot of companies worry about what employees will say on social media. We have a platform which allows us to create and share social pieces internally that our employees are then free to share on their social media pages. Our mentality is that if our employees want to speak up on social media, let’s go ahead and give them the tools to do it. We also leverage employee advocacy through our referral program. Top talent is more likely to hear and absorb messaging coming from our own employees than anything coming from the company itself.

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

The movement I would inspire would be to show people that at the end of the day, most of us care about the same things. We’re parents, grandparents, children, siblings, etc. We need to figure out how we show each other that we do care and that we’re all just trying to get through this together. We need to be willing to walk in each other’s shoes and open ourselves up to other ways of life.

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

I share a quote once a year from Alexander von Humboldt that I find particularly relevant in our current environment: “The most dangerous worldview is the view of those who have never looked at the world.”

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’d love to have a private lunch with Melinda Gates — I really admire the Gates Foundation and the work that they do. I think that Melinda and Bill Gates are excellent role models as people who have done very well financially that have also taken the time to give back. It would be very interesting to speak with her and learn more about her personal experiences and what led her to where she is today.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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