Earlier this year I was asked to join The Forum For In-House Recruiting Managers (FIRM) judging panel for their upcoming FIRM Awards. This event will recognize the best recruiting teams around the world in a variety of categories. I'm really looking forward to taking a closer look at these best practices, and will share some of the things I'm learning on this site later in the year. I recently participated in a Q&A with The FIRM's founder, Gary Franklin (@garyfranklin), where we discussed a wide range of topics covering recruiting, social media, technology, career growth, early adoption, conference speaking, taking risks, and hosting talk shows. You can check it out below.

How would you describe yourself (professionally or otherwise)?

I’m an optimist who doesn’t take himself too seriously and looks for the good in things. I’m an admitted tech/digital geek; curious about social media and new technologies. I enjoy travel and sports. I drink too much coffee. I’m drawn to interesting people and regularly seek out laughter.

How did you get into recruitment and why?

It was by accident, really. I was a Marketing and International Business major in college and always assumed I’d get into advertising. I grew up in Florida and knew I wanted to move to Los Angeles after graduation. There was only one company at our college career fair with an office in LA so I figured I’d interview with them. The company, Pencom Systems, was a technical recruiting agency. I knew nothing about recruiting at the time, but that meeting led to a series of interviews and ultimately an offer. I was the first in my class to make a hire and have been hooked ever since.

….and how did you transition in-house and why?

I was really fortunate to join an agency that preached ‘relationship-based recruiting’. We were paid salary and trained well in the technologies where we recruited. That experience early on was invaluable in teaching me how to hustle as a recruiter. I spent three years at the agency, but eventually became frustrated that no matter how well you manage your end, you’re only controlling half the process. Having no real visibility into the client-side dynamics became difficult in 2000-2001, as most of our clients were dot coms whose funding was running out. I wanted to experience building teams from the inside, and in 2001 was recruited by a client who just received a large amount of series B funding to revamp their business model. Once I was inside I was drawn to the complexities of running a TA function and have remained since.

You’ve worked in Recruitment for some time, what changes have you seen in the last 10 years?

I started my career in recruiting and HR in the late 90’s and have watched the world of HR and recruiting evolve dramatically over that time, particularly in the past several years. It’s become much more important for organizations to embrace social media tools and digital technologies to connect with prospects and build their employer brand. I studied Marketing and International Business in college so this evolution fascinates me – and allows me to tap into my right brain more often.

Social Media has had a profound impact on many areas of recruiting, some industries are more impacted than others. If you’re recruiting white collar or office employees, so-called ‘knowledge workers’, social media can become a very useful tool. There are a variety of ways to approach it, but I tend to split it into two camps: sourcing and branding.

Sourcing means going out and finding talent. Social media adds value here because many workers in the spaces I mentioned are on social media, whether just a LinkedIn profile or actively participating on Twitter or blogs. Because so many people have an online presence, social media makes it easier to find and engage them.

On the branding side, social media allows you to amplify your messaging and engage with potential fans who can become potential employees. It also allows you to engage your employees and encourage them to share their experiences with the outside world. That’s a really powerful tool that can enhance talent attraction – and ultimately impact recruiting metrics like time-to-fill and cost-per-hire.

The evolving nature of TA, particularly with the impact of social, means we all need to wear that hat of a digital strategist as part of our role. We also need to be evangelists for our organizations. There are so many new tools at our disposal, so as TA leaders our tool belts keep expanding. That excites me.

In that time you’ve seen innovations in the recruitment space, some are just fads and some have had the potential (at the time) to be game changers. How do you go about assessing which ones are worth your time?

Most TA leaders struggle with this challenge. We have a lot of competing responsibilities and obligations vying for our time. We also have a lot of pressure (sometimes self-imposed) to be early adopters of new technologies that can enhance the impact our teams make on our organizations. I tend to look at what my peers and thought leaders in the recruiting/HR/marketing/social media space are experimenting with. If the tool or platform looks like it might help address some of our TA challenges, I’ll experiment and pilot it. If it adds value, I’ll scale our use. If it doesn’t, I’ll move on.

Do you tend to take a risk and become an early adopter or do you keep an eye on something from and distance and see how things develop?

I’m really fortunate to work for an organization, and a leader, who fully support my efforts to find innovative new ways to identify and engage talent. I do believe there are benefits to being an early-adopter, so I’m often exploring news ways we can make a larger impact in terms of our hiring and talent attraction efforts. I find myself using the term ‘pilot’ quite a bit.

What do you enjoy about what you do?

I truly love the connections we make as recruiters. We get to spend our days getting to know smart and interesting people, and there are few things as professionally satisfying as helping someone find a new career and watching them develop over time. That still fires me up. As you move into a leadership role, your experience broadens. I’ve worked for some great leaders in my career and really enjoy mentoring, training and developing recruiting teams. I’m also drawn to the complexities of building and constantly refining broad organization-wide talent strategies. There are no dull moments for TA leaders lucky enough to work in fast-pace, high-growth environments. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in quite a few, and it really fuels my passion for what I do.

You started your recruitment career at Pencom, a tech company, how have you adapted to a changing industries and cultures in organisations like Ticketmaster then NPR?

Every organization and industry has it’s own culture and nuances as it relates to recruiting. I’ve been drawn to a pretty broad range of industries – tech, startups, entertainment, eCommerce, non-profit, and media. Many of these choices were deliberate, as I felt exposure to varied industries and organizational cultures would help make me a more well-rounded TA leader. It was important for me to experience that diversity firsthand, so I could learn from each of them and incorporate the best from each in future roles.

What were some of the unique challenges that you had to overcome when changing from market sectors that you knew and were confident in, to one that was relatively unknown to you at the time?

Any time you move to a new industry there are adjustments you need to make. My approach has been to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of homework throughout the on-boarding process. I’ve also found it helpful to identify individuals in roles outside of HR and use them as informal mentors to help me understand the business. This was particular helpful for me in my current role. I’ve never worked in a news organization prior to NPR, so made it a point to shadow our journalists and shows, and sit in on as many meetings as I could to learn about what they do, and ultimately what makes a great journalist great. I’m still learning, but I’m much more comfortable in this space today.

You are a regular speaker at conferences in the USA. Can you remember your first one? Where was it, how big was the audience?

My first solo presentation was at ERE’s Recruiting Innovation Summit. The audience was about 200. It was quite intimidating. My presentation was after lunch, and I remember having butterfly’s from the moment I woke up that day. I went for a walk outside before the presentation start to try and calm my nerves. It didn’t help, but when I came inside I saw a few friends on the stairwell and we shared a few laughs about how badly I would bomb. The laughter finally cleared my head, and I was finally settled when I took the stage. The presentation ended up going really well, and was a springboard to other speaking opportunities.

You’ve also recently joined the judging panel of The FIRM Awards 2013, how do you feel about this and what do they mean to you?

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to join the judging panel for The FIRM awards 2013. There are so many examples of recruiting innovations and excellence all over the world. I think it’s important that we highlight these examples and best practices, so that we can collectively learn from them. I take an open-source approach to TA, so being part of a panel that’s highlighting and sharing best practices is an honor and a privilege.

If you could give one piece of advice to recruiters about how to get their stakeholder engagement right, what would it be?

As a recruiter, your success or failure often comes down to your relationships with your client groups. To be successful you really need to invest in them. Insert yourself in the teams you support, sit in on their meetings, join their happy hours. If you want to be a trusted advisor who can influence their decisions, you have to earn their respect. You can’t do that sitting in another part of the building feeding them resumes. This to me is ‘embedded recruiting’, and really vital for recruiters to add the most value to their client groups.

If you could have your time all over again what would you like to be “when you grow up” so to speak?

I suppose an answer of TA leader would be boring, and professional football player would be unfairly generous to my athleticism – so I probably would have learned to code and be an engineer. I have so much respect for technologists. They are the modern day creators and artists, having the ability to create experiences and interactions we touch every day. I suppose if I followed a less ‘professional’ path I’d host a talk show, though perhaps it’s not too late for that career option yet.

You can follow Lars on: Twitter at @ThisIsLars , Facebook, and LinkedIn

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