The Talent Factor - Pt. 2: How Companies Find What They Need

When Cia McCaffrey needs to add a new employee to ForeSee's executive team, she begins her search by walking down the hallway.

"For executive positions," says the Vice President of Staff, McCaffrey, "I personally go to the rest of the executive team and say, ‘Here's what I'm looking for,' and ‘Who do you know who might be a good fit for this?'"

Though asking around may be a terribly inefficient way to hire team of seasonal retail cashiers or an additional shift of industrial machine operators, businesses large and small consider executive talent recruitment an entirely different beast than hiring the rest of their staff. A slow, methodical, referral- and professional recruitment-based system has been the tried and true method of Ann Arbor firms for decades.

"For senior level positions, that's a necessity," she says. "We rarely go outside that box of knowing somebody, even if it's knowing somebody who knows somebody."

It's a familiar story around Ann Arbor among both growing and established companies. But the times are a-changing. Though the blend of referrals and professional recruiting are still the mainstay in the world of senior-level talent searches, technology, social networks and company culture are unique add-ons some local firms have incorporated into their recruitment process to make their searches even more targeted toward the perfect candidates.

"In dealing with executives, these are people who have amazing experiences, amazing skills, they're very bright," says Britany Affolter-Caine, director of talent enhancement for Ann Arbor SPARK, an expert in connecting talented job seekers to local firms. "Employers need to know exactly who that right fit is going to be."

"Specialized" is the operative word there. Unlike many job openings, where a handful of qualified candidates could likely fill the position, the experience and expertise of executives are like a custom-cut key. Being capable is only one factor; finding the exact company in need of their specialized talents is like finding the right lock for their key to fit.

"To hire a good executive, companies need to understand where they're going and what their vision is for the future," Affolter-Caine says. "For some companies, they want an executive who worked their way up. Other companies, are better off having a freshly minted MBA from the right university. The best way for a company to know what they need is to be really in tune with who they are."

For McCaffrey and ForeSee, that means focusing on character as well as expertise.

"I start by having conversations with [a referral]," says McCaffrey. "It's a very casual dialogue. We need to determine if it's a person of good character [because] you have more risk with an executive. I'm going to hand over more of my people or initiatives or growth of the company to somebody. The more we can match that position with a good character, the less likelihood there is for a misstep."

Even with three in-house recruiters, a strong referral network and the occasional use of professional recruiters, ForeSee's search efforts extend into the virtual world as well. Though may have introduced the world to the online job search, according to McCaffrey, LinkedIn has become the new powerhouse in the market. Primarily, she says, because it's built around the proven standard of a referral network.

"With LinkedIn you still have to have that introduction element," says McCaffrey. "If you want, you can put higher security on your profile, so you don't have to keep putting things up and taking them down. My recruiters use LinkedIn almost to a fault. It's still is a cold call, but now we have a name and place."

At Barracuda, Ann Arbor's fast-growing Internet security, networking and storage firm, the focus on online technology is, unsurprisingly, more targeted. In addition to the traditional Internet recruitment methods, Director of New Product Initiatives Sean Heiney tries to find potential talent online before they even know they're looking for a new job.

"We have quite a dynamic approach to recruiting," Heiney says. "If you search for a video on YouTube about gadgets or geeky things, you'll see a 30-second ad about Barracuda. We're using Facebook to reach guys who are interested in coding. We're using social media to reach people in to some really targeted markets."

Those focused ads are then paired with an in-house open house so potential candidates can also get a feel for real-life environment of Barracuda, a move that seamlessly blends a web-savvy search with the more traditional, meet-and-greet methods for finding the right fit for each position.

"We're trying to get access to the best caliber talent here in Michigan before they go off to Silicon Valley," says Heiney.

The higher the position, however, the more specialized those recruitment methods become, even in a high-tech firm like Barracuda.

"Executive recruitment is done on a hand-picked basis," Heiney says. "We know exactly the type of people we're going to find and we go get them. Our CEO likes to call us the world's largest start-up, and we love people with start-up experience."

Matching the personality of a candidate to the culture of the company is an important factor in finding the right executive, and Quantum Signal has found that fostering kind of culture where their idea candidate wants to work acts as a recruitment tool in and of itself.

"Generally, our process is about putting together an environment where people want to work, that is mentally exciting to people who come here," says CEO of Quantum Signal Mitchell Rohde. "It's some combination of finding the right people and then getting those people excited when they come here to interview."

And you have to admit, it is a pretty cool workplace. Set in a historic school building in Downtown Saline, Quantum Signal blends the formality of a nearly secret entrance around back and a sign-in sheet that asks visitors to disclose if their visit is "classified" with the laid-back air of employees shuffling around the school hallways in sandals and Avengers t-shirts. Company employees are regular lunchtime and after-hours patrons at the restaurants and bars just a block away from their office.

"We try to engineer our job postings to reflect our culture," Rohde says. "They're a little quirkier than the traditional posting. Sometimes that approach can scare away more conservative candidates, but we try to behave the way we are and we've had success with that."  

Clever job postings and company strolls to downtown bars aside, executive talent searching at Quantum Signal is still executive job searching.

"If it is a senior level person," says Rohde, "absolutely, referrals are key. I would never hire a CFO without a referral."

With the advent of online talent searches and Silicon Valley-esque work environments, Ann Arbor firms are finding new way to improve upon the traditional method of finding the best executive talent for their companies. New-fangled though they may be, they still don't change the heart of these specialized talent searches. Virtual or otherwise, referral-based recruiting still drives the process for placing the top-tier job candidates in companies throughout the Ann Arbor area.

All photos by Doug Coombe


Cia McCaffrey at ForeSee Results
CW from top - Cia McCaffrey, Lisa Bargende, Mary Ann Nenninger and Corina Eliason at ForeSee Results
Britany Affolter-Caine
Sean Heiney at Barracuda Networks
Sean Heiney and Lindsay Snider at Barracuda Networks
Mitchell Rohde at Quantum Signal
Mitchell Rohde in the Quantum Signal workshop

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