Live from UNLEASH America in the Workhuman booth, Sean Christian, senior employer brand & recruitment strategist at Discount Tire, and former Air Force recruiter, joins Chad & Cheese for a lively discussion … like, two military dudes talkin' sh!t kinda lively. Aside from the Air Force vs. Army talk, Sean drops knowledge bombs around quality vs. quantity with job boards, how metrics are the only thing that matter and how to earn a seat at the table.
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Chad: Live from the Workhuman booth at Unleash America in Vegas this year, Joel and I were able to sit down with some great practitioners and industry voices. Sit back and enjoy this exclusive episode, powered by our friends over at Workhuman. Answer the human need to be recognized, developed and celebrated at workhuman.com.
Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for The Chad and Cheese podcast.
Joel: We're back everybody live from the Unleash America Conference.
Joel: From the Workhuman booth. And...
Joel: We welcome Sean Christian, senior employer brand and recruitment strategist, at Discount Tire. Also a Texan. Sean, welcome to the podcast.
Sean Christian: Thank you. A longtime listener, first-time caller. I'm excited to be here.
Joel: He loves the Christopher Walken...
Sean Christian: I do.
Joel: Ending. [laughter]
Sean Christian: My wife and I were headed to the beach and, it got to the end. Normally after the show, I'm like I go on to the next one, but I just let it run, I was going through some rain, and then Mr. Walker. And I died laughing. [laughter] I go, that's got to be AI. It was super cool.
Chad: You gotta hear the newest one. It's Morgan Freeman.
Sean Christian: I...
Chad: Oh, yeah.
Sean Christian: I've heard Morgan.
Chad: Okay, good. Okay.
Sean Christian: And honestly, I went back to the second show because of the ending. But I got more great content and great ideas.
Sean Christian: So, it brought me back. But then I got more for what it's worth.
Joel: We appreciate that.
Joel: So, aside from having really good taste in podcasts...
Sean Christian: Yeah.
Chad: Of course.
Joel: What should listeners know about you? Give us a high-level view.
Sean Christian: I'm a patriot. I'm a veteran. I love our country. A 21-year Air Force Vet. Last 11 years in my Air Force career, I was in recruiting, ended my career at Air Force Headquarters Marketing and Advertising. I had the best job in the Air Force.
Chad: Holy shit. Marketing and Advertising? Now the Army has the grandest budget when it comes to marketing right. Air Force can't be that far... Well maybe that far behind but still, it's a big budget. So you guys, there must have been a lot of playing around.
Sean Christian: Yeah. The good thing is I had, and I can't speak for everybody, I had phenomenal leadership.
Sean Christian: And I think without proper leadership, you're doomed to fail. Leadership is key to any type of industry that you're in. And my leadership saw that I was intrinsically passionate about being a recruiter, and not just being a recruiter, but supporting recruiters...
Sean Christian: And supporting what the Air Force provided me and my family.
Sean Christian: I'd be face down in a pool somewhere, hanging out with my buddies from high school if I didn't join the military.
Chad: Same here.
Sean Christian: True story. 6 weeks before I left, my dad was on his deathbed with leukemia. Who's still alive by the way. I got popped for drug paraphernalia. It was a going away party for me. And I went to jail, and it could have gotten a lot worse.
Sean Christian: And the fact that my dad was literally dying. And my dad said, "Son join the military 'cause I'm gonna be dead in six weeks." And then I had a judge who was partial to my situation.
Sean Christian: Dropped all the charges. I didn't lose my job. Today's climate your job is gone.
Sean Christian: You're out.
Sean Christian: But by the grace of God they let me ship, and I'm still good friends with my recruiter. And I valued the relationship that I had with my recruiter. And this was 21 years ago.
Sean Christian: I was 18 years old and I remembered that.
Chad: So to throw a quick curve ball. Let's talk about leadership real quick because the military, when you get promoted, you are forced to go to leadership school or you get demoted right. I've had to go through the ranks. I've been through several leadership schools. On the corporate side that doesn't happen. So we don't really have seasoned leaders. We have all of these really good doers who now are slammed into a management position told to lead, and they have no clue how to lead.
Sean Christian: Right.
Chad: How do we change that kind of culture on the corporate side? And it might be a hard question because you're just coming out of the military.
Sean Christian: It's easy, ownership. Start with ownership. If you can't own the problem, it doesn't matter if it's your problem or not.
Sean Christian: If y'all work for me and there's a mistake, who owns the problem? Me.
Sean Christian: I own the problem.
Chad: Right. Yes.
Sean Christian: So it starts with ownership. The Chief Wright was the chief Master in the Air Force. I'm not gonna quote the years, but he would always say, fail forward. There's a lot of things he said that I didn't like.
Sean Christian: But I resonated with that. We have got to, create a culture of... There's a probably a better way to say this. Create a culture of failure. Meaning it's okay to fail.
Chad: Well understanding...
Sean Christian: Right.
Chad: Failure is a path to success.
Sean Christian: Absolutely.
Chad: That's what... I think we've lost that if we've ever had it at all.
Sean Christian: And we have to learn to trust. We have to learn to be okay with things not... It's not always gonna be perfect.
Sean Christian: Because we're human.
Sean Christian: We just we... I think we said there's nothing wrong with high expectations, but what's wrong is when we, I don't know, put our teammates down and we point fingers.
Chad: There's a big difference between military where we are all focused to be a team. Because if we don't lean on each other...
Joel: People die.
Chad: In corporate America, it is all rugged individualism. You're all for yourself. So when we talk about team, when we talk about family, that's really it feels like bullshit, like bullshit narrative. And I only know that and feel that because I have 20 plus years of military experience too, right. I get where you're coming from. The problem is this seems like a huge problem across all industries, big companies, small companies. It's easy to say, take ownership, but how do we systemically change something like that?
Sean Christian: Yeah. That's the question, right? And I don't know if there is an answer.
Sean Christian: I think it starts individually with ourselves. And, no one is dying today. Look where we are. We're in Las Vegas.
Chad: Yeah. Depends on how much weed Joel smokes later. But yeah.
Joel: Can that kill you?
Chad: I don't think it can.
Joel: I'm scared now.
Sean Christian: I don't think it can.
Chad: I don't think it can.
Joel: I'm a little scared now.
Chad: I don't think it can.
Sean Christian: But everyone just needs to calm down. Right. Just chill out. If you're listening, calm down.
Joel: Speaking of pot, everybody just chill the hell out.
Sean Christian: Yeah. Chill out.
Chad: Yeah. That's like one of my favorite statements to anybody that I'm talking to that is freaking out. Or questions. Did anybody die to put things just in perspective. Did you fuck up? Yeah. Are you gonna learn from it? Let's hope so. Okay.
Sean Christian: But in the moment it's hard. I still get worked up.
Chad: Oh, yeah.
Sean Christian: I'm a driven, fiery guy. And if things don't go the way I want them to because I have such high standards. My wife is like, "Dude, calm down man."
Chad: Well, you also have expectations too. And that's one of the things that we do is we tune ourselves with our own expectations and then it doesn't work out that way. It might still be a good outcome, but it didn't happen the way that we wanted it to happen.
Sean Christian: Yeah. And that's healthy, I think. But it's how we react to that. Is when you're stressed...
Sean Christian: And you don't meet your own personal expectations. Don't take it out on your team. Don't take it out on your peers. Kind of step back, reset, chill out. Do whatever it is that you do.
Chad: Yeah. If you're in a state that allows it like Vegas, go ahead and take a quick one hitter.
Joel: I hate to interrupt two military guys going off on a conversation without me. But I'm gonna pivot back to the military 'cause I've always been fascinated. And you're a top of funnel guy. You're a marketing, advertising, sales guy. The military is trying to convince people to come to an organization where they might die or have to kill other people, which to me is a hard thing to sell. Now let's go a layer deeper. You're in the Air force, you're selling against the army, the Marines and everyone else. Talk about internally how those strategy sessions go when you talk about how do we get a kid that comes in and says, I'm thinking about the army and let's get them into the Air Force.
Sean Christian: Okay. Fair. Well, let's set one thing straight.
Chad: Much easier.
Sean Christian: I never had to compete with the Army, the Navy or the Marines. But...
Chad: Was it Coast Guard, I mean who was...
Sean Christian: Do they still exist? I'm sorry Coasties... They're legit. I love those guys.
Chad: They're in Space Force. Yes.
Sean Christian: Hey, the Space Force. And that's a whole nother story. I was there when that whole thing happened. Yeah, we'll talk about that later.
Chad: Okay. Okay.
Sean Christian: But...
Chad: We will get some beers and talk about that one.
Sean Christian: Oh yeah. It's a funny story, but I never felt like I had to sell a kid. Even though I'm a sales guy. At the end of the day, I love sales. I love the Air Force. And when you're passionate about the service or the product or the company that you represent, it's not hard to show passion. You gotta be passionate about the product or the company that you work for.
Joel: So when people walk through that door, they pretty much were 90% I'm going to join the Air Force.
Sean Christian: No, sometimes you'd have mom and dad drag them in or sometimes they were just interested. It's hard to tell. That's a great psychology question is like, where are they in their minds sitting in their journey of figuring out what they want to do with their life.
Chad: Well, we know where you were because you just got popped from paraphernalia. I just wanted to get the fuck outta the house. I wanted to be on my own, do my own thing. Got sick and tired of mom and dad telling me what to do all the time. The only way, because I grew up poor, was having Uncle Sam send me off to strange places wherever he wanted to send me.
Joel: But did you go to each branch and say, what can you do for me?
Chad: I did not because my family had really had been in the Army. Only in the Army. I had one grandpa who had been in the Navy, but everybody else was in the Army. So that was just normal. I wish I would've actually shopped them because probably I might have gone into the Air Force. That's where I push everybody today. [laughter] Love the army. Don't get me wrong, but...
Joel: Is that your experience?
Sean Christian: Well, so I knew I was gonna join the military as a young kid. My grandfather was Air Force. My father was Army. I knew, like my brother, he was chasing that American dream. Big house, white picket fence. Me, not so much. I was kind of a rebel. Got in some trouble, chased the girls. I had no desire to go to college or study, I didn't wanna study. And the military and the Air Force was just... I don't know, it was like a calling. Like I just knew it's where I wanted to be and...
Joel: But was it the ads? Was it the sexy planes?
Chad: Dude, I tell you what though. Teenage kids with a bunch of testosterone seeing those ads. Oh yeah, that'll get you going. That's it. I think for me, you just want that challenge and you want to be able to do something different.
Sean Christian: Yeah. You look around 9/11, that was probably one of the best, years after 9/11, the best recruiting time other than when Top Gun first came out. [laughter] So that time, that period, I think Americans or anyone really, you see something that you value and when you see your country get attacked, something inside of you changes. And you just don't know how to shut it off. You just have to follow that drive. And you walk into the recruiter's office and you say, what do I do? How do I get there? But not everybody's, just because you want to join the military doesn't mean you're gonna get qualified. It's easier to get into college than it is in the Air Force. We discriminate left and right. Height, weight, education, we run your credit. If your debt to income ratio doesn't look pretty more than 30%, you're not coming in...
Sean Christian: Without a payment plan. Without something to show.
Chad: In the Army, depending on if we're hitting our goals or not. It could be waiver city where it's like, oh yeah...
Joel: It could be a curve that's...
Chad: These usually would disqualify you. But because of today in our special plan.
Joel: But today.
Chad: Today, only.
Sean Christian: Recently, within the last 10 years, I think it's safe to say we just changed our tattoo policy. So you couldn't have any tattoos above the collar bone. The Marine Corps was really strict on tattoos, especially around the wrist. We were a little bit more relaxed, but our general was like, what does tattoos have to do with service and commitment? Like we were dequeuing people left and right. That just could do things that most humans could not do. But yet we were disqualifying them because they had a tattoo.
Chad: Oh, yeah.
Sean Christian: It was the silliest thing ever. So our general was cool as shit said, "Am I the general or what... " Nicks, no more tattoo issues.
Joel: Nice. So we know from talking in the green room, that you're a numbers guy.
Sean Christian: Yeah.
Joel: And with all these restrictions, it sounds like pretty rigid. Let's go into the recruiting side of that. Where does tracking come in for you with advertising, who you choose to do business with? What kind of metrics do they have to show you? Talk about ROI.
Sean Christian: Yeah. That's a broad question, right. So if it doesn't make money, it doesn't make sense.
Sean Christian: You've gotta follow the money and it's important... Relationships are important to me. If a vendor can't come to me and say, "Hey, we dropped the ball and this is how we're gonna fix it," I don't wanna do business with those type of vendors. It's a relationship. On our renewals or when we are revisiting last year's activations...
Sean Christian: They need to show the ROI. They need to show, Hey, you spent X amount of dollars, and this is what we see on our metrics. If they can't show me metrics, then it's not working.
Chad: Let me ask you a question though. Companies spend more on recruitment marketing than they do on their tech stack, but yet they're still, they're pulling the exact same candidates in over and over and over and they're not using their database first. What's your experience behind that? And if you were in marketing, which you were, you'd get fired for not doing that. But in HR and TA we don't do it. We don't use the leads that are already in our system. Why is that?
Sean Christian: Well, let's talk about leads for a second.
Sean Christian: I see a lot of pitch decks. I see we can increase applicant generation by 30%.
Sean Christian: That's the wrong language to speak to me. Is that a 80-year-old? It's a lead.
Chad: Yeah. Is it a qualified lead?
Sean Christian: What's the qualified lead?
Sean Christian: I'm not impressed by you can generate a thousand leads. I can generate a thousand leads. If I work hard enough and leverage the tools that are around me. And go out and build relationships and ask for referrals. We know that's the number one generator, of leads is just asking someone, do you know anyone else that's interested in X? So, don't tell me about you're gonna increase lead gen. I want you to increase my applicant to hire ratio because that's a quality lead. Or, my retention, help me focus on retention.
Chad: Yeah. I get that. But on the talent acquisition side of the house, fit is important.
Sean Christian: Yeah.
Chad: No question. But a lot of that has to do with their experience after they've been hired. So to ask somebody on the front end to worry about your backend, that's unfair. Is it not?
Sean Christian: I don't know. Is it fair to go to a restaurant and eat the food and then get food poisoning? That's the backend.
Chad: That's not, [chuckle] the same thing.
Sean Christian: But it's the backend, right?
Chad: If you got food poisoning, that's where it would be coming out. Yes.
Sean Christian: Right. That's a garbage food. That's a garbage meal.
Joel: Yeah. That's in and out garbage.
Sean Christian: In and out garbage. I think that's fair to look at it from that perspective.
Chad: I know but the thing is though, when somebody comes in as an employee and you bring them in, you've hired them, there's an after...
Sean Christian: There is.
Chad: That after, which doesn't happen in a meal other than with your body, is up to you and your experience.
Sean Christian: Yes.
Chad: And you providing a great experience for those employees.
Sean Christian: Correct. There is a shared responsibility there.
Sean Christian: Goes back to leadership.
Sean Christian: We can all lead the horse to the trough. Can't make it drink. You can bring me someone on, I can onboard them, I can properly get them up to speed, set good expectations. But if I don't follow through with training and leadership and mentorship...
Sean Christian: And giving them the tools to succeed, then you... Correct, I have failed that. So I guess the question is if you're a tech company, how do you fix that problem? How do you make sure that you're providing more quality leads, but then we, I have to do my part on the leadership side. So then that's the culture of the organization.
Sean Christian: So, it's important that the vendor culture matches with their customer's culture because that way you can speak the same language.
Sean Christian: So I get, again, I get pitch decks to say we can increase your hire ratio. Well, then I'm held to that standard when I present that to my leadership.
Joel: Yeah. Interesting.
Sean Christian: And that's super challenging for me.
Sean Christian: So I don't have a lead gen problem. I want quality people.
Sean Christian: To join. I don't know if that answers your question or not, other than the food poisoning part. But...
Joel: Are vendors dropping the ball on providing the metrics that buyers need?
Sean Christian: Yeah. That's a subjective question. Maybe.
Sean Christian: And maybe I'm not setting the expectations on what I expect from those calls. And so I could probably own a little bit of that. In the past, not all calls are gonna go perfect. Has that happened? Yes. But, when I've asked for stuff, do they come back and give it to me? Yeah, they do. But my mentality is I want you to have your stuff ready, without me asking.
Chad: Have your shit together kids.
Sean Christian: Have it together.
Joel: So what sources, I think you mentioned referrals. What works best for you in terms of getting those qualified leads through the door?
Sean Christian: So I'm a belly to belly guy. I believe meeting your customers where they are, and we're all fighting for attention on social media.
Sean Christian: And you can't build relationships. You can build it through to a certain point on a Instagram or a TikTok post or any type of paid advertising. Can I get in front of them? Yes. And we all know you pay to play, the person who's gonna pay the most in advertising is gonna get their message across.
Sean Christian: But, if I can leverage the social ads with relationships with X activating at an event, I love sports marketing. I love sports marketing, why? Because we're all passionate about sports. And if I can meet them in a place where they're already passionate and then that experience is great, now they're associating with that great positive experience with my brand. And now I can peel back that onion, and really understand what that makes that person tick.
Chad: That's a very military marketing way.
Chad: As you take a look at NASCAR, NFL, all those things, because you're getting something that somebody's incredibly passionate about and you're tying it to your brand.
Joel: So this isn't a metaphor, this is literally you're sponsoring NASCAR events, football games, or was it a metaphor? [chuckle]
Sean Christian: No, when I was in the Air Force, I was the program manager.
Sean Christian: And I now granted, I got a good buddy, he'd always gimme a hard time. He's like, Sean, how many leads you get at NASCAR? Is it... NASCAR's [chuckle] not a great example of lead gen for the Air Force because, it was super low. But what it did is it create, and it comes back to recruitment marketing, and EVP is it created a platform for us to communicate who we were as an organization, not just a war fighting military branch. But who we were as an organization that can help you get from point A to point B, whether it be financial, education, grow your family, job security, all those other things. The media does a great job of associating the military with wars and combat and deaths and depression. But they've missed the mark on all the great things that it can do. And I just leverage sports marketing to share that story. Now with sports marketing, what I also do is I look at the lead, the registrant to lead ratio because some sporting events are more propensed to produce the target audience that an organization may be looking for. So, NASCAR with it being so broad. You've got a 2-year-old to a 9-year-old, there.
Sean Christian: It's hard to pinpoint your target audience there. But let's say like formula drift, gearheads, younger generation, tech-savvy. Now that's a very high propense for...
Chad: What about...
Sean Christian: For someone going into the automotive industry?
Sean Christian: E-Sports?
Joel: That's exactly what I was thinking.
Joel: Yeah. E-Sports. You said belly-to-belly which I thought was an insult at first, but I realized that it's not now.
Sean Christian: No, it's not.
Joel: You're a face-to-face high-touch guy in a world that's going more automation, less face-to-face, are you willing to accept that future or are you going to fight back against that?
Sean Christian: I'm gonna accept it because I'm gonna leverage all those other tools to put me in a better position to create relationships. I'm gonna leverage AI, I'm gonna leverage these other... 'Cause If I fight it, then I'm screwed. It's just gonna make me sour. I need to pivot and be smart. And I'm gonna out hustle my competition. And there's a lot of recruiters out there that post and pray, post and just forget about it. They don't follow up. I'm a big believer in CRMs and helping you in the sales funnel. Recruiting is sales. You've gotta take that applicant through that journey and make sure that they understand the steps. Correct?
Sean Christian: And if I can go to any event and build the relationship with little Johnny, shake his hand, meet mom, meet dad, meet girlfriend or whoever, and then I'm gonna call Johnny three days later. "Hey Johnny, it was great to meet you at NASCAR. Let me know if you ever had any questions about these opportunities, but it was great to meet you and your family". I never hear from Johnny. I called Johnny two weeks later. "Hey Johnny, did you check that race out last week? It was awesome. It's badass. Did you even watch the race?" Whatever, nothing. Four weeks later called Johnny. "Johnny, I'm gonna be in your neighborhood. I'm going...
Sean Christian: And guess what? We all know the average touches on a sale between the eighth and 12th contact is where you're gonna find that sale. And AI doesn't think like a human because we're emotional. So I'm gonna leverage the AI to give me the research, the market research on maybe the demographics in the city or what other organizations are going on in that city. So I'm gonna leverage those tools, but it's just gonna make me a better face-to-face, belly-to-belly recruiter because I bring it all onto one table.
Joel: Are you bullish on job fairs?
Sean Christian: Depending on the fair.
Sean Christian: And it depends on how you activate. You can't sit behind the table. And I've walked around here, and if I see a vendor sitting on their chair behind their desk, I'm not gonna go up to him. So you can take some recruiters to an event, a great event, and they can sit on their butt for two hours and they'll walk out of there and say the event sucked. "No, you sucked."
Joel: How about virtual job fairs?
Sean Christian: Those are interesting. I've been in one and I just sat there and waited for people to come into the booth.
Chad: You couldn't get out in front of the table?
Sean Christian: I couldn't get in front of the table. But we still got some leads out of it.
Sean Christian: Now we were, that was more on the corporate side and I didn't...
Chad: That's more scale 'cause they're more actually being able to attend.
Sean Christian: Even when I was a job seeker, when I first retired from the Air Force, I attended one. And from a applicant perspective, I wasn't really impressed again, because I believe in the relationship. I can't look at the recruiter eye to eye, and how do I know they're not blowing smoke 'cause we all know Army recruiters, they lie all the time.
Chad: Oh, if anybody knows that it's an Army Drill Sergeant.
Joel: Yeah, right after podcasters, I think. So you're here at the show, we're in the expo hall. Any companies that have caught your attention? Any companies or businesses that you want to visit while you're here?
Sean Christian: I'm just trying to take it all in. This is my first HR/Recruiting convention that I've been to since I've retired. I'm just looking to see what does the market look like? Who are the vendors? I just wanna be smarter. I wanna be better in my craft.
Chad: So talk to me about how you think as you're a belly-to-belly guy ChatGPT and all the different generative AIs that are out there are going to change, and how rapid you think it's gonna change this industry?
Sean Christian: Oh, it's already changed the industry rapidly. I heard about it December or November when it first really went mainstream. Actually it wasn't even mainstream at that point. It's... But look at it from December to now, all these companies are just popping out left and right. I love it because I'm not a graphic designer. I'm not... It's hard for me to get creativity, but what I think of AI, OpenAI is like a little assistant.
Sean Christian: I say, "Hey, here are my thoughts." Whether they make sense when I write them out with my misspelled words. I go clean this up and help me create a better prompt to ask you so I can get a better output. So I just use it to help me idea generation. When we... So I'm remote and sometimes it's hard to have some idea conversation when your team is across the country. So I go to ChatGPT and I say, "Hey, you're a marketing, you're the CMO of an X company and I want to influence this target audience in this industry. Give me 10 ways to do that."
Joel: And clearly that frees your time up for more of those belly-belly relations.
Chad: I love the belly-bellies.
Joel: That is Sean Christian, everybody.
Joel: Sean, for those that want to connect with you, where would you send them?
Sean Christian: LinkedIn, hit me up Sean P. Christian, @SeanPaul. Sean Paul the rapper his name. I was first.
Chad: I see the resemblance. Yeah.
Sean Christian: Yeah. Mine was first. But Sean P. Christian. I'd love to connect with you. I'd love to hear from you. I wanna hear your wins. If you reach out to me, I wanna hear your wins and how you're changing the game. That's what I want to hear.
Sean Christian: Belly-to-belly.
Chad: That's a win.
Joel: [laughter] That's a wrap. We out.
Chad: We out.
Outro: Thank you for listening to, what's it called the Podcast, the Chad, the Cheese. Brilliant! We talk about recruiting, they talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of shout outs of people you don't even know and yet you're listening. It's incredible! And not one word about cheese, not one cheddar, Blue, Nacho, Pepper Jack, Swiss, so many cheeses and not one word. So weird. Anywho, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit www.chadcheese.com. Just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. It's so weird. We out.