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Round Peg, Square Cho

How often do you hear an interview with a recruiter who’s done time at Cisco, Facebook, Docusign, eBay, Robinhood and now Gem? Well, today’s your lucky day. Chad & Cheese has a chat with Richard Cho, Chief Recruiting Officer at Gem to talk about a wide variety of challenges around being a CRO, like recognizing that the bottom-line rules all, navigating the Chief People Officer and managing a down economy. We even veer off course down Memory Lane once or twice. Enjoy!


INTRO (1s):

Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Chol Cheeseman 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 (21s):

Oh, yeah. What's up everybody? It's your favorite guilty pleasure, aka the Chad and Cheese podcast. I'm your co-host, Chol Cheeseman, joined as always.

Chad (31s):


Joel (32s):

The Christy to my Janet Chad Sowash. Today, geez, we're going back in time and bringing it to the present day with Richard Cho, Chief Recruiting Officer at Jem, also known for his senate, Cisco, Facebook, Dropbox, and Robinhood, and a short six months at eBay. Richard, welcome to the podcast.

Richard (54s):

Thanks, Chol. Thanks, Chad. Thanks for having me,

Chad (58s):

Dude. So we need, we need a little bit more about Richard. We need a little deep dive into the yoga vegans.

Joel (1m 5s):

He's a complex person.

Chad (1m 6s):

Meditation. 108 degree heat. Tell us a little bit about you. What are you dealing with today?

Richard (1m 12s):

Oh, man, I'm a, you know, square peg in a round hole. I've always been that way growing up. Told I was supposed to be an engineer, didn't wanna be an engineer, and then I fell into recruiting and I had an engineering brain and I felt like, wow, I really suck at recruiting so how do I marry these two together? So, you know, really my bio is, you know, I'm a recruiting leader, trying to use engineering data and insights to be better at my job and we'll see how that works.

Chad (1m 42s):

Well, I have to tell a quick story because Richard Cho blacked out the first time that we met. He was so scared.

Joel (1m 51s):

Me too.

Chad (1m 52s):

I, yeah, Chol's met me just way too many times. That's the problem. That's the problem.

Joel (1m 56s):

I'm still blocking him out.

Chad (1m 58s):

I actually came off stage after doing a presentation around the most exciting thing in the world, OFCCP compliance. Oh, and Cho you were at Facebook at the time, you came running up, maybe you weren't running, but you had a pep in your step and you said, "I just learned Facebook was O F C C P and I don't even know what that means. Can you help?" And the look in your eyes, it was the difference between scared little kid and a longingness of, 'Can you help me?' That's how I remember our first time meeting, Cho.

Richard (2m 30s):

I'm glad I made a lasting impression. That's, you know, and it was rooted in fear, which is typical.

Joel (2m 39s):

That's how most people meet Chad. Fear, despair. The end.

Richard (2m 46s):

Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, really what I was trying to figure out is how do we get out of this, right? Having done some O F C C P at Cisco for many years.

Joel (2m 56s):

And you went to Chad for help for that, geez?

Richard (2m 57s):

Oh yeah. I'm like, Chad looks like a guy can get me out of this pretty easily, right? Yeah.

Chad (3m 2s):

Well when you take millions of dollars from the US military, you ain't getting out of that big boy.

Richard (3m 7s):

That's right. That's right.

Joel (3m 9s):

Finally, the seed to Facebook's demise has been revealed. It was Chad Sowash back in the oughts. Nice, nice.

Chad (3m 15s):

Not so much.

Joel (3m 18s):

Well, Richard, my immediate question is, I mentioned the brands at the beginning, Cisco, Facebook, Dropbox, Robinhood.

Chad (3m 25s):

Oh yeah.

Joel (3m 25s):

Why, Gem? And not that that's anything against Gem, but it wouldn't necessarily, like if I was playing, which one of these does not look like the other? Gem would kind of stand out to that. And I do agree that we do need more people like you in our industry, just like, I think we need more vendors in the recruiting, you know, corporate recruiting. But why, Gem? Why now? What was it about this opportunity that really got you interested?

Richard (3m 49s):

Yeah, if you were to say five years ago I was gonna join the recruiting tech company, I would've called you a liar. So basically the path to Gem started with my relationship with Steve, one of the co-founders. And, then I had an opportunity to work with Nick, but I don't remember him at Facebook cuz he was a rising star and I was in a different role at the time. But what I remember about Steve is he was just so adamant about getting recruiting, right? Like, why is this hard? What is it, what's so difficult about recruiting? Isn't it just about posting jobs? And he really was engaged in learning as an engineering manager.

Richard (4m 30s):

So fast forward a few years later, when he came to me when I was at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and said he was billing this product, would I be open to be a beta user and provide some input into the direction of the product? I said, Yeah, absolutely. I remember how engaged you were. And it turned out to be a product that my recruiters and sourcers, but specifically sourcers loved. And I really didn't think much of it until I got to Robinhood. And, you know, the path to growth was you need to double hiring every year, year over year indefinitely. And I realized how much we're relying on Gem.

Richard (5m 10s):

But the thing that kept me thinking about Gem was like my sourcers were just so fanatically impressed with the product. And then, you know, fast forward a few more years later, when they reached out to me, I said, I have to take this call. This is a recruiting tech organization that has the people, the technology, it's a beautiful product that people love and it's delightful. And one conversation with Steve about the future of recruiting, that really, you know, was it for me, I needed to be a part of this.

Chad (5m 43s):

So what is the chief recruiting officer? Are you actually just focused on recruiting great talent into Gem or is it beyond that? Is it product? Are you part of, you know, the product and marketing and messaging and understanding of what recruiters really need in a product?

Richard (6m 1s):

Yeah, I want to answer that question in two different ways cuz like, there's one where I truly believe chief recruiting officers should be a trend in every industry. So I'll answer it in that way, but also I'll talk about, you know, my unique role here at Gem because my background and the implications of how it can help with the product. But just generally speaking, chief recruiting officer, all that means is the, the executive staff recognizes that we need someone in the room that can actually give us real talk about strategy or recruiting, right? Most of the time recruiting is an afterthought or is results driven? Have you made these hires? And why have you not?

Richard (6m 43s):

What's the problem? And it took very persistent recruiting leaders to say, let me show you the data. There's actually some trends. There's a cause and effect to compensation, equity, our brand positive pr, negative pr. And here are the things that you need to do to be more strategic. And so what I truly believe is one of the hardest things for companies to deal with right now is how do you create a strategic recruiting organization that actually flows with market trends, able to be super effective and bring in the right people and have real talk with C level members as a peer, as an advisor to be able to really shape the direction of talent.

Richard (7m 26s):

And so I actually think that's an important trend that most companies should heed.

Chad (7m 32s):

I think the CRO is definitely somebody you should model off of. And that being the Chief Revenue Officer, as you start talking about real talk, the only thing that the C-suite really responds to is the bottom line talk. And when you start talking about market trends, you need to talk about revenues and impacting the bottom line as talent. Because one of the things that we don't do in this industry enough, we hardly do it at all, Cho, is we don't talk about the talent that we bring. We are the heart and soul of every organization. If we don't have talent in an organization, we can't produce product, we can't create new code, we can't sell, we can't monitor, we can't use customer service to retain without us the bottom line doesn't exist.

Chad (8m 20s):

So why is it this real talk isn't bottom line talk. And I do love, again, the reference to CRO, we need to start thinking like Chief Revenue Officers instead of HR. Tell me what you think about that.

Richard (8m 35s):

Oh, I think that's a great analogy, Chad. Cause like I was around when the senior most level go to market position was SVP of sales and that was also just results driven. It's like, Hey, did you make sales or not? And when the advent of the Chief Revenue Officer really became popularized, they talked about how marketing affects sales, how lead generation affects sales, how pricing affects sales. And they were invited to the table to talk about, in order to increase revenue, we need to, you know, modify our pricing and so and so forth. And that is the perfect analogy, Chad, to what a Chief Recruiting Officer does because again, we think that we're just results oriented only.

Richard (9m 22s):

That we're not just a service organization. We actually have insights as to what we can do to bring in the best talent. And every CEO that I've spoken to, when I say, well, you know, like, Hey, what are you most proud of? They're not like, Oh, I'm most proud of the new logo release. They're most proud of the people that they hired and the people, the impact that they're making. And, so this is the reason, exact reason why the CRO is, is something that every company should be considering.

Chad (9m 50s):

Well, you can tie that talent to actually revenue generation. So that being said, when you have positions that are open, let's say for instance vital positions that are open that do impact the bottom line, why aren't we demonstrating to the C-suite that hey, every day that position is open, we are losing X amount to the bottom line, or we are losing X amount of opportunity to the bottom line. It doesn't seem like we're taking, because we focus on cost per hire and all the quote unquote "HR metrics" that the C-suite think are cute. We're not using that, taking it the extra mile and going to real business analytics and numbers.

Richard (10m 35s):

Yeah, it requires us to actually have the knowledge and the competency to be able to do that. When I first fell into the recruiting, leaders of recruiting were mostly leaders that cared about almost like, you know, mid-level sales where there's like, did you make the hire or did you not? And that's how you are graded by with this new advent of strategic recruiting I grade by recruiting teams based on how strategic of a partner were you to the hiring manager. And that includes, hey, the amount of time you have this open is the amount of time we're losing revenue or not shipping the product.

Richard (11m 17s):

We're involved in those discussions. And then we also challenge are do you have the right profile? Are you looking in the right areas? You know, like you don't have to have the purple unicorn, how about, you know, a blue unicorn with purple polkadots and they're gonna grow into the role that you need and you need to be able to speak intelligently about the talent. So you have to deserve to be there. So to your question, Chad, like why haven't we been a part of that conversation? There's only small percentage of leaders and recruiters and sourcers that had the competency to be able to have that conversation.

Joel (11m 55s):

The struggle for power is something that tends to be a narrative in corporations. And I saw the Social Network, Richard, so don't tell me I'm wrong. So, I'm curious in regards to, you know, devil's advocate would say, Well we already have a chief people officer or we're we already have a C H R O. You guys at Gem have a head of people, Chief People Officer as well as you, what's the division of labor there? Is there power division? Who has employment brand? Who has marketing? Like how is that divided? Because I think a lot of companies will say, Well we already have that. We already have the chief recruiting officer, we just call it something different.

Richard (12m 37s):

Yeah. So you know, if we think about the people organization in general, there's so many moving parts. Internal sentiment, attrition, compensation, market changes, and recruiting is one part of that. Most companies in the past looked at recruiting as a service organization that's just filling open roles based on a forecast that finance created and hire managers are advocating for and validating and recruiting was never part of that discussion. And partially, as I mentioned, the competency wasn't there. But the other is like A C H R O only has so much time in the day to be able to advocate for the most important things across all of people.

Richard (13m 20s):

So, you know, at Gem, the way Heather and I delineate duties is like I live and breathe talent acquisition, you know, 24/7, 365 and we partner around what's important not only for our executive staff, but also for the board. You know, what do we wanna share with the board that is important so that they have confidence that we're moving in the right direction. She includes me and conversations ahead of time around shifts in hiring forecasts and I'm invited into the table, all the senior leaders, around how this impacts our goals, our revenue.

Richard (14m 0s):

And having that visibility and being able to create a strategy before most recruiting teams are even aware is a game changer. And this is another reason why most companies should shift to this model because instead of the head header recruiting, finding out in March of the beginning of the year, what their head count target is, having that conversation earlier is a strategic advantage.

Joel (14m 25s):

Sounds like Richard is not a quiet quitter. Chad, it sounds like he's working all the time. Curious about most executive positions are solid whether times are good or bad, right? You always need a CTO and these things, right? But when there are layoffs impacting businesses, when there's a hiring freeze, which we've been hearing a lot more often in the news, what role does the CRO have when there's a hiring freeze or we're going through mass layoffs. Or is there a role?

Richard (14m 55s):

Yeah. Oh yeah, right. This is something that I've even written blogs about, like right now is the time for CROs or even heads of talent to think about how do you set up your recruiting team, your processes, your system to be ready for the rebound, which is inevitable. And every time in that rebound, hiring is exponentially harder. Again, and I wrote about this in my blog, I've been through three recessions in my recruiting career. Yes, I'm that old Chol. You don't have to, you know yeah.

Chad (15m 30s):

Join the club, Cho.

Richard (15m 31s):

So, but every time I looked back and said, man, I really would've loved to have been better prepared because we laid off all of our staff, we went down to, you know, two recruiters and all of a sudden those two recruiters need to take on 10 times the amount of recruiting until they can find recruiters to help ease the load and processes are broken and you know, the data is not there and it's just, you're trying to catch up. So what we've been advocating for, and I'm really excited to hear that a lot of companies have been doing this as retain your recruiting staff, move them into roles that will make them better recruiters long term, whether it's in HR or other places.

Richard (16m 13s):

Also spend the time to do all the projects that you said, Man, if I had more time, we could recruit better. If I had more time, we'd have a better brand. If I had more time, we'd be better at diversity. Now you have more time. Go work on those things so that when it comes back and it comes back with the fury, that you're better prepared. And that that's the role that CROs play is to advocate for that and to clearly articulate why that's a value add for the organization. And that's been something that Gem has really supported.

Chad (16m 46s):

What I'm hearing, Cho, is that we need to be thinking more around scalability on the talent side. I mean, we hear scalability for product, right? But we've gotta scale talent before we can scale product. So the big question for me and many of the individuals out there in TA, is how do we actually use automation to better scale? Today? Not tomorrow, but today?

Richard (17m 17s):

You know, obviously I'm biased. You, know, you should think about tools like Gem to be able to automate away the mundane things. I will say this, my position is you can't take humans out of a human-centric business like we have.

sfx (17m 34s):


Richard (17m 34s):

With only one that can really sell the value and the mission of a company. But if I'm spending 10 hours just setting up emails and you know, making sure my calendar tickler reminds me to reach out to Chad, you know, in October, that's wasted time. I'd much rather have my recruiters and sourcers really have the meaningful conversations right now so that we can set up a relationship for when we are ready to hire to execute, right? So yeah, I mean those are things that are important, but here's what is always 100% of the time always behind and messy, data integrity is never there, right?

Richard (18m 16s):

Like if you look at every ATS, no one has cleanly used their ATS so when you try to do reporting or create dashboards, you spend, you know, a chunk of time just trying to clean up the data. Well why not clean up the data now? You have poor processes, interview processes that you've kind of let go because really it was just about how fast you can hire. Let's fix those processes. And then finally recruiters, recruiters and sourcers, they would love nothing more than to build out more skills. Like, you know, I care a lot about recruiters and sourcers, not just their craft of sourcing or recruiting, but I also want them to have high business acumen, have, you know, deep knowledge around the technology that they're recruiting for and that requires some training and mentorship.

Richard (19m 4s):

Why not do that now? So that when they come back they're better prepared and that's what scale needs to me.

Chad (19m 13s):

That's a hard conversation because as we've talked about, a lot of HR and recruiting leaders aren't competent in the first place. So it's really hard for them to be able to expect everybody around them to be growing when they don't even know what growth looks like. So getting back into automation and white glove, one of the things that we talk about a lot on the show is really when tech first came and the interwebs first came to recruiting, all corporate America did was take a application form and put it into digital form. They did nothing really to change the process in itself. Now the thing was more people could obviously have access to that application cuz they didn't have to walk through a front door.

Chad (19m 58s):

So you had more applications and then we didn't scale. So we have that tech to be able to scale now, which we talked about. And there's no doubt recruiting and human resources needs to stay human. But what does that look like from a CRO standpoint? From a technology standpoint? Because what we do is we sit there and we put a piece of technology in and we walk away when we know the market is fluid, but yet we are not fluid. How do we change that as being a CRO?

Richard (20m 32s):

Yeah, I love this question. You hit a nerve so let me, hold me accountable to make sure I don't go for an hour on this.

Chad (20m 39s):

Chad's good at hitting nerves.

Richard (20m 41s):

Yeah, I'm gonna take it a little different route cuz I believe it's not just about the CRO, it's actually a trend that I seen in the market. So, you know, dinosaurs weren't roaming the earth in 1998 when I first fell under recruiting. And remember,

Chad (20m 58s):

What did he just call you? Joel?

Joel (21m 1s):

That's a T-Rex, Chad.

Richard (21m 2s):

Joel and I were fighting for the one brontosaur meat that we were trying to have for lunch. What I remember back then is it took better part of two weeks to generate 10 great candidates for any slate. So I spent, my entire focus was to develop a relationship with those candidates. I got to know their aspirations. I got to know, you know, their background, and many of them proactively shared their family stories and what they want. Why they, they care so much about the careers that they're in. And that's really what I see is really the human side of the work that we do. So when I place them, I knew imminently that they were not only qualified, but their careers were going to thrive as a result.

Richard (21m 47s):

Now let's fast forward in this world of digitizing the interview process and the selection process. I can push a button and find 500 qualified resumes. Now it's just a lot of averages. I reach out to 500, maybe 50 of them might respond to me and then maybe of the 50, ten of them might be interested in hearing about a job. Right now it's about transaction. So I'm like, great, you know, you're interested. Let me just tell you, here's a stock script of why you should join us and then let me put you in the interview process. We fast forward, live averages and then lo and behold we make an offer and that person says, Well, I don't know how to differentiate your offer from the 15 other offers I have in hand.

Richard (22m 31s):

We're in a historic labor shortage crises that we've never seen in the US in decades and decades. So now they're saying, well the only way to differentiate is you need to pay me more. And so CHROs and heads of talents, like I don't understand our offer acceptance rates drops and we have to pay way more for every talent. This is just a crazy labor market and has a hundred percent to do with the fact that we took the human out of the human-centric role. I remember talking people out of 40% of their guaranteed annual salaries to join a small little startup called Facebook.

Richard (23m 12s):

And they did that gladly. Fast forward many years later, they're, boy are they glad, that they made that decision. And I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't spend the time developing that relationship. So to your question Chad, you should automate away all the mundane things, all the tactical things, give your recruits and sourcers time to build that relationship because that's what's gonna differentiate you, especially in a world where candidates or employees are quitting without another job, vis-a-vis great recession, great resignation, whatever the, you know, term is, people are spending more time now that there's layoffs, making sure that your company's solvent, that they have, you know, a mission and values that they're aligned to and they want, you know, flexibility in that.

Richard (24m 1s):

But understand the culture. If I work in, you know, Bentonville, Arkansas or San Francisco based company, I want to know that they care about time zone and the culture that I care about and the values, right? And that is something that a lot of CROs or heads of talent needs to think about and advocate for at the C-suite. And that's the only way companies are gonna win in this war for talent.

Joel (24m 26s):

Did you recruit Chamath Palihapitiya?

Richard (24m 28s):

I did not.

Joel (24m 30s):

Oh, you did not. Ok. Well, I had to ask. Settle a debate that we have on the show in the last few years. There's, in one corner you have the back to office all the time crowd. In another corner you have the hybrid folks and then in the other corner you have the work from home forever. What's your take on that debate and where do you fit?

Richard (24m 55s):

I'm gonna give an unsatisfactory answer. It depends on the role. So, and this is what creates a lot of consternation right now. A lot of people think that they know absolutely what candidates and employees are going to act like before we're all back in the office. No company has been 1000% back in the office, unless they were already, you know, even during the pandemic. And so we're all making these like assumptions like, oh no, we're gonna lose candidates if we're a hundred percent back in office or employees if we're a hundred percent back in office and people are making assumptions like, we'll we'll lose more than half of our candidate pool if we're back in the office.

Richard (25m 38s):

And the answer is, we don't know though. What we do know is people are kicking ass from home for specific roles and you know, recruiting is one of them. But you know, can you do a highly collaborative role where, you know, it might work out better that you can shoulder tap a product manager and a designer, if you're an engineer? Like should you be working side by side for some parts of the day? Absolutely.

Joel (26m 4s):

Let me ask this a different way, Richard. Cause you're dancing around this and I wanna get to the point here. You're a recruiter. Which company would you rather recruit for? A back to office company, a hybrid or a work from home forever company? Which one gives you the best advantage to recruiting?

Richard (26m 21s):

I think it has to be hybrid.

Chad (26m 25s):

The middle of the road. You just gotta get it again.

Joel (26m 29s):

What I sort of circle around here, is when you were at Robinhood, you scaled the shit outta that company. I think you mentioned it was 400 something to 4,000 something.

Chad (26m 37s):

That's the technical term by the way.

Joel (26m 39s):

For companies that are looking to do that. Give us like two or three tips in doing that. I would think that work from home would help you scale significantly, but maybe you feel differently. For high scale organizations what sort of tips would you give?

Richard (26m 54s):

For back to, you know, the future work conversation? What I probably meant to say was you need to make sure you trust your employees like professionals. Give them the choice, right?

Chad (27m 5s):


Richard (27m 5s):

Yeah, they'll report with their feet. Like they'll vote with their feet. They'll either leave because you either mandated it or they'll stay because they agree with it. But back to the scale question, you know, a lot of that had to do with the fact that Robinhood had to think about what is their overall, you know, value proposition for the employee regardless of if you're from home or in office. Are you going to be better? Are you gonna be paid fairly? Are you gonna be part of a culture that you really, really care about? And I think we did that really well. The vast majority of our growth actually happened during the pandemic years. So I can't say it was because we allowed flexibility, cuz everyone worked from home.

Richard (27m 47s):

I can't say it's because we ask people to come in the office and there's, you know, really great snacks in the office because no one was there. This is the reason why I'm saying no one has this data and if they said that they know definitively you should be in the office, they're lying to you. No one knows definitively. Cause we don't have the data yet.

Chad (28m 12s):

Yes, I love it. That's Richard Cho, everybody. Chief Recruiting Officer over at Gem. Cho if somebody wants to connect with you or maybe, I don't know, come work for you at Gem, where would you send them?

Richard (28m 27s):

I would actually have them email me directly cho at Gem. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm not great with my Twitter, but my Twitter is @chorichard and those are the probably the best ways to get ahold

Joel (28m 41s):

Of me. Are you sure you don't wanna throw out that OnlyFans account, Richard?

Richard (28m 46s):

Oh yeah. That's for a different podcast by the way.

Joel (28m 50s):

My bad. That's that's not our show, Chad. That's another one in the books, baby.

Chad and Cheese (28m 57s):

We out.

OUTRO (29m 45s):

Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast with Chad, the Cheese. Brilliant. They 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. Any hoo 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 just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. Is so weird. We out.


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