• Chad and Cheese

SmartRecruiters CEO, Jerome Ternynck

SmartRecruiters founder and CEO Jerome Ternynck is a true industry veteran, who's forgotten more about the business than most of you will ever know. Anyway, he just wrote a book called "Hiring Success," which helps CEOs navigate recruitment, and the boys thought enough of it to bring the old dog on the podcast for a little chat. 


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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:

It's another episode of the Chad and Cheese podcast. I am your cohost, Joel Cheesman, joined as always by Chad Sowash.

Chad:

Hello.

Joel:

Today we are honored to welcome Jerome Ternynck to the show, CEO, founder of SmartRecruiters. And we'll get into this, Mr. Ted. But previously to that, Jerome man, we've known you for a long time. Welcome to the show. I can't believe it's been this long since you've been on, but you're pimping a new book, which was the reason to come on the show, but we're going to cover a broad level of topics. How are things in your world? How are things with the company? How's the COVID situation where you are?

Jerome:

Everything's good. I'm happy to be on the show. I can't believe I had to write a book to get invited, but so it is.

Chad:

Let's just make this clear, Jerome. Your PR people came to us and said, "Jerome wants to come on".

Jerome:

Oh my God, it's even worse.

Chad:

And we said fine, we'll put Jerome on the show, but he's got to talk about Mr. Ted. But seriously, seriously, we're really happy to have you on. And how remote was your workforce before this? Because obviously it's incredibly remote now. How remote was it before and what's the impact been? Was it easy to make that change? Was it not easy? Tell us a little bit about that.

Jerome:

The workforce was distributed not completely remote. We have about 300 people at SmartRecruiters across five offices and about half US, half Europe. So we were all distributed. So that was easy to manage. We actually did have quite a few folks in the office and it's very surprising how little people miss the office. They actually don't care. And so we've been able to transition over, everybody has your laptop and we just carried on business as usual. And we haven't seen any service disruption per se.

Jerome:

But actually we are, I think this is opening up a lot of opportunities for how we organize as a company and what does the future of work look like for us, obviously for our customers. From an organizational standpoint, it's actually a very interesting thing.

Chad:

Okay, well, we'll get into the future stuff, but I want to dig into your deep, dark past, sir. That's right. So you graduated from Saint Sierra as a valedictorian and accepted an offer to join the paratroops elite forces as a Lieutenant, which I found was incredibly interesting.

Joel:

Impressive.

Chad:

It says that you led troops, soldiers. Overall, it sounded like you were doing basic training. Were you in basic training, were you actually executive officer? Tell me a little bit about that. This to me is interesting because on my side, I'm sure you know, I was also a drill Sergeant in the US army.

Jerome:

Yeah. Bootcamps was my job. So as a lieutenant I would take new recruits, mandatory draft in France at the time. So every two months we would get a couple of buses full of young kids with long hair and hopes and fears and within the next 60 days we would turn them into soldiers, ready to do whatever they needed for the good of the country and the good of their team. And that's a very interesting experience for me leading people through that transformation, pushing the limits of my own leadership and kind of pushing the limits of what hardship, camaraderie, teamwork can actually create when you really put people through a difficult situation and let them emerge as one, as a team. And the army is obviously a very strong environment for that.

Chad:

Yeah, so how did that experience shape you? I know from my personal experience, it did a lot to actually shape me, good, bad or indifferent, just ask Joel, but how did it shape you and how did it prepare you for corporate life or did it?

Jerome:

Yeah, it certainly did. I would say it gave me three things. First, and it's very topical, but it made me aware of my white privilege. I grew up a white guy in a nice neighborhood with cool parents and I never questioned why this was like this, right? It was just normal. But going into the army and finding myself doing boot camps here, especially the paratroops in France is like a semi disciplinary environment. So they would send their older kids that like had criminal records or had difficulty in youth. And so that really kind of gave me a very, very different perspective that I guess I needed heavily at the time.

Jerome:

Second, it actually taught me that your limits, your personal limits, are a lot further than where you think they are. That living on the edge of your personal limits is where the fun starts and you can really push yourself and push people to way, way, way, way beyond what they think they can, they are capable of, which is interesting. And then the third one is that it gave me confidence in my leadership and confidence in my decisions and say, okay, if I want to lead people through difficult times, I actually can do that.

Joel:

Yeah. So from there, you become a recruiter at some point, correct? And then in 2000 you start Mr. Ted and in your book, it says, don't ask me how I got the name Mr. Ted. So I won't ask you about the name.

Chad:

Ask him!

Joel:

But talk about the environment, the genesis of the idea, sort of paint a picture for those who were not around in 2000 like we were.

Jerome:

So actually, after the army, I started my recruitment agency. I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. This was '92, just after the Berlin Wall fell. And I wanted to create a company, I was like, well, I'm an entrepreneur, I'll try something, right? I didn't speak Czech at the time at all. And I just was going around and asking people like, what can you do in this country? And they're like, yeah, you can do anything, man. This is an entirely new system and you can do anything you want, but gee, it's hard to find good people. And I said, huh, this is actually an idea. I could do a recruitment agency.

Jerome:

And so I did, I mean, I had $2,000 of student savings in my pockets so I wasn't going to go into the telecoms industry anytime soon anyways. So I started a recruitment agency and that worked well and we expanded that agency to several countries. And we ended up having like 200 plus people in the company. And then the internet came and Monster arrived and I'm like, gee, this is going to change the way people hire. If you can apply on the web, this is crazy. We're going to need to track these people.

Jerome:

And so I did what every other ATS entrepreneur at the time did because that's the time when Teleo and Brass Ring and ICM's were all founded at the same time. I went on and I raised some money from Accenture and others and we built a software to track applicants. Like we effectively automated the file cabinet if you will, right? Because that was the opportunity.

Joel:

Yeah. So you mentioned Monster, you talk in the book about meeting Jeff Taylor, the founder of the company. Talk about that.

Chad:

That's a trip.

Jerome:

Yeah, that is a trip there. The one memory I had was him standing on stage and talking to a 200 plus search consultant that had just been acquired by TMP, TMP having got acquired Monster a couple of months before. That was when Andy McKelvey was in an acquisition spree of acquiring businesses here. And he looked at all these search consultants and he said, "Recruiters, they've looked at the future and they prefer the past." Okay, you're that kind of guy, okay.

Chad:

Yes.

Jerome:

Yes.

Chad:

Yeah, no. That's definitely Jeff, there's no question. You've been in the industry for so long. How do you continue to be passionate about an industry that crawls toward progress instead of walks or runs?

Jerome:

It's very simple. The problem hasn't been solved.

Chad:

Yeah. And the problem hasn't been solved because in most cases, hiring companies won't adopt, the adoption rate in this industry is slow. It's like molasses in January, that's got to batter at passion, especially for a company that is focused on innovation. Talk about that. How do you stay passionate when adoption is right there at your fingertips, but you just can't get it to happen sometimes?

Jerome:

You know, adoption is a challenge for technology and what else? I mean, if we don't get adoption, is it because we are perfect and the people using it are idiots or is it because we don't know how to turn that innovation into something useful or if we don't know how to actually measure out outcomes? In recruiting, I think the main challenge today is we do not measure our outcomes. What are the measures of recruiting? Time to fill, cost per hire. Faster, cheaper. What does that have to do with recruiting? Recruiting is about hiring amazing people, okay? So why do you want to measure it by faster and cheaper?

Jerome:

And I think we have here a really interesting, fundamental debate in our industry as to how do we actually help the TA buyer step up, because the CFO, the CEO's in particular, they wake up every morning and they say, I want to hire the best people in my industry. I want to go and I want to out-hire all my competitors, I want them to suffer, I want to have the best talent in my company. And then they turn around and they give this to HR who passes it through TA who is like a staffing agent and they say faster and cheaper. How does that actually correlate to the CEO's vision in the first place, right? So I think that gap is what we have to bridge.

Chad:

When people say the best talent, I think you're 100% right, I don't think they understand what that actually means. Is that the best skilled? But that's not really what is meant in most cases, because the best talent is the one who adds to your culture. Yes, they have the skills, they have the abilities, but they add to your culture. And it doesn't simply just keep it the same. You're consistently trying to challenge each other. When you as a CEO are looking to impact your culture, it's not about hiring people like you already have hired. How do you challenge your staff and how do you continue to keep them uncomfortable instead of getting comfortable?

Jerome:

I think you challenge your hiring in two ways. One, if you want to make a good choice, you need to have a choice. Like this sounds really stupid, but how many hiring decisions are made by default? Well, yeah, this is the best one we've seen. This is the only one we have. Let's hope it works out, right? So first, and this speaks to talent attraction, right? First, put yourself in a position where you actually have a choice.

Jerome:

Second, if you're talking about, okay, now I have a choice now, which of these amazing candidates am I going to choose? Then you can actually achieve a lot by using a hiring team and a collaborative hiring approach. I do think that hiring is a team sport. I don't trust my judgment on hires. I don't think any hiring managers, any individual human being is able to make a proper hiring decision on their own. You need a proper hiring team. You need collaboration. You need good like scorecards focusing on most achieves, not on must haves. And who you put in your hiring team is actually going to dictate a lot of the outcomes.

Jerome:

So we look very strongly at what is the scorecard must achieves, not must have, right? Must write amazing Java code versus must have a degree from Stanford, right? So much achieves. So like a future performance based assessment. And then second, who is on the hiring team and I put a lot of emphasis on having diverse hiring team and hiring teams that include peers to the candidate. And if you have those combination, you actually end up with amazing hiring decisions consistently.

Joel:

I want to go back to what Chad focused on with sort of staying energized around what you do and the industry. And there's a part in the book where you talk about sort of the past and how the past still maintains itself here in to present day. And you talk about how Taleo remains the number one ATS 20 years hints. And I would imagine that that's a frustrating experience for one of their competitors. So talk about cutting through or getting through the frustration of things moving so slowly in our industry and the incumbents remaining in office for decades.

Jerome:

I don't see this as frustration. I think the rate of change in an industry is defined by the pace of innovation by other available solutions. I don't know that there has been a decent alternative to tell you. This is why I actually I started SmartRecruiters, right? I'm like, okay, what's next? If you take a blank sheet of paper, what is the generational successor to the ATS? And I put there very simple requirements. Actually, I can give them to you. I said, if you want to make a great hire, and if you want to achieve hiring success, you need three things. One, you need to be able to attract great candidates, that speaks to candidate experience. Two, you need to work with your hiring managers and hiring teams in a collaborative way to drive the right hiring decisions as we were just saying.

Jerome:

And three, you need to be organized, compliant, effective as a recruiting team. So recruiter productivity. So now does Taleo help you find candidates? Nope. Wasn't designed for that. Do hiring managers use it every day with a smile on their face? Absolutely not. So your entire process runs offline in spreadsheets. And so are recruiters happy and productive? No. And every customer that we take through the journey, I look at their smile, I look at the NPS that we have, we're at positive 27 NPS on our customer base. And that gives me nothing but pleasure and joy and energy to actually keep driving innovation and change in this industry.

Joel:

Gotcha. So we know why you started SmartRecruiters. I want to talk about the book. What was the genesis behind writing it, and most specifically, you are writing it to CEO's as opposed to say recruiters or HR, or one of a targeted demographics. So why the book and why just CEOs or why target CEOs?

Jerome:

I target CEO's to bridge that gap between I want to hire amazing talent and hey, can you make this faster and cheaper? That is the gap that I'm trying to close in the book. And it is a book written for CEOs or for the C suites, for execs in general, which basically makes the case for great recruiting. And it basically says, if you want to perform as an organization, you need to have the best talent. We all agree. Yes. Okay. So how do you actually get the best talent? Well, it's not hard. You need to attract the right ones, you need to select the right candidates. So how do you actually do that?

Jerome:

It's a sales and marketing function. And if you invest in recruiting to acquire great talent, just like you invest in marketing to get more customers, or you invest in R and D to get great products, if you think about it as an investment, then your world changes and your business performance, your business outcome changes. And that's literally, I tried to write the book in a way that's like, oh, I'm a cheerleader, I'm going to give this to my CEO for Christmas. If she reads it, then I'm going to get the higher budget and a proper advocate.

Chad:

Well, Jerome, I know diversity is very important to you and in this heightened sense of turmoil, I mean, just yesterday, we laid to rest George Floyd, what can hiring companies do better in leveraging technology to make a real impact on their culture and their diversity hiring?

Jerome:

There's a lot that goes into that question. I think it starts with a realization that being non-racist for diversity for inclusion is not enough. That you actually need to be actively anti-racist, anti-discrimination, anti exclusion, and therefore you need to be an ally to the African American community and fight for them, with them, internally and externally. And when you take this and you say, okay, now I'm not going to be a passively acceptable member of that community, but I'm going to be an active agent of change, then you can drive a lot of change as a team leader in particular, because it starts with jobs and access to jobs and access to opportunity in many, many respects.

Jerome:

In the book, I talk about how to optimize your diversity hiring and it's pretty simple. It's one, go for diversity sourcing. So expand your sourcing, reach into communities that you would have otherwise overlooked. And this can be with specific websites, specific events, partnering with people that are from underrepresented groups in your company. So make a special effort to market to the diversity sources. Second, remove bias in your screening. Like this is so easy to do and it's today still so bad. African American sounding name, a white American sounding name, the same resume, the white person gets four times more callbacks than the black one.

Chad:

Right.

Jerome:

And that is today in your company. So if you're listening, like go and look at those stats and change that. And you can change that easily. You can adopt systematic screening approach. You can actually use AI in that way, right? The data science, reading resumes, summarizing and making recommendation doesn't have bias, right? So this is a place where AI can actually reduce bias significantly, and then change your selection process and implement a transparent interview process that has a hiring team, that includes diverse members. So a diverse hiring team that has a structured scorecard that people must fill, and that they must fill in full transparency with a cards down approach, right? So you only see your feedback after you submitted, feedback from others after you submitted yours.

Jerome:

The core, crux of discrimination in hiring is it happens behind closed doors. And it happens with a hiring manager that is making solo decisions in full or without any transparency. And yes, sometimes you have really bad behaviors from people and they intentionally discriminate. But the reality is most of this is actually just bias. It's just unconscious and it's normal. We all have bias and bias is part of who we are.

Jerome:

The three of us having been in recruiting for so long, guess what? We meet in a bar, we're going to have a great time. We're going to chat, we have a lot of reference point in common, we can joke about the history about the industries and so on. That's bias, right? That is absolute bias. I'm going to think you guys are friendly and this other person that works in another industry, I'm going to be like ah, who are you? I don't have anything to talk to you about, right? So we actually all have bias. We need to recognize this bias and use this to our advantage to implement a transparent and fair hiring process.

Chad:

So Jerome, I think transparent is key. And I don't believe that companies are transparent enough and actually sharing their diverse hiring data. Not to mention outcomes is another word that you used that I use in just about every conversation when we talk about veteran hiring, diverse hiring, or what have you. That is something that is incredibly important because there's a lot of lip service that's being had out there. And it has for decades. As a CEO talking to other CEOs, how can you challenge them to be more transparent, to be more accountable for the numbers they have? Whether they're good numbers or they're bad members, what can you do as a CEO in being able to work as an example, and then also challenge your clients?

Jerome:

I think that the transparency is the first thing. So internally I have said, guys, I want to see for every job a objective scorecard, interview scorecard. If there is no scorecard, then we're just not going to start hiring for that job and you're just going to have to wait in line. So I made that a part of the process. And then for interviewers, I said, you submit your feedback in writing in that scorecard and if you cannot do that, guess what? You're not going to be interviewing on behalf of SmartRecruiters anymore.

Jerome:

So I've made structured interview feedback mandatory, period, no exception, nothing. Now suddenly you have the fully transparent, structured, written feedback from the three or four people who have interviewed the candidates on a specific job. The transparency is complete and there is no cheating that process. That's a very easy step to take. And if you go into most companies nowadays, interview feedback, yeah, I got it. Yeah. How was it? It was fine. Okay. And then there is no feedback, there is no transparency, there is no structure, and this is where bias and discrimination exists. So start by adopting a proper transparent interview process would be my just simple number one advice.

Joel:

So real quick Jerome, you say diversity is the cake in your book. What do you mean by that?

Jerome:

I think that people look at diversity in parts for what Chad was saying. It's like yeah, I want to share my diversity number, right? We have more women in engineering than our colleague sand whatever. And that makes it sound like it's the cherry on the cake. It's here to decorate, that it's the second afterthought. And the quote is not from me, actually. The fact that actually diversity is the cake is because diverse teams perform better than non diverse teams.

Joel:

Gotcha.

Jerome:

It's as simple as that.

Joel:

Yeah, you're pretty bullish in the book. You talk extensively about advertising and two things that sort of struck me was number one, you say that a job ad is an ad. Wow. It should actually sell. And then you also seem to be really bullish on programmatic job advertising, which we talk about quite a bit on the show. So talk a bit about job descriptions and why you're so bullish on programmatic.

Jerome:

Yeah so a job ad is an ad. I think we've gone from a regulatory standpoint to posting job descriptions and we call this job advertising, but it's actually not the job advertising. If you want to advertise your job, it's actually an ad. And the goal is to attract people, to express interest so that you can get into a conversation, qualify them and bring them in for interviews and maybe hire them. And I think we need a reminder of that. Even if for regulatory reason, your full long job description needs to be made available somewhere, they do not in my mind constitute a good way to attract qualified candidates.

Jerome:

And programmatic, the transition towards performance based advertising over maybe over programmatic, but just really performance based advertising, I think that industry is going to continue to evolve fast, particularly in the wave of this economy crisis or downturn. Because you're going to be getting a thousand applicants per job. And that's really not what you need.

Jerome:

So I think we're going to see not the end of job posting as we know it, but it's going to get seriously challenged because at the end of the day, why would I advertise my job or my job description to the world whereas I actually could advertise it only to my talent pool or advertise it to qualified candidates? There is a regulatory aspect to it yes, but the efficiency and experience for candidates and for recruiters pleads in favor of a more streamlined way of doing it.

Chad:

Right. And you do mention, obviously, we lived in a talent economy in January. Do you think that's still the case today? Do you still think we're in a talent economy with the unemployment in the state that it is?

Jerome:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean the talent economy just kind of says people are the main difference. Like if you want a good business, you need ideas, money and people. Of those three things, what is the hardest to get? I mean, there are ideas and money everywhere, right? It's about the people. We live in the talent economy. Now with the downturn, it actually gives you access to talent that you maybe otherwise wouldn't have access to. Great, right? But it doesn't make the talent less important.

Jerome:

On the contrary, I might say, if you have less resources, then the quality of the people you have on the team becomes even more important, right? If you had 20 engineers and now your budgets are less and you have 15 engineers, well, you better make sure that those 15 can do as much as the 20 before, which is easy because an amazing engineer produces five times more than the average one. So you just got to get amazing engineers and that's going to solve your problem. So I think people are critically important in our circumstances. We just now have a better access to talent than we had six months ago.

Chad:

Right, but in this type of economy, employers tend to get shortsighted and then they start treating candidates that they don't hire like shit. I mean, they throw them into a black hole, they don't get back with them, they're not transparent with them. What can we do as an industry with better technology to ensure that candidates get a great experience, no matter what economy we're in?

Jerome:

I mean, the first thing you should do is if you're listening to this, go to your ATS right now, look at all the jobs that you have posted that you are not hiring for and un post them. I mean, I get that you think yeah, I'm pipelining for the future, but there is a way to pipeline and in our jargon, we call this a CRM, right? You just create talent pools, you nurture those people and you're ready. And this is proper pipelining. Posting a fake job is not talent pipelining. It's actually misleading and it's fake advertising. So that's an easy thing to do. If you're not hiring for those jobs, just un post them and you're going to save a lot of people a lot of time and you're going to save yourself a lot of brand damage and time as well.

Jerome:

Other than that, I think we, we do have to raise the bar of how we match people to jobs. It's like you would say, anybody can live in this house, you just need to apply. And once you apply, we'll let you know if you qualify. If this was the offer of a real estate person, they would get thousands of applicants and everybody would be disappointed because they didn't get the mortgage or finally it was too expensive. But actually in this market, you actually tell people how much is the house cost. Are you going to qualify? You can check if you qualify before you apply, right? So we need to actually help people, frankly, we need to help ourselves to get less candidates that are more qualified. Because the spray and pray of jobs, which is matched by a spray and pray of candidates is just the wrong way to go about it.

Joel:

Jerome, the last chapter of your book is entitled the future of hiring success. And you talk about four different areas of where you think technology is really going to disrupt what's going on today. The first part is the end of the resume. Then you have reputation is everything. And you kind of touched on that in your previous answer. And then you have my personal AI headhunter and automated sourcing. I'll let you pick which one of those, it can be all of them, that you'd like to touch on. But I think a lot of them based on what we talked about on the show is really pertinent and I just to hear from you how those things are going to change in the future and why they're important to recruiting?

Jerome:

10 years ago, if I had told you, hey, Joel, Chad, why don't we go to Moscow for a long weekend next week because there's a good party and let's just grab an apartment and rent it in two clicks on our phone.

Joel:

Did you say Moscow?

Jerome:

Yeah, I said Moscow.

Joel:

Sure, why not, Moscow.

Chad:

Let's do it.

Jerome:

How did it become so easy to rent an apartment in rural areas in Russia that you can do it on your phone, on Airbnb, in two clicks? And why is the market of recruiting not easier? And I think it has a lot to do with how the market is organized. And I do believe when I say the end of resume, I think the resume's a imperfect way of establishing a transaction between a person and a company. And I think resumes are going to get challenged. They're going to get more and more digital. They're going to get more secure. They're going to get more verified. So there's a lot that goes into the resume that you basically, your resume says nothing about you and then every time you speak to a company, you have to start from scratch. Which is like, okay, really?

Jerome:

And then on the flip side of that, the sourcing, automated sourcing and automated headhunter, we're starting to see some of that surface in the market. But I think in a few years, you'll be like, yeah, I'm on the market for a new job and so there's going to be a piece of software that organizes interviews for you. And if you're a manager or recruiter and you need to hire somebody, you're going to just point it out and watch your shortlist of qualified candidates come to you. There is no reason why it's as difficult as it is today, really. There's no material, technology core reason why it's that difficult.

Chad:

Yeah, well that's why everybody needs to get the book Hiring Success, How Visionary CEOs Compete for the Best Talent. That's right, our guest, Jerome Ternynck, the CEO of SmartRecruiters wrote that book. Where can they find it? Just go to Amazon, look for hiring success?

Jerome:

Yeah, exactly. Amazon hiring success or on the actual website, hiringsuccess.com, which has the book and a lot of content about the hiring success methodology. It has a definitive guide, a hiring success masterclass. So you can actually take a class and certify the overall hiring success methodology and help drive TA transformation at your company.

Chad:

That's exactly what we need, Joel. We need our own Chad Cheese masterclass. Thanks, Jerome.

Joel:

That's right, we need that SmartRecruiters corporate retreat in Moscow comrades.

Jerome:

There we go, Comrade.

Chad:

we out.

Joel:

We out.

Jerome:

Yeah.

Chad:

This has been the Chad and Cheese podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss a single show and be sure to check out our sponsors because they make it all possible. For more, visit chadcheese.com. Oh yeah, you're welcome.


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