Recruiting and the world within: Ask Me Anything with Sean Perry

As a former CIO of Robert Half, Sean Perry learned early that talent was as much the willingness to learn as it was technical ability. In this Ask Me Anything with Pulse, Perry delves into his philsophy of recruitment, the value of introversion and his biggest achievement at the recruitment firm.

Robert Half is known for being the recruitment specialist. As a CIO, what sort of principles of recruitment did you take on in growing a team?

It’s hard no matter who you are. You you would think that that in a recruiting organization, we’d have access to the best candidates and we picked the top folks coming through but it just did not work out like that.

Robert Half’s focus at the time was very much on tech support, quality assurance, sort of individual contributor type of roles at the lower end of the technology scale. Those roles we never had any problem filling. We had a wonderful process for bringing folks in and transitioning the employees.

But at the upper levels–like a Senior Project Manager who could run a $3 million project or a development lead in a particular area of new technology–we were just like every other company out there trying to find those people and compete with the rock star companies in the Bay Area.

So we did some things around college level recruiting, working with other organizations, some veteran service organizations and institutions like that to find new sources of talent that we normally would not have access to. That really required a mind shift on the part of folks on my team. I used to joke that they always wanted to hire the person that knows how to do the exact thing that they want them to do.

It took us a while to get things changed. We wanted to hire for potential and if they need skills, we’re going to teach them skills. But we’re just not going to be able to compete in this market if we’re trying to find an eight-year experienced Salesforce developer with a series of certifications behind them.

What are the key ingredients of someone with potential? 

We were really looking for folks that had a desire to learn new stuff. That was what we loved to see. There was one of the teams around this really cool process just last year with our summer intern groups. Rather than assigning the three interns to do individual tasks, they basically turned them into their own startup. They gave them a couple of ideas got them to chase those ideas down and decide what idea they wanted to work on.

The other thing is having people that are willing to reach out. It was funny when listening to them do their final presentations talking about how they were reaching out to Amazon support. We were giving them questions that they hadn’t heard before about how different tools could be used.

You want people who are excited about learning new stuff and I think that for us is the big differentiator. Technology has changed so quickly and that core sort of adaptability and ability to learn new information quickly is is really the deciding factor.

We had a question on our forum about introversion and the value of introversion within IT. When working at Robert Half,  how much was introversion valued at the workplace?

We had great luck with a program that we had found early on for people who we thought had a tremendous amount of potential. They were incredibly smart and were great at one-on-one conversations but who, in a group, became much more introverted. So we developed this program that I jokingly called ‘The cult’ because it had an amazing impact on people who were introverted in a group initially. We would send them off to this training course and they would come back different people.

Probably half of the people that went to that course would easily come back and become supervisors or are leaders within the team within the following year. Others might take the the second version of that course. It had an amazing impact on folks. It was one of the better investments we made for people who we thought were ready to be leaders and almost ready to take that next step that really sort of pushed them over the edge.

What do you think it is about the corporate environment that makes it a bit more intimidating for for introverts to speak out?

I think it’s the idea that they think they’ll be judged. They think ‘people are going to judge me on the basis of what I see and I might lose credibility’. It’s about developing a level of comfort.

I’ve talked to a bunch of people and this is a big topic, with many telling me that they are an introvert. But at work I realized that, in certain cases, I have to be more extroverted. So for those folks, when you hear them talk about it, they describe it like a muscle that they have to work out. Then they can go back to being themselves, so to speak.

It’s that that need to step into that other mode. At the same time, I think there are times when extroverts need to realize that it might be time to be a little more introverted! You don’t really hear about that very much. But there is a time when that level of focus and commitment and sort of quiet time works for everyone.

Does your company value introversion? Be a part of the discussion on Pulse now.

Looking back over the last 20 years at at Robert Half, what would you say were your proudest achievements?

At the beginning, it was really struggling, communicating and working with the business in a way that they could understand. I remember specifically the first couple of years that I was there we would have these annual or semi annual meetings where we would sit down and somebody would have said ‘it costs too much’ or ‘how do we make it cost less?’.

At this point I was a manager of team of 40-50 people and I’d say ‘these are the things you’ve asked me to do, here’s what they’re working on and here’s what I said was on the priority list, and this is all the stuff I can’t get to’. So when I’m asking for new headcount, this is what I’m trying to address.

Most of the organization at the senior level were familiar with accounting and they easily understood this idea of a checkbook. Tell them you start out the year with 120 million dollars and you have to spend 30 of it on keeping the lights on. Then say that the HR group takes a lot of money to support them and we want to spend money to make that less expensive. So I think by converting from the abstract technical into more concrete dollars, everybody was able to get on the same page.

Then we were able to do new things on top of that, where the business trusted us to deliver because we had earned credibility on the easy stuff. That made things a lot simpler.

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