The Staffing Show - Conrad

On this episode of The Staffing Show, Adam Conrad, CXO and founder of Great Recruiters, joins the podcast to talk about his 20-plus years in the staffing industry. He discusses how taking a proactive approach to getting feedback from placed talent and candidates can reduce negative reviews on third-party sites as well as how the right technology can enhance the recruiting experience for everyone involved. He also talks about responsiveness and resilience as key traits for success in recruitment, and how discomfort can sometimes lead to the greatest rewards.


David Folwell: Hello everyone. And thank you again for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I’m extremely excited to be joined by Adam Conrad, who is the CXO and founder of Great Recruiters. Adam, thanks so much for joining today. To kick things off, why don’t you give us a little quick intro about you and how you got into the staffing industry?

Adam Conrad: First of all, thanks a lot for having me on, David. I always love chatting with you. But as David mentioned, I’m Adam Conrad with Great Recruiters. I’ve been in the industry for 20-plus years. I cut my teeth as a recruiter. I had moved into recruiting management roles and was running the operations of about a $40 million staffing IT professional firm prior to starting Great Recruiters. But Great Recruiters, we help you get reviews, build trust, and win more. We’re an experience management platform that’s built for the staffing industry and recruiters to gain actual insight. And there’s a lot of cool things that you can do once you are in the know.

Folwell: Awesome. Awesome. You’ve been a guest on here a couple times, and it’s really good to have you back. Always enjoy these conversations. One thing to set up this conversation for the listeners today, we all know that reviews, they’re important, your reputation is important. We actually did a survey about three months ago, we haven’t released any of this information publicly, but we asked the talent, “Do you consider online reviews to be an important factor when selecting the staffing firm?” And 70% of the respondents said that it was very or extremely important in their selection process for staffing agencies. As we’re going through this conversation today, I want you to think about the importance of reviews, of your reputation, and how you really manage that. With that, I know a lot of you probably know Adam and Great Recruiters and what they do, but Adam, could you just share a little bit about the specifics about how you work with agencies and any stories that you have and in terms of how you operate?

Conrad: Yeah, I mean, definitely. And I think one of the reasons I started this is because there was this reputation problem that loomed over the staffing industry. I mean, if you Google “recruiters are,” and go back to it, I’ll let you do that Google result, but a lot of it is not positive. And I think the reason is because there never was really an easy-to-use vehicle to help you take control of that feedback in those reviews. And so with Great Recruiters, we enable you to capture, act on, measure, and promote real-time feedback reviews on basically your core people in your organization, on your business processes. We help you get feedback from those external clients and your placed talent.

And recently, I’ve just launched internal reviews, allowing you to get feedback from your own staff on the internal operations of your business. All of this is about the human experience. And I used to say, we’re in the reviews economy, but really, we’re in the experience economy. Reviews are just the way that people share it. And so we make it really simple to help you gain that insight in real time on the services that you’re providing.

Folwell: Yeah. And it’s interesting, as you and I were having a conversation at Bullhorn Engage last week, and we all know your online reviews are important. One of the things I thought was interesting that you brought up was just this shift from, “Hey, it’s like, let’s make sure our Google reviews are good. Let’s make sure our Glassdoor is good.” But the companies who are really excelling are actually going to step beyond that. And it’s like, “All right. Yeah, we want that to be good. But more importantly, we want to take care of fixing the problems that we have as an organization.” I just wondered if you wanted to add any thoughts or additional comments around that? Because I thought that was a cool conversation that we had.

Conrad: Yeah. I mean, everybody wants positive reviews, because I don’t think anybody can argue the influence. And obviously the survey you guys conducted validates that, people trust reviews as much as a friend’s recommendation. The challenge that exists for staffing firms is a lot of those review sites aren’t about what the placed talent or the candidates have as far as an experience. It’s like, what it’s like to work inside the organization.

And the other issue is if you aren’t actively taking a proactive approach to getting that feedback, unfortunately, you’re going to get 10 times more negative reviews on third-party sites. Let’s face it. You have a bad experience, you’re frustrated, somebody isn’t asking you about it. You’re looking to vent. You want to get it off your chest. And if you’re a staffing firm and you’re not actively asking your candidates, your placed talents, your hiring managers, “How was that experience?” You’re missing out on a lot of valuable insight. And if you wait till the end of the year, just to do an end-of-year survey, you’re missing out on opportunities to resolve issues now. And let’s face it, when you have a bad experience and somebody asks, “How was it?” And you share that. And then somebody picks up the phone or reaches out and says, “Hey, David, I’m sorry you had that experience. It’s obviously not the type of experience we want you to have. What can we do to make it better?” That makes it proactive and you’re left with a much better impression of that organization.

When you just leave it to driving more Glassdoor, more Indeed, or more Google reviews, you’re really leaving it out there just for people to randomly provide that feedback. And you miss a lot of positive insights. We learn those positive insights are great to supercharge your team. Takes a lot of at bats to get wins in staffing. And so getting that constant stream of positive also helps you know that what you’re doing is right. And if there are issues, puts you in control to be able to resolve those without having to chase down who that anonymous person is that blasted you on Glassdoor.

Folwell: Yeah. And it’s interesting, it’s a lot of the people, the leaders that I have on this podcast, couple that have been on recently, one was talking about the most important factor for driving success, being adaptability. And then the other, I can’t remember who it was that was on the podcast, but they were talking specifically about how they have a continuous feedback loop that they review on a weekly basis with all leaders to make sure that they are identifying and fixing problems as fast as possible. Which is great to say, but I think for a lot of people, it’s like, all right, that sounds good. How do you operationalize something like that?

Conrad: Yeah. I mean, specifically for us, we integrate with platforms ATS, like Bullhorn, Avionté, LaborEdge. And so through the process, we’re automatically collecting that review feedback.

What’s unique about what we do? Behavior exists at the individual level, right? It doesn’t exist at the organization and company level. It’s the individuals that are driving the experience and that’s where you can change behavior. What’s unique about what we do is we’re asking about your experience working with that individual. So if it’s positive, the individual feels good, management can celebrate it, can acknowledge those individuals. But if it’s constructive and it’s not as positive as you’d hope, we give you the tools to be able to take action on that immediately.

And that’s the important thing. You don’t want things to fester. If there’s an issue, I want to make sure it’s coming back inside my organization, I’m not finding out about it on some third-party site. And so the important thing is you don’t want to over ask. There’s some platforms out there that every step of the process, you’re saying, “How was your experience? How was your experience?” And it’s like, you get this review fatigue. What I recommend is asking at those most meaningful moments. And as an organization, you have to figure out, based on what you’re saying you’re going to do, based on the experience you promised and commit to making, what are those moments in your process that are most meaningful to ensure that you’re doing a great job? And what are those moments in the process that if you aren’t doing a great job, you want those individuals to know?

And so I think it’s at minimum, anybody you submit, you should be asking for that feedback. It’s awesome to ask your placements as well, but if you’re just focused on where you’re having the success, you’re missing a lot of that insight that’s going to help you improve the operations of your business, help you train and develop your staff faster. And that’s really the key. And so think about it, you only place maybe 3% to 5% of the people you work with, but you leave a lasting impression with 100%. And so you want to make sure that, whatever the vehicle you’re using to capture that feedback, you’re doing it earlier in the process and not just focusing on getting positive reviews because they’re nice, but there’s a lot that can be learned earlier in the process. And sometimes you learn more from making mistakes than being successful.

Folwell: And when you look at the agencies that are using your software to ask at the time of an interview or submittal, how are they getting that feedback back to the recruiter, taking action on it? Do you have any best practices or ways that you’ve seen people implement that, that’s worked well?

Conrad: Yeah, I mean, in some organizations, definitely leadership needs to be involved, management needs to be involved. Specifically with Great Recruiters when somebody gets a review, the individual the review is about, as well as their manager, gets an instant notification. “Hey David, Adam just provided your review on Great Recruiters. Here’s what he said.” And that’s the important piece of making sure that you have that information right after the feedback is provided. Because if it is positive, what a great opportunity to turn around and thank that individual, strengthen that relationship. Right, David? Ask for a referral? On the flip side, right, you also want to be able to resolve that issue. Through our platform, we make it really simple to make sure that those notifications and those insights are provided to the right people in the organization that can take action.

Folwell: Just real quick, so I make sure I’m following and the audience as well. I interview somebody or I submit a candidate. Review comes back, say they click on the link in the signature, review comes back, is a recruiter receiving that feedback as well as the manager simultaneously in real time? So they’re both getting that information instantly to take action?

Conrad: A lot of organizations who have someone that’s focused on training and development, they’re also set up on the platform to get that notification so they can help curate training and development programs specific to the individuals, right? It’s not broad-stroke development.

If you think about what we measure: Was the recruiter genuine? Were they responsive? Were they experienced and knowledgeable? Were they an advisor? Were they transparent? And so through our platform, you’re able to drill down into each of those five key areas for every individual. So you can look at somebody at the top of the leaderboard and you can look at somebody at the bottom and understand how are they rated differently. And this really provides training and development opportunities to key in if somebody’s responsiveness score is low compared to the rest of the folks in your organization or as the aggregate as a whole. And it allows you to learn from the people that are doing really well to help that person get up to speed faster.

Folwell: Just as you’re talking about this, I’m surprised I’ve never asked you this, or we never had a conversation, but do you know of anybody that’s using this for recruiter compensation? This feels like the perfect performance management tool.

Conrad: We do. I mean, organizations, I think, have found a lot of different ways to use this. Certainly, we have some that have implemented this into the compensation program. Because you only get one at bat to make a first impression. You’re measuring the submittals, you’re measuring the interviews, you’re measuring the placements, all of that quantitative data is there. What we’re providing is the qualitative data, we’re providing the full picture.

In fact, I just talked to a customer, they’re like, “Man, this recruiter was getting a lot of submittals, a lot of interviews and just couldn’t make placements.” And when they dug into the review scores, they noticed that there was a big difference between their top performers and this individual. And they were able to really put a spotlight, listen to the conversation and understand, “Hey, there’s things that we can do to help this individual be more successful.” And as they said, if they weren’t asking for that insight, it would just be hidden in a black box. You’d say, “Just keep getting those submittals. Don’t worry. It’s going to work out.” And the reality was there were actionable things that they could do that they had insight that they could correct. And they helped that individual perform better.

Folwell: That’s awesome. And with that, I’m thinking that you probably have some pretty good data on exactly what makes a good recruiter. In our most recent State of Staffing Report, we asked what staffing agencies thought their ideal recruiter attributes were, came back as number one was relationship-oriented, number two trustworthy, three resilient, four goal-oriented. I’m just curious as to how that lines up or if you have any specifics in terms of, as a staffing agency, when you’re looking to hire, what attributes you should be looking for? I mean, you mentioned responsiveness, but are there specific areas that you’ve seen across the platform where you’re like, “When I see these ratings are high, my guess is that they’re probably the top performing recruiter at the agency.”

Conrad: Yeah. I think there’s really two halves to that. As a recruiter, I think you need to be resilient. You need to get a lot of nos. You need to be somebody who is relationship-driven. You need that driven individual. Recruiting is not for everybody. What we’re measuring is the output of that experience that they’re creating with the talent out there. As a recruiter who’s in the industry, as time goes on, your job should get easier, because you’re building those networks, you’re building those communities, you’re tapping into those referrals. And that’s a big piece where I see successful recruiters. They’re not posting jobs. They’re not just responding to people applying or going back and always talking to new people. They’re picking up the phone to their trusted resources that they’ve helped, that they know, and they’re asking for those referrals, they’re driving that.

For us, when we launched this and really understood, “What does it mean to create a great experience for a candidate?” We just read, “Why do recruiters have a bad reputation?” Responsiveness is one, right? You have to have the ways to respond. You need to take time to understand somebody’s need. If you’re going to build a relationship, it can’t be me-centric, right? I can’t call you up and say, “This is what I have. Is this something you’re interested in?” Right? I need to understand what motivates you, David Folwell, and really seek to understand. Because if you’re only placing a small percentage of the people you talk to, it doesn’t mean that I can’t help you later on. But if I don’t take the time to understand who you are and where I may be able to help you, either now or in the future, that opportunity is missed.

We rate based on, “Did I understand your needs? Was I experienced and knowledgeable?” In a lot of areas, like in IT, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, somebody’s not going to trust you. And I think going back to being genuine and responsive and being that advisor and being transparent, all of those really translate well to creating a great experience for that individual to help them now, or maybe in the future.

Folwell: That’s really insightful information and reminds me of, this was years ago, and I don’t know if this applies to recruiting, but when I was CMO at a company and we were tracking the net promoter score by salesperson. The sales people were essentially account managers as well. And the one area that we found had the highest correlation with a positive net promoter score was actually just responsiveness. And we started talking to the top sales people about how they were working with their clients. And they wouldn’t even respond with the solution or the answer all the time, they would just respond, “On it. Got it. Looking into it. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Which is interesting, because I feel like, with your tool, you’re able to identify those specific criteria for recruiters, for the leadership team so they can identify, “Hey, here’s what’s working. Here’s what’s doing well.” And then create an ideal recruiter profile for their next hire as well.

Conrad: If you’re a candidate and you’re a top performer, you want somebody that you can trust your career with. And one of the lowest areas, I think across the board, and we’re seeing this rating inch up, is the advisor score.

I always looked at the fact that I could provide value and I could be an advisor to any candidate, whether or not I had a job or not. Sometimes that means I might send them to somebody else down the road because they were better suited. But we had a customer who’s like, “Our advisor score’s really low.” They have a lot of junior recruiters. They do a lot of training and development. They’re like, “Well, what tools can we give them to add value now?” And what they found is when they really focused on that, their score shot up, their sentiment score shot up, the reviews that they got started becoming more positive, because they were creating value. And value doesn’t always mean that I’m helping you find that job today. Value means that I’m helping you in your career. And that could be providing interview guidance, that could be providing any type of insight to help them get where they want to be today. And it doesn’t mean you have to be the person to get them there, but you can be that guide to lead them where they need to go to have success in the moment.

Folwell: To that point, there was a close friend of mine that was in healthcare staffing working with one of the top recruiters at a healthcare staffing firm that was about 250 people. And she had one recruiter that she always went to first before any other recruiter. It was because she would say, “I’m looking for a job in this city.” And he would go, “I don’t have the top-paying jobs in this city. Here’s the agency that does. You should go talk to them. But let me know when you’re done with that assignment and I’ll help you make sure you get to the next one in the right way, too.” And he was literally handing off. He wasn’t trying to close the deal every time, he was just like, “Yeah, just come to me first. I’ll let you know who’s paying the… if pay is what you want, I’ll make sure I guide you down that path.” The trusted advisor side of that, it can be really cool.

Conrad: And you think about that traveler, when somebody talked to that traveler and said, “Hey, do you know any great recruiters that I can work with? I’m looking for something.” Guess who was first on that list?

Folwell: Yeah, yeah.

Conrad: 100%.

Folwell: This guy’s going to help you out with whatever, optimized for whatever you want, regardless. Yeah.

Conrad: Yep. 100%.

Folwell: Shifting gears a little bit, we’ve talked about reviews, reputation, experience management a lot. What are some of the other major changes that you’re seeing happening in staffing right now?

Conrad: Well, just coming off Engage, I mean, I remember when I started off, technology was like, “What job board and what ATS am I going to use?”

Folwell: Yeah.

Conrad: It was really exciting to see all of the different technology that is helping to solve problems in our industry. And I think the biggest shift is seeing firms that understand technology is not a replacement for the recruiter, it’s an enhancement of the experience. Whether that’s a better way to help you get referrals, a better way to help you through that reference check process or that onboarding, all of these are around helping to enhance that experience.

I think there’s this shift, and we heard it at Bullhorn Engage, we are in the experience business. I look at it much like a car dealership. There’s a lot of places I can go buy a car, but who do I want to work with? Somebody who’s going to create a great experience. I don’t want a lot of friction in that process. And recruiters are the same way. There’s a lot of firms that have overlapping jobs. And so as a job seeker, where do I want to go? I want to go to that recruiter that you just mentioned, who’s going to reduce the friction, providing value, help provide guidance. And I see this shift from this transactional mindset.

And I think the modern staffing firm is understanding experience is all we can control, right? We can use technology to help and enhance that experience from beginning to end. And they’re looking beyond just making the placement today. I see more firms that are growing faster, investing in training, development, growth for their individuals. Gone are the days I think of telling a recruiter, “Your job’s to make 100 phone calls and that’s going to be success, and just hammer the phone.” That’s burnout. Yes, there’s some people who are successful there, but that’s burnout. And I see our industry evolving where those companies that are focused on the experience with their internal staff as well, have higher retention rates and longer-term success with their end clients.

Folwell: It’s interesting to see the shift in the viewpoint on technology in staffing over the years. We’ve been asking the question of, “What’s your perspective on technology and how does it help your business?” for the last, I don’t know, three years, I think. And this year was the first year where it was almost 60% of the fast-growth staffing firms to believe that tech provides a competitive advantage for their agency. So I think that mentality has really shifted. And I completely agree on that, the focus on experience being such a key part of that.

One of the other components that, you and I had talked about this a little bit was, not only the importance of technology for the candidate experience, but also simply for the retention of your employees. I was at Engage, had a conversation with somebody who recently told me about working at a, I won’t name the company, they were working at a company that was using a free trial version of a CRM software. And this was a multimillion-dollar company. And the salesperson was simply, I mean, he said, he is like, “I just felt like they weren’t even investing in the technology to make me successful. And also, I don’t want to be learning how to use technology that I’m never going to use again.” Which was an interesting kind of perspective. I hadn’t really thought about the value of, how do recruiters see the use of technology and what you are bringing in for them as something that you’re investing in, who they are and helping them be more successful?

Conrad: Yeah. I mean, definitely, you want to give your performers the tools to help them be successful. And I think in the market that we’re in right now with so much competition, talent shortage, for me, recruiters need a way to help stand out and differentiate themselves. Which is why I love what we’re doing is we’re helping them create that digital reputation, that digital trust through our profile pages so they can help share their reviews and testimonials and the experience other people had. We’re in a remote world now, a lot of times I used to meet every candidate face to face, that doesn’t exist now. And you need ways to help cut through the noise and establish trust faster.

And so that’s one of the things that we’re doing, but I certainly think that technology, when it first entered, was all around monitoring performance, measurement, metrics. You look at a lot of the technology that was in, it was like, how do I get to people faster? And how do I make sure my recruiters are doing their job? It wasn’t really set up for them to be successful, it was more of a management oversight. And so now I think you see more tools that are designed to help recruiters enhance the experience they’re creating, whether it’s automation, right? Wish I had it when I recruited. There’s all that busy work. That’s a way to give a recruiter more time to focus on what they’re doing, which is best, which is building the relationships.

And so that’s where I continue to see the change in the market from a technology perspective, it’s less on the monitoring, but it’s more on how do I enhance what we have? Whether it’s within the database, whether it’s creating a better experience upfront for candidates, right? Less friction upfront so they can get to what they need faster. Really meeting them where they’re ready to have the conversation. Right? And so it’s helping to give them the insight, share that insight, so when they’re ready to have the conversation, we have a recruiter that’s available for them to talk to.

Folwell: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. We’re going to switch gears a little bit here, but somebody actually brought this up, asked me this question the other day, and I’m curious to know your thoughts. What advice would you give to a staffing agency owner today? If you said, “All right, here are the next five things that you need to do.” Putting you on the spot here, but what are some ideas, some things that you would put in place if you were running a staffing agency?

Conrad: I think one of the first things that I would do is have an ongoing training and development program and growth program for my staff. When I was trained, it was a stack of resumes and a job order and it was like, call them. That was the extent of my training — find out who’s interested and move on. What I really would advise, and we have a client that really is focused on core values and hiring and core values and their training and development. And it’s one of the things that I look at at Great Recruiters, “I want you to be better off. And whenever that day is that we may part ways, I want you to be better off because of the experience with Great Recruiters, whether that’s an internal staff or a customer.” And I think that’s a different focus than a lot of firms have.

I would also say that it’s technology first, right? You need to have a tech stack set up to help you do the core pieces and enhance that experience. Because you’re already competing with firms that could be two years ahead on that front. So really understand what that is. And the other piece is it’s always about investing in people. You have to continue to invest in people, listen, understand and create those experiences internally that are going to help you learn and grow as an organization. And that’s talking to somebody who’s just starting off. But those are the things that I would recommend. It’s really around, we’re a people-first business. And you have to have people that understand what your goals are, what your expectations are. And you have to be able to give them the tools to be successful. And you have to have ways to help them learn and grow because people are eager to continue to learn and grow.

Folwell: Great advice. I absolutely love all of that. Shifting gears to the last part of the interview, just have a couple questions. You and I have gone through more of the personal side of the questions a couple different times on here. I’ve just got a couple to close it out. First one, I just want to know and have our audience know a little bit more about you as a human. What’s your biggest passion?

Conrad: My biggest passion? I’d say selfishly, it’s fishing. I love to fish. I love to do that. But to me, I do a lot of youth baseball. I’m a baseball coach. I invest heavily in my own children. I have three kids. But I coach youth baseball, because to me, it’s like recruiting. You get a lot of at bats, but you don’t always hit the ball every time. Right?

Folwell: Yeah. I love that.

Conrad: You fail seven out of 10 times and you’re world-class. So for me, I want to invest in them because I think baseball creates character. I think it helps you learn how to fail. And I think fishing is much like recruiting as well, which is funny now that I think about it, you throw your line in the water a lot, right? 

Folwell: Yeah. Yes.

Conrad:  You got to be patient. But I mean, to me, I’m just passionate to help people really exceed what they think they’re capable of. Because I think, as I continue to grow up through my career, I had people who pushed me beyond my comfort zone. And really, it’s when you’re outside that comfort zone that you grow the most. When you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. And so I like to push a little bit on people, help them grow and just help them realize the full potential of what they have.

Folwell: That resonates very strongly with me and it’s one of those funny moments where we…I always call them growth opportunities, but anytime you’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit of stress, probably means some good things are happening. When I look back on my life, it’s like all of the biggest, best changes that happened through, just at some point, some pain and suffering to get there.

Conrad: In the moment, I think it’s tough to realize. I think as you get older and you have those experiences, you realize it, you just don’t always know when that it’s coming. But you’re right, I mean, in those moments where you’re maybe not feeling the best, is actually the moment where you’re growing the most.

Folwell: Absolutely. And then the last question I’ve got for you is what’s one of your biggest challenges in life? This is a nice light softball for the end.

Conrad: Oh wow.

Folwell: I’m kidding.

Conrad: It’s finding ways to continue to push myself and not feel comfortable. I hate to sound cliché about it. I don’t like following the crowd, I like to look outside and find ways to disrupt and innovate in areas. And for me, it’s just continuing with three kids, baseball teams, wife, dogs, all that stuff. Biggest challenge is continuing to push myself, but find peace and quiet. I think as people who are hard-charging, that want to drive success, have a lot of things, I think one of the biggest challenges for myself is finding time for me to just sit back, appreciate where I’m at, and breathe.

Folwell: Yeah. I second that. I second that. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on. Do you have any closing thoughts, closing comments for the audience?

Conrad: No, I think overall, just keep in mind — the experience you create is the reputation that you make. The biggest thing you can do is guess what you’re creating out there from an outward perspective. You need to stay in the know, you need to be asking. I always think about, “always be growing.” And the best way to grow is by gaining insight from the people around you. David, we’ve had conversations, “Where could I do better?” For me, always push yourself to continue to grow, get that outside perspective and just know that every person you engage with is an opportunity, maybe not today, but in the future. And so treat it as if, right? There’s seven billion people in this world, when you have an opportunity to talk to one individual, the odds of you talking to that person are very small. So appreciate that opportunity and just don’t go too fast.

Folwell: Absolutely. Well, Adam, always a pleasure to have you on. Great insights. Thank you so much for joining today.

Conrad: Appreciate you having me on David. Great talking to you.