“If we get 2 weeks, I’m happy”: Project-Based Hiring with Blast Radius’s Debbie Ten Eyck

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Staffing needs change ultra-fast in a project-based business. The Director of Human Resources at global digital agency Blast Radius reveals how she tackles hiring.

Debbie Ten Eyck, HR Director at Blast Radiue

“It’s tough to know what is going to hit, or when.”

That’s Debbie Ten Eyck, Director of Human Resources, North America for digital innovation agency Blast Radius. She’s talking about the biggest challenge she faces staffing the company’s fast-moving projects for brands like Lenovo, SaskTel, and The North Face.

“We could win a piece of business and need to have it staffed and start working a couple days later. Or, we’ve won a piece of business, it’s supposed to start and then for whatever reason on the client’s side it gets delayed.”

Talk about a challenge! How does Debbie do it? How does she create and manage a recruitment strategy to keep up? Get hiring managers engaged? Keep candidates interested, despite the uncertainties?

Debbie kindly agreed to a little Q&A …

“Keep them updated on your status, your client’s status and always remain upfront about timing. That’s critical to building trust and respect with candidates.”

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How much time do you get between client sign-off on a project and when new hires need to start working?

It varies, but if we get a couple of weeks, I’m happy. Sometimes it’s shorter than that.

How do you create and manage a recruitment strategy that can keep up?

That’s our biggest challenge. There’s always this mixture of, “How do we not over-staff so we can keep people busy, and yet have enough people to get the work done when new projects come in?”

What we do is staff a lot of different types of people. We’ve got permanent employees who are full-time, freelancers who work for short periods of time, independent contractors who help with a specific part of a project, and vendors who take a portion of the work from us. Having so many resource-types really allows us the flexibility to manage against the ebb and flow of work and the timing constrictions we’re always up against.

Do you have any tactics that you use to stay one step ahead?

Besides being very close to the account team – attending the resourcing meetings to know exactly where we are – I arm myself with recruiters and staffing agencies in each of our key markets who can help us when called upon.

What do you look for in a recruitment vendor to help you find good hires so quickly?

I want people who get our culture and our business. I don’t want someone who is just throwing names at us. I want someone who takes the time to understand who is going to be successful in our agency and for our projects. They partner with me and the hiring managers to understand our needs and then aggressively filter through candidates for us. Taking the time to get to know us is critical.

“Having so many resource-types really allows us the flexibility to manage against the ebb and flow of work and the timing constrictions we’re always up against.”

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How do you get your hiring managers engaged in the recruitment process?

Unfortunately, when a hiring manager is recruiting, it’s typically their busiest time because they’re down a person, or two, or three. I make sure to engage them as wisely and efficiently as possible. A conversation prior to starting the search is critical. We’ve already got the job description, but I’ll sit down and say, “Okay what are the three nuances that this person needs to have in order to be successful in this particular role or project?”

Then the challenge is getting timely and comprehensive feedback after they talk to candidates so we can continue to tailor our search. At this point I utilize basic management skills: Understanding the easiest way for them to give feedback. Is it an impromptu drive-by their desk for a quick conversation? Do they prefer to send an email after-hours because that’s when they have the time? They’re my internal clients, so I do everything possible to accommodate their communication preferences and provide as much support as possible.

Do you have any advice for people in your position, HR leadership at companies that must do ultra-fast, demand-based recruiting?

Sometimes the turnaround is so immediate that you wonder how you are going to conduct a search so quickly. But do everything possible not to shortcut the selection process, because that doesn’t pay off in the long run. Make sure that your candidates go through the proper rounds of interviews. Have the right conversations with the appropriate people in your agency. Ensure that you are making the selection that is right for your organization and that the candidate is informed enough to make a good decision for themselves. That way, you know you’ve found the right match.

It’s too easy, when you’ve got to bring someone in so quickly, to have one conversation and say, ‘Yup, I think you’re going to work.’ But if you didn’t properly vet them, that usually comes back to bite you.

Also, if your project timing is unpredictable, make sure that the recruiting team is being as honest as possible with candidates. Keep them updated on your status, your client’s status and always remain upfront about timing. That’s critical to building trust and respect with candidates.

Does uncertainty about timing pose a challenge when you’re recruiting candidates?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes candidates have another job offer and need to make a decision right away. So even though we may be their first choice, we may not be in a position to make an immediate offer. We know this means we may lose them. It’s certainly challenging, but communicating openly with candidates about timing throughout the entire recruitment process usually helps manage against this.

“Do everything possible not to shortcut the selection process, because that doesn’t pay off in the long run.”

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From an interview with Christian De Pape.