Design Your 2018 Recruiting Strategy by Breaking the Rules: Q&A with Chad MacRae

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From playing with Lego to ditching job boards, the recruiting and design thinking leader offers unusual ideas and rule-breaking advice.

Chad MacRae, senior recruiting consultant, design thinking advocate, and founder of Recruiting Social

Chad MacRae (Credit: Jamie Mann for Recruiting Social)

Chad MacRae is a 14-year veteran of the recruitment industry and an MIT and Stanford-trained design thinking leader. He is the founder Recruiting Social, a services firm that blurs the line between agency and in-house talent acquisition. As the company’s founder, Chad’s team has worked with employers including Grindr, OpenX, Hearts & Science, WPP, and Appnovation Technologies to set recruiting strategy, optimize the hiring process, and improve the recruiting experience for both candidates and hiring managers.

We sat down to discuss his work as a consultant, why he believes design thinking belongs in talent acquisition, and what he advises recruiting leaders to focus on right now.

“It’s about designing a talent acquisition function that adds more value to the business…”

You’re not a conventional executive recruiter. What exactly do you do for companies?

I help companies break out of the transactional, reactionary approach to recruitment and build talent acquisition functions that are forward-looking and nimble.

When you’re a growing company, and you hire your first in-house recruiter, their job is to fill empty seats. As you keep growing, you hire more recruiters to do the same. Now you have an actual in-house recruiting team. But their work is reactionary: a role opens, and they strive to fill it. This is also how executive and agency recruiters work: you give them a position and they find candidates.

When I come in, I recruit senior-level roles. But I also work with the team to envision and roll out new strategies, practices, and systems to improve every aspect of talent acquisition. We find ways to speed up hiring without compromising hire quality. We seek out new sources of candidates. We make sure the employer brand is well-defined and create tools to promote it. We get hiring managers more involved and equip them to make effective hiring decisions. And we make sure the recruiting process delivers a positive candidate experience.

It’s about designing a talent acquisition function that adds more value to the business than just putting “bums in seats.”

You just used the word “designing.” You’re a design thinking practitioner and advocate. Why do you believe design practices belong in talent acquisition?

Fundamentally, recruiting is about people. Design thinking is about solving complex problems in a human-centered way. Recruiting problems are complex problems – often, you don’t know what the actual problem is, you just know there is one. Challenges like that require the empathic and collaborative approach that is central to good design practice.

People get intimidated by the word “design.” They imagine creative geniuses and brilliant architects making decisions based on aesthetic and taste. That’s not it at all. Design is something anybody can do.

Lego prototype of a new candidate experience for on-site interviews

Can you give an example of how you’ve used design with a client?

Sure. At Grindr, we got together as a team and used design thinking methods to reimagine the on-site interview experience. We did as much as we could to understand the user perspective: that candidate walking in for their interview. To help us step into their shoes, we built a Lego model of the office and reception area. We role played the experience using little Lego people. That helped us brainstorm all kinds of ideas and opportunities for improvement – even crazy, seemingly impossible stuff. We narrowed those ideas down to a few promising options, like putting out snack baskets and reducing the number of interview rooms the candidate moves between.

These techniques are effective and fun. You can do a design thinking workshop in 90 minutes, create new ideas, and bring them to life.

Hiring manager engagement is a nearly universal issue in recruitment. What’s your approach to working with managers?

Get them involved. Really involved.

When a role opens, get the manager and other members of the hiring team in a room. Go over the job description together, to make sure it’s current and accurate. Ask, what’s our compelling message that will attract people to this role? Pull out a whiteboard, and come up with some key points everyone on the team can rally around. Get the perspective from top-performers: ask them what sold them on the job and what they like about working at the company. Make sure the job description reflects that input and isn’t just the hiring manager’s singular voice.

Kicking things off this way gets everyone feeling aligned, positive, and ready to chip in.

There’s no reason hiring managers can’t source, too.

At OpenX, we ordered pizza and beer, brought all the managers in one room, and got them sourcing candidates. That makes your job as a recruiter easier. The hiring team can bring people from their network to the forefront – people they want to work with, people they’d be open to hiring.

What skills or background should recruiting teams focus on developing in 2018?

How to communicate. Especially communicating difficult things: problems, bad news, rejection, critical feedback.

Talent is the number one challenge in most growing organizations. If, as a talent acquisition team, you can’t communicate problems? You can’t grow as a company. One resource to look at is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor book and training program.

If, as a talent acquisition leader, your budget was severely limited, how would you spend to maximize impact?

First, I’d spend on sourcing tools:

Hiretual is great – it’ll create Boolean search strings for you based on the job description, and pulls email addresses and phone numbers for the people you want to contact. The product also integrates nicely with most ATS platforms, which is so key.

Of course, LinkedIn Recruiter is also a must-have tool – especially now that it will tell you which candidates are more likely to respond, open to opportunities, past applicants, and engaged with your talent brand.

Then, I’d look at going to conferences. Recruiting conferences, sure, but let’s face it: it’s the same people, same talks, and same vendors at most of these events. It’s nice to catch up with your friends in the industry. So go to one or two. But then, explore conferences outside recruitment and HR.

Expand your thinking! Meet new people and find out about ideas innovating other areas of business. Maybe you can bring them into talent acquisition. Look at marketing, design, and user experience conferences. Look at events put on by publications you like; I attended Fast Company’s FC/LA, which was eye-opening. This year I’m hoping to go to the World Future Society annual summit.

What spending mistakes do recruiting leaders make?

Job boards. Not worth it, unless you’re looking for corp-to-corp employees or people who are not eligible to work.

“Explore conferences outside recruitment and HR.”

Looking out into the year to come, what advice would you give to talent acquisition leaders?

To me, when you think of recruiting and being a good leader, you really want to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Learn to interview for empathy, to listen, and to dive deeper.

Why should talent acquisition teams work with you – work with Recruiting Social?

We extend your team. We understand and adopt your mission as an organization. We connect with your values. We get to know your people. The support we provide you – whether that’s the strategic work I do, whether it’s managing job reqs full-cycle, or whether it’s sourcing and pipeline building – is built off that. The candidates and hires we deliver reflect that.

If you’re looking for a quick bum in a seat, we’re not the team for you. If you’re looking to find people who will thrive and add to your culture? Let’s talk.

To find out how Chad supports companies like yours, see how on-demand senior recruiting works. He also invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.


Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.



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