“If you’re not learning, you’re dying, and smart kids ask smart questions.”
Meeting Bryan is a lot like sitting down in the middle of a hurricane. You get swept up in his incredible vision and passion, and by the time it’s all over, your windswept, out of breath and not entirely sure what just happened. You know something huge just hit you, but you’re still trying to make sense of it all, and above all, you begin to question everything you thought you knew.
Hi Bryan, thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to chat with me.
Hey there! No problem. As long as we’ve got project brown-water, it’s all good.
Project brown-water? (I’m literally immediately thrown off guard)
That’s either a really great cup of coffee, or a good glass of whiskey.
(It’s 9am in New York, so I quietly hope he’s nursing a coffee at this time and not a whiskey). How do you feel about The Movement?
I think The Movement, more than anything, is about the age of enlightenment. It’s like walking into a room and everyone in the room has already gotten a text that you’re wearing nothing underneath your clothes. You walk into that room and you wonder why everyone’s looking at you in a different way than they’ve ever looked at you before. And I think that’s what we’re dealing with here. The Movement is way bigger than me personally. It’s a ‘we’ statement.
Why do we need an enlightenment?
Ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to one of the most valuable transactions in the history of the world in terms of talent.
What do you mean?
Well there’s a false sense of security. In terms of the industry we’ve all come to love and know, and made great money from. It’s a very addictive side that people fall into. And bear in mind I fell into recruitment. I came from Missouri to New York ten years ago and I had no idea what this was.
Country boy makes it in the big city?
Something like that. They used to call me the Hill Biller.
That’s harsh but hilarious.
It’s cool, I loved proving them wrong. But think about it, when you fall into recruitment, you’re merely drinking from dynamics, value proposition, statistics, data, inside information, outside information, peoples hopes, dreams, wants – there’s a unique, almost overwhelming experience, where you’re tapped into information that I find to be the dark matter.
Dark matter? (I am once more thrown off wondering if we’re talking business or fantasy – with Bryan it really could be either).
That’s between what’s sold to you, the propaganda that companies put down, and then also what’s sold to you by what the individuals put down on paper. I always joke to people that I get lied to for a living.
Surely that’s a harsh generalization?
Well clients make up in their head what they want, lie to themselves and put it down on paper as a job description.
As an acclaimed hater of job descriptions (the job is never what they say it is), you may have a point.
Talent does the same thing. They lie to themselves, and put it down on paper, and it’s a resume.
That’s a lot of lying.
There doesn’t need to be. Recruiters and companies tend to always have the most information, because they have the incentive to really harness all the different data points that the general public does not.
We know industries, we know companies, we know people better than they know themselves. Were able to really position them towards opportunity, as well as size them up, as well as use them freely. Just like educational institutions, like universities and colleges, they were the places you would go and learn. But with technology and with information being shared, people are now able to learn more, they’re exposed to more information, so if they follow enough, there’s a tremendous amount of information available.
So you think we should be providing that level of information in the business world?
Yes. If you’re not constantly looking at how you can provide signal, form all that noise, all that information, then you’re going to be overwhelmed, and you’re going to be on a false step of thinking you know more than they do.
The Movement is able to harness as much of that information as possible, and correlate, and cluster, and segment actual insights. That way, you can be that much more valuable to someone who’s either completely oblivious, or a group of intelligent, intellectually driven people.
With all this information does it help secure passive candidates?
When it comes to passive candidates, the only way you can really get them, is that they’re sitting still and they’re not putting out false sensors for false markers. When someone is active in the market place, they’re putting on their best dress. They’re basically puffing up actual numbers and they’re looking to play a game that’s very similar to gambling. So when I look at passive candidates, I find them more valuable because I can actually profile them more accurately.
That’s a very good way of putting it actually.
Let me give you an example. My dads an ornithologist.
(I quietly google this under the table because I’ve never heard of an ornithologist in my life).
A bird expert.
Of course (I had no idea).
I’ve been birding with him for years. And I’ve seen how to go into the jungle, into the forest, and know exactly what bird call to use, at what time of day, to attract a certain type of bird.
You’re comparing recruitment to birding?
Absolutely! Because you think how can I be efficient in using a certain call to want to attract a group of birds, vs. a specific bird. You start thinking, what if we have multiple channels, or we use specific type of content (that’s non-transactional) that brings a bunch of birds that have similar interests. And what you do is, you start to bring these birds to a place where they don’t feel like they’re in a transactional recruiting conversation.
Basically engage people on their own level? (I’m slightly worried that I’m now going to have to start talking about birds with Bryan, and my subject knowledge is particularly lacking).
Yeah. When you break away and look at the best recruiters, they’re stealing left and right best practices from advanced analytics, data science, performance marketing, branding, copywriting etc. You can engage a group of similar people, cut from similar cloth, and engage them in a way they’re like, ‘that person knows me more than I know myself.’
Isn’t this just content marketing and influencer marketing at it’s best?
Absolutely. And it’s so fun. You get to be different from other recruiters who don’t speak their language and are very transactional, very service layer. Especially when they’ve worked so hard to get their job, and keep their job, and then you have someone flirting with them. It’s similar to someone who’s married, going to a bar and seeing someone attractive, they start flirting and then before you know it, they’ve ruined their marriage.
That’s a dramatic metaphor.
I know. I’m a very visual person.
Founder or CEO?
Founders paint a bold path. Which is why I shifted to working more with them than CEOs. Founders are cut from a cloth where they’re hybrid. They have enough knowledge about enough departments. What you see now is a lot of operational CEOs and when you’re purely good at operations, you don’t see down the field.
People talk about the good guys and the bad guys. How do we merge those two to take recruitment into the future?
Some people say there’s some that you can rehab, or either the wells poisoned. They’re not worth saving because they’re wrong for the business.
That sounds bleak.
I joke sometimes that there’s so many bad recruiters, that I don’t actually have to work very hard to look good. If they look themselves in the mirror, they start to realize that they’re playing with way too much valuable cargo here. When you think about peoples money and time, their brand, their identity, it requires a respect.
Is there hope?
Well it’s very difficult in our line of work, especially when you’re pushed and incentivized by quantity, to forget the quality and the human dynamics.
So why do you continue to do such a hard job?
I really enjoy engaging with people. I’m more addicted to engaging and helping. It’s a bigger buzz. After a while, when you’ve made a lot of money in this business, you start to say actually, I really want to do good by people because it creates word of mouth, but I also go to peoples bar mitzvahs, I go to their weddings, I go to their funerals. I go to a lot of things.
So you’re keeping the human alive in talent?
I mean I try. When I first came to New York, you wouldn’t believe it, I was so excited that I got a job in executive recruiting.
I have a great image in my head now.
I was on top of the world. My wife graduated with summa cum laude honors but was working for like fifteen grand a year. And here I walk in, barely graduated college because I was a bar tender, a musician, and I am getting fifty thousand dollars out the gates with the potential to make hundreds of thousands in commission.
That sounds like a good life.
It was. Not everyone thought so. I remember bumping into a neighbor, and her dad who was a business guy from Boston goes, oh you’re a headhunter.
There’s so many bad examples out there, you could definitely get comfortable being the good example. Think about Google. Do you know what their motto was back in the day?
‘Don’t be evil.’ Because they have all the information on everyone, and they could be evil with it. So as a recruiter you need to understand that you’re privy to such sensitive material, don’t be evil with it. Unfortunately, and this is why I’m on a crusade and really working with Chris and these other recruiters, because I can turn anyone who’s a negative, into a human being again. We’re sitting on the most valuable pieces of real estate. You have a tremendous opportunity to make an absolute killing, and relationships. If you do it in a certain way.
Should that be the mantra for recruiters then? Don’t be evil!
You could be evil, and take advantage of people and get in their networks, or you can be someone worth knowing. You can say, hey if you’re interested in doing this, go here talk, to my friend there, and suddenly, you’re someone worth knowing.
There’s such an opportunity to do good by people, that you’ll have more business than you can handle. That’s where I see our practice. There’s so much education, there’s so much information, if you’re someone worth knowing, you should be less transactional, more giving.
I like that idea of being someone worth knowing.
It’s a great one, and we’re being so small thinking in terms of our ability as connectors to really inspire and capture the hearts and minds, and then actually do good by those hearts and minds. We need to change the entire industry to be less an extension of HR, and more a partner to the business world.
Business first, recruiting second?
It’s obvious that you’re really passionate about recruitment, but why do you love it?
I think the core of this is probably because I was cut from a cloth of pastors, musicians and artists.
I’m totally lost…
I’ve had first hand experience with those that are very giving.
Ah, I’m with you.
From an early age I was recruiting kids around me. I’ve always been doing it and I don’t know if it’s because I love to collect relationships and people.
So you collect birds and people? (Bryan takes all my japes with such good humor, it’s hard to not really like the guy).
Something like that! If you’re not learning you’re dying, and I always wanted to learn. I realized I could learn a ton, have fun encounters and I was making money.
That’s a great reason to love recruitment.
Yes but then I fell hopelessly in love with this industry purely because you start to see how valuable it is, and you can change minds and change hearts real quickly in the business world, and that’s where it became addictive.
You do it for the highs then.
Ha yes. But you have to make sure you’re educating both the buyer and the seller, because they will make your life miserable, and you’ll find yourself becoming jaded, and you’ll start to hate people.
So either helping hearts and minds, or going down the twisty path and hating people?
Yeah it’s true!
The problem with the industry right now is that everyone just wants to play. I don’t want to play the game. I want to win this thing. And the only way you win it is if you come at it with a different fighting style, and they don’t know what you’re doing, and before they know it they’re taping out. Or they choose to not participate and stick to old ways. That’s what’s happening now.
So with a little bit of education…
We can fix up. The sheer ignorance is crushing the industry with the people who are sticking to the old business model. I talk to the big players, the Robert Half’s, of Green Key the gods among men. And I ask them the same questions, and they get a little pale white. They know what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about recruiting, I’m talking about business.
After I finished talking with Bryn, I had to go and make myself a calm cup of tea (or project brown-water as he calls it) and recollect over everything he’d said. I’ve never met anyone with such passion and excitement for the industry, and I wonder how he doesn’t tire himself out. There’s still a little bit of that small town country excitement about him, but he seems to have bottled it up and kept it alive after all these years in New York. It hasn’t worn it away.
And it crossed my mind, if everyone in this game had half the excitement and joy for our business world as Bryan does, what a world we could create.