HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Gerry Crispin
Episode: 105
Air Date: July 31, 2015



Audio MP3


Gerry Crispin, SPHR, is an engineer and HR practitioner by education and training, independent by choice and a life-long student out of his passion for recruiting. His aspires is to understand how firms design and build recruiting processes, the technology to enhance them and the systems to manage them. CareerXroads (, simply stated, facilitates a dialogue between corporate staffing leaders in 85 companies through invitation-only, peer-to-peer meetings throughout the year- the Colloquium. 75 of these meetings have been held during the past decade. In 2011, Gerry joined with other volunteers in the industry to form a non-profit, TalentBoard, to oversee the Candidate Experience Awards that define and measure (as well as assess the business value) how employers treat ALL candidates. More than an observer, Gerry wants to influence future staffing models to be driven by the evidence; to offer candidates experiences that empower them to make better decisions in parallel with corporate selection practices, and to embrace technology-based networking tools as a primary means to build 2-way candidate pipelines.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good morning and welcome to the HR Examiner Radio Show. I’m your host John Sumser. We’re coming to you live this morning from beautiful downtown Occidental California, where everything is green. The fog is rolling over the hill. We’re praying for El Nino to wipe out the California drought.

Today we’re going to be talking with Gerry Crispin, who has his fingers in everything that has to do with recruiting and candidates. Gerry was at the heart of the beginnings of candidate experience. Awards the association that promotes candidate experience at the idea of candidate experience. He spent many years documenting the rise of the job board in the career crossroads series. These days he is angling his way towards Cuba and towards a brand new recruiting association. We’ll go have a big half hour talking with Gerry about all of the things he’s up to. How are you, Gerry?

Gerry Crispin:            I’m wonderful, John. Thank you so much for having me. It’s really a pleasure being here. I love this series.

John Sumser:            You’re welcome. This is a fun little bit. Why don’t you introduce yourself on the off chance that there’s somebody on the planet that doesn’t know who you are?

Gerry Crispin:            I’m sure there’s plenty. John, I often describe myself as a lifelong student of staffing, because I’ve really been touching that for my entire life. I think most people, or some people actually think that what that means is I’m a slow learner, but I got so engaged with staffing when I was in graduate school that beyond the other things in HR, that was really a critical issue for me.

One of the quick stories is when I was in grad school, I worked my way through working in career services. I thought I should learn something. In those days, there wasn’t much. I went to a conference put on by this brand new guy in the career area named Dick Bolles, who wrote What Color is Your Parachute. This was like the third edition.

I’m all set. I’m ready to learn everything I can learn. He starts the conference off by making everybody in the room write their obituary. I have to tell you two things. One, Suddenly, I learned that adults learn differently than students, than most students. As an adult learner, it’s the experience that should challenge yourself. The second thing was I had to deal as a person 22, 23 years old with figuring out what I would be satisfied with as something that somebody would say to me or about me 60, 70 years into the future. It took me a week. It was a peak experience, what I then wrote which was about three paragraphs, I put in my wallet for over 30 years.

John Sumser:            Wow.

Gerry Crispin:            I only threw it away when I realized I had probably become that person. Now that I’m getting on those 60 or 70 years, I look back on that as really one of the key drivers for how I wanted to manage my career.

John Sumser:            That’s a pretty interesting story. Dick Bolles had a similar effect on me at a similar age. I think there are some people like Dick who have this astonishing impact in the lives of individual people.

Gerry Crispin:            Great. In fact, I encourage you to maybe have him on your series.

John Sumser:            Oh, what a good idea. What a good idea.

Gerry Crispin:            He’s not far from you. He’s up a little bit north of San Francisco, I believe. He’s about 88 or 89. Good guy.

John Sumser:            Yeah, he might be a million years. He might just be a million years old. He certainly has seen a lot of things. What are you doing currently? I’m interested to hear how you describe the portfolio of things that you’re up to currently. If somebody says, “What do you do, Gerry?” What do you tell them?

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah, usually I tell them a lot of things I’m doing that I don’t make money at. I probably should state what I do actually for work. Since 2002, Mark Mehler, my business partner and I, really started to do what we do now, which is to bring staffing leaders from large firms together to both share and challenge one another around their recruiting practices. We do that eight times a year for a day and a half each. I could claim that I work for 12 days a year.

Each of the member companies in the group, there’s about 100 of them, vie to host the meetings. For example, 2 weeks ago, our 82nd colloquium was held in Minneapolis at Target, with a focus on college recruiting. Three weeks from now, we’re being hosted by Amazon with the subject being analytics.

At each of these, 40 to 50 companies will participate. I really prefer 35 to 40, but I’m blessed to be happy to say we got about 40 to 45 that come to each. What happens is they get to talk to each other. Basically, I’m just creating a platform and challenging them to dig more deeply into the things that they think are working and the things that are keeping them up at night.

John Sumser:            What a great job!

Gerry Crispin:            That’s kind of what I do for a living. That gives me a lot of freedom to go wander around and do a bunch of other stuff.

John Sumser:            What a great job. What are some of the other things?

Gerry Crispin:            Well, you know that I’m trying to get a group to go to Cuba. We’ve got about 23 sets. We can take 25 to 27. It really comes out of my desire to step outside the box at least once a year in a way that stimulates what I’m passionate about, which is the recruiting process, and how we treat people in that recruiting process, how we meet the needs of all of the stakeholders and also whether we can walk the talk once they’re onboard. Do we treat them as well or as poorly as we treated them as candidates?

Cuba is the place that I want to go to kind of … I have no expectations about it. I really just want to understand how the culture they have impacts how employers treat employees, and how they seek out and find and convince people to work for nothing in Cuba. That’s a cool thing.

I’ve been doing that every year. I’ve been to Argentina, in Israel, in India, in China, and in the past few years, basically living with recruiters and watching them recruit to the best I can. That’s something that I’m fascinated by and love to get to do.

Obviously, if you want to talk about some of the candidate experience and association stuff, those are the other two major things that I’m fully engaged in. Candidate experience is probably the one that seems to be taking off in just an extraordinary way right now.

It started actually about five years ago when Elaine Orler, whom I know you know, and has become a friend and in effect partner in this non-profit, basically called me. She’d been talking to Chris Forman. She said, “You know something? We’ve been beating up companies for years about how badly they treat candidates. Maybe what we should do is honor the ones that are trying to do the right thing and help them measure whether or not it makes a difference to their business?” I said, “What a wonderful idea. That’s sort of like Psych 101.” You know? We enforce positive behavior rather than negative.

Basically, we went out and asked companies whether they thought this was a good idea. They said it was. Now we’re on our fifth year. I will tell you. In the last week, we closed the campaign for the year, which started in March. We got about 200 companies to register and participate in North America.

At around June, we had those who are willing to compete for the award, we had them now send the compelling message to their candidates, most of whom had to be people they did not hire, inviting them to go to a survey and complete a detailed survey about how they were treated when they applied, and if they got further, obviously, when they were interviewed, et cetera. As of last week, 126,000 of their candidates completed the survey, which is our largest to date.

John Sumser:            Wow.

Gerry Crispin:            That’s extraordinary when you think about it. We staggered this. In Europe, they’re still registering companies. There are over 100 companies in Europe now registered. In June, we launched in Australia, New Zealand. We have about 30, 35 we expect to participate in their first year. I’m currently setting up a council of volunteers for South America to start next year.

All of this is being done with a non-profit. We’re raising money to obviously do the analytics, to share the data with the companies, and be able to share the data publicly, without any cost. It’s having, I think, an interesting impact.

There’s much more to learn. The first dissertation, PhD dissertation on our data was defended last month by one of the staffing leaders at Walmart. I think successfully. When that gets published, I will try and promote that for him, because I think one of the things that he’s done is not rocket science, but basically, he’s proven to a greater degree that the single most critical factor for a candidate is the extent to which they believe they were fairly able to share what the thought was important for the company to consider. Based on that perception, it influences whether or not they rate the candidate positive or negative.

The reason why that’s important is because the more negative a candidate rates the company that they applied to from an experience point of view, the more likely they will never ever apply again before others. In fact, dissuade others from applying, and have an intention to stop using their products and services, as well as telling a quarter of them, will go out and tell publicly, others to do the same. This whole social media issue is empowering in one way candidates to have power to have the ability to influence the bottom line of corporations if they’re not treated well.

John Sumser:            That’s interesting. I’d be interested to see the work. That’s fascinating.

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah, that keeps me fascinated, interested, and gives me the opportunity to go wander around and talk to corporations, speak at conferences about the data. As well as all of the volunteers who are participating, it gives them a closer look at some of that, and to the extent that they want to, since the data is in the public domain, using that data to make comments and do their own analysis of what it is.

That’s kind of what I want to try and encourage is other folks to use that data because the meaning of it is not owned by any one person. It’s simply data. As you know, we want to see, or try to understand, what value that has.

John Sumser:            Cool. You started your career at Johnson and Johnson.

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            It’s had a long lasting influence on you. Talk about what you learned at Johnson and Johnson.

Gerry Crispin:            Well, there’s a few things. J and J, on the outside of every single building, especially when I was there, they had about 160 companies at the time I was there. Every single building, everywhere in the world, basically published the credo, the values with which that company operated at that point in time. Knowing  talked about branding or any of those other kinds of things in those days.

It made a lasting impression that everyday you walk in, there’s a statement that basically says, “Our first responsibility is to the mothers and doctors and customers who buy our product. That we have to have them be of the highest quality and that we can never compromise their safety by any cost cutting measure.”

That’s a powerful statement that’s coming from the top, and I found was supported any time people went too far. That if we erred, we erred in terms of safety. We erred in terms of quality. Obviously, companies find good periods and bad periods when they don’t live up to their values, but in those days, this was a very big deal.

I think it empowered HR, myself, to think that I was a partner. I never thought of myself as, we use that phrase, at the table. I never thought of the table, obviously. I just always assumed I was there. That I had as much to say about how we ran our freaking business as anyone else, and so acted that way.

I will tell you. It started when I was made an offer. In 1975, I got an offer from J and J to join the OD and training group. It was sort of a fledgling change operation at the time. I said to [inaudible 00:17:11], saying I than them. The only thing that wasn’t in the offer that I really need to know is whether or not you’ll give me access to the computer.

That started a whole long chain of conversations about why the hell I would need to access to the computer since there was only one dumb terminal in the corporate headquarters, where I was going to reside. To get access to use that and access the computer which was 20 miles away scared the shit out of the CTO, who didn’t know who the hell I was nor why anybody in HR would want to do that when they had analysts who would come and visit us, and within a week, produce a report on anything we wanted. Why was I wanting personal access to do my own shit?

Anyhow, long story short, they did give me access, but apparently, the president of the company had to authorize it. When he signed the authorization for that, he told the vice president of HR, “I want to know what he does.” For a young kind, who’s coming out of graduate school and joining a big company for the first time, I did not know for several years, that I was under a microscope. People were actually watching me.

I became a bit of a loose cannon and had a lot of fun at J and J. I loved the company, loved the opportunity. After about 10 years or so, realized that I needed to go do something else, so left for more entrepreneurial pursuits.

John Sumser:            The next stop of this bus tour of Gerry’s business life is CareerXroads, which must’ve been ’95 or ’96 that you started CareerXroads.

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah, it was. We were doing it as a side, John, until ’99. I actually went full time in ’99. I was working in recruitment advertising, which almost doesn’t exist today, or at least not in the form it did then. People who have started in our field in the last 10, 15 years, have no knowledge about how powerful the 5 or 6 recruitment advertising firms were in the United States. They basically controlled how you advertise almost every job. The majority of it was done in Sunday newspapers. That was pretty fascinating. 10 billion dollar industry for sure. That was changing.

I had done some early work in the ’90’s. Somewhere around ’92, ’93, I joined with a couple of friends and started up a job board, with two engineers from [Steven’s 00:20:31]. We built it on a 287 Pentium computer in my basement, where I installed 8 phone lines and connected it to 8 300 [broad 00:20:45] routers to basically allow people to call the computer and see jobs. We called it [Dry Talbon 00:20:54]. That means three pigeons. Written up in a book by Joyce Lain Kennedy in 1994. Her book was the Electronic Job Revolution. That was kind of my early view of things.

Then I saw, obviously, the internet was going to replace all of the stuff that I had done. I didn’t want to go in that direction, but realized that this was becoming critical. That’s when I met Mark Mehler. In 1994, at a meeting of out of work HR VPs who needed to find a job. We’re trying to help them. We increasingly started saying, “You got to get on the internet. You got to be able to look at this.”

We stared documenting how you would do that and what you would look for. Then SHRM invited me speak in 1996 at the national conference. Probably about 15,000 people. It was in Chicago. My subject was HR and the Internet. They said in the letter, “If you have a book, we’ll promote it.”

I looked at Mark. We essentially did a book. We paid to have 5,000 copies made. We turned down several offers from legitimate book publishers and did it ourselves. We went to the conference and I gave the talk. The next day, all 5,000 copies were bought. I looked at Mark and said, “You know there’s a business here somewhere.” That was it.

We really closed it down only when much of what we were doing, which was trying to document mostly job boards, but other forms of emerging technology in a smaller way and give some visibility to some of the authors who are out there. People like Sullivan and a couple of other characters that’s still around, Adler, and a few others. We convinced them to submit two, three pages on different aspects of what was happening and what was changing.

We wrote this book every year. We wrote it every year from ’96 to 2003. Sold hundreds of thousands of copies and actually sold everything. The only reason I’ve got a few copies left is I went out on eBay, where you can buy some used ones for about $1.25.

It’s fun. Obviously, it had to change. We knew that with search engines and a variety of other things, much of the information that we were supplying, we would … You could get a different way. Our ability to put a personal spin on what we saw as these technologies, outstripped our ability. For 24 hours in the day, we would have to spend every waking moment studying all the new stuff that was coming out. That just didn’t make any sense.

John Sumser:            Yup. The pace gets incredible. You’ve been a SHRM member all of this time.

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah, started in 1981.

John Sumser:            What do you think about SHRM? What do you think about SHRM? It doesn’t sound like a lot of what you do really involved SHRM any longer.

Gerry Crispin:            Not any longer, John. I was extraordinarily embedded into SHRM, just a raving fan. Very much believed that the professional association was the right platform and that it should have many forms. One of those doors would be the recruiting door.

You’d get into the recruiting door. There would be lots of, the term today would be curated content that had real high quality, that would add value. That’s what’s drawing people in, but then the other critical issues that are in HR, that ought to be integrated with recruiting could be evident, if you will, to recruiters who had not been exposed.

Issues around succession planning or workforce planning or rewards and rewards structures. All of those things that have an impact on recruiting would be available. Two things happened. One, I think the main one was SHRM basically relooked at who their audience was, and they’re mostly very small companies and modest sized companies. That’s where their main audience was. HR generalists were the key users, if you will. The effort to expand and penetrate, if you will, the staffing world, I think the interest was a bit lost and support went a different way.

The other is very honestly the leadership of SHRM has not been as focused on advancing the profession as I think it could be. My values and their values have gone into different direction. The current head of SHRM makes $1,500,000. I think he’s closing on $2,000,000 a year. I just don’t want my $200 membership to go for that.

Each year, I think carefully about whether I continue to join SHRM. I do because I do think at the level of content, there still is some interesting things that I want to have access to, but the goals and aspirations of the people leading SHRM are not consistent with where I am right now.

John Sumser:            That’s interesting. You have your fingers also in a project to start a new recruiting professional association?

Gerry Crispin:            Yup. Yeah, and I would hope that the last thing I … There’s one thing I am involved in that SHRM is still involved in, although less involved in now. There is an international movement to better understand human resources, and talent acquisition is part of that, from the point of view of standards. SHRM was heavily embedded in that and then gave up on that a little bit.

I do belong to a group in the United States that is part of 45 countries under the ISO, the International Standards Organization, to develop basic standards for human resources, management, and talent acquisition. That’s probably a 50 year project. I’m going to be very, very old when that one’s done.

John Sumser:            Okay, so there’s that. The recruiting association? Tell me about that.

Gerry Crispin:            Yeah, that started just several years ago in conversations with Ben Gotkin, who really is very passionate about the subject, and would love … I think his own career aspirations would be to be a key part of that. I’ve been very supportive of him, because I know, again, this is going to be a very long term kind of thing. SHRM basically absorbed the last national professional recruiting association in 1998. That was employment management association. They had had some problems. Actually, I was helpful for SHRM in taking them on. SHRM basically dropped that about 2003.

At least in the last decade, there’s not been a national professional association. There are niche professional associations that are doing really cool things like NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers. There are a lot of local, like in Seattle and Chicago and Boston and Dallas. There’s a whole bunch of really cool local organizations that are geared to helping staffing people in those cities or areas or regions come together, meet and also learn.

I think if we could stitch together a number of those, leaving them independent, but also offering some way to, if you will, integrate better quality information on a national basis, better understand or get volunteers who belong to this group, involved in defining a body of knowledge around recruiting that could be kept current, so we know what some of the emerging resources, emerging changes, definitions of what people are doing. I think that would be an added value to the entire industry as well as to the people who really see recruiting as the profession that they want to get into and want to be proud of.

For some of them, they just want to be able to define this is a recruiter. If you sink this low, maybe you’ll want to call it recruiting. There are, for example, in the world, there are at least 3,000,000 people who have to buy their job, or bought their job from a recruiter.

Especially in places like Malaysia and others, some of the major corporations have actually used those kinds of recruiters to get employees. Those employees become indentured servants in effect, paying off what it took to get the job. It’s my personal belief that those people should not be allowed to call themselves recruiters. I’d love, if anything, to have some kind of baseline that says, “Below this, it’s called something else and not recruiting.” I know you can’t dictate that.

John Sumser:            Wow. You know what. Sign me up for that. Sign me up for that. That’s an important piece of work, Gerry.

Gerry Crispin:            It is an important piece of work. I didn’t realize how extensive it was. Obviously, there’s not much you can do about it in a different culture, but when companies like Apple, and there’s several others, who have used them and were documented as actually outsourcing their recruiting to another company that outsourced to another company that ended up outsourcing to these kinds of recruiters and then they hired 1,500 people assembling Apple 5s, who were indentured servants. You got to go, “You know something. That’s not in compliance with international standards. They shouldn’t have been allowed to do that. They should’ve been cognizant of what they were getting into.”

Yeah, I go off on a rant every once in a while. To me, I think one thing a professional association can do is help bubble up, if you will, practices that people are proud of. I don’t want to say best practices, because I do think anybody with any intellectual skills wants to look at and enjoy a practice that somebody else is proud of and is working for them, but their version of it might be different.

We’re not talking about standardizing, if you will, a practice, but sharing practices. I think is a critical value. I’d love to see that done. At the same time, I think bad practices should be outed as well that have an impact on putting down the stakeholders in the industry. That’s what I think we can do.

John Sumser:            Wow. I’m so excited to hear about that. I know that there’ll be some people who listen to this who get inspired by your point of view. What a great project. We’ve exhausted our time. We need to bring this to a close. As usual, the conversation was fantastic. Thank you so much.

Gerry Crispin:            Can I finish one last comment? You know, that phrase in the music, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. For me, what that means is you got to play the hand that you have not to win, but with the attitude that you already are a winner. I think in recruiting, we have to look at ourselves not as competitors, but as winners already. If we really take pleasure in what we do and give back to others, that’s the game that we ought to be in. I think that makes all of us successful.

John Sumser:            Fantastic. Thank you so much, Gerry. It was good to have you. Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. You’ve been listening to the HR Examiner Radio Show. We’ve been talking to Gerry Crispin, who is becoming the godfather of recruiting, I think, is probably what you’d say. Thanks very much, everybody. Here we go.

Gerry Crispin:            Thank you.

End transcript

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