Jay Dettling needs newly hired employees at Acquity Group to hit the ground running and quickly become productive members of his team. The digital marketing company focuses on helping customers engage their clients and has grown between 30 and 40 percent annually for more than a decade.
The bar has been set high and Dettling will continue to push it higher as the company grows beyond 700 employees. But that doesn’t mean he is naive to the fact that hiring is an inexact science or that other companies out there are pursuing the same top talent that he wants to bring to Acquity Group, which is part of Accenture Interactive.
“One of our biggest challenges, and inherently my biggest challenge, is building the organization and recruiting the people we’re adding to the organization,” Dettling says. “We’re competing with our competitors to offer our employees a value proposition that is compelling. But we’re also competing with our partners, who in many cases are our technology partners who are trying to grow their staff to provide their services to clients.”
Dettling looked at the process Acquity Group used to make hires and felt it needed a makeover.
“What I decided to do was reorganize the recruiting group and more closely align it with our hiring managers, the people that are running the delivery groups,” Dettling says. “The solutions were focused on bringing the recruiting team and the hiring managers more closely together so they shared their goals. What are we trying to do and how are we going about doing that?”
It wouldn’t make the process perfect, but that wasn’t his goal. Dettling was confident that with more alignment and communication between the people with needs and the people trying to fill those needs, it would lead to better hiring results.
“That is a choice we need to make to be successful and it has helped propel our growth,” Dettling says. “Other companies have other priorities and they aren’t as focused on recognizing their employees as such a large asset.”
Open the dialogue
Dettling wanted to establish metrics that would enable the company to better track the hires that were made and whether or not they worked out. But he also wanted to spur regular dialogue to talk about the process and what was working and what wasn’t.
“There is no shortage of questions that come up along the recruiting process in terms of fit and experience level and all that sort of stuff,” Dettling says. “What we wanted to do was create an environment where we could address those questions quickly and foster better communication between the teams.”
He wants to avoid a situation where a manager needs a person and basically tells the recruiting team, “Hey, go get us someone who can do this job.” He wants everyone to work together to find the best person for that job.
“We restructured some of our weekly meetings so that we had people with an eye on shared goals, on the metrics and on communicating more openly and more quickly with each other,” Dettling says. “We wanted to improve our responsiveness as it relates to understanding, ‘Should we offer this? Is that experience good enough for what we’re looking for?’”
Dettling’s goal is to remove the guesswork so the people doing the interviewing know the answers to these questions. He also wants to build stronger brand awareness so that candidates not only understand the job description, but what it is that Acquity Group represents.
“We had spent a lot of time building the brand with prospective customers, but had not as heavily built it with prospective candidates,” Dettling says. “That’s really important in recruiting.”
Dettling turned to his employees to share their personal insights as to what it’s like to work at Acquity Group. When you get your employees engaged in selling the high points of your company, you’ll create a new energy and make your organization more inviting to potential new hires.
“Have some existing employees provide some testimonials online so people can read the job description, as well as a whole wealth of information they can consume to form an impression,” Dettling says.
Get the answers you need
One mistake that is easy to make when interviewing job candidates is failing to probe for more detail when you ask about past experience.
“You have to be keenly focused on understanding what the candidates have done themselves versus what they and their team have accomplished,” Dettling says. “Many times, it’s easy to fall into a natural conversation flow with a candidate and you’ve asked for experience, and they start to talk about what their team accomplished.
“You have to be focused on understanding what they did. What did they bring to that team? What approach did they bring to the table? What key decisions did they make? Try to isolate what that person contributed versus what their organization, project team or department actually accomplished.”
It’s a crucial point for Dettling because his company is all about coming up with unique and innovative marketing solutions for its clients. He needs people who can think on their feet and satisfy those clients.
With that in mind, Dettling likes to provide interviewees with a case or challenge that they need to solve.
“In a case meeting, we present them with a challenge that is like a client challenge that we face,” Dettling says. “See how they react to shreds of information to fill out a complete story and reach a conclusion. That’s another way we can measure if they can act on their feet or if they struggle when they don’t have every data point from A to Z.”
Dettling steps back for a moment and shares that a person who isn’t as quick on his or her feet can still be a great contributor to your organization.
“Evaluate the candidates who can work in ambiguous situations and extend from that ambiguity and create structure so you can accomplish a goal,” Dettling says. “Separate them or differentiate them against those who work better in a structured environment. Frankly, we need both and we need to put them in two buckets.”
Never stop learning
If you’re hired at Acquity Group, your relationship with the recruiting team does not end after your first day, first week or even your first year on the job.
“The team is comprised basically of our recruiting team and our professional staff management, basically our practice leaders,” Dettling says. “They oversee the on-boarding of our employees and their overall career path. It’s a full life cycle for our employees. The team that brings them on board is the team that also manages their career. If we know this person’s strengths and weaknesses, we know how to effectively put them in the best position to be successful and to deliver value for our clients.”
You need to make time to keep an eye on the future. Think about what your people are doing now and what you might need them to do going forward.
“We have a lot of folks that are mapping our project opportunities to the expertise we have amongst our staff,” Dettling says. “There’s a daily, if not hourly focus on what are the skills and experience that our clients are looking for. We are always looking for ways we can help our employees grow and expand and be challenged.”
Expectations need to be on the table during the interview phase and they need to be adhered to so your people understand their role in your organization. That doesn’t mean they can’t be changed, but you at least need a baseline from which to work.
“Everyone is much better informed as to what the path to success is with that candidate as opposed to a situation where someone creates a job requisition and then someone just hires them and the employee shows up and never shall the three coordinate and collaborate,” Dettling says.
Take the time to think about who you are as a company and whether you’re meeting the expectations that you have set for yourself and your business.
“What are your value propositions?” Dettling says. “Make sure you actually believe what you’re saying relative to what you tell your job candidates.”
And here’s one final piece of advice for how to know when you’ve got a good candidate across from the table at an interview.
“The best candidates we bring on board are the ones that convert,” Dettling says. “They might be listening, listening, listening and then they turn to engage and then they turn to actively asking a lot of questions and demonstrating a lot of interest. Initially, it’s ‘Tell me what you have to offer’ and then it flips. They are the aggressor selling themselves. That’s the ideal path. If it doesn’t follow that pattern, it’s probably not set up for a good outcome.” •
- Get your recruiting and delivery groups on the same page.
- Know how your people think.
- Show the way to growth.
The Dettling File:
Name: Jay Dettling
Company: Acquity Group
Born: South Bend, Ind.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Notre Dame; master’s in business administration in marketing and finance, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
What is special to you about your Notre Dame experience? It was a positive environment to be part of and a very spirit-filled and energized group of people.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Mowing lawns and then I was a newspaper delivery boy. I think I got my entrepreneurial lawn business to three lawns and then I said, ‘I think I can scale this faster being a newspaper delivery boy.’ It was the South Bend Tribune. It taught me the importance of customer service, punctuality and how weather can affect your job.
Who has been your biggest influence? What I’ve tried to do is really glean a lot of attributes from a variety of people who have been leaders in my life or people who I’ve looked up to. I think you’re always in a state of learning. I try to approach every conversation with the idea that I can learn something and be self-reflective if I have the opportunity to be after that interaction.
Dettling on making changes: Be open-minded to refine what’s not working. Ask questions to all people involved in that process about what’s not working or what you could be doing better. There may be things you assume are really working well that aren’t working really well or they were last month, but conditions change and maybe that approach doesn’t work as well now. It’s an important part of your business. Manage it as a dynamic process.
How to reach: Acquity Group, (312) 427-2470 or www.acquitygroup.com