Interview by:

Ask Jennifer Candee the question “how’d you get into recruiting?”, and you’ll hear a fairly familiar story: “Nobody walks into talent acquisition. At least not until recently and I hope that changes. I’d wanted to be a psychologist and never questioned this until I completed my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from University of Colorado. After becoming a certified drug and alcohol counselor, I started to think about a new career - it’s a high burnout profession that demands long, challenging hours for very little pay. It was more depressing than it was rewarding.” Fortunately for Jennifer, she approached two recruitment agencies about her job search with a view to HR - they both recognized her potential, and made her offers as a recruiter. One is probably safe to assume that this part of the story sounds familiar to many of us, too.

Jennifer’s been working since her first job as a 14 year old grocery store bagger (back when those more commonly existed - and designer jeans didn’t come cheap). Work’s in her nature. Her first corporate role was as a sourcer - before the term existed (an experience she highly recommends to anyone building a recruiting career as its foundational to success). Along the way, she picked up invaluable experience as an HR Director by building an entire function for a privately held boutique financial organization who specialized in Private Equity, Aviation, Special Assets and M&A. But recruiting had bitten her, and she missed it.

“My personal philosophy is that talent acquisition is one of the most critical parts of HR. Who you bring in the door has a huge output on the organization, be it positive or negative. You find someone stellar who goes from strength to strength, gets promoted, stays the course, makes a difference to the bottom line - that’s impact. If you don’t hire the right person, if they aren’t a culture fit, or lack a growth mentality - there’s only so much that L&D and talent management can do to fix the issue.  And you’ve lost time with an underperforming asset. Conversely, a great hire generally requires less L&D, which can lead to reduced learning costs over time.”

Fast-forwarding a bit from her early, heady days getting covered in paper-cuts as a bagger - for 10 years Jennifer was the Global Head of Talent Acquisition for SABMiller, the second-largest global brewer and one of the world’s largest bottlers of Coca-Cola drinks prior to its acquisition by ABInBev. That global perspective was invaluable (particularly for an American ex-pat based just outside of London). Following that, she has taken on Global Head of Talent Acquisition and Employer Brand for Mondelez International, one of the world's largest snack companies (80k employees, $26b in revenue, locations in 165 countries - it’s kind of a big deal). There, she runs the Global TA COE which consists of 320 talent acquisition & brand professionals in a highly matrixed and competitive environment including 14 geographical business units and 3 shared service centres.  

She likes to take roles that push her in new directions and have an element of risk: “You jump in with both feet and learn as you go.” She believes you have to challenge yourself if you are going to raise the bar.

“I know I can have a great, global career, very good level roles at this stage. But there’s a trade-off, because it’s important to have a work-life integration (vs balance). It's about flexible working. My two boys, ages 8 and 11 are key to my decisions and my success especially whilst they are growing up. We have this perception in society that you can have it all. But it’s important to define what ‘all’ really means to you. And that changes over time as your life moves forward. So you adjust and adapt. It’s important to have that level of self-awareness. This may mean I chose roles with less global travel or where I will not have a 1.5 commute to the office. My team and I work mostly remote which means we can work in the hours that work best for us. Often this means either very late nights or very early mornings but we can make our children’s sports days and relieve the nanny at the end of the day with minimal stress. It's made all the difference to myself and my team.”

Nine Questions

1. What question do your executives ask you the most? Why is this topic important to your business?

Hmm - that’s a good one. It tends to evolve, based on business cycles, really.

2. What is the most important quality/skill you look for when hiring a new recruiter for your team? Why?

I  can train anyone - truly - to be a recruiter, as long as they have some of the raw attributes for the industry. You have to be amazing with people. Constantly looking at how to break down work into projects. I’ve often compared a good recruiter to a great server - someone who is highly-personable and intelligent waiter who is super organized - who looks at their tables, determines the order of service, while prioritizing and balancing in the middle of it - all whilst upselling the best foods and drink. Back when I was first in leadership, I hired prior server friends and they’ve developed into leaders themselves. One of them, for example, is an HR leader at Amazon now. The kind of skills that teach you how to multitask, while caring about the customer experience, matter. There are some things you can’t teach, you need that mentality.

There’s a missing skill in a lot of our industry, too - that’s business acumen. Being savvy about knowing how to push back using data, without being abrasive. And additionally being a great consultant, knowing how to lead with expertise and do the research.  It's a true business partnering and advisory mentality.

3. What do you wish vendors understood before they contact you?

I have honestly never bought from someone who just sent me a message or a random cold-call. Build the relationship first. People know people that know people. We’re in the relationship business. Don’t come in with the “sell” in mind - ever. I’d rather see them writing interesting articles, showing cases of what they’ve done, being supported by other vendor partners. When I need to solve a problem, I crowdsource with trusted contacts.  Your network is key - always be building that - and give as much or more than you get. From there, I can judge what feels like it’s right for a company of my size, scale and the problem I need to solve.

I do my own research, at conferences, with my peers, and I prefer to do the reach-out direct to vendors - often with the right contact name. And when I tell them the time frame, I want them to respect it - our time frames at global level are often longer than theirs - from exploration to a buy could take anywhere from 12-24 months or even longer.  It's about company readiness as much as budget.   It’s understandable that they have quarterly/ yearly revenue goals to hit, but it’s not a motivating factor for your buyer.

4. What industry blogs and publications do you find most valuable?

I don’t regularly commit to any particular blog or publication. We have such a huge variety of information at our fingertips these days - it depends on the topic at hand. It’s more “in the moment” - from a conversation in a facebook industry group to a WhatsApp thread about a particular topic, whitepaper publications...and I judge several recruitment awards which helps to uncover what some of the best are doing in light of their challenges.

5. What do you think is the biggest threat facing the talent acquisition industry today?

Here’s my thinking…in the TA industry,  we tend to ride bandwagons. The pendulum swings one way, we jump on and follow, and then it diverts the other way.  For instance, going back to the early and mid 2000’s RPO was the corporate bandwagon, everyone was doing it, and then organizations started questioning the quality, and shifted to high volume only or to a matrix model.  Then we shifted to building high quality in house teams.  Today, many large multinationals are incorporating the shared services or Global Business Service models for either some or all of TA. . Many leaders are not quite able to make the case for advanced talent acquisition approaches to executives who tend to only see a cost that needs to be contained. And there is still a larger misunderstanding that exists in our function at the Executive levels that needs to be addressed.  Where will we end up and will the pendulum now shift somewhere in the middle?

6. Where do you see the talent acquisition industry in 5 years?

I see the pendulum swinging back, at least for large multinationals - away from the rush to cut costs to a more matrixed value add model. We’ll find better ways to automate, where’s the value, where can we spend more time being more strategic and best uses of people’s time and focus away from the high administration. That said,  I don’t necessarily want the tools to think for my recruiters since there’s value in understanding the fundamentals - I think what you go through to get there gives you know-how, helps you to think more strategically. I challenge my leaders to do the same things they ask their recruiters. We still need to have expertise. If the systems fail tomorrow, they can still do their job.

You’ve never seen so many types of working - and we’re going to need to adapt to that. Gig, remote, careers as tours of duty - these are not going away, they are increasing and organizations need to adapt. TA is still a relatively “young” department, too. Marketing is established, sales, HR, finance. We’re still very much evolving and in our current guise have not been as well established as other core functions. I see orgs starting to develop rotations, developing requirements for their C level people leaders to have TA experience in the future. TA & talent management becoming a necessarily shared skill set if you want the top talent roles.

7. If your talent acquisition budget doubled tomorrow, how would you spend the additional funds?

Headcount. Resources. What I could do with additional strategic resources would be exciting. I’d invest in systems. I’d spend more in employment brand, absolutely. Content marketing, very tailored to the individual, and the people who could help us automate that. Automation platforms and integration into our core systems - that’s utopia!  But we have to be careful not to continually layer in more and more tech that doesn’t truly integrate.  Our recruiters are overloaded with disparate systems and we have to be careful that more tech isn’t creating even more work. I’d put more into recruiting research. Really, you can do that one of two ways - brilliant sourcers, or outsourcing to a research arm for market mapping and beyond capacity talent pipelining.

8. What is the most difficult role your team is recruiting for right now? What makes it difficult?

Hmm. It’s complex. One of the biggest challenges at a lower level are merchandisers. Such a hard, high-turnover role that needs volume. Data science is new for us, and data scientists don’t tend to think of FMCG as a target employer. And, in the e-commerce space, it’s highly competitive when you’re up against Amazon for example.  And driving gender diversity in leadership levels in particular in the STEM and general management roles.

9. How do you stay sane/ maintain balance?

Ah, I try. And, sometimes I fail. I believe in work life integration and making time for what’s important. One night I could work until midnight but I will prioritize a date night or a family moving night with my boys. I work out, and I’m a much better person when I do. You have to be very deliberate when you schedule it. Then, making sure work doesn’t overtake life. It’s hard at times, a matter of having your priorities right, plus knowing when to take yourself away and have vent sessions. I perfectly allow vent sessions for my team, you have to give them the okay to have those, or the negative energy goes somewhere else.  Better to get it out - the team respects it, knows that they can be open and real and that we’ll work to a solution.

And kids, weekends. Time to let your mind rest - periodically feeling okay to have the odd binge Netflix marathon day. Sometimes, you just need to absolutely do something brainless, and relax. Modern Love was fantastic - that one was great. YOU was addictive.

Oh, and I read a ton. There are a lot of late-night calls with North America, and it’s hard to fall asleep right after, so I’ll read. I go through about a book a week. From completely brainless to challenging whodunits, and on.

Oh, and a great date night is always a good thing.