"The pools. The pools are hard. That's where it's complicated."

Randy Goldberg pauses for a moment: "If you'd asked me about hiring challenges a year ago, different story. I would have said some obscure tech role. Now? Now it's the pools. Everything changed overnight."

2020, as it has been doing, flipped the table. Lifeguards trump software engineers.

I've known Randy as a friend-of-a-friend for a few years. We've only met once in person. That was just after he had taken on leadership of talent acquisition for MGM Resorts, the largest employer in Nevada and a significant brand. He'd been with Republic Services in Arizona prior, the second largest provider of non-hazardous solid waste collection, transfer, disposal, recycling, and energy services in the United States, as measured by revenue. Over four years there he'd wrought significant transformation across how they approached talent acquisition, optimizing and modernizing everything from process, to technologies, brand, recruiter skills, etc. He's a pro. He'd gotten to Republic by way of Hyatt, where he'd "grown up", moving through HR and ultimately into talent acquisition and management leadership. Over a casual group lunch between sessions at a conference, we'd chatted TA. I'd asked him what he'd discovered in his new role at MGM, and he'd replied: "That we're a technology company. I mean, I kind of knew this already - but to experience it is something else. Recruiting for tech talent against Google is fascinating." That stuck with me. We reconnected recently (only, this time, socially distanced by a few time zones).

The road to Vegas

"So... how I got here? Curiosity. I was at Hyatt, in HR starting off as a generalist. Great organization, and in a company like a Hyatt, that meant lots of moving parts for an HR team. I think that's why it was so fascinating, so many unique situations to work on. Kind of set the hook for me, in terms of a career. Over time, I was running HR for a division. The role was broad role - it gave me responsibility and exposure to a lot of pieces of the business, including recruiting. Then, and this was just one of those great-timing things, the head of HR for Hyatt approached me - we were in reorg. It was good news/ bad news. The message was: 'that job’s done, but come to Chicago and run recruiting'. People knew I was passionate about it, as part of my role. And I was known as a technology nerd. Over time, they put me in charge of Talent Management too - so I got to see more of the lifecycle of hiring, onboarding, L&D, all of that. It's informed how I operate, and it's helped me maintain the big picture. When you’re in talent acquisition, you’re generally more candidate-focused. But then there’s a handoff, where we barely touch onboarding. I think that's a missed opportunity. By understanding the full talent process, that makes it a lot easier to understand your audience in both directions. And how best to communicate with them.

"Republic Services was a chance to learn a new industry, and take what I'd already learned and have some fun building something. You don't always get those opportunities. I loved it. MGM was similar, and it got me back to some of my roots, especially on the lodging, restaurant side of things. Just a fascinating role overall, with a lot of fun new complexities and things to learn. And I love that."

Looking back at the last two years at MGM Resorts, as the pandemic has swept across the global landscape like an endless, rolling tsunami, he pauses.

"It's been... interesting. When I moved to MGM from Republic, it was 6 months of relative normalcy. A new organization, a team to get to know, getting involved strategically. Then it ramped up: MGM was running a lot of properties essentially individually, and we needed to centralize some core functions. That's what happens as companies grow. Then they mature and you need to create some centralized processes, like recruiting. So we began that. Got it running, and then... well, then this happened.

"We had to lock our doors - I didn’t even know those doors could lock.

So, the big "this" happened - operationally, how was the pandemic for you... well, so far, anyways?

"So, as you'd expect, hiring slowed down at first, and then largely paused - for a moment. So the focus was engagement, looking at the pipeline, the brand.

"Next thing, we had to furlough 60,000 employees. Some of them we’ve been able to bring back. But a lot are just sitting, as we work through what to re-open, what's allowed, what's smart, etc.

"We literally froze every role we had in late March. I think we had 400 people scheduled for orientation - typically, we were doing one of those per week here. So, we had to reach out to that group, and that’s hard news to get. It was important to us that there was at least a human touch for all of them, so we picked up the phone and started making calls. It's better than getting an email.

"We were really fortunate, when it came to technology. We'd just brought Phenom People online in February - amazing timing. We have Workday, as an ATS - the less said there, the better. While we weren’t using Phenom as we thought we would be, it’s been useful in lots of unexpected ways. In this case as an example, we used it to connect with people in the interview workflow, everyone in the 2nd+ rounds, which was 7,000 people, and we sent them messaging on what was happening.

"Then, we reached out to folks in the final round, which was in the hundreds, with phone calls. We let everyone who’d had an offer know that as soon as we reopened they’d be first choice, with no need to go back through an interview process. I wanted them to know it was locked down.

"Then, we used Phenom. We pushed openings down the career page, and elevated the talent community to the top. We began  to communicate our brand, how we’re helping people as a company. Our food donations, all the covid-19 related relief MGM is doing. Then a link to how to engage with us, with the community. I know there’s a lot of opinions on talent communities, and I get that, but it's been powerful for us during this time. As long as you communicate with consistency and clarity, you’ll get engagement -and we’re getting that.

"We updated the Phenom bot to answer FAQ stuff, too - again, the key there is to stay on top of things, and just be consistent.

"And then we started to reopen. That happened really quickly."

You'd mentioned the pools

"The pools. The pools are fascinating. The thing is, we really have only two areas open to guests now, where they can get entertainment. The casino floors, and the pools. Typically in the pool areas, there are lots of workers: cleaners, servers, lifeguards, etc. But, now, we have a new role - Pool Ambassadors. People who walk around and remind guests about wearing masks. Also, if guests are clustering above the limit, they remind them that they have to move.

"The reopen happened unbelievably quickly. And, then the governor wanted to shut the pools down, for safety reasons. We had to demonstrate that we had the staff available immediately to implement and maintain some really strict protocols, or we risked closing a significant part of our business. Since we’re the largest employer  in Nevada, there were eyes on how we did this. Getting those Pool Ambassador roles staffed has been a key part of the strategy.

"Phenom has been really useful here, too. We’ve been using it to retarget applicants and furloughed employees to our new, key roles. So, for example: we’re looking at pool situations where the guests get a bit upset, don’t want to mask, etc. So we start with applicants who are front desk experts: they can deal with belligerent guests, they're typically trained for it, or at least have some innate skills there. Then, we looked at food and beverage employees, wait staff, bartenders - lots of transferable skills there. Third, we look people who have worked in the clubs, because they have relatable skills.

How are things operationally, for your team, the company?

"It's been tough on the team. We went from 50 to 5 employees in TA. It's terrible - you care most about your team, you'll do anything to protect them. We did weekly check-ins, then a bi-weekly Zoom team call just to say hi, to keep a human touch-point. And you work to bring them back. So far, we’ve got 12 people back, with hotels reopening. But the hardest thing is, as a leader, you don’t know. You can’t tell them “you’ll have a job back by X date”. And I’m sure a lot of them are worrying, assuming the worst. A big part of my job is reassuring them. That they're first, that we're working to get them back to work. But I know it take's its toll. It has to, that's just being a person.

"We've had to create a new role, part of HR, and staff it: Notification Specialist. When people test positive, when we find out they’re positive, part of that process is working out who they were exposed to previously. Then they start to reach out to everyone they were in contact with, and then we reach out to the people they were in contact with. It’s a pyramid. We had to hire 20 full time people to start. Unfortunately we have to keep adding to that role.

"On the plus side of the equation, I think the pandemic has started to super-accelerate plans we’ve had for years, and just couldn't get to. I’m amazed at how rapidly the company has accelerated everything. And not just recruiting: keyless check-in across all properties, for example. Virtual concierges, 24x7.

"On the HR side, among other wins, the company has learned virtual work, works. I don’t know that we go back to that, at least at the office level. And, in talent acquisition we're seeing wins across our process. Take video interviewing. Our Security Group hires a lot, which makes sense. We’d been working with them on their process - there were lots of steps for a volume role. We were trying to convince them to use video, to streamline, and they were resistant. Traditionally we'd screen and meet, then they'd want to as well. But, with covid, they had to use it, and now they don’t want to go back. Lots of things like that are happening, which I think are going to change how we approach hiring post-pandemic. Sometimes you have to embrace change, when you can get it."

Nine Questions

What question do your executives ask you the most, and why is this topic important to your business?

It’s all relative to their role. For example, the CFO is labor-intensive, and has to be - labor is a key cost for us, and he's focused on understanding the current openings. Making sure we’re hiring the right skills versus old skills, keeping hiring managers thinking about what roles. Measure twice, cut once. He’s not a “no”, just wants people to ask the questions. When I got there, if someone left, they just refilled it automatically. But that can be a missed opportunity to make sure the role is still necessary, and - if so - are the skills we are looking for still the right ones.

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

I need the types of skills a sales person has: able to manage customers, candidates and hiring managers. Are they organized? Can they lean new systems? I can teach a lot about recruiting, the tactical pieces, but there are intangibles they have to walk in the door with.

What do you wish vendors understood before they contact you?

Pre-covid it was pretty typical. You'd get the “I would love 5 minutes to talk about etc”. I tried not to rude. But, within the first few months of the pandemic, that changed - at least with the vendors I think are doing it right. I saw more people reaching out with “help” offers - they retooled to offer services and solutions to get us through this hump. And I liked that pivot. Those types of conversations were good to have.

What industry blogs and publications do you find most valuable?

I’m a lot of the RSS feeds, kind of old school that way - ERE, TLNT, just the standard list. And there are a few I subscribe to like Josh Bersin, who keep me thinking
I don’t sign up for most of the webinars and things like that, unless it’s a vendor I’m working with.

Beyond the pandemic, what do you think is the biggest threat facing the talent acquisition industry today?

Everything around D&I right now. It's so important. Hiring, job opportunities, those change lives and elevate entire communities. In TA, we are the spear for the strategies that go around it. Our community really needs to figure this out. We need to get past ticking off boxes, and start building a strategy.

It’s something we’re working on, here. Looking at how every piece impacts success - from selection, to succession, and on. Total rewards, are they applicable? And, getting even smarter about how we measure - it’s a really complex formula, and it’s important to get it right.

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

I would like to think that five years from now the recruiting process is much more efficient. More automated, but with the human  touch points focused on the right parts of the process. And, it’s an easier process. It’s got to be. We’ve got to figure out ow to be more efficient, smarter, but also still delivering a great experience. I think we’ll be in a better place in 5 years, because of what we’r going through right now.

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

I would really look for more opportunities to automate the process. We were fortunate, getting Phenom before the crisis was great timing, and we’re leveraging it. I want more of that. Ways to automate candidate sourcing, for example.

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

In any other normal time, it would be a technology role. In a weird way, it’s our lifeguards. We opened up pretty quickly, as I'd mentioned. Normally we’re hiring a bit more slowly. But with the surge, it’s 500 people quickly - mostly youth. There’s usually a good group of candidates, but parents are scared, we think, and so we're having to push hard to increase our numbers. Plus, we drug test, including cannabis, and a lot of kids in that age range don’t pass.

And with the business, right now, the one area where guests can go outside of casino are the pools. In the short term, we can go with a lead software architect, but without a lifeguard we’re in trouble.

Adding to that, a lot if the lifeguard certification companies acre closed due to covid. We've had to figure out how to do that, to the point that I had to have one of my people on site to help with drug testing

How do you stay sane/ maintain balance?

I don’t know, right now - does anyone? But, seriously, for me it comes down to people. If we can keep it safe and healthy, keep my own team employed - right now, that’s huge. The way you stay sane is to remember how you’re helping