Interview by:

[Editors Note: RNN interviewed William Wiggins while he headed up human resources at Virginia Mason Medical Center, a highly ranked health care system which consists of eight regional medical centers across the greater Puget Sound area in Washington state, where he leads a blended team of recruiters and human resources managers.]

William has made a career out of helping organizations improve their people-functions. He “grew up” on the employee benefits/ health & welfare, side of the talent industry. First as a Mercer Human Resources consultant, and then moving into Senior Benefits roles for several enterprise-level organizations.

At Kaiser I made the decision I wanted to do more strategic employee engagement and talent management work. I wanted focus more on employer branding, leadership development, career pathing, and shifted to a more employee-centric path. In 2014 I accepted an HR Manager role for a growing community health organization here in Seattle, and I never looked back.

If the opportunity arises to have a conversation with William Wiggins - do so. His perspective is broad, insights deep, and his ability to deliver information with humor is finely tuned. His career allows him to bring a perspective around talent that goes beyond recruitment, and he relates that learning to how we as an industry do our work.

We’re in some interesting times. How has Covid-19 impacted how you’re approaching your role?

I have definitely shifted the focus to the essentials. Less focus on long-term strategic cultural and engagement initiatives, and more focus of the short term survival of the organization. Unfortunately, being able to have my team focus on project work (i.e. creating standard work processes, job breakdowns, process improvement work etc.) has become a luxury.

My team is comprised of Senior HRBP’s and Recruiters. As the organizations seeks solutions to staff to volume, I have had to make adjustments to FTE and roles and responsibilities both to fill gaps in the short term, and avoid RIF’s longer-term. It's definitely a bit of a dance.

What was your first job?

I like to tell people I was born as part of a traveling show. But, if we're being "real", it was as a camp counselor. Looking back, that may have been a clue where I'd take my career, working with and supporting people. My first REAL job was as an orderly. Thanks the GreenCroft Nursing Home, I know the proper technique to lift and pivot a patient into a wheelchair, and I can actually change a bed complete with hospital edges with the occupant still in it. There is something to be learned from everywhere. It's just a matter of paying attention.

Do you have a philosophy around talent acquisition and/ or HR? How can they better partner?

Yes. Recognize that both serve a critical function and when both are functioning as strategic partners, the applicants, candidates, employee, and ultimately the organization benefits. I am still amazed at how adversarial the relationship between the two can be. HR credibility is an ongoing struggle on a good day. Infighting does not serve us well. I also believe that both HR and TA need to be positioned as more strategic and consultative vs. transactional. TA is and HR are both “professions” and require a level of expertise that commands a seat at the strategy table vs. being viewed as a service role. These two areas need to join forces to build that consulting practice within organizations. We are natural allies.

What sort of unique challenges have you faced in your career - and how have you overcome them?

I have worked in a profession that traditionally does not drawn black men. As a result I have had to establish and re-establish my credibility, particularly as a leader. You get up, get dressed, and lean into it. It simply comes with the territory.

Nine Questions

What question do your executives ask you the most, and why is this topic important to your business? Why can’t we hire faster?

Everyone wants to the right person for the right job but few understand what it takes to get there or the impact of a poor or rushed hiring decision.

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

Someone with the confidence and ability to lead her client groups vs. serve. Also, someone that is not easily intimidated, and can pushback respectfully when necessary. Someone who is organized and good with follow up. Being a recruiter is balancing several spinning plates in the air at one time. We serve multiple client groups and candidates, all of which think are the only priority; and that is how a good recruiter makes them feel. The ability to multitask, be prompt, keep track of multiple initiatives in varying stages and completion daily is key to this role.

What do you wish vendors understood before they contact you?

I wish they knew more about the potential needs of the business so that more time can be spent on determining how they can support those needs, versus learning what and who we are, and in some cases, what we do, during the call. That being said: I am open to the conversation. Many of us have been vendors, and know the value of consideration and kindness, even when who you are calling has back-to-back meetings.

What industry blogs and publications do you find most valuable?

Recruiting News Network, Career Crossroads, Fistful of Talent, ERE.

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

Currently it is the ravages of COVID-19. Just prior to that I would have said a shrinking talent pool in a marketplace - more opportunities than candidates. That may be about to shift...

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

Unfortunately I see the industry being far more AI driven and automated. It's not the tools, themselves - they are valuable. I am concerned we will lose sight of the human touch along the way, and that is critical for the function to remain strategic and offer high-value. Tools are only as good as the people who use them.

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

Technology to automate the more task-driven process. Training and development for recruiters to hone their strategic business acumen, to allow them to partner more efficiently with their client groups.

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

We are opening a birthing center in June and need to hire 30 experienced Neonatal and Perinatal nurses - it is not typically a difficult specialty. However, the volume of experienced nurses that we need are a challenge. We have an experience Nurse Recruiter that is working diligently to make it happen.

How do you stay sane/ maintain balance?

I make sure to keep perspective. Yes, what is do is important. However, we are not saving lives, nor are we teaching future world leaders 2nd grade math. What we have is an opportunity to make a difference, and have some fun doing it. I try not to take “it” so seriously, and look for a deeper calling in all of it: helping someone else build their career, changing the culture of an organization, creating a better employment experience for the masses, etc. I'm proud of what we do - and it's a profession I encourage young people to explore.