Our 100th CareerXroads Colloquium this past month was a special milestone and, in several ways, it was‘magical’.
It was the 4th time Disney hosted our meeting for TA leaders during the last 15 years and, with 65 old and new friends and members in attendance, the event served to remind us all just how valuable long-term professional relationships can be to advancing the careers and life choices of our colleagues – peers who are constantly challenged to reinvent recruiting as we know it but always willing to take the time to help one another out.
During dinner at Epcot’s Aquarium on our first night, I was asked to share CXR’s ‘backstory’ and suddenly realized that we never wrote it down. So, here’s the short version:
I first met Mark Mehler in 1994 on a Saturday morning at a support group helping out-of-work HR leaders find jobs. That day I told them about a new, growing source of jobs, on a new-fangled technology platform- the ‘World Wide Web.’ They, of course, had all heard about it but, except for one or two, all were still stuck in the real world and networking the old-fashioned way.
Most of the members of the ‘Princeton Group’ as it was called (which, by the way, met every third Saturday morning at 7 am) didn’t have a ‘personal’ computer let alone tools or training to find and access ‘Cyberspace’. Facebook, LinkedIn, even Google was still years in the future. Mark and I began talking about what was coming…we thought it was around the corner and that we were late to the party.
Mark, at the time, was one of the highest paid contract recruiters in the country working for Lockheed and later, for J&J. He loved digging into leftover applications no one paid attention to in newly minted ATS databases that these firms had only recently ‘purchased’. (His best ‘practice’ from my point of view was the first time he met a hiring manager at an intake session. After introducing himself, he pointedly handed them his card with his home phone number highlighted… and then asked them for their home phone number.)
I was working for a national recruitment advertising firm overseeing a team that was writing, revising and placing hundreds of ads in Sunday help-wanted classified sections of local, regional and national newspapers all over the US. It was the middle of my second career having misspent my youth in HR and TA leadership roles after graduate school. Clearly, I thought, this ‘World Wide Web’ was going to happen and the job market was never going to be the same.
We systematically searched, listed and analyzed what was on the Web related to Recruiting. Searching the web, Boolean notwithstanding, was slow, plodding, and experimental work.
By 1995 we discovered the only computer lab in NJ at Rider University with 20 ‘workstations’ all connected to the internet and began holding 1-day sessions for recruiters on how to find people and get them to find you. But first, we had to teach them how to turn the computer on. We literally made them practice how to ‘point and click’. (We continued offering variations of basic training for several years through Cornell University until smarter, wiser ‘sourcers’ and great trainers like Glenn Guttmacher, Shally Steckryl, AIRS, and a legion of other recruiters and trainers established offerings far beyond our middling knowledge).
Late in 1995, I became the Chair of SHRM’s National Recruiting Committee (a different story for another time) and early in January 1996 showed Mark a note inviting me to speak at SHRM’s National Conference scheduled for Chicago in June. My topic- “HR and the Internet”. The invite came with a promise that if I had a book, they would promote it at the conference. Mark and I looked at each other and said simultaneously, “How hard could that be?”
We sent notes to editors at McGraw-Hill and several other publishers. They ALL responded! Long story shortened here – each publishers’ idea of a partnership was so one-sided, Mark and I decided to find a printer, give them a floppy disk, and print our own book with our opinions about everything we could find about this evolving technology ‘intersection’ “Where Talent and Opportunity Connect on the Internet”
In June, we shipped 200 books to our room in Chicago (SHRM only wanted 50). I spoke twice to packed rooms using a projector the size of a car. Fewer than 25% of the HR professionals in the room had an email in 1996 and fewer than 1 in 10 had ever seen a ‘page on the internet’. Apparently, we weren’t too late to the party since all 5000 copies we self-published were sold before the end of the day setting up an annual edition for the next 8 years, each with multiple printings and, by 1999, a thriving consulting business after leaving our day jobs.
By 2002, the IT Bubble had burst, Google and other search tools were ascendant, print books about the Internet felt like an oxymoron. Technology tools, vendors, and consultants appeared to us to be just so much hype in a desperate search for clients and with very little substance. Conferences attracted speakers who seemed to share year-old, PR cleaned case studies that seldom offered a learning moment. We didn’t want to sell expertise that was changing moment to moment. We felt the future was simply a 6-month horizon that could best be embraced by knowing what your peers were doing now, what they were stepping up to doing next and what was still keeping them up at night.
It was time to pivot.
Mark and I huddled with a few of our friends to map out the conditions under which peers might get real value from… peers…if they were willing and capable. No vendors or consultants. No wallflowers. Sharing required. The conversation focused on a specific topic that everyone is doing. Attendees vetted in advance. Small groups that ‘get it’, get to know one another in this moment but willing to connect beyond.
The first ‘Colloquium’ was held in Princeton in the Spring of 2002. The second in the Fall at Half-Moon Bay south of San Francisco the same year. After that, members began volunteering to host. Barb Ruess, an early branding and marketing pro that Mark and I knew during our consulting days joined us part-time 15 years ago to help with our logistics and messaging.
Two years ago, Mark retired and Chris Hoyt left PepsiCo to lead and reinvent CXR so peers can engage anywhere, anytime in a trusted environment.
And the rest isn’t history, CareerXroads is still being written….
#101 Executive Search | November 1-2 2017, New York;
#102 Branding & Marketing | November 6-8 2017, San Diego;
#103 Analytics & Operations | March 5-7 2018, San Diego;
#104 Recruiting Automation & Innovation | April 16-18, 2018, Boston;
#105 Branding & Marketing | May 7-9 2018, Austin;
#106 Talent Acquisition Leadership | June, 2018, TBD;
#107 Executive Recruiting | June, TBD;
#108 College & Early Career Hiring | July 23-25 2018, Minneapolis;
#109 Sourcing | August 2018, TBD;
#110 Candidate Experience | September 17-19, Toronto;
#111 Candidate Experience: a Global Perspective | October 2018 Amsterdam.
A special Thank You from Chris, Barb and I (as well as Mark) to every member these last 15 years. You’ve made this more than a business. It’s been a mission, a community, a pleasure and a satisfying adventure.