‘I Know Too Many Peers Who’ve Been Subjected to Ageism’

Meet ERE member Michael VanDervort, who opens up about shiny-objectism and ageism.

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Sep 19, 2023

Welcome to the latest installment of a new series in which we spotlight talent acquisition professionals within the ERE community. The series’ aim is to showcase individuals not so much for what they do but for who they are. In other words, the focus is less on what people are doing in their roles and more on how they view work and life.

Meet Michael VanDervort. Michael works as a consultant at the Labor Relations Institute. An HR practitioner with over 35 years’ experience, he is also co-host of the well-known and long-running podcast DriveThruHR. Additionally, Michael is a former labor relations specialist at Publix.

Given Michael’s background in employee relations, he often comes at recruiting issues from a fresh angle, and he consistently shares his opinions widely on social media and in the ERE Facebook Group. I recently spoke to Michael about his fears in the workplace, what he values in team members, the pros and cons of being a curious person, and more.

ERE: What is your best personality trait?

Michael VanDervort: My curiosity. It drives a lot of my personal interests and professional interests, in that I do a lot of research and trend-following, and so I’m always the shiny-object guy. I enjoy that. I managed to craft a career to indulge that trait.

What is your worst personality trait?

I’m a shiny-object guy! It becomes too easy to indulge my curiosity and get distracted. It becomes easy to procrastinate when I get caught up in something that interests me that also drags me aways from other life and work things.

What is the biggest assumption people tend to make about you — be it wrong or right?

People look at me and see a 66-year old who is either scowling or smiling. When I’m deep in thought or contemplative, I look angry, so people assume that I’m that grumpy person.

What do you love most about working in talent?

My passion has always been making the workplace great, and I get to do that in my work.

What is your greatest fear in the workplace?

I have been fortunate in my career, in that I’ve worked in different types of industries where I was able to sidestep ageism. But for 50+ people, especially in a tight labor market, ageism is clearly a factor. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to be subjected to that, but many of my peers have horror stories. My greatest fear is that I’ll be the subject of ageism, that I’ll be the old person out of the room.

What do you most value in team members?

Curiosity and tenacity. I value people who ask questions and speak their thoughts. I like a collaborative environment, but I also like people willing to challenge the status quo because that’s what ultimately makes a team work well, when people are pushing boundaries to learn what is wrong and how to make it better.

What is the most overused or overrated thing that recruiting pros believe about themselves?

There are some recruiters who place themselves at the center of the recruiting universe, and that attitude and belief are carried through throughout their work in often arrogant ways. You’ll have recruiters not providing feedback or communicating with candidates, and that drives me crazy.

How do you define success?

It’s not just doing something and meeting goals. It’s asking, Was it successful? I look beyond deadlines and milestones toward the quality of work and the outcome.

What’s your biggest failure?

I used to fear failure as a parent, but all my kids are doing great things. That was my biggest fear in life for a long time. I went through that again with my parents as they suffered near the end of their lives. I was always afraid of not doing enough of the right things for them in the face of impossible circumstances. Did I give enough? My fear is that I didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And maybe there was some truth to that.

What is your current state of mind as it relates to the current state of recruiting?

I am completely puzzled as to what kind of environment it is out right now. There are plenty of jobs available. There are seemingly plenty of candidates saying, I can’t find a job. So is there a mismatch of skills vs available talent? I don’t know.

Name one TA person besides yourself who people need to know?

Craig Fisher. He’s given me ideas that I was able to apply in my workplace. Craig always has great insights and tips on tools. He is so great and smart.

Most important question: What’s your go-to karaoke song?

The only one I’ve ever sung was “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Otherwise I hate karaoke.

Finish this sentence: Michael VanDervort is…

Still learning and still growing despite his advanced years and despite the amount of wisdom he’s accumulated in those years. I’m still learning, and I still like what I do.