The Caustic and Cynical Rumblings of a Old Man at ERE Expo 2012

Apr 6, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Note from ERE’s CEO David Manaster: When I saw the latest from Lou yesterday, I was stunned. After all, this is not just anyone. This is Lou Adler. He’s been sharing his recruiting wisdom on for over a dozen years. Along with John & Kevin, I consider him to be one of the original authors who put ERE on the map.

Lou shared his thoughts about the latest ERE Expo, and there’s no way to dance around it — it’s harsh. But if we’re going to be trashed publicly, who better than family to do it?

We at ERE pour our hearts into the Expo. Countless meetings; speaker selection; logistics; reviewing attendee feedback. We’ve run 22 ERE Expos and educated thousands of recruiters since the first in 2001, which makes it one of the largest and longest running events serving our profession.

After so many events, it’s a perpetual challenge to keep the conference fresh and innovative. We do our best to incorporate new ideas (unlike Lou, I believe that Joel Spolsky’s discussion on what motivates technical talent this year was a prime example — watch it for yourself and decide). We also embrace new technologies — we were the first to incorporate mobile-based live polling during sessions, the first to embrace a Twitter backchannel for the event, and the first to incorporate live streaming so that those in our community who could not join us could still participate and learn something new.

But we’re not perfect, and I’m sure that some of Lou’s points will resonate. His thoughts on the Expo are below — we didn’t edit his opinions, and the title for the post is his as well. I hope that the attendees and community whom the event serves will use this opportunity to voice your thoughts on the event, and help us make a better ERE Expo for us all. — David


Last week, I attended by twelfth ERE Spring Expo in San Diego. As the elder statesman, aka, the Simon Powell of recruiting, I want to give you my frank feedback. The following highlights are not shared by all, but many of the other elders in attendance whole-heartedly agreed. (Note: I’ll be surprised if the management of ERE allows me to publish them all.) There are some recommendations on how to improve the ERE Expo at the end of this post.

Before I go too negative, left me make an overriding statement as the purpose of this posting: ERE is an important forum for the recruiting industry, and I think it has lost its way. It needs to recover quickly in order to fully represent this critical and important industry. I’m my opinion, once everyone has access to the same information, via LinkedIn and Facebook’s upcoming forays into the recruiting space, the quality of the recruiters doing the work will determine which companies hire the best talent. Right now I believe ERE is leaving this critical message unheard. Here’s why I’ve drawn this conclusion:

In general I was underwhelmed. Everything seemed stale or repetitive. There was very little that hasn’t been said before; in fact, much was said at the first ERE Expo in 2000. What should have been discussed was why 95% of what’s been said at Expos past has not been implemented. Now that would be a good session. In summary, my sample surveys concluded that newbies and rookies thought it was a pretty good event, but the more seasoned recruiters and their talent leaders were left wanting.

There were a few great takeaways.

  • Larry Clifton’s session on hiring a full-time recruiter coach was an interesting idea. The bigger third-party recruiters, of course, have been doing this for years. My takeaway on this is that companies should have their best recruiters lead formal ongoing sessions on best practices. The best of these should then be adopted as formal processes with metrics used to track recruiter performance.
  • I thought Paul Hamilton’s “Recruiting Idol” session was fun and very worthwhile. The idea was for recruiters to team-up and present a futuristic recruiting or sourcing idea without the constraints of technology or budget issues. The folks involved were spirited and creative. This should be a major focus of future events.
  • I missed Gerry and Mark’s program on branding for small companies, but Gerry gave me a tidbit ahead of time, and there seemed to be real value on how to create a talent acquisition strategy. Contact Gerry or Mark if you want the personal scoop.
  • Master Burnett told me in the BountyJobs lounge about his new venture in pushing social media to another level. I’m looking forward to learning more, since he seems to have figured out some way to master the hodge-podge of Facebook. If so, he should be one of the keynotes next year.
  • BountyJobs might be on to something — creating markets of top talent that have limited shelf life, that can be had for a reduced contingency fee. They won’t describe what they do in the same way, but that’s the real strategic value in what they’ve put together.

From the big company presentations that I attended — which was a good sampling — there was very little new or it was too general to make an impact. There were too many panel conversations anyway. I never like these, since the people involved don’t a have chance to really present what they’ve done. In my opinion, let someone who’s accomplished something big have center stage and get into the real details of how they did it. This is a much better learning experience for all.

The keynotes fell flat. I’m sure I’m offending a lot of people on this one, but to be told that branding is important and that the office décor and location matters (17 minutes on this one) is a waste of a lot of valuable time. In fact, both missed the forest for the trees. The problems discussed were all attributed to a bad strategy, and you can’t correct a bad strategy by improving tactics. Lack of an appropriate talent acquisition for high-demand talent endorsed and supported by the executive was at the cause of every problem discussed. This problem was highlighted in an earlier ERE article and video The Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch-22.

With this as a backdrop, here’s how I’d improve upcoming ERE Expos:

  1. Have more third-party recruiters present what they’re doing. There’s not one thing I heard at the Expo that great third-party recruiters haven’t been doing for years. And one of the most important is to make sure they work directly and partner with the hiring manager. Of course, corporate HR/recruiting feels threated by this and locks the door.
  2. Eliminate most of the panels and make sure the panels that are retained have a defined learning purpose. As part of this make sure the panelist practice ahead of time, and the team message is loud and clear.
  3. Think out of the box. Get people like Paul Hamilton, Master Burnett, and Larry Clifton to design next year’s event and throw in a couple of successful third-party recruiters who bill $300,000 plus per year. The result of this new thinking: you’ll have an irresistible show that rocks!
  4. Add some hiring manager content into the mix. These are the 800-pound gorillas who actually make the hiring decision and there was only one vendor on the floor or had a workshop that addressed this issue. Why not have a panel of the best hiring managers to tell recruiters what they want.
  5. Add some great candidates thinking into the mix. These are the customers we’re all targeting, after all. Why not have LinkedIn present their survey results of what great passive candidates want from the recruiters who contact them.
  6. Get rid of the big brands unless they’ve done some skunk works kind of stuff. Ninety percent of the recruiters don’t care about stuff they can’t do. Instead discuss nuts-and-bolts implementation with limited resources and too many requisitions to fill. Why not have a session on how to handle unruly hiring managers and too many openings?
  7. There are a lot of great ideas out there waiting to be hatched. Why not add yours to the comments below? If you attended the Expo, tell ERE what they could do to make it better and get you to attend again. If you didn’t attend the Expo tell ERE what you’d like to learn in order to entice you to attend.

As one of the elders in this industry, I urge ERE to rethink what it’s offering to the recruiting community. What you have now seems old and outdated to me. Instead of following conventional wisdom, why not challenge it instead? Corporate HR and recruiting seems to lag every new trend and they’ve been doing so for years. So my question is “why do you want to continue to benchmark corporate recruiting?” Hiring top talent is too important to leave to chance, and it’s worse to emulate outdated solutions.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.