Landing My First CIO Placement

Hiring people is like making friends. Pick good ones, and they’ll enrich your life. Make bad choices, and they’ll bring you down. – Jason Fried

Landing My First CIO Placement

There is something about agency recruiting that gets the juices flowing during the recruitment process. I am not saying that you don’t get this in a corporate setting too. Many are fighting the same fight agency folks do, but frankly, there are a great deal more variables. Anyway, there are times after meeting with an agency recruiter that take me back to the days when I romped through the Monster, gleefully calling candidates, making that dollar, holler! We had a magnificent placement fee. So, when a whale of a gig comes across your desk you go for it like you were going for a gold medal at the Olympics.

TOSCO is a diverse major company based out of Phoenix. At the time it was one of our bigger clients and when it called, we stood at attention. It had a problem: the CIO had decided to move to San Francisco to try his hand at a being more of a hands-on architect for this little Internet company, Facebook. I shit you not, we were all laughing at the time because we thought the site would crash and burn like MySpace. No wonder I don’t do well in the stock market. It needed to fill the position fast, and since we were one of their top vendors, they tossed us the role. I did the intake meeting with my account manager and took in all the requirements they were looking at, technologies, etc. Although we already knew most of this, you just have to go through the dog-and-pony show to get the business.

The one thing that piqued my interest more than anything was the salary. Now, this was 1998, in Phoenix, a town not known for big-dollar positions. The pay was outstanding for this C-level role. It were willing to do $150, plus bonus, stock, etc. At a 20 percent fee to us with me getting 1 percent of the closing dollars after 60 days, I was seeing dollar signs twerking in my head, and it was time to make the doughnuts.

I burned the phones calling the very few CIOs I had in my database and then began scouring the job boards looking for some candidates who I could share with management. Frankly, I was shocked that I was chosen for this role. I was the new guy at the firm and although I had proven myself, this was still a pretty serious role for an enormous client. I later learned why.

Then it happened. My phone rang and on the other end was Olivia, a woman that was unaware that she and I would have become intertwined with interviews, conversations, and eventually a friendship.

Olivia was a force to be reckoned with: smart, very shrewd, and I liked her right away. Our first conversation involved her interviewing me, of all things. What was I looking for other than what I had sent her via email and the messaging in the position … what was hidden behind the corporate job post? It was a good conversation and I answered her multitude of questions then turned the tables on her and peppered her with my questions, the ones that I ask even to this day. At the end, we both concluded that this was the role for her. I submitted her directly to the hiring manager, fingers crossed, as this was the only candidate I felt was qualified.

The next morning I came into the office, turned on my computer, and opened my email. My eyes darted over the screen scanning, looking, for that one email. Three down there, it was the return email from the manager. I took a deep breath and clicked the GUI and there it was: “Derek, great find, just wow, when can we meet her? Can you set that up ASAP?” Stunned is the only word I can think of to describe me sitting there. This was happening. I called my account manager, then my boss to tell them the news. Then I called Olivia to set up what honestly was the biggest deal of my life at that point in my career.

I could feel her excitement when she got the news. She had been reserved with me up to this point but she also knew this was just as real as I did. The interview happened, and then another, then another. This was not a help-desk role or a cashier position making minimum wage. I got the offer. It was everything they said it would be; the whole enchilada, if you will. I was ecstatic not only for Olivia but honestly for me as well. I know she wanted this. They wanted this, and frankly, I wanted the paycheck, at first.

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I called her hotly anticipating a simple “yes, let’s do this.” She asked me a question that no one had ever asked me at that point in my career, and as I come to write this I am not sure I can remember if anyone has ever asked me. “Derek, do you think this is a good deal for me, should I take this?” This was a huge choice, and at that very moment, I came to realize that this would be a life-altering decision for her, not me. I had never anticipated hesitation on her part but then I realized this was a game-changer, a career move of epic proportion. I paused before saying anything to her. She was a person who was leaning on my all of two years’ experience in the world of staffing, a person who would be influential in hiring decisions for the very firm I was working for.

I told her that we should look at the pros and cons of the role the road she has traveled to get here. Sometimes the last few steps to reach the pinnacle, the summit of the mountain, can be the hardest. My advice to her was that she had fought too hard in her career to get to this point, that she mattered, and that they were offering her the position she had always wanted to achieve.  I could hear her smiling on the other side of the phone. Sometimes you want to hide or run from the success you want and need someone to hold your hand to get that finish line. I held out my hand with that call and we crossed the finish line together.

I worked with her for a while on positions while she was with TOSCO before I moved on to other things and placements while I was with the firm, but I will never forget Olivia and the knowledge that I was more than just a recruiter and she was more than just a candidate. This was life, this was real, and a partnership could be formed with my candidates. They were not just a number, they were human. It’s a lesson I continue to learn even now.

#truestory

Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing in the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliance. Currently, he is the Director of Recruiting Solutions for Engage Talent. He has experience with both third-party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland area. Now, he is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage.