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John Bersentes Shares TMP’s Role As Change Agents To Private & Public Sector

Posted on April 24, 2013
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John Bersentes
McLean, Virginia, United States
Vice President of Business Development
TMP Government LLC, a division of
TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, LLC
Twitter Profile
Personal Blog
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• Office/Cell Number 703-269-0092 / 703-863-5099
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America’s Veterans & The American Workforce:
A resource guide to recruiting, engaging and onboarding our returning heroes

Recruiting & Retaining People with Disabilities

Why the Federal Government Can’t Recruit and Retain Hispanic-Americans

Six Degrees: How many applicants at your present employer do you estimate are hired from your corporate website as compared to how many are hired through referrals?

John: As the industry average is estimated at about 34% on employee referrals I would say our firm is not too far off that mark with search, our corporate website, or talent brew landing pages as having been the most effective in attracting top talent to TMP Government in the last 24 months both here domestically and for offices around the globe.

Six Degrees: What is the source of the “Most Hires” collected from at your present employer? (In terms of Quantity #)

John: The most hires over a six week period collected I believe was an intelligence agency that contracted with us to hold a career fair. Driving the effort was due in part the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC ) – which meant the agency needed to get butts in seats fast. There was certainly a top down approach to a surge hiring so with a few weeks of media and about two floors at a local hotel over a 5 day period a diversity career fair was to be held. Utilizing an event registration micro-site that we built out for the customer in four weeks that enabled pre-screening of candidates for employment suitability we held an invitation-only career fair. The agency had hired about 796 full time employees the entire preceding year and in those five days this client had made 694 offers of employment contingent on candidates passing a security clearance. These were very specialized disciplines but ultimately it was a team effort and having program managers and agency leadership involved made all the difference.

Six Degrees: What is the source of your “LOWEST COST OF HIRES” – (least amount of invested resources for the easiest hires, regardless of quality) at your present employer?

John: Without question Search Engine Marketing has proven to be the most cost effective in my experience for clients that we serve, but employee referrals are equally important and so robust ERP’s are the call of the day. Postings on facebook pages I think are a great way to leverage your existing ERP.

Six Degrees: What talent niche groups do you target and are these particular talent areas specialized under your review?

John: My focus into diversity outreach and college recruitment spans across a number of sectors such as technology, government, financial, engineering, and defense. As it relates to so many in the field that reside inside the beltway from a recruitment perspective; the market is a totally different animal than from my days on the west coast in Santa Barbara. The pace is faster, candidates more educated, higher salaries abound and shortages of talent in mission critical fields are way of life. There tends to be less emphasis on entry level hiring in and around the DC corridor but more work for seasonal and project based assignments. It is as if everyone here is always looking for that next gig, and no real sense of loyalty to an agency as many government workers can bounce between agencies to get higher paying jobs at higher pay schedules. As for many private sector workers are employed based on the viability of multi-year contracts that too means that prime federal contractor may hire and fire hundreds at a time. Dependent upon whether the company holds or loses any given government agency contract plays a big part in the psyche. Therefore even in the Intelligence community, we see mobility not so much within the ranks of a corporation but between the private to public sector or back to public-sector from the private sector.

Six Degrees: What types of training in sourcing/recruitment are available to you and have you taken advantage of?

John: Early on I was fortunate to have taken AIRS Training as a Certified Diversity Recruiter but frankly for the sector I am in which is Federal government the rules and regulations require training or at least some understanding about what are called Merit Systems Principles. In fact OPM the HR arm of the government is looking into ways to attract private sector HR and Recruiters to step into much needed HR field within the Federal sector. I hope more of your readers would consider coming over to the government space and once you get the basic understanding of the various GS and SES levels of government as well as the multitude of job codes and occupational categories, things like position classification which can be mind-numbing could lead to a rewarding career. The best training that I still utilize today was through the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives. A group of Federal executives that took me under their wing taught me not only much about leadership development but allot about the basics around hiring flexibilities and internships as a means to employment within the government, in fact the rules of engagement in the public sector have provided a foundation of principles that I have found useful in navigating this specialized field today.

Six Degrees: What recruitment software tools do you use in your day to day recruitment activities & do they translate effectively within all of the different countries where you recruit?

John: As opposed to recruitment software tools I used a decade ago as opposed to many of today’s web based tools I find much of my time is spent in Wanted Analytics, Google Adwords, Webtrends, and Talent Brew which is a proprietary TMP talent management suite of tools. Most of my time is spent in the areas of diagnostics and analytical based tools to measure things like frequency and sentiment on social media sites. Social networking via as well as a few other new brand measurement tools are emerging and I find these particularly interesting from the standpoint of creating employer brands and strategies to engage passive and active candidates into the online application process.

Six Degrees: What tools (technology or old school file folder, for example) did you first encounter early in your recruitment career?

John: One of the coolest tools I used was InfoGist which allowed me to set up multiple searches overnight, rank sort and store candidate resumes and conduct targeted email blasts to potential candidates. Given a strong sales background didn’t hurt either as recruitment is a contact sport. The ability to build relationships easily, and network were by and far my strong suits.

Six Degrees: How did your expectations of being within the Talent Acquisition space compare to reality?

John: My expectations of being a recruiter were not as different as the reality I had expected given my first introduction came from attending and manning the booth so to speak at about a dozen career fairs a year. Starting out working career fairs gave me a great foundation for getting over the awkward moments that typify the beginning of the interview process. In that today’s recruiter needs to be part doctor, part lawyer and now part techie, I think we get so mired in the technology that it literally is minimizing the time spent with potential candidates albeit on the phone or in person.

Six Degrees: Worst mistake, biggest goof, lousiest practice you thought would fly but didn’t — and how that was a learning experience?

John: That would probably be the day I got the nations’ second largest weekly newspaper and a global financial insurance company flamed. By the grace of god, and using a few unused resume licenses from Monster and Career Builder – we used meta-search software to send a few hundred thousand emails at once and crashed both companies servers. It theory the idea was to reach passive candidates in bulk for a commission only insurance sales representative position. Sure initial results were exceptional for a while; but at the end of the day, the biggest lesson learned was that nobody likes spam. So if you send big emails, for the love of god please keep them to under 200 per transmission.

Six Degrees: How do you personally expect to facilitate change within our industry, and/or at your place of work? If you started that process, outline the problem, your solutions, and the vision.

John: In order to facilitate change as with any social movement I have felt it begins with the little things that ultimately serve as a catalyst to give momentum to others and create a tide or wave. I find personal satisfaction in knowing that by publishing a couple whitepapers with my colleague before the issues broke related to Hispanic under-representation and lack of hiring People with Disabilities that we were able to address some tough problems on unpopular issues and get publicity for it. You can download these from my LinkedIn profile by the way. But leading up, and becoming an agent of change is something that I imagine comes with discipline, Discipline in minding to the details of the day, and bringing to each day a positive outlook of the possibilities. So it is in that going through the day to day process of attending to the details and then going the extra mile to go to all the diversity events (and about ten to fifteen years ago being the only white guy in the room). To attending council and community meetings around the topics you are passionate about to chipping in on committees; and volunteering for all those corporate community projects.

To drive change there must be conflict and often times emerging to resolution of a problem means having the discipline to compromise and collaborate while motivating others to do their best. I accept that I am not a very influential person ( now evident by my lowly Klout score of just 22) but I have been recognized with a few awards in the past, and try to lead by example amongst my peers as more of my clients get awards and promotions than fired I would say that is good thing.

Six Degrees: “Best practice” you are most proud of developing (now or in the past) in your recruiting career?

John: Bringing together dedicated people and emerging technologies to the application of major projects like using meta-search software to source, structured processes to ideate, and ability to create content and tools for websites such as, and The ladder was being part of a great team that put together in six months a government-wide knowledge management community of practice portal built to educate and promote collaboration within the recruiter and human resources cadre for the Federal government that launched this year. On one occasion while at Hispanic Business Magazine I had a custom publishing project to create an outreach directory. So being invited to the old executive building at the Whitehouse by the Office of the Vice President liaison for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans to review prior to publication my print and online directory around the issues of employment, supplier diversity, and community development inspired me to continue down the road to help Federal agencies build the workforce of the future.

Six Degrees: What are some of the frustrating aspects/obstacles to your day to day as a staffing professional and in general?

John: Getting clients, stakeholders, and sometimes even internal colleagues to think differently or try new things. Occasionally working with people that run the other way when it is time take on additional responsibilities to get the job done- thus it is a good thing that there will always be some attrition.

Six Degrees: What are the most common themes of strategic and/or tactical mishaps involving past or present HR/Staffing org?

John: It is not my intention to generalize here but the most common themes revolve around one thread. I have seen campaigns fail and succeed around one major pitfall that can have adverse impact. This occurs when there exists an adversarial role that sometimes transpires between HR, EEO and Public Affairs. It can be over budget battles, career ambitions, and just plain dysfunctional teams. It is the lack of alignment and understanding between the goals of leadership and overcoming operational obstacles when those in key organizational roles lack the spirit of collaboration and engagement. (Albeit the same can be said when there is a disconnect between an Ad Agency & Client)

When it comes to strategic talent acquisition, HR and EEO being on the same page and commitment of resources to a common goal has been made the biggest mishaps I have seen come when sourcing and engaging diverse candidates fails to be authentic and outbound communications fail to connect the candidate with a clear and resonant message. This often stems from a lack of understanding within a culture or lack of cultural sensitivity in how we go about developing creative and messages geared towards attracting talent. Compound that with a process that is broken or not nimble enough to adapt to surge hiring and bottlenecks will occur. Personalities can often take these mishaps personally. Those professionals that see growing internal talent as an imperative can be often overlooked, and hiring to train and develop diverse talent needs to be called out in the narrative of the employer brand as well. Driving applicant flow is easy, retaining talent now that is a little trickier. So moving to address the full candidate lifecycle when it comes to diversity outreach is a key component to success in the space with today’s leading employers. Those that don’t get it end up paying allot more down the road when they fail to invest in their people. In fact findings from EEOC show that the incidents of discrimination in the government increased from 2.98 percent to 3.3 percent, and government agencies paid out $46.9 million to complainants in fiscal 2010, up 12 percent from $41.7 million in the previous year. As more government agencies are investing in their people we can only hope this will translate in the out years of less taxpayer dollars being wasted on suits. For more on the topic a great read is The People Factor by Scott Gould & Linda Blimes.

Six Degrees: Considering all of the frustrations you have experienced in your career as a recruiter, — what inspires you as you continue in your career?

John: What I found most frustrating in my career as a recruiter Is the mentality of so many diversity job boards out there that like to say “we can do everything but hire them for you.” Its that attitude out there that it’s all about the sale when in reality what the client ultimately gets is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Among the most frustrating things to me early in my career was working to build viable databases of candidates across a broad and diversity spectrum for diversity job boards and to discover so few employers use the resources with no affect. To actually go to recruitment events and collect resumes of candidates that had some solid skill sets, the experience, and frankly looked great on paper- only to find out that employers passed on interviewing them as they were “not a fit” is a hard thing to accept. So often having sold access to these databases and then going back a year later to find that several Corporate clients and even a couple of government ones never even logged in to source the resumes was another. It was as if commercial and government clients would sign up for our services because they did not want to be conspicuously absent.

Many of those candidates that were diverse, or disabled or a veteran would write me and I would follow up best I could. One can only empathize with candidates that suffer from a sense of frustration and futility. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make them drink syndrome is caused by apathy and a workforce of recruiters that are perhaps not engaged or just punching a time card and taking the path of least resistance.

What truly inspires me as the son of an immigrant is to know that mentors, friends, and managers that took the time to help and educate me along the way were the key.

So today when the conversation comes around to diversity, I often speak about Mentoring. Good mentors and coaches inspire me and I am lucky to be working with so many talented people and have a fantastic leadership team that has helped me achieve and exceed my goals. In large part it is because those that choose to pay it forward, and those that came before me in the field of diversity and recruitment have paved a trail. I would like to think that everyone deserves a level playing field – and by extension if I can pave the way for the next generation through my efforts – maybe one day racial and ethnic lines and bias can be blurred. What inspires me to continue in this career is to be able to say that “I have good citizen, and have done my part to make the world a better place.”

Six Degrees: What one thing do you find most ideal given the opportunity to develop/ implementing/ invent professionally that has yet to be done within our industry?

John: One thing I would like to accomplish is building a public-private partnerships for job creation through building affinity groups for government agencies to recruit diverse talent to address under-representation. That would seem easy enough if any agency would put their money where there mouth is but so few actually do. In fact there is a need to attract diverse talent as well as veterans, and people with disabilities. At present Hispanics and People with Disabilities are the most under-represented groups in government and the needle needs to be moved forward exponentially to get in parity with the civilian labor force.

A shortage of talent in the healthcare and acquisition fields has created a unique opportunity to provide real value for employers that truly want to address these critical shortages in the Federal workforce. In fact with 40% of the Federal workforce set to retire there really hasn’t been a better time to enact and drive change. Over the past decade change in the areas of diversity and specifically diversity at the Senior Executive Service level within government have been lackluster to say the least. But under the leadership of the Obama Administration and early appointments of Director John Berry and Christine Griffin at the Office of Personnel Management there has been some movement and within the last year has given me real hope that a renewed effort is underway.

Six Degrees: Anything you want to plug?

John: One of the coolest things I have seen as of late in terms of “what is working” is TalentBrew which is a talent management suite of tools from TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications which is enabling us to achieve great results for a myriad of Fortune 500 clients as well as a few bold government agencies that believe innovation and harnessing the power of search, social and mobile are the way to go.

What talent brew does is enable us to dominate both organic search and paid search engine marketing results. Combined with robust sourcing strategies and dynamic creative our clients are pleased to get their jobs out of the ATS and away from a post and pray mentality with the mainstream job boards and liberate requisitions across the web.

When combined with our Metrics Gateway and CRM tools these have proven to generate not only cost efficiency but exceptional results and pushed our clients job postings to go viral and attract both passive and active job candidates via social and mobile media outlets. Ultimately helping our clients capture and build talent ecosystems across domains in virtually every sector. Every month we have contests and share success stories with “What’s Your Brew” on our all calls and it is exciting to see how data is being used to full effect for our clients by teams of talented strategists worldwide.

Six Degrees: How Are You Going To Change The Recruitment Industry?

John: The question isn’t so much how I can change the recruitment industry as much as it is how can I bring the recruitment industry to hiring reform within the Federal government. One of the major factors that lead me to accept my current position was the ability to make a difference. At the time amidst the Bush Administration I had a nice offer from Gannett after being laid off due to the sale of the job boards I helped to create at American City Business Journals to Ultimately the decision was between TMP and Gannet and albeit Gannett was more money, a managerial role, with relocation-the choice was a simple one because I valued greatly the ability to proactively help people to find a career, answer a calling or just simply found satisfaction in knowing I helped someone find gainful employment. To me that was something tangible, and having come from an Advertising sales background- I didn’t want to sell ads that would push sales of soap, cheese whiz, or the latest car on the market. I felt empowered that through my efforts the end result was that people would be able to get back to work. In so far that TMP Worldwide at the time Monster was tasking me to help government agencies recruit talent; I felt that it would be possible to do more damage from within, and to hopefully make a difference and get the democrats back in and with some luck enact real change within the Federal workforce. So today, after five years I am proud of the fact with the support and very smart people that make up our team at TMP Government we as change agents have played a significant role in creating a knowledge management community of practice portal called for the Office of Personnel Management which is dedicated to enabling Hiring Managers, Staffing Professionals and Program Managers in the Federal sector the ability to share best practices and access resources – that will ultimately lead to change, and hopefully change the way recruitment works in the government sector. So that one day Federal agencies which serve us the citizens of this country and the world, will be able to attract the best and brightest talent. Our latest effort, VA for Vets is helping VA to create a next generation portal/ job board dedicated to recruitment, retention and re-integration of Veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of the day I am optimistic about the prospects of changing the recruitment landscape for government. To borrow a line from a recent Robert Rodriguez film Sucker Punch, “if you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything”.


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