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Meet Mike O’Brien, CEO at

Posted on October 21, 2008
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Michael (Mike) O’Brien is currently CEO of Through his leadership and vision has gone from concept to one of the most innovative companies in the recruitment space. For its members, offers an anonymous platform to network with recruiters and hiring managers who can help advance their careers. For organizations, the company offers cutting edge products such as Search Engine Optimized Microsites, Video Job Postings, and a Social Recruiting Platform known as Catalyst. In June of 2007, AC Nielsen named the tenth most visited career site. has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report and Media Life Magazine.

Mike was most recently co-founder and CEO of, a pioneer in providing college finance solutions online. Founded in 2000, became one of the most successful student loan companies in the U.S., capitalizing on Mike’s direction and innovative Internet marketing strategies. Today, funds more than $45 million in student loans each month. At, Mike conceptualized and created (at the time, the number one online college search engine), (online feedback community) and (a college social networking website). In October of 2004, Mike sold and properties to Education Lending Group (now Student Loan Xpress) which in turn was purchased by CIT (NYSE: CIT) for $400MM in January 2005. He remained CEO/President of until his exit in December 05.

Utilized as a media expert in higher education finance and Internet marketing, Mike has been interviewed by numerous national television and print news media — including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, NBC Nightly News, Fox News Network, the Chicago Tribune and Kiplingers — regarding the widening college affordability gap and the resulting growing demand for student loans, student loan consolidation and online marketing trends. Mike also has delivered speeches on Internet marketing trends and techniques at the CEO West Conference (Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization) and the National CEO Conference in Washington, DC.

Q&A with Mike O’Brien

Six Degrees: Tell us of your home world, Mike

Mike: Married and a dad. I have three boys. My oldest is Grayson he will be 4 in November, My middle boy is Lincoln. My youngest boy, Justice. We are thinking about having one more… trying for a little girl.

I am an avid runner. I started running a few years ago and by the age of 36 I have completed 4 half marathons. In 2007 I ran the ING Bay to Breakers in San Francisco which was a blast.

In my last business, I appeared on the reality TV show “Starting Over” to help a woman re-enter college. It was awesome being able to help out a person in need and see the way a reality show is put together.

I have been a Board of Director of the Fresno State Alumni Association and stay committed to helping people looking to better themselves though education.

Six Degrees: How did you get started in the staffing industry?

Mike: I fell in love with the recruiting space in 2003. Nick Jimenez invited me to come to a ERE trade show and see the technology that existed. I was amazed at the lack of innovation at that time. Even though the world had move to the web, there was little technologically that was making a recruiter’s job easier. In fact, the big boards were compounding the problem by sending more less qualified resumes that ever before. I thought there must be a better way and was born.

Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?

Mike: I think the ERE Trade that I mentioned earlier had the most impact on me. It was there that I was baffled that technology had not solved the people problem. Everyone knows what the problem is, but, there is little incentive to improve the recruitment process until corporate leadership and HR’s goals are aligned. Most people speak about ‘A’ Talent, yet they are measured by statistics that ultimately equate to buts in seats.

Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?

Mike: I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by some great people. Each day I learn more about the industry from Nick Jimenez. I also have been lucky enough to hear some great speakers like Jeremy Eskenazi who have had a positive impact on me.

Six Degrees: (A) What other companies’ recruiting operations do you admire or have heard are best-practice examples?

Mike: I love companies who understand how their employment brand differs from their overall company brand. Starbucks and Google are great examples, but ING Direct and Net App both resonate with our user base as well.

Six Degrees: (B) In what aspects are they superior?

Mike: All of these organizations understand that the Employment Brand encompasses the every interaction between the company and prospective employee. It continues even if a person has not been selected. These companies understand that their prospective employees in many cases are also customers.

Six Degrees: What recent general news story or industry trend do you feel will have an impact on your work in the future? Why?

Mike: Even in the current economic state there is a war for talent. I think the impact of the boomers retiring will have a big impact on where organizations are going to have gaps. Our focus as a company is helping organizations get to unique sets of candidates as the younger generations shy away from the big boards and choose other avenues to find a new employer.


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