This week, in our series of HR expert interviews, I had the pleasure of talking with HR expert Ralph Chapman. Ralph is an HR recruitment expert and founder of HR Search Pros Inc, an HR specific search firm based in Texas, which also operates internationally. HR Search Pros Inc specializes in HR recruitment by providing talented HR professionals with their next HR opportunity.
“I wanted to be part of a firm where Integrity, Honesty, and Service were not mere words spoken to please someone, but are values that were lived by. Out of this desire sprang HR Search Pros. We are here to serve both companies and candidates with the highest level of integrity, the utmost honesty, and impeccable service.”
In this interview, Ralph and I discuss HR recruitment, by talking about his career, how he recruits the best HR talent, and the evolution of the HR industry through HR software.
Ralph, could you tell me a bit about yourself and how your career evolved into what it is today?
I went to college to be a computer programmer on a Navy scholarship, but by the time I got out of the Navy four years later, the languages had all changed and I wasn’t sure what to do so I kind of fell into recruiting for a logistics trucking company, and did that for several years. Then I moved into a search firm where I stayed until around September 11th. We were placing people who just got out of the military and there were no new candidates because the military wasn’t letting anyone out. So because I love HR and wanted to pick a niche, I started a firm that specializes exclusively in HR recruitment, because I didn’t see a lot of firms doing that at the time. I’ve had my own firm now for thirteen and a half years. We’re based in Texas, but we work predominantly all over the US. Our focus is on placing HR professionals more at the senior level, but also at any other level in any industry. It’s funny when I look back to when I first started recruiting I was recruiting truck drivers and now I’m recruiting CHRO’s and CPO’s- so it’s certainly been quite the evolution.
I see that you have a lot of experience working in the field of HR, what made you seek a career in HR recruitment?
When I started out working in recruiting to help companies hire people for the military, we would call companies and they would say we were just like everybody else but if you had a niche maybe we could talk. It was funny because all the training I’ve ever had have said don’t contact HR, they’re horrible to work with, but I always had a good experience. So I started helping companies with their HR roles, and through that, was able to build a lot of great relationships. Sometimes we would call companies or a company would call us and they would say they don’t need help with HR recruitment right now but would ask what’s going on in HR so we would have conversations and develop those relationships that way. We’ve been able to build some great relationships by being there to answer any of their questions, even questions they didn’t necessarily need our help with, but we just wanted to be there to help out in any way we could. That was kind of why I thought it would be a good situation because if I talk to a random manager about HR, there’s not much motivation for them to respond, but talking to HR managers we can always talk about salaries, or the industry, or economy or what’s going on in HR and the impacts of this. It’s worked out even better than I thought it would and over the years we’ve built some great relationships. We have companies we’ve worked with for more than fifteen years, and we are still constantly adding new clients.
Can you tell me a bit more about what you do at HR Search Pros?
We’re not just an HR recruitment company, we do a little bit of everything. Our main role is when a company has a difficult-to-fill HR role, we can advise them, give them some insight and help them fill the role. One thing I really wanted to do with my own company is have a lot of control over the situation, because a lot of times you work with firms and you’ve got one person calling the company, one person calling the candidates, and there are so many fingers in the pot that it makes everything more complicated. So that’s why I purposefully kept our company small so I can be hands-on and involved with each of the HR recruitment searches that I’m working on. As well as also being that final stopping point before anyone goes anywhere. Also, it’s perfect for the companies because they don’t have to call all these different people 6 times, because they’re just talking to me.
“Our company spans everything from business development, candidate sourcing, interview prep, advising companies on what’s happening in HR, etc.”
With everything that’s happening with covid, there are a lot of questions and uncertainty, which is really interesting for us to be able to have a lot of conversations with people who need help or advice with certain things. So honestly we do a little bit of everything. Although our focus is on HR recruitment by filling HR roles, we’ve also been blessed because we’ve partnered with people that do background screenings and people that do relocations and so we have some good trusted resources that if the company needs some help in any other areas, we can help them there too. Our role is all-encompassing HR help, but the main role of our company is filling difficult-to-fill HR roles through HR recruitment.
What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned through your HR-related work experiences?
No day is the same. When you think you’ve seen everything, the next day something happens and you realize you’ve never seen that before. There’s a lot of changes occurring, a lot of things to do with covid that have affected people’s lives so much. This shows how critically important the HR sector is to a company, and the impact it can have caring for employees and caring for the business.
“The most important thing is to be flexible. Because it’s a job working with people, not just systems and numbers. There are a lot of times when extenuating circumstances come into play, if a person’s going through something tough and they need an extra vacation day or things like that. So I think it’s predominantly about how you can support your employees.”
How do you find and recruit the best HR talent?
It goes back to relationships. I’ve been developing relationships throughout the US and also internationally for fifteen plus years. I’ve got connections with people that I’ve known for fifteen to twenty years, even before I got into HR recruitment. Years ago I came up with a system (that I’m constantly tweaking) that we use. It involves a series of questions and things we do to make sure the person possesses certain character traits and experiences. Then we tweak those questions to a particular company and to the particular role they have open.
Another important thing to mention, when I first started working in HR, it used to be that an HR manager was an HR manager and a director was a director, etc. Now we’ve got business partners, people leads, etc. You’ve got all these different terms that are being tossed around and there’s a lot of confusion out there as to what they mean. Now an HR director of one company could be a manager at one or a VP at another. So for us we really get to know the client, get to know what’s really important.
“It all goes back to the same thing about building those relationships with people and getting to know them and getting them to trust you, so we can help them out in different ways. A big thing for us is we don’t just send in resumes, we ask what is the culture like, what do you really want the person to do, etc.”
A lot of times it’s tough when companies release ads and they get a load of responses, but not everything is there. However, we get to know the person applying, because you can get a person applying with the best background ever but if they’re not a good cultural fit then that’s a disaster and vice versa.
“Finding the best talent is a lot deeper than finding a good resume, you need to know who the person is, and what makes them tick.”
Because the ups and downs over the last several years have awoken people up to what’s most important. And it’s just as tough as it is hard to tell all that from a resume.
Have you had any experience working with HR software? If so, what are your thoughts on the importance of it?
I think it’s critically important. My only concern with it is that a lot of times we’ve taken the human out of human resources, but I think you have to have it. Over 15 years of my career I’ve had to talk and profile thousands of people, and luckily for me I have a good memory, but it gets tried. So definitely software is needed, it’s critically important just to keep track of everything, with compliance, and who applies when, how do you get them and where do they come from. It gets you a lot of data. So I think it’s important to utilize it, just utilize it wisely and not just as a way to say no to everybody.
“Of course, with companies that are hiring, you look on their website with 300 people applying, you’ve got to have some sort of software in place to help you with that. So yes I think it’s critically important, we’re now beyond the stage of paper and pencil, you can’t do that anymore you need software.”
How do you think HR software has transformed the sector?
It’s changed tremendously. I was talking to a gentleman the other day and he used to recruit in the past. And we were talking about when he first started filing folders and faxing resumes and all that kind of stuff and now you have emails and at the click of a button, you can present resumes. So I think it’s drastically changed, certainly from a staffing perspective, but also from benefits to compensation to learning. Now we have massive systems that make all these processes so much easier. It’s changing incredibly quickly. Now especially I think we’re going to see a lot more of that through AI and things like that.
“It’s to the point where you can’t survive if you don’t have the right software for sure.”
Is HR software conducive to accomplishing the growth of businesses?
Almost definitely. From staffing to learning and development- everything. You’ve got to be able to impact all these things. I think a lot of times in HR you really struggle to show the value because we can’t quantify a lot of things we do. We can track hires, track those that go through the learning, track sales but there are a lot of things that are hard to put a number on. So I think if you can get HR software that helps track those goals and shows a difference and gives you tangible data then I think that’s critical.
“You have to have software and technology in order to grow. Period. Otherwise, you just can’t compete.”
Compensation is a big space. If you’re not keeping track of what’s going on out there and have a good system for that then you’re going to get lost. We’ve seen that a lot over the years in which I’ve been doing this. Companies just don’t have good data to go off of, they’re making offers, but they don’t get accepted and they can’t work out what’s going on. The data is bad. So you really want to keep track of that. And it makes it so much simpler, and really allows HR professionals to do HR. Being able to do these things online, makes it so much easier. You’ve got to have it, but also you’ve got to have the right one for your company, whether it’s a very small company to a huge one.
“I think as a smaller company HR software really allows you to compete with the bigger ones.”
We’ve worked with some startups, and they have a CEO, a CFO, etc, but there’s no one doing HR, it’s mind-boggling and also very dangerous if there’s a lack of awareness of things to do with compliance and laws.