Make Me A Match

Local recruiters talk about the business of landing just the right candidate.

Hear the term “headhunter” and one doesn’t immediately think of Traverse City. Yet, recruiting means business for several search firms in the area, both independents and local franchise offices. The Traverse City Business News checked in with four – the Adam Kay Group, Management Recruiters of Traverse City, PMP Personnel and the West Bay Group – for a glimpse of the recruiting life, the most in-demand positions and more. Most work within a block of each other in downtown Traverse City but rarely cross paths or industry sectors as they match candidates with clients around the country.

Meet The Headhunters

Mary J. Barker is the president/owner of Management Recruiters of Traverse City, one of 800 offices internationally that make Management Recruiters (MRI) the largest executive search franchise in the world. Barker began her career with MRI in Lansing immediately after college, buying her first franchise (located in Battle Creek) in 1987 and the Traverse City office in 1994. She has a team of three other Traverse City-based search professionals, all specializing in placements for just two fields – packaging and HVAC/Refrigeration. Clients range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, none in Traverse City.

Mario DeCarolis, managing partner of the West Bay Group, was a clinical psychologist for eight years before shifting his career path into headhunting 15 years ago. Since 2004, his small boutique search firm has focused very narrowly on placing specialized auditors in very large organizations, primarily Fortune 500 companies and the Big 4 accounting firms. His client list includes Ernst & Young, Macy’s, GE, Harley Davidson, Kimberly Clark, Abbott Labs, Rockwell, Kohler, Plante Moran, Johnson Controls, Alcoa, and Hershey. He does some generalist searches for the Traverse City market but the majority of his placements are elsewhere in the country.

Chris A. Rigan, owner/principal consultant at the Adam Kay Group, returned to his hometown of Traverse City in 2009 to launch his own search firm after working as a headhunter and corporate recruiter in Grand Rapids for 14 years. Originally entering the market as Tailored Management LLC, the Adam Kay Group has the greatest local presence, specializing in Michigan and Midwest placements for small to mid-size companies with 20 – 2,000 employees. Rigan estimated 90 percent of his clients are Michigan-based or have a Michigan presence, with 30 to 40 percent of those in Traverse City. He considers himself a generalist, but primarily conducts searches for engineering and IT positions, with additional demand in health care and human resources.

Gilbert Mosher, DO, founder and CEO of PMP Corporation based in Petoskey, began his career in emergency medicine. He founded PMP Corporation in 1992 as Professional Medical Placement, specializing in medical staffing, before expanding into additional sectors with PMP Personnel in 1994 and Financial Search Consultants and Integrated Systems Consultants in 1996. Northern Michigan search services are led by PMP Personnel locations in Petoskey, Traverse City and Gaylord, and a regional team of 12 certified staffing specialists, including Ron Phillips, Traverse City branch manager.

Bringing Value, Expertise to the Search

From an employer standpoint, why hire a recruiter? Mario DeCarolis of the West Bay Group offered up several potential reasons.
“Employers use us for very difficult to fill positions … for rare resources that require specific expertise,” he said, in contrast with more traditional human resource department roles.
Also, “Sometimes the best people are working for competitors,” he said. “An internal search team won’t have the same access,” noting headhunters – by being outside the workplace – can also help ‘sell’ the benefits of a client’s organization to a candidate better than an employee can.
“We understand the market,” added Chris Rigan of the Adam Kay Group, “and, when talking to hiring managers, we have a very clear understanding of the criteria they are looking for. There are also huge benefits in using a recruiter when you consider all the costs (incurred internally) and what is not getting done that should be,” he added, noting downtime, delays in replacing positions, managers being pulled away from primary duties and impact on general operations.
The hiring process can sometimes feel overwhelming, taking time away from other seemingly more time-sensitive projects.
“We truly strive to take the hassle out of the hiring process,” Mary Barker of Management Recruiters said. “All of the candidates we present are screened thoroughly according to our client’s specifications. We are a true ‘search’ firm … our service charge is paid by the client, not the candidate,” she said. “We do not find jobs for people, we find specific people to fill jobs.”
A large candidate pool literally at their fingertips is where employers find real value when they hire a headhunter.
“As a specialist, I have a very large email list that I can access quickly,” DeCarolis said, noting his CRM system has over 73,000 contacts, with at least two-thirds experienced auditors. “We also can offer third-party input. An external consultant can be very frank with a client about the realities of the market in a way that an internal employee cannot.”

Candidate-Driven Market

A key dynamic in the search industry is a recent shift from an employer-driven market with more candidates than jobs, to today’s candidate-driven market. Positive U.S. employment growth accounted for an average 251,000 new jobs each month in 2015, building on growth trends begun.
Engineering and related technical fields are highly sought in today’s market, as is computer science, accounting, health care, sales and IT security.
“We place a lot of sales engineers,” Barker said. “So, the combination of being technical and having strong sales acumen is essential.”
Rigan noted the hiring boom in small manufacturing in Michigan, along with demand for experience with ISO and lean manufacturing. Also, as older workers retire from the workforce, Phillips, of PMP Personnel, noted that CNC programmers, machinists, welders and other skilled trades are in high demand. DeCarolis also stressed technology, predicting the wealth of big data will drive demand for related analysts.
According to a recent study by MRINetwork, increasing opportunities along with a growing shortage of highly-specialized talent has resulted in qualified candidates receiving multiple offers and being less likely to accept the lower wages and lesser working conditions that were common during the recession. The study also noted that many employers were slow to acknowledge the shift or act competitively, often losing top candidates who took other offers. The same dynamics are affecting retention in several sectors.
For positions in the Grand Traverse region, the candidate-driven market is also impacted by the region’s traditionally lower “view of the bay is half the pay” salaries. Other challenges can be the infamous northern Michigan winters and spouses who are also seeking to continue careers.
“To lure talent to Traverse City, you have to pay for it,” Rigan said. “If you’re a global company, you need to act like one … and that includes pay. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but we’re getting there.”
Phillips agreed that local wages versus those of a metropolitan area like Chicago or Detroit were a hurdle.
“It always works in our favor being able to have them come and see the local flavor of northern Michigan and the vast amount of activities (available) for families, couples and singles,” he said.

Thrill of the Hunt, Changing a Life

With careers spanning 15 to 40 years, each of the headhunters enjoys the challenge and fulfillment they have found in the field and in working from Traverse City.
“I love the flexibility I have as an independent,” DeCarolis said, “And the ability I have to live and to make a good living doing what I love here in Traverse City. What I enjoy most is interviewing (candidates) … I always learn something new.”
Added Barker, “When I was recruiting, the thrill of the hunt for the right candidate and making the right connection for my clients was great motivation. I’m a competitive person, so I like to win. Finding a great match … was a true win-win-win. My client won, the placed candidate won and I won. My thrill has always been negotiating and being involved in the strategic side of the business.”



Technology As Game Changer

Local recruiters share their thoughts on how technology has changed their careers:

“When I first started recruiting, there were no job boards and no email. Then, there was and Career Builder … now it’s social media. I use whatever I can – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. I want to make sure I am connected … you would be surprised what a posting on Craigslist can generate.” – Chris Rigan

“LinkedIn has been the biggest game changer. It is an excuse to have your resume online and out there (constantly) … and makes finding candidates easier. If you are looking for a job and not on LinkedIn, you are a dinosaur.” – Mario DeCarolis

“We can use cyber tools to speed up our searches or to get a quick questions answered, but nothing takes the place of a telephone. Talking to someone is really the only way to build a long term relationship with clients and candidates. Loyalty is not something you develop with a text message or over email. It’s done on the telephone.” – Mary Barker