Glen Cathey

SVP, Head of Digital Strategy and Innovation, Randstad

1. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

When I made the decision to search in the “other” category for jobs on Washington Post online back in December 1996. I was looking for a career change and needed to find jobs that didn’t require any previous experience and I responded to a job for a recruiting position at a company in Chantilly, VA. Interviewing there, accepting the job, sticking through the first 3 months when I seriously considered quitting, and hustling to be the #1 recruiter in that company fundamentally altered my life. I have 2 wonderful children as a result of a marriage to a woman I met there at work and I’ve been able to provide for them in a way I would never have dreamed of when I was 25. All because I decided to click on the “other” category.

2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?

I’d say 16. My parents got divorced when I was 8 and when I was younger, I’d say it didn’t affect me – but looking back – it did. I acted out quite a bit, and I was a horrible student (I would get D’s and F’s, get escorted to the principal’s office, etc.). When I was In the 10th grade, my mother sat me down and told me she was no longer going to hound me about my poor grades in school, that she realized no matter what she said or did, I wasn’t going to do anything, just because she wanted me to. She told me she’d never say another word about my school performance and that it was 100% on me – whatever I did or did not not do. Looking back, I can honestly say that conversation changed my life. I don’t even really remember all of the details of the conversation, or how I responded to my mother in the moment, but I can say that I nearly immediately turned the corner in school (I became a straight-A student in high school and later in college), and that happened because I finally took responsibility for my decisions (conscious or unconscious) and actions (or lack thereof).

I certainly wasn’t legally an adult at the age of 16, and I was still immature emotionally, but I do think I took a huge leap towards adulthood through taking 100% responsibility for my decisions, actions, and the resulting outcomes.

“Looking back, I can honestly say that conversation changed my life”

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I have recently come to believe that most people can be categorized as either a giver or a taker – this is a result of watching Adam Grant’s TED Talk on the subject. Takers are people who, when working with others, immediately think of how a person can benefit them. Givers are people who – when working with others – first think of how they can benefit others. I have come to believe that too many leaders are takers, but I am not surprised that this is the case, because it is the taker mentality that helps them get to where they are: by using others, which does not have to be malicious, simply primarily self-serving. Sadly, I also believe that the career paths of givers are likely to be more limited than those of takers.

4. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?

I think that sourcing Talent on LinkedIn is “real” sourcing. From the sentiment I hear online in social media, blog posts, podcasts, and conferences (virtual now, in-person pre-COVID 19), searching for and engaging talent on LinkedIn isn’t “real” sourcing. I would actually like to get to the bottom of the psychology of this sentiment, because it simply doesn’t make any sense to me. Maybe it is rooted in the seeming need of people to have an us-versus-them mentality, instead of being able to respect sourcing in all of its forms. As if using web scrapers and Google CSE’s is somehow “real” sourcing and searching large databases isn’t. I think the people that perpetuate this belief should be embarrassed at how close-minded this perspective is. However, I am very much in the minority. In many respects, effectively sourcing on LinkedIn is more sophisticated and nuanced than other more “real” sourcing methods. IMHO, it’s all information retrieval and engagement, and I don’t think it matters what the specific sources used are, and what method of engagement you use (social, email, InMail, phone, etc). I believe people should respect skill and ability regardless of what sources they apply them to.

5. What personality trait has got you in the most trouble? What kind of trouble does it get you in?

I would have to say my introversion. As an introvert pretty far down on the spectrum, I am painfully inept at small talk and general social lubrication. Also as an introvert, I have a relatively high degree of empathy and sensitivity, so I am keenly aware of how others react to me, especially non-verbally. When I am with a group of people who are not my close friends, I often feel awkward and alone, which I am sure the others pick up on, and I can read it in their nonverbal behavior, which makes it even worse. It feels pretty horrible to have a group of people you’re with peel off to just continue the conversation or engage in activities without you. I realize some people may be clueless when this is happening, but it’s a blessing and a curse to be socially perceptive.

My lack of small talk and schmoozing skills has likely limited my career path and opportunities as well, especially when I compare myself to my extroverted, hyper-social and smooth talking peers. Working to build a high level of expertise in a particular domain can certainly help you with career advancement, but I have come to believe that there are limitations to this in most (not all) companies.

When it comes down to it, people do tend to hire and promote people they like, and my hypothesis is that extroverts have a hard time liking introverts. Studies have shown that extroverts dominate leadership positions and the higher you go the more they dominate… there has to be a reason for this.

“When it comes down to it, people do tend to hire and promote people they like”

6. What is your untrainable superpower?

My untrainable superpower would have to be my obsession with mastery. Whenever I focus my time and energy on something, it has to be something that I can develop a high degree of skill in, or else I’m unsatisfied. I strongly dislike doing things I’m not good at, so if I am going to do something, I will quite obsessively put in the time and effort to develop a high degree of skill in it. It is this focus that has helped me get me where I am at today. It also explains why I will never play golf. 🙂

7. What’s your desktop/mobile screensaver? Take a screenshot and attach it to your answer!

My mobile screensaver is a picture of my 2 daughters from 7 years ago. It’s so out of date, but it’s so cute!


8. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

I have always had the same political beliefs for my entire life, and I believe that I have held them so long because they are logical and make sense. In the United States, we essentially have a two party system, Republicans and Democrats – you’re either a conservative or a liberal. Personally, I believe this either/or approach to politics is @!#$*&^. It leads to an us vs. them mentality, which never ends well.

9. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What did you learn from the experience?

As an introvert, I often feel like an outsider in group situations.

The last time I felt like an outsider was that a group dinner back in February, pre-COVID-19 lockdown. I was at a table with 15 or so people, and for the two to three hours that we were there as a group, the people that I was closest with we’re talking about things that they had in common, and all of them were things that I had no knowledge of or interest in. I am being serious when I tell you that the conversation could go on for 2+ hours all around me and I was not involved in any of it, and I was painfully aware of that fact. As I sat there feeling extremely awkward – essentially at a group dinner but might as well have been sitting at a table for one – I kept looking for opportunities for me to be able to speak up and participate, but no opportunities presented themselves. At one point towards the end of the evening, one of the people at the table asked me why I was being so quiet – as if it took them 2 hours to realize I hadn’t been participating. When I replied, I explained that all of the topics that they were talking about so energetically were ones in which I had no knowledge of or interest in, and so I had nothing to add…that by itself was awkward. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, I am no stranger to feeling alone or like an outsider in a group, but in this particular occasion, the thing I learned was how fascinating it is that people can be totally unaware of how they may be excluding people during what was supposed to be a social outing.

10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

I recently purchased a used Nissan GT-R.

They are a relatively low production car and a bit expensive when new, so I’ve been looking for the right used one for about a year now. A couple of months ago I found one online that looked to be in great condition, with low miles and all of the performance modifications I’d want to add to a stock GT-R, and it was within driving distance, so I had to go check it out. Long story short, I got an incredible car at an incredible deal from an incredible guy.

Most people don’t know this about me, but I am a bit of a high performance car nut. I’ve owned a modified Mustang Cobra, 2 modified Supra’s, an Audi S4, and a stage 3 gen 2 CTS-V. The GT-R comes stock with 565 HP with a 0-60 of 2.8 seconds. The car I acquired has just around 950 HP. It’s all-wheel drive and has a dual clutch transmission that shifts in .15 seconds, so it can really put that power down – essentially Bugatti Veyron performance at a tiny fraction of the price – which makes it incredibly fun to drive. It’s also somewhat of an icon in car enthusiast circles, so it’s nice to add one to my “stable.” 🙂

“Most people don’t know this about me, but I am a bit of a high performance car nut”

11. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?

I’d want to be some kind of leader and promote cooperation and peaceful coexistence. Might sound lame, but it’s 100% true.

12. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

Exceed expectations. It’s brilliantly simple and effective, and I’ve passed it on to others so many times I can’t count.

13. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others?

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is quite simply the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve recommended it so many times to others who enjoy the genre and everyone pretty much agrees with me, so I enjoy sharing things with others that I know they will enjoy. I stumbled across this book in a book store in a mall many years ago – it was on a shelf labeled “employee recommendations,” and in some sense, it is a great demonstration of the power of referrals.

Drive by Daniel Pink

I was sitting in the audience at Talent42 listening to Nimrod Hoofien talk about how he and his engineering team at Facebook (at the time, in 2014) use the concepts of mastery, autonomy, and purpose to recruit engineering talent. I do not recall if he tied those concepts back to Daniel Pink’s book, but I figured it out and bought it. It’s a brilliant read when it comes to understanding intrinsic motivation and it very applicable to sourcing, recruitment, and performance.

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody  Else, by Geoffrey Colvin: 

Wow. Okay, so this book blew me away. As I read it, I was able to go back in time and understand so much about the how and the why behind my performance as a sourcer/recruiter (how and why I actually got pretty good at sourcing and figured out what I did), as well as the effectiveness of my training approaches. It turns out there really is a recipe for success that anyone can follow – it’s called “deliberate practice,” and it inspired me to write an article tying practically all of the key elements of deliberate practice to developing sourcing and recruiting expertise, which has been shared over 10K times.

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

Critical thinking.

15. Who was the best person you ever hired? Why were they so good?

I really can’t pick a single “best,” so I will list a few of the people whom I consider to be some of my best hires…in no particular order, Balazs Paroczay, Allison Kruse, Tim Fraher. The reasons why I’d say they are some of my best hires ties into my answer to the next question – pride in performance. All of these people care deeply about doing the best job they can, are coachable, and genuinely want to make a difference, which shows in their performance, achievements, and impact on others.

16. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?

While there are many qualities I think correlate to successful hiring for practically any role (grit, self-motivation, coachability, etc.) if I had to pick one, I’d have to say pride in performance. If you can uncover evidence during the interviewing process that someone takes pride in their performance – I have found that this is typically ingrained and non-specific, meaning it tends to apply to anything these people put their mind to…it separates people who go through the motions at work from people to exceed expectations because they take pride in anything they apply themselves to.

17. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

I believe talent acquisition is challenged by being treated like a cost center, and I think it should be seen as a profit center with its own R&D budget. Sadly, I don’t think this will ever be the case with the exception of a handful of companies.

18. What changes to our industry would you like to see post-Covid19? What changes do you think we will see?

As an introvert (and a practical person), I’d like to see practically all companies that employ people who do not actually have to be physically be at the company’s building/work site to perform their work to have the option to work from home – ideally most of the time, but at least some of the time. With the move to open workspaces over the past years I don’t think the extrovert majority realizes that introverts can struggle with open workspaces like some extroverts have been struggling working from home and not being around people. Also, not having to commute to and from work every day can have a profound impact on your quality of life. Extending this further, for knowledge worker roles, I hope to see companies not restricting their hiring to people within commuting distance to one of their offices – this would have a profound effect for both companies and talent, with companies no longer artificially limiting their talent pools based on geography and with people no longer limited to employment with companies within a daily commute distance. Thankfully, I think we will see both of these things happening, but probably not to the extent that I’d like.

19. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

My secret tip is “deliberate practice.” It really is the key to mastering your craft, and anyone who has the desire and discipline can apply it and benefit from it. You can learn about deliberate practice in the book I previously recommended above: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoffrey Colvin. There are common elements to the approaches that top-performing people apply when developing their expertise in their craft – it’s fascinating because the vast majority of these people aren’t following a plan to mastery, but they do use many of the same approaches to develop their skills and abilities. In that sense, the methods underpinning deliberate practice are essentially universal truths that anyone can stumble into, and when I read the book 13 years into my career, it was really eye-opening for me to look back and see the patterns in my behaviors that mirrored the key elements of deliberate practice. The good news is that you don’t have to stumble into the power of deliberate practice like I did – you can simply read the book to get the recipe for success.

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With ... ?

Rob McIntosh. He’s brilliant!

Thanks to Glen Cathey for taking 20 Questions with the Brainfood Tribune. Glen’s blog – Boolean Black Belt – remains a timeless classic – read it!

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