Expert Interview with Christopher Savage Of Wrestling Possums On Tips For Your Recruitment Campaign

By Cheryl Morgan

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Christopher Savage has been involved in recruitment for over 30 years in a wide range of industries. He's run the gamut from being solely responsible for new hires to participating in recruitment campaigns. Christopher shares all of his thoughts, insights and experience on the many difficulties of today's business climate at the website Wrestling Possums With Chris John Savage.

According to Chris, companies have been at war with talent for the last 30 years - and talent won. The difficulty facing organisations these days is new-age businesses like Google and Facebook snatching up top talent and never letting go. That means the rest of us have to fight over what's left.

Thankfully, we now have a wider pool of great talent available than ever before. But we have to find them. Or help them find us.

We're grateful that Christopher took a moment to tell us about his experience in the business world, sharing 30 years of hiring and recruitment wisdom as well as more general business best practices.

You've talked about the origin of the name Wrestling Possums. Can you talk a bit about how mentoring businesses is like Wrestling Possums?

Business leaders get stuck working "in" the business, rather than "on" the business. They know what they need to do to push a business forward, but simply don't get around to it. That's where a good business mentor steps in. The role is like a "conscience." Strategy sessions help agree on the priorities. A mentor ensures genuine RESOLVE to actually make progress against those priorities. It's hard for all concerned. Like a possum, our instinct is to dash after what we enjoy doing and the bright lights of the moment. But to build a great business, you have to have one eye firmly on the future at all times.


You've recently stepped down from your position as Chief Operating Officer of the STW Group, Australia's leading marketing content and communications group, where you were managing more than 80 different agencies working under you. What do you feel that you learned during your time at STW? How did you manage having so many accounts? Were you in charge of, or involved at all, with hiring or recruitment at any of those firms?

The major lesson was this: irrespective of what area of professional services you operate in, the issues within your business remain the same. People, customers, selling, service, cash flow etc. I've always believed "the people with the best people always win, always." So yes, I was involved in recruitment, but in a deep way - only when it involved a leader of one of the companies I was responsible for.


You started working in public relations back in 1984 as a junior consultant at the Adelaide office of Burson-Marsteller, where you were eventually promoted to CEO of Australian business in charge of 5 offices and over 120 employees. Again, were you in charge or involved with recruitment at any stage of your career with Burson-Marsteller? If so, what are some ways that you've watched the industry change in that time? What are some of the opportunities businesses have now that you didn't back then? Are there any pitfalls or drawbacks of the way things are currently?

I have been directly involved in recruitment for 30 years across all my roles. Throughout that 30 years, there was an apparent "war on talent." I always thought the war ended decades ago. Talent won!

What's changed is the pool of available talent keeps diminishing. New-age businesses like Google, Facebook and many others are plucking the cream of talent that traditionally would have evolved into my industry. Companies have become adept at using social media tools to source their own talent. The talent pool itself has become far more fickle - happy to jump jobs much faster - and loyalty has diminished. The key is to focus on your top tier of talent: find the best and lock them in. Do all you can to ensure longevity and loyalty, and accept inevitable churn at the lower levels.


In an article for the website, they break down the criteria for a successful campaign into three categories: form, fit, and function. Are there any other criteria that you would add to the list that you would look at when interviewing a prospective employee?

Yes- I look for four things:

  1. interpersonal communications skills
  2. attention to detail
  3. attitude (has to be 100 percent)
  4. "resolve" and "hunger" to work hard.

That's it.


In an article for The NonProfit Times' "6 Questions To Focus Your Recruitment Campaigns," they break down campaigns into two categories: focused and unfocused. In your experience, what are the benefits of focusing a recruitment campaign? How can it help employers find the best employees that will fit in with the company culture - and hopefully stick around for a while?

Create what I call the "Minimal Viable Candidate" criteria. Think hard about what the top four traits a candidate simply "must have" to be considered for the role. Then focus all your efforts to find candidates that score on average 80% against each of those four "must haves." ONLY meet those candidates that hit that level against your Minimal Viable Candidate. Too much time is soaked up by wasteful recruitment practices. Get very focused.


What are some questions you like to ask interviewees to get a sense of who they are and if they'll be a good fit? And do you have any thoughts on ways to see potential employees "in their natural habitats," - as in what they're actually like on the job, in real life and in real time, before you've actually hired them? Are there any other ways of wording questions like these to not be as obvious about what you're looking at and for?

I've never followed a process or formula. Every potential candidate needs a bespoke approach. I very rarely check references UNLESS I ask for names of references that they have had a falling out with. Sometimes they will give you these names. I like to find out why things have not worked out rather than why things have worked out. But overall, I don't check references. I follow my gut. I focus on what makes them happy and inspired, and what their vision is of what they will be doing every day in five years time. I try to connect at a personal level to see what makes them tick.

And here is the biggest test of all. It's not what they say that really counts for me. It's the questions they ask. These questions tell you far more about who they are, how they think, how they operate, etc. than any answer to one of my questions. I love interviews where the candidate hijacks the session and drills me on what our company is like, how I am as a boss, and why this is the right place for THEM. That's more like it!


In a recent blog post, you talked about the worst advice you ever received, which was "Do not show weakness in your blog posts." For job seekers, can you talk about why appearing perfect is not the best way? Can you share one or two ways that flaws can actually be leveraged to help someone stand out from the competition?

It's about being authentic. No one is perfect. Show some vulnerability. People make connections with other people through showing vulnerability.

For more updates from Chris Savage and Wrestling Possums, like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, and subscribe to his YouTube Channel.




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