Social media for recruitment: Vangent’s Jerry Calhoun finds success beyond traditional HR approaches

A company’s greatest asset is its people. That’s something that Jerry Calhoun keeps front and center in his role as Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Vangent.

Ever since Calhoun joined the Arlington, Va.-based provider of information management and strategic business outsourcing services in March 2006, he’s focused on ensuring that everyone, from the top on down, views themselves as a strategic game changer within the company.

That’s no easy task for any company to pull off. All of which makes Calhoun’s work, and that of his team, especially noteworthy.

Over the past few years, Vangent has maintained consistent growth, year over year. First quarter results for fiscal year 2010 saw revenue increase 46 percent — and operating income, 55 percent — over the previous year’s same period. A solid HR strategy underpins those gains. So does a unified communications strategy.

“We communicate out so that all our people understand the impact they have in their day-to-day job on the success of any given initiative,” says Calhoun.

That approach will come into play, once again, this coming fall. That’s when Vangent unrolls the next stage to its strategic plan, which is delivered in three year increments.

Calhoun has been busy setting the stage for the meetings to come. Senior management aren’t the only ones who’ll  pull a seat up at the table, he says. Last year’s meeting brought 55 stakeholders to the process; this year brings the total to roughly 75, including Vangent’s Senior Leadership Team, Vice Presidents and Directors representing every aspect of the business from Operations,  Business Development, HR, Finance, Communications and IT. They, in turn, will reinforce key objectives through one-on-one meetings with direct reports.

Social media for recruitment

Calhoun’s team is busy on the hiring front as well, in areas such as healthcare, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the company’s business. So far, recruiting has been strong this year: Among the hires are three doctors with strong IT backgrounds. Roughly 70 additional positions are now being filled, primarily in health informatics, clinical measurements, and informatic principles.

That story points to an overall shift that other HR leaders can take a cue from: the increasing role of social media in recruitment.

Calhoun began tapping into that approach over a year ago.

“As we were looking at the marketplaces we were moving into, like healthcare IT, we’d been doing a lot of traditional kind of recruiting — I felt we needed a new model,” says Calhoun.

For Calhoun, the path forward began with adding a key position to his team: Director of Talent Acquisition — the operative words being “talent acquisition.” (By contrast, the term, “recruiting,” says Calhoun, often implies “transactional activity.”)

Social media has helped connect with a richer pool of talent.


“LinkedIn is rapidly becoming a primary tool for us,” says Jerry Calhoun, who predicts that such social media tools could replace job boards such as Monster and CareerBuilder as a primary platform for HR professionals.


“Search firms are expensive … job boards are expensive … we are not yet at the stage where we can simply replace them with LinkedIn but that networking is large,” says Calhoun.

But, he adds, nothing replaces solid reputation. “The first thing is to perform exceptionally well in the work that you do, because if you’re not doing that, top candidates are not going to be attracted to your organization no matter what your recruitment strategy,” says Calhoun.

Performance management breakthroughs

Calhoun’s foresight extends to other areas as well.

“What we’ve done so far won’t get us to where we want to go,” says Calhoun. “We have to make sure we have the HR practices in place to help people do the right things, the right way, all the time — it’s always looking for that.”

That approach was evident this past year when Calhoun created an additional role within his team: that of, Director of HR Performance Management.

The role goes deeper than the typical HR focus on attrition rates or “time to fill,” says Calhoun.

“Attrition rates might tell you how fast you’re losing people but not necessarily why that’s happening,” says Calhoun. Which is why, he adds, the newly-created role is tasked with not just measuring what’s happened but where the company is headed.

Gauging direction, says Calhoun, come through asking several key questions: “Are we focusing investments on positions that impact the company’s strategic success? Do we have ‘A’-level people in the most effective positions to move the company forward? Do we have a pipeline to move people into those kinds of career paths?”

Future HR investments

Looking ahead, Calhoun’s got his eye on talent management and succession planning.

“Both are where we need to devote additional time, energy, and resources,” he says. “We’ve always had talent reviews, we’ve always had some succession planning, but tying both directly back to strategic positions — that’s my focus going forward.”

So, too, will be a continuing focus on new workforce generations.

“You have a workforce that’s not necessarily looking to do 50-plus hours per week … they have other important priorities in their life,” says Calhoun, “and we have to be able to respond to that as well.”

What will drive effective results, he adds, is the company’s ongoing emphasis on meaningful work.

“I think that’s key, having a workforce that does meaningful work and understands the role that they play in the company’s overall success,” says Calhoun.

“That,” he adds, “creates a satisfied workforce in today’s marketplace … and that’s where we plan to be going forward.”

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