TecHR Interview with James Hawley, Founder and CEO of NextPath

Leading staffing firms for over two decades, James Hawley has gained immense experience along the path. He also co-founded one of the largest IT staffing companies in the U.S., and now serves as the CEO of Nextpath.

Catch a glimpse as he shares his learnings and expertise in this interview with TecHR Series.

Hello James! Please tell us about your experience in the staffing and recruiting industry so far, especially your biggest entrepreneurial takeaways from being a co-founder at your previous recruitment firm to launching the current one- NextPath.

I’ve been lucky to have experienced small companies as well as working for billion-dollar organizations and what is consistent across them all is staffing is all about the quality of your people.  Recruitment doesn’t have anything proprietary about it but what sets a company apart is it’s people that service clients and candidates each day. Your front line team is your brand, good or bad, that will be what the market perceives you to be. So a key take away for leadership in our industry is, focus on those team members as your most critical piece of your business….because each of them matters more than any amount you’ll spend in marketing to build your brand.

What according to you are some of the biggest flaws in recruitment within the B2B/Tech marketplace today? How would you advise teams to optimize their HR Technology Stack to address them?

Throughout my 20 years, there hasn’t been a shortage of predictions on how technology would ultimately replace recruiters.  I’m happy to say business is still booming for us, recruiters! First, we were going to be replaced by the online job boards and today it’s talk that AI will be it.  The reality is more and more recruitment agencies start every day with the demand for hiring recruiters as high as I have ever seen showing that the role of recruitment is more complex than plugging data into an app.  It’s about finding a hybrid of blending people with technology for optimal outcomes. There are many incredible tools that exist in the market including new ones each day and as a leader, you want to find the best tech stack that can take repetitive processes off your teams’ plate to focus on high-value activities of working with candidates directly.  The ability to leverage your recruiters to spend far more time communicating directly with sought after candidates the better your talent acquisition engine will perform. It will become a true competitive advantage for your organization to attract the best talent versus your competitors.

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Given the evolving Martech/Salestech space and evolving skills requirements for these roles and similar associated roles in B2B, what are your top tips of advice for teams/organizations specific to these roles- what are the changing dynamics that should now be taken into account when filtering/ acquiring talent for these roles today? 

It comes down to a choice to build or buy really. Do you want to acquire proven talent for immediate impact which requires financing to do or find strong talent with core skill sets you can train?  Each path can work but takes a commitment to make happen. The best setups I’ve seen are the organizations that spend for a key resource then build around them.  It tends to be the most cost-effective but gets the results in the Martech/Salestech space.

What are some of the most under-utilized capabilities of HR Tech that you wish companies would optimize more or extract more value from?

There are a couple of areas I see companies miss on with their HR tech.  The first is social media. Candidates want to understand the culture of a company and what it’s like without relying on rehearsed talking points on a website.  Most companies have either no social presence or one that is over-engineered by HQ. Transparency is key and so authentic content from the voices of your team members can speak to a candidate and will draw the like-minded ones you want to you.  Second is a frictionless application process for a candidate. There are strong tools that focus on a great experience for a candidate with excellent communication in order to keep people apprised of their candidacy with a company. We still see too many companies as black holes where candidates tell us they don’t even get an acknowledgment that someone in the organization is reviewing their credentials.  Thirdly is a strong ATS with automation build in. NextPath, for example, has an excellent software that allows us to continually stay in communication with candidates which builds a stronger experience. That draws the best candidates to us which in turn we can provide access to our clients to tap a better pool of qualified people.  

How would you advise HR team to create a continuous talent pipeline with the help of modern HR tech tools? 

HR has many demands on them and honestly competes with them spending the time needed to truly build a talent pipeline.  Mostly its reactionary. This is why our clients outsource that function to us since it’s costly to try to dedicate an in-house team to do.  If an internal HR team wants to do it right they will need a strong team of experienced recruiters who are experts in that space, pay for top tier LinkedIn Recruiter seats in order to access people outside their network, a strong CRM that allows them to create consistent activities, continual networking at events along with advertising the brand direct to candidates, and a proven leader dedicated to that team to direct all efforts in order to make it a priority.  It can be done but will take a commitment of spending the money and time to build it. The issue I see is companies rarely see consistent levels of hiring to warrant the expense. If hiring slows those teams will be a heavy cost to carry not to mention those internal experts will leave for better opportunities.

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Given the influence of AI and automation, what do you think will the HR Tech landscape look like in the future? How would companies cope with the accompanying changes and challenges?

AI and recruiting automation definitely are already here and companies are winning with it today.  What is important, however, is to blend the machines with people in order to create an experience in which the candidates don’t feel is too cold and robotic.  

What is the best recruitment/leadership/entrepreneurial advice you have ever received?

I’ve learned so much throughout my career from a lot of people it’s hard to choose just one.  The industry mentor I had early on was Dan Rodriguez who taught me the business. What I learned the most from him was to never lose sight it’s a business of people.  Sometimes we as leaders can get self-absorbed and focus on the business instead of the people that make up the business. He showed me the importance of helping your team succeed which in turn allowed the business to succeed.  That has been a lesson that has been a calling card of the companies we’ve built and no surprise a big reason for their success.  

Any parting thoughts that you’d like to share? It could be on anything, a motivational tip, work-life balance, etc.

Be sure you love recruitment or the field you are in.  I see people all the time later in their career and they are unhappy professionally.  When I talk to them it really turns out they aren’t passionate about what they do but are a slave to a paycheck.  I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t pick a career based on income but rather find what you love and the money will find you because you will do that job better than anyone else because you do it out of love for the work.

We’d love to know some of your future plans for NextPath!

I am thrilled at what we have built in only one short year at NextPath.  We were able to help small and mid-sized businesses hire great sales and marketing talent which resulted in over $10 million dollars in annual salaries for the candidates we placed at clients.  That positive impact has driven us to expand our offerings to now include technology roles for companies struggling to break through all the hiring noise to land the talent they need to grow their business.  I expect NextPath will see our business double in 2020 and we will roll out more specialties to fill a need in the national employment market.  

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NextPath Career Partners, a certified MWBE, providing hiring solutions nationally for growth focused small and mid sized businesses. They specialize in technology, sales, marketing, customer success, finance, operations, and executive search placements for both contract and direct hire. The company was launched by industry veterans who previously built Veredus, a $100M Technology Staffing company which was acquired by Hays in 2014.

James Hawley has led staffing organizations for the past 20 years including co-founding one of the largest IT staffing companies in the U.S. which was over $100M in revenue with more than 200 employees when it was acquired in 2014 by Hays (6th largest recruitment firm in the world). He has grown teams in staffing across many disciplines including information technology. He graduated from University of Central Florida with a Business Degree and lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife and 3 children.