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I am talking to Joel H. Wilensky. Joel has a firm, Joel H. Wilensky Associates, Inc., which was founded in 1975. He is by all definitions a big biller. He is focused. He owns a global desk in the Retail chain store industry. And Joel, if you take a second and just give our listeners an insight into your background, what kind of brought you into recruiting, and what brought you, more importantly, to the kind of success you enjoy today?
Well, what brought me to recruiting is that back then, I had young children and I was a manufacturer’s rep. One day, I looked at a co-salesman who was in his 60s, and he was still opening the trunk of a car. And I said, I don’t want to be doing that when I’m in my 60s, I don’t want to be traveling. So this wasn’t for me. I decided to go to employment agencies. Making a long story short, I was at an agency, called Perspective. I started in Retailing because I came out of selling to Retailers, and that was my field of experience. I was a History and Government major at the University of Connecticut, and there wasn’t much to do with that degree—I was probably a minor in poker, basketball and girls. I went into the agency business, loved it, found I was good at it, and that’s what happened, that’s how I did it.

You’re in the top 1—2% of recruiters out there, as far as productivity, effectiveness, and you have a national reputation. What is it that generates success? What is it that pushes or drives you to that success you enjoy?
I’d say it’s pretty simple. And I hope my directness doesn’t offend some people, but it’s being honest. A lot of the competition has people coming and going; success is being stable, it’s developing relationships, it’s being honest, it’s delivering what you say. All clichés, but that’s it. I’ve always said I’ve survived more by the ineptitude (dishonesty?) of others, by just returning phone calls, following up, treating applicants the way I want to be treated. And that’s it in a nutshell.

You’ve got a kind of unique perspective—in 33 years, you’ve seen this business go through a lot of different gyrations—everything from applicant-paid business, when you started out, I’m sure, to today, which is more of a true executive-search focus. How do you see that change, what does it look like from your perspective over the years, and how do you look at that change in your business today, how does it work today versus yesterday?
Well, everything I just said before is still there. The biggest change is the search engines, or this Monster Board. I have recruiters saying that they can’t pay fees because they can get candidates from the Internet. And they’re blind to the fact that Yes, you should go on search engines, you should use “Monster Boards,” but if you’re looking for the best possible candidate, cost should not factor in that much. Not everyone who puts their resume out there or is involved in getting on these search engines is a “good candidate.” In other words, Does this recruiter see “all” candidates? In fact, I was told by a reliable source that his company, who stopped paying fees and just used Monster or whatever, had very high turnover shortly thereafter by really not looking at all potential candidates. When I first started, you might have a relationship with a recruiter for 20 years. Now it’s like Suzy Jones or Mike Smith—they’re there, then there’s someone else, and Suzy and Mike are gone. There’s no continuity. I think relationships are the biggest thing. Luckily, they still exist. Now, when I have to connect with some recruiter with only a couple of years of experience, I can talk till I’m blue in the face, but she or he is more interested in what it’s going to cost and has no respect for what you’ve done. You lose some of those relationships because a lot of my peers on the other end have retired. Cost concerns and recruiter turnover are things that jump out at me, that’s a big change. I’d say the computer is obviously another big change—the search engine,, all those kinds of things are a factor. But I still had a pretty good year in 2002, and I established some new relationships, and I tell people that I, personally, actually don’t look at search engines. I do split fees, so I may get candidates from search engines, but I screen them all, even from affiliates, and make sure that they’re the right person. I can’t judge them by where they came from, but I personally do not use Websites or ever go online to solicit candidates. I do get
candidates from National Personnel Associates, the world’s largest and most successful network, I do get them from other affiliates, and I do work them—but I talk to them all before they’re presented.

Joel, how does the technology piece—the hardware, the software, or the Internet—you touched on the Internet about some of the job boards and search engines—but the hardware and software, and how you use it in your business? How does that fit into your style of recruiting?
I don’t use it at all, as I said earlier. It’s a necessary part of the business, but I personally, if this is your question, don’t sit at a computer screen. I use e-mail, I have three people who work for me to do research and send out the resumes, and that type of work. I still have to recruit from wherever it might be, I still have to be on the telephone, I have to qualify the candidates. I’m presenting people, as I stated earlier, to whom I talk directly, wherever they come from, before the client sees the resume. Plus, I tap a lot of referrals. If I get an opening for a Controller, I know 50 other Controllers or Chief Financial Officers, whom I can call up and say, “Hello, Chief Financial Officer, I’ve got a need and use. Do you know… Who do you know? Can you refer someone good to me?” So, I’m still doing it the old-fashioned way. I may be wearing blinders; but I have no interest in recruiting with a computer. Again, I’m a one-man band; I’m on the telephone talking to candidates and clients and just check my e-mail during the day, and that’s my use of the computer. That’s it in a nutshell.

Joel, talk about your day typically; what does it look like, what’s the balance of your day of recruiting versus marketing, how much time do you strive for to have on the phone, how many calls do you attempt a day, those kind of things?
I live three miles from my office, so I’m in here 5:30 to 5:45 AM, and I usually leave about 6:00 PM. I say in my marketing that I’m “6:00 to 6:00.” Let me qualify that: I do work out, I play basketball four times a week, and that takes a few hours out of the day. I can’t say to you that I have a script that I follow, but I would say I’m more on the telephone in the morning, and then in the afternoon I’m following up on calls I made in the morning. So I’m on the phone a lot. Administratively, I’m the office manager, I’m the secretary—there’s 528 sq. ft. here—I have to photocopy, I have to pay bills—there are other things I do to maintain the business. I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to retire. But to answer your question directly, I don’t have a script for the day as to how much time I spend on the telephone. I do try to set aside certain days—for instance, Tuesday and Thursday are longer workdays for me because I don’t go to the “Y” to play ball, so I do more administrative stuff. And again, I have those hours in the morning before most people come in. So I’m in here—marketing or preparing, getting work out, creating and sending out marketing letters, answering e-mails, reading resumes, reviewing jobs, etc., etc., etc. I use a lot of e-mail, including direct-mail type, to applicants to try to find out what they’re doing. I do ask them to fill out a questionnaire to update me. If I’m looking for a certain job, I’ll say, “Could you send me a paragraph in an e-mail as to whether you meet the three ‘musts’ of this particular position.” When I speak to somebody, I like to have my questionnaire filled out so I can maximize the time on the phone. I get a lot of the basics out of the way, so then I can get a feel for the candidate. In the phone screening, I’m pretty good on voice inflection and how candidates answer questions, and rating them, and that type of function.

Okay. Joel, how about planning? Do you do [formal] planning? Do you sit down and come up with some kind of a marketing plan, or how do you do that?
Every month, I market myself to potential new clients and to the companies that know me. When you’re a one-man band, you have to keep your name in front of the public. So I’m very, very big on marketing, and I’ll send out a piece I might read, perhaps something from The Fordyce Letter, or whatever. It might be a paragraph, or something new—for example, on an HB-1 visa, etc. Whatever it is, I’m keeping my name in front of the companies, and I guess that’s how I market.

Is it a newsletter you do, Joel, or just e-mail?

No, just e-mail. Not a formal newsletter, just an e-mail, selectively to people who know me. And there’s a very good return on investment. If a client sees something that comes in from me, they may say, Well, gee, I didn’t think about Joel, but his name just came up; we’re starting a search next week. . . . You’ve got to keep your name out in front of people, and that’s what I do. But I’m not a schmoozer or a joiner and never have been one that goes to meetings or conventions, or whatever. I’ve just never ever been that. I do visit clients, however.

Joel, last question, and think about this for a second because. . . . What is it that makes your firm, your business, your practice different than the guy down the street, who may, in fact, be a vertical niche Retail Recruiter like you are. What makes you different; what makes you better, basically?
Honesty. I tell it like it is, and I’d say my organization and follow-through are exemplary. I said I was a step ahead of everyone before computers came because of my follow-up, and my memory was like a computer. I was on top of everything (still am), but now the field has been somewhat leveled because somebody else can be organized by using certain software. So I’d say honesty, follow-through . . . you’ve talked to me here for awhile; I come across well, with a trusting voice and sincerity; I just placed a Chinese national (that’s why I alluded to an HB-1 Visa), and I loved the young man. I loved when he got the job, and this is going to sound cliché—but I do enjoy applicants I like and placing them, and that’s no B.S., that’s just who I am. Sometimes I make a placement and say, “I’m glad this is over with, this guy was a pain in the neck.” I guess that’s what separates me. The late Samuel Feinberg interviewed me in Women’s Wear Daily in 1980, closing with a quote from William Howell, the then-Chairman of J.C. Penny, “Be who you are. . . and stay comfortable with that.” What you see is what you get, I am who I am. There’s no hidden agenda here; this is who I am. That’s what separates me. You either love me or you hate me, and not too many people hate me.

Joel, I’d like to thank you for your time. It’s been a great couple of minutes, and the information you have, the wisdom you’ve shared I think can help any recruiter, regardless of their niche. Thank you on behalf of Extreme Recruiting.

You’re quite welcome.


Joel H. Wilensky Associates, Inc.

P.O. Box 155 • Sudbury, MA 01776-0155
Phone (978) 443-5176 • E-mail
Fax (978) 443-3009