Ryan Pollock founded Objective Paradigm (www.opstaffing.com) in 2001 in Chicago and was nominated for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. His tech recruiting firm is proven and growing.
How did you get started?
I graduated from the business school at Rutgers University in 1995 with an Accounting degree. Following an internship with Prudential Internal Audit in New Jersey, I accepted a full-time position and worked with the Internal Audit Department. It took me a very short period of time to know that it was exactly what I did not want to do.
I started asking some questions to get transferred to the HR group. I did not really understanding what recruiting was all about at the time, but I knew that it was probably something that was more in line with my interests. I found a technology recruiting company that was based out of New York with 10 offices throughout the country. Shortly thereafter I accepted a position with the firm in mid 1996 working in their New York office. I had some friends out in Chicago and decided to join the firm’s Chicago office.
About two and a half years after that, one of my buddies went to an Internet Consulting start-up company and they offered me a recruiting position. So I jumped on the Internet wave and went to work in their New Jersey office. I stayed there for about 8 months until they opened up a Chicago office and I came back to Chicago. The Internet start-up bubble burst and the market crashed and they had to eventually let me go.
And the firm you founded?
It was January of ’01 when I started Objective Paradigm in my apartment. I was fortunate enough to be able to sustain the firm and gain new clients through the recession in the market. It was about 3 years ago that we really started making a concerted effort to focus on recruiting in financial and capital markets. We now have a staff of 18 people, 17 of which are recruiters.
If we’ve proven anything over time it’s that we can provide value to our clients in a good market and in a tough market. Our strength is in recruiting talented people where technology meets the financial markets. We recruit talented developers, architects and CTO’s. We also have a finance and accounting recruiting practice that we started about a year and a half ago. In addition to serving our clients technology needs, that practice is able to handle anything from portfolio management to fund accounting.
What are some of the firms you work with?
We work with companies that that have a critical need for the most talented technology professionals in the market. Generally these are firms that have mission critical applications that drive revenue, such as cutting edge trading systems. We work with Proprietary Trading Firms, Investment Banks and Hedge Funds. We also work with companies that provide software and services to the segment.
From a hiring perspective, how have things changed in the last 12 months?
We believe that the financial services industry as a whole is an early adopter and large investor in technology. They also make sure that they get the best people from the best schools. In keeping pace with the movement of the markets, as an industry they are quick to make decisions about adopting technology and hiring. As the industry continues in innovate and create new products and markets, demand for the technology and talent to support those innovations drives our business and keeps the demand curve high.
And the time to fill a position, is it shorter or longer now?
We have had positions that stay open for 3 or 4 months because our clients have a need for skill sets or experience that are relatively new. They might be looking for people to bridge the gap between theory and practice in areas where there just aren’t many people out there. Those searches tend to take a lot of time. There are some standard developer profiles that we are able to fill very quickly because of our experience and presence in the market. Most of the searches that we engage take between 1 to 4 months to complete.
Titles aside, what skills are in greatest demand right now?
People that have strong C++ development skills, quantitative financial modeling or market data experience are in the highest demand. The demand is only seeming to increase at this point. Although there are more and more universities offering programs with a focus in Financial Engineering, Quantitative Finance or Computational Finance the demand remains strong in the market for talent and experience. Also, with C++ on the technology side, there are very few other industries that place such a premium on people with exceptional C++ skills that looking outside of the industry can be futile at times. Again, it seems that demand will only continue to increase.
What trends are you seeing in the compensation mix, in the offers that folks are getting?
Firms are finding themselves having to offer more than just money these days because everyone worth their salt in this industry is being paid well. Smaller firms are becoming much more conscience of their culture and the work environment. Firms are offering things such as gym memberships, better health benefits and even daily onsite catered lunches and dinners. Because the industry is very performance driven, firms are continuing to use base salaries with a healthy performance bonus element in their compensation plans. What is changing though is that more and more candidates are demanding more guaranteed money. It is usually in the form of a sign-on or hiring bonus, higher base salary or just a guaranteeing that their bonus will be some minimum number. As much as this seems to be in conflict with a performance driven industry, firms are doing well financially, the market for the talent is tight and concessions are being made. The increased effort to improve the company culture, the increases in compensation, the proliferation of start-up firms and the high demand for talent are all reminiscent of the .Com days. However, the big difference is that many of the .Com firms never made and money, these firms clearly are.
Do you see a standard career path in the industry, or is there no standard course?
Career paths do exist, but they also are constantly in a state of evolution, much like the industry. As such, the career paths are more vague at the industry level then at the company level. The demand for talent puts enough pressure on the industry that traditional career paths are basically thrown off track. They explosion of the hedge fund and private equity sectors has opened up an insatiable vacuum of talent. Those sectors want their talent and they are disrupting the traditional career paths of the industry to get it.
It wasn’t long ago that Financial Engineering became a career. It was a career that started because of the demands in the industry. Now there are university programs that have popped up in the most prestigious universities to offer an education before people get into the industry. This is a clear example of how new career paths are being developed as a result of the talent demands of the industry.
In one of your searches, what makes a candidate really shine? What makes you want to work with someone in particular?
We like to work with someone that is responsive. We like working with people that are honest about their strengths and weaknesses. It is fairly easy to tell when someone isn’t being forthright about their skills and experience and from our perspective; it is usually a losing situation for all parties with candidates are misleading.
We recognize that many of the same things we look for in candidates, candidates look for in us. Working with candidates is like any other relationship. You want to create credibility and trust with candidates and in order to do that you have to be responsive and honest with candidates. Many times when we ask candidates questions, although the answer to the question is important, establishing a rapport and how the questions are answered is critical.
What can someone do to proactively manage their career?
A manager I had a long time ago told me a career is like a baseball game. There are nine innings and you have to just try and to be ahead at the end. What you really want to do is just make sure from a technical perspective that you put yourself in a situation where you’re working with smart people and that you’re continuously adding onto your abilities. You want to keep adding relevant skills and experience so that when an opportunity presents itself, you are able to take advantage of it. Keep track of your progress year over year. If you are doing the same things over and over the technology industry will absolutely pass you by. If the industry and technology passes you by, you need to think about surviving in it as opposed to taking advantage of it.
What’s the most common flaw among qualified but unsuccessful candidates?
The way they communicate. Most people that are qualified but don’t get the job can’t avoid getting out of their own way because they have poor interaction or communication skills. When someone has the tangible or “hard skills” to do a job, they often fail because they overlook their soft skills. Understanding the culture of a firm and what they are looking for beyond the hard skills to fill a position is critical.
And, back on the other side of the coin, what’s the most common reason that a firm fails to land a candidate of its choice?
Pretty much for the same reasons, a company can become so focused on assessing a candidate’s hard skills they can fail to convey to the candidate what is special about their firm. They often fail to sell the company’s culture. Companies need to help candidates really understand where they are going to be potentially working, who they are going to be working with and what differentiates the opportunity that they are offering from others.