As the newest member of the API team, I recently sat down with Janice Barden, an icon in our professional corporate aviation recruitment industry, to learn about how she—a woman in a traditionally male-dominated profession—founded API.

As part of my continual onboarding process, I was curious to know what she learned as a young female attempting to get a foothold in a challenging, competitive business.

I was also curious to understand how she applied her background as an industrial psychologist to create a recruiting process and platform that has withstood the test of time for an amazing 45 years!

We went to dinner and had the most wonderful time reminiscing and learning.  (She did the reminiscing and I the learning!) As I confirmed, Jan is very bright, insightful and articulate and—needless to say—extremely direct when it’s necessary.

Here’s what I learned during that eventful dinner:

1. The Importance of Testing

What I wanted to know is why, in our recruitment profession, testing is so critical. Why is it a fundamental—a starting point—for everything that follows?

She explained that testing “is the road map directing you to the destination you are seeking.” Because it’s both objective and revealing of a candidate’s talent, skills, disposition, etc., testing is an integral component of what we do. Testing, if performed properly, accurately assesses a candidate’s communication and leadership style as well as identifying what his or her strengths and weaknesses might be. It’s not a pass/fail type of test, but a tool that allows us to learn more about the individual—beyond the interview. Without that assessment early in the process, we’re simply putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

2. Cultural Fit

I also wanted to know what insights a professional recruiter can offer regarding a proper job “fit”? What special skills did Jan bring to the table to help determine if a candidate and client is a potential match?

The answer, she explained, lies in the exhaustive preparations that API engages in long before any aspects of job “fit” are considered. She talked about how we conduct a comprehensive daylong “environmental study” with the client to learn about the organization’s culture—including recommendations for any changes that might need to be made to the culture.

Once we have an understanding of that culture and all its unique characteristics, Jan said, we can begin to apply the results of the testing we mentioned above, as well as in-depth interviews, to help better understand whether a particular candidate will find a good cultural fit with the client—or not.

She went on to say that the testing data are integral to identifying a strong cultural match and determining who is best suited for the given needs of an organization. For instance, she said, if we are working with a company or department whose current dynamic is “sensitive” (meaning that perhaps there is friction within the team), we need to know the potential candidate’s leadership style. Is he or she a mentor? Indecisive? Authoritative? Does he or she have a servant mentality toward management?  Ultimately, we must ask ourselves during the testing process, do the qualities of each candidate align with the needs of the client?

3. Go with Your Gut

Jan told me very directly, “If you have a feeling about a candidate, trust your gut and don’t take chances.” I loved that!

Along that same theme, she elaborated a bit on the importance of helping to put candidates at ease when they’re being interviewed by API/recruiters; how we should encourage them to speak openly and freely.

That “gut feeling” translates into a good recruitment professional’s keen intuition, and his or her ability to recognize sincerity and, of course, its opposite. She also reminded me that we have an immense responsibility to our clients, because one bad hire can negatively impact the dynamic of the flight department and potentially reflect poorly on the hiring manager.

4. Build Lifelong Connections

We also discussed the value of building relationships with potential candidates prior to a time when they’re actually looking for a job. In addition to meeting them in person, we talked about the value of leveraging social media to accomplish this: using Facetime or Skype, for example, to see how they present themselves.

Jan described how important talking to potential candidates about their lifelong goals, both professionally and personally, and how much more valuable that conversation can be in the absence of an actual open position that might influence recruiters to “filter” how they perceive that candidate.

She said “It’s best to speak with candidates in a vacuum—outside the context of a particular position; this tactic allows us to know them as individuals and truly understand their professional goals, as opposed to inadvertently trying to align them with one particular opportunity.”

5. Ask for Autobiographies

One of the things Jan is noted for is her practice of requesting that all candidates write an autobiography. Why, I asked. “Because,” she said, “it helps us learn about someone’s background, how they got to where they are, what they value and what their interests are.” In fact, I had to write one for my interview at API and found it surprisingly revealing in terms of the self-awareness it helped me to build. I wrote a blog on this very topic.

Both Jan and I agreed that we couldn’t say enough about the value of the autobiography.

Not only do the length and level of detail provide insight into a candidate’s motivation and attention to a task at hand, it peels back the onion and allows us to see where they’ve come from, the path they’ve traveled and who might have helped them along the way. Further to this point, the career goals section of an autobiography is very important as well.

At the conclusion of that very satisfying dinner I felt as though I’d been party to an exclusive and very valuable set of career instructions from a true legend in my chosen profession.

In hindsight, one more kernel of wisdom that Jan imparted to me that really resonates is about the responsibility that we, as corporate aviation recruiters, have to our candidates. She was speaking specifically about the impact we can have on their livelihoods, which, in turn, impacts their families and children, their lives—their entire universe. She also reminded me that just as recommending them for a job can be positively impactful, making an ill-advised placement could have a negative effect on their entire career.

Perhaps even more so than I ever did before, I take my role as a representative of API very seriously. As corporate aviation recruiters, the reputation of this great company is in each of our hands, whenever we engage with a client.

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