Jason Leonard
Director of Field and
College Recruiting


“At the end of the day there’s no technology that’s going to eliminate the recruiter role. It’s kind of funny…every time the next big thing comes along, everyone says ’aw, recruiters are going to be obsolete.’ I really don’t think that will happen. Good communication skills, a strong work ethic and a desire to be successful are always going to enable the best recruiters to continue to exceed expectations. The tools just help them do it a little bit more easily.”
Jason, tell us about JCPenney, most people know you are a retail organization, but can you tell me a little bit about the history and some things that people may not know?

I joined in January of 2009 and am very happy to be here. JCPenney is a great institution and is over 100 years old. It actually started in 1902 by James Cash Penney; thus the name of the company. He ran the company for over 50 years and, since then, JCPenney has only had 7 CEOs through its 107 year history. Today, we represent 150,000 associates and over 1,100 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico, so we’re a domestic retailer. Actually in terms of store count, we are the largest department store now. Our major competitors are Macy’s, Kohl’s and then some high-end department stores, like Neiman Marcus, SAKS and Bloomingdales.

This economic downturn has hit retail a little harder than other industries; however, JCPenney made the decision not to lay off their staff – the most important asset. That meant fewer hours for a lot of hourly individuals, but they’re still employed. Penney’s has taken a different perspective on the economy than some retailers and it’s actually done well for us.

What do you do? I know you’re a Director of Field and College Recruiting, but what is a day-in-the-life like for you?
JCPenney structures their recruiting efforts into two sections. I have a counter-part, Leslie Kourlis, who is the Director of Recruiting for all of our corporate and executive recruitment. So she’s responsible for all the middle office functions, legal, finance, HR and all of the executive hiring. Then my team is responsible, pretty much, for everything else we hire for…hourly associates, store managers, assistant managers, district managers and regional managers. JCPenney has a very extensive supply-chain network with 18 distribution centers throughout the United States that employ over 8,000 people. My team handles recruitment for that division as well. And, finally, I have college relations. JCPenney has had intern training programs that feed directly out of undergrad programs for about the last 10 years. And we’ll hire about 400 people, trainees and interns, this year.
When you think back about your career in Human Resources, what was the starting point for you? How did you get into Human Resources and more specifically, into recruiting? Was it something that you’ve always wanted to do, or did you, like probably 90% of us who have been in the recruitment industry, kind of fall into it?
I’m like the 90%, I sort of fell into it. It’s interesting – I always liked to make money, so I went into a retail sales role straight out of high school. I was making great money for an 18-year old. I wanted to go to college, so I went to school part-time and worked full-time. My last couple semesters prior to graduation from the University of Oklahoma, I was interviewing pretty heavily with different companies because I knew I wanted to move past retail into corporate America. The company I found most attractive was actually an external search firm. The recruiting business was compelling because it was the first type of sales transaction I had been exposed to where you have to sell both sides of the equation. When I was in retail, I just had to convince the consumer that that product was for them. I didn’t have to convince the product to go home with them, right?
In recruiting, you have to sell both sides. I just found that very fascinating so I went to work for a boutique search firm straight out of college. That firm was subsequently acquired by Spherion, but, at the time, it was Boutique…focused more on IT and Telecom. I did the agency recruiting bit for about 3 1/2 years and then moved to the corporate side in 2001. I’ve spent the last 8 years in corporate recruiting.
You’ve been in the industry long enough to know that there are fads and trends that come and go and, then, there are some trends that stick and improve the recruitment industry. What kind of trends are you seeing today and which ones would you think…ok, my crystal ball would tell me that this is one that’s going to stick.
Great question. It is interesting because I started in the recruitment in spring of ’98 so, I guess 11 years now. At the time, the Internet was really just starting to catch on, but most recruiters were still using fax machines, hard-copy folders…very old school.

Literally, Rolodex.

And then people started using E-mail and all these job boards started popping up and that was the first iteration. Then things shifted to the data-mining tools. From a recruiting perspective, how do I go mine for candidates? Then, after a few years, it sort of shifted to the job-board aggregators. All of these still have relevance, but what I’ve learned is that there is no one silver bullet – everything is sort of a tool in your arsenal, and you need to use multiple tools in order to be the most effective.

The thing that everyone’s talking about today, which will be on the radar for the next several years, is social networking. People are figuring out the best candidates aren’t necessarily active job seekers; although, in a bad economy sometimes good people are impacted and they become active job seekers. But the really good talent tends to be the passive candidates, so people have drawn the conclusion of “well, I need to go where those people live.” The great thing about all of these social networking tools is that they aren’t really built for recruiting purposes and that’s where these perspective passive candidates are living. So, if you can get into the space where they spend their leisure time, or even some of their work time, then that’s how you start to forge those relationships with folks that are really going to be your superstars. I think recruiters are savvy to that idea.

At the end of the day, there’s no technology that’s going to eliminate the recruiter role. It’s kind of funny…every time the next big thing comes along, everyone says ”aw, recruiters are going to be obsolete.” I really don’t think that will happen. Good communication skills, a strong work ethic and a desire to be successful are always going to enable the best recruiters to continue to exceed expectations. The tools just help them do it a little bit more easily.

Yes and I would even argue that the tools make recruiters even more important and indispensible because they need to know how to actually utilize those tools in the most effective way.
That’s very true. And the tools are always changing, so what is the flavor of the month? Today it may still be relevant, but a year from now it may be replaced with something else. And the recruiter community is dialed into what works. So we need those people to have a constant finger on the pulse of what is going to give me the maximum ROI.
It’s funny- you look at an organization and imagine to yourself who is the most well-rounded person within my organization. And you might think a senior manager, a C-level person, but I actually point to recruiters. I’ve been in the recruitment industry about 11 years myself… you really have to get in the head of the perfect candidate for that unique role and figure out what it is that is going to entice them. It’s vital to learn about different types of roles and responsibilities and, in addition, stay up on the technologies, understand what’s new, and figure out how to most effectively use technology to reach the right candidate.
Yes. As I’ve climbed the ladder in my career and moved up in the hierarchy, I’ve become more detached from the daily flow. And you get out of the loop on what is the cutting edge tool today…and the most effective strategy. You’re job definitely becomes more strategic and less tactical. And that has its own advantages, but the disadvantages are, as you move up into senior management, you become a little more detached from what’s really going to make you competitive. So you must stay in touch with your front line of soldiers to make sure they’re sharing information up and you’re sharing information down.

To be continued (see Part 2, to be posted on March 1, 2010)

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