Is your small business still using outdated interview and recruitment techniques to find potential candidates? If so, you might be missing out on many talented and qualified applicants who could significantly contribute to your work force. But, how do you ensure that your current hiring process is allowing you to find the most suitable employees for your business? Gene Marks and special guest Kathy Bromage discuss how small business owners can make the most of the job recruitment process.

Executive Summary

3:10—Today’s Topic: Are My Hiring and Recruitment Strategies Allowing Me to Find the Best Employees for My Small Business?

4:35—If you meet an early career professional who would be a perfect addition to your work force but there aren’t currently any openings, you should still attempt to make room for them because they might no longer be looking for a job when a position finally opens up.

6:18— During the interview process, you should be looking for a candidate who genuinely wants to work for your business and be a part of your team rather than someone who’s looking to be hired at any job and is solely focused on their individual success.

7:38—While it is important to review their resume and evaluate their previous experience, you really need to consider whether your candidates can assimilate into your business’s culture.

9:38—As the interviewer, you need to be aware of your biases not only for the sake of equality, but also to ensure a diverse set of perspectives.

11:42—Although most positions can be worked remotely, it is important that your potential candidate is able to maintain open communications with you and can stay up-to-date with your business’s current events.

13:56—Interviewers should place less emphasis on personal references and focus more on feedback from people within their internal networks. You should also keep an eye out for any red flags on your applicant’s social media accounts.

15:51—Small business owners should look for someone who actually cares about their customers and how they engage with your business.


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Gene: Hey everybody, and welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. This is Gene Marks talking, and I am thrilled and happy to have a very special guest, Kathy Bromage, not ‘bromage’. Kathy Bromage, right? Chief marketing officer, communications officer, here at The Hartford. Did I say that right?

Kathy: Very good, thank you.

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QUESTION: How Do You Hire the Best Employees?

Gene: All right, that’s good. Kathy is … You’re in charge of all marketing and communications at a giant Fortune 500 company, and we have a lot of things to talk about. We actually have three podcasts that we have scheduled with you, and the first one is … has to do with employees, but before we even get to that, Kathy, just tell me … As brief as you want it, or as long as you want it, what was your path to becoming CMO of a Fortune 500 company?

Kathy: That’s a loaded question because it’s a very non-traditional path.

Gene: That’s why I’m interested.

Kathy: So I spent the first half of my career in accounting and in finance.

Gene: Which makes complete sense, being an accountant. And now you’re in charge of marketing.

Kathy: Well, I will tell you, and maybe we’ll talk about that later, but it has served me well. But how I actually found my way into marketing was … It was an opportunity in one of The Hartford’s business lines, personal lines, which is a direct consumer business.

Gene: Right.

Kathy: And it’s all about “How do you invest media dollars to get people to come in and consider a purchase of insurance?” And it’s largely math. It’s very analytical in terms of “Where do I put my dollars to optimize the cost to generate a lead, and to convert that lead into new business?” And so my finance background was really, really helpful, and I was well-supported by amazing creative talent.

Gene: Right.

Kathy: And so that gave me the opportunity to better understand the creative aspects and to use my finance skills to drive business impact, and that’s how it all began.

Gene: So, right now, are you using data as a big part of your job?

Kathy: I am. So, The Hartford is a big company, as you suggest. Most of our business, however, is distributed through independent agents, and so we are not largely direct consumer. And so, oftentimes, an organization would question, “Well, why do we need marketing? We have people that distribute our products.”

And so, for us, the ability to demonstrate through data and through key performance measures that are initiatives, actively support the generation of new business or the retention of customers, is critically important to our ability to be respected in the organization and to get the influence that’s required to get the opportunity to have an impact.

Gene: Great. All right, so we are going to get to metrics and data in another podcast, and I have a bunch of questions to ask you about that, but I do want to talk about people. I mean, you’ve been around for a long … Am I even going to ask you how many years you have worked here at The Hartford? Do you care to disclose that?

Kathy: I’ve only been at The Hartford for fifteen years.

Gene: Only fifteen years, right? Okay.

Kathy: Only fifteen years, which is actually the longest I’ve worked anywhere, and this is the fifth company that I’ve worked for.

Gene: Okay.

Kathy: Which, I think, says a lot about The Hartford, but it is one of the benefits of being part of a large company, is you can change jobs without changing companies, and so I’ve had a great opportunity to do a multitude of different things here.

Gene: How many people report in to you?

Kathy: Currently, on a direct basis, about 200.

Gene: Wow. Do you get involved in the hiring process?

Kathy: Yes and no. The way, at this point in my career, that I’m involved, is obviously anyone who’s reporting directly to me …

Gene: Okay.

Kathy: … Or if we’re hiring somebody that we think could be a potential successor to somebody on my team, I would play a role. What I’m most interested in is when we have open positions. Really being thoughtful about “Is that a place where we really should be promoting internal talent, or is that a place where an external perspective might be helpful in influencing how we go about the hiring process and making sure that we’re being thoughtful and giving people an opportunity inside our company?”

Gene: So this podcast is for small business owners, right? So we want to make it applicable to us. So you mentioned about filling open positions …

Kathy: Mm-hmm.

Gene: Have you ever been in a situation in your career where you didn’t have an open position, but you stumbled across somebody that you just say, “We gotta hire this person. We need this person.” And even if you haven’t been in that position, could you see yourself being in that position?

Kathy: So, I’m going to answer that two ways. I’m going to start with … That’s how I got hired at The Hartford. There was no open role, I was an exploratory candidate. Very challenging to be an exploratory candidate … any size firm, because people are really focused on “I got an open role. I gotta fill it.” And there’s a sense of urgency around it. If you’re just meeting somebody who you think is talented, there’s no sense of urgency other than you really want to hire that person and you’re afraid they’re going to get a better offer somewhere else. But someone took a chance on me at The Hartford; made up a role for me. And that is how I found my way into The Hartford, and I remind him every day, because he still works here, that he’s responsible for my success.

But for myself, I would say it’s much easier to do that with early-career professionals. People younger in their career. Honestly, because, earlier in your career, there’s lots more optionality around where I can place you than when you’re more senior in your career. And if it doesn’t work out, the implication is a little bit more negative than when you’re earlier in your career. So we are actually very good about making room for early-career professionals and providing, now, rotation opportunities to find the best placement for them long-term. So there’s never a defined role in mind, as much as a commitment to bring in new talent, give them experiences, because jobs open all the time, and then we’re able to place them.

Gene: Makes sense. When you’re interviewing somebody, at what point in an interview do you say to yourself “This person’s the person”?

Kathy: In less than 15 minutes.

Gene: Why?

Kathy: For the most part, you really want to get a handle on how is somebody going to be welcomed and how well are they going to assimilate in an organization. And it often starts with just that first minute introduction; someone looking you in the eye. Are they poised? And the first set of questions that get asked and answered. And what you’re really assessing is “Is this somebody who seems really interested in working at this company? Or are they just interested in a job? Is this somebody who really wants to be part of a team? Or is this somebody whose sheer focus is ‘I want a promotion’?” And you get that vibe really early on, and I usually start to pick at that a little bit when I ask somebody “What brought you here?” and “Describe to me the best experience you’ve had at a company and what it was about that company or that experience that really resonated with you?” And you learn a lot.

Gene: Why do you ask those questions as opposed to more about their expertise or, you know, something to do specifically about where they are able to do the job?

Kathy: So, you have their resume, so presumably, you have some sense of what has been accomplished.

Gene: And have you … I mean, do you spend a lot of time looking at the resume? Because some people don’t. Some people like to go in there [inaudible], you know, complete with an open mind. Do you look at their resumes and prep?

Kathy: I do look at it, and I will look at it largely for what experience, not even in terms of subject matter, but types of companies, size of company, how long they worked at that company, and then literally how they describe what they did.

Gene: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kathy: You know, I think a lot of people write your resume; you want to put your best foot forward. But I’m just looking at how well they write and communicate. If you can’t communicate well in your resume, and you’re going to be in marketing and communications, that’s not really a good precursor of how successful you’re going to be.

Gene: But is it just a resume that you’re looking at? Like, would you ask for a cover letter? Would you look for writing samples before? Or would you just assume that that’s been done beforehand?

Kathy: So, my folks are really good about all of that. I am really, really focused on “Does this person look like they can communicate? Does the breadth of their experience suggest they would be successful at The Hartford?”

Gene: Right.

Kathy: Types of companies, types of environment. And I’m really focused on culture. Is this person going to have a positive impact on our team and on our company?

Gene: Got it.

Kathy: And when it comes to expertise, there’s a lot of people that can vet that out, and sometimes, you can get enamored with expertise. Sometimes, you can look at somebody’s credentials and say, “This person’s really smart and really talented.” But if you’re really smart and really talented, and you can’t influence people, or you can’t work with people, I don’t really care.

I’m really much more focused on “Is this somebody who’s going to work together to drive a positive impact?” And we can teach expertise. Obviously, the more senior you are, the more challenging that is, but it is much easier to teach somebody a skill than it is to teach somebody how to be nice, how to be positive, and how to collaborate.

Gene: You know, one of the biggest issues that I have when I’m interviewing people is bias. I mean, I meet people, and … I don’t know if they went to the same high school I went to, or they’re from a similar whatever, and I know a lot of people are like this as well, like we make hiring decisions sometimes for the right … Have you been challenged by that? How do you try to keep bias out of your decisions?

Kathy: You know, here’s a place I think where being part of a big company’s going to be different than being part of a smaller company, and I have actually worked for small companies in my past. In a big company, I think you have the luxury of trying to fill a lot of slots and being very deliberate around “I want a diverse slate,” because it doesn’t matter what research you look at. It is a diverse world, and your ability to employ a diverse set of experiences and a diverse set of perspectives is critically important to staying relevant to serving a diverse set of customers.

But what I have found on the bias issue is we all do it unconsciously. If you’re part of a big company, you get trained on this on a regular basis. To make something that’s unconscious conscious. And to really reinforce the need for a diverse perspective, and that is in job ethnicity, that’s gender, that’s just even a point of view, that’s even added to … about the way you work.

I think the biggest challenge for me, personally on bias, having worked a long time, is on the notion of flexibility. It is less about “Should you hire women? Should you hire people of color?” I think we all get that. But it’s more about different work styles. You know, I grew up at a time where it was very clear how you worked, what your hours were, what the hierarchy was, and what you could ask for and what you couldn’t, and in the war for talent, and a whole different generation, the notion of remote work and flexible hours and the blurring of work and personal time has been my biggest challenge.

Gene: Right. So, what do you do … I mean, I was just about to ask you, and you’re sort of leading into it. I mean, you’ve been at The Hartford for fifteen years. Worked at different places before that. Hiring’s changed a lot since you first started out, so you mentioned some of the ways that it’s changed, right? These different demands. So, what are you doing now to meet that … I mean, when you have, now, people coming in that are significantly younger than you and I now, and they’re making certain demands for remote working or whatever, how do you play that?

Kathy: So here’s my opinion about remote work. If you are an individual contributor with a unique skill, you should be able to work from anywhere. I can accept that. If you want to be a leader of people, I think, depending upon the role, you can probably work anywhere. What I worry about personally is, if you’re an individual contributor working out of your house in a place with no proximity, how connected are you to the company? And the company’s not a building; the company is people.

Gene: Right.

Kathy: So I’m more than willing for certain roles to think about you’re an individual contributor, working out of your home, and you’re delivering value. I’m even open to remote work if you’ve spent any time in any one of our physical locations across the country, and I feel like you have a connection to our company. And I also point out that being remote doesn’t mean you never come into a physical property of The Hartford to connect with your teammates. I just think looking somebody in the eye every once in a while is very powerful.

Gene: Right.

Kathy: When it comes to work hours, I’m less bothered about that. I think, if we’re really clear about our expectations of folks, and folks are getting it done, then I don’t really care when you’re doing it. Having said that, there are certain hours in the day where we would like everybody to be present so you can actually plan a meeting, whether that’s a virtual meeting or a physical meeting.

So I’m … I think, have come a long way in terms of my own view, as has The Hartford in this notion of remote work and flexibility. But it doesn’t come without expectations around responsibility and accountability on the folks who are looking for remote work and flexibility.

Gene: Good. Job candidates oftentimes … People ask for references. What are your thoughts on references? Do you give them much credence?

Kathy: No. Now, what I will say is that I give them some credence in terms of if there’s any hesitation. So we’re all going to give somebody’s name, that we think is going to say something positive, and people that are really diligent about the interview process are calling their references and suggesting what they’d like them to say.

Nowadays, you really even can’t verify much. So, for me, I give a lot less credence to the reference that I get from a candidate, and I use networks or internal networks to get feedback from people who know these folks from either a past relationship or a past employer.

Gene: What do you do if somebody asks you for a reference and you’re not a huge fan?

Kathy: I don’t return the email or the call.

Gene: That’s fair enough.

Kathy: It’s one of those “don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice.”

Gene: It’s just … You blame the spam filter, which is a … It’s a … You know, speaking of … I have two more questions for you. One is on the technology that I mentioned email. Social media. I mean, again, a lot of business owners, a lot of my clients ask me … Do you look into social media when you’re looking at a potential candidate? Does that have any influence on your decision? Do you not care?

Kathy: Our recruiters, you know, the folks that The Hartford employs; full-time employees, absolutely are scrolling social media.

Gene: So that’s part of the other thing, right? Okay.

Kathy: It is definitely part of their thing, and if there is an issue, it is brought to our attention, and we need to weigh in on it.

Gene: Okay.

Kathy: Again, you know, if this is something somebody did seven, eight years ago as a young person, I’m a little bit less concerned. If it’s something more current, and there’s something in there that’s kind of negative, or doesn’t show some sort of self-possession or self-control, that’s a red flag.

Gene: Got it. To wrap things up, the … You know, so … Let’s say that all is well and great at The Hartford, but, I don’t know, you decide to leave The Hartford. You start up your own business, right? So you’re running a company, you’re looking to hire people … 50 percent of the people that are out there now are younger, or millennials and younger. 35-years-old and you’re with a different set of, you know, objectives and whatnot, okay?

Based on all that you’ve learned, what advice would you have for yourself, for other business owners when they’re interviewing that prospective employee, what advice would you have?

Kathy: So, again, this is someone coming from a large company, but …

Gene: Sure, but now you own a small company, so you’re going to use that.

Kathy: I think it applies … When I’m interviewing people, I would be looking for somebody that I am confident is actually going to care about my customers …

Gene: Good.

Kathy: … That is actually going to treat somebody with respect. They’re going to put the customer first, and that they are going to be driven to always make the customer experience better. We all live and die by our customers, we all live and die by referrals and repeat business, big company or small company, and it is all about the people that are facing off with your customers every single day that are going to determine success or failure.

Gene: Yeah, I found the same thing, Kathy. I mean, the … There’s a certain level of experience or technical knowledge you need to have, but like you said earlier, that can be taught. You’re going to be in an environment, working with other people, and who do you trust, and how do they get along with everyone?

Kathy: Right. And there is lots of choice. And so, if we all know that repeat customers is probably the best path to success, it’s all about the people … And not just the people who are having a face-to-face interaction, but the people, maybe, in that business that are making a decision …

Gene: Right.

Kathy: … That somebody on the front line has to execute. It’s going to be really difficult for them to execute. Maybe that’s not such a good decision.

Gene: Awesome. Kathy Bromage.

Kathy: Yes.

Gene: Did I pronounce that right? He’s thinking I’m going to say it as “bromage,” and it’s “Bromage,” right?

Kathy: It’s not “bromage”. It’s English. It’s not French.

Gene: Chief marketing officer. Communications officer here at The Hartford. Thank you very much.

Kathy: Thank you. Right, my pleasure.

Gene: And we have some more stuff to talk about in other podcasts, but it’s been a pleasure. Thanks.

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