Hiring Secrets of a Top Job Creator

After closing 2007, at Veterans United Home Loans, the leading dedicated provider of VA Loans, we employed a 109-person workforce, all within our centralized Columbia, Missouri location. We will will advance into 2013 with more than 1,200 employees and a 22-office nationwide presence.

As the human resources director for one of the country’s fastest-growing private companies, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the highs and lows, the meltdowns and meaningful moments, and seen the best and worst in people, along with the downright bizarre.

While the previous list would make a great piece in itself, that’s not what I am most passionate about. What drives me is the opportunity I’ve been given, which has been hiring more than 1,000 extraordinary employees in the past five years, leading to recognition from Inc. Magazine as the nation’s No. 29 job creator — No. 1 in the financial and banking industry — and being listed on Fortune Magazine’s Great Place to Work list as the No. 21 best medium workplace.

Results like this are not the production of a boilerplate hiring method or template that fits every company, but the collective achievement of a unit that believes in working as a team to produce a superior end result for the user.

To understand what it takes to assemble a successful entity like Veterans United, read on before you hire your next applicant.

Stay True to Your Company Culture and Values

For the larger companies out there, working with a team of recruiters means there will be inconsistencies in hiring practices; however, to stay on the same page, I implemented a single uniform principle, which is to look at the applicant through the lens of our values first and foremost before hiring the candidate.

There is no room for compromise here. This is what will distinguish between employees who meet expectations and those who are happy, effective and efficient. Even with extremely talented candidates, if they don’t mesh with your company values or culture, you take the chance of destroying your company from the inside out.

At times it isn’t easy, but turning down a very gifted applicant because they wouldn’t fit with the culture or values is the best idea, especially for rapidly growing companies that want to maintain their company culture.

At Veterans United, the employees take great pride in the company’s core values and culture — principles that have been upheld since the company’s inception in 2002. Our values, which include being passionate and having fun, delivering results with integrity, and enhancing lives every day, play a vital role in all areas of the company and how we interact with the men and women we are honored to serve.

Don’t Look at Achievements; Look at the Path That Led There

Interviews are more about deciding who you should or shouldn’t hire, but should give you a glimpse inside a potential employee’s head through the questions you ask. In many cases, applicants have a rehearsed answer for every portion of their resume (after all, they control what they have written). Ask questions that will allow them to showcase more than the achievements listed, but the path they walked to get there.

For example, if you have an applicant who was a previous business owner, there is a huge difference between someone who inherited a business and the person who built a company from the business plan up, while attending college and working a full-time job.

In most cases, asking an expected question, such as three strengths and a weakness, will do nothing more than give you a computed answer that has been over-rehearsed. Find out the path they walked that helped develop that strength.

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Find a Common Goal not a Common Mind

Your greatest advertisement for a quality workforce is word of mouth from your own employees. And when employees perpetuate a powerful message of the opportunity your company can provide, referrals will flow through the door.

Much of a company’s sustainable success lies in the quality of  coworkers and work families. And that’s why well over 50 percent of the people we hire at Veterans United come from employee referrals. Our employees want to share the culture and opportunities with their peers and others who they know, and we are happy to have them.

Unfortunately, not every referral results in an exemplary candidate, so when conducting your interviews, look for passion and creative ability. Applicants who are passionate about their profession or the people they serve, with or without your company, should be highly sought after. These candidates are there for their love of the job and who they could potentially serve, and want to do more than use a contact and charm an HR representative into giving them a gig.

Streamline Your Entire Hiring Process

Since 2011, Veterans United grew from 400 to more than 1,200 employees, causing a significant growth in the recruitment team to handle the sheer volume of work. With such growth, and the addition of over 22 new offices, it is necessary to set expectations that keep the company culture in harmony.

To keep the culture and values as the forefront of our process, we rely on constant communication and feedback from all hiring managers, as well as implementing the use of three to four different assessments before applicants even get to an initial interview. A resume screen, online assessment, initial screening interview similar to the one found here, and online references are used to filter potential hires from those who wouldn’t necessarily fit company values or culture.

Doing this allows us to spend time with serious candidates and doesn’t leave us placing time with anyone who noticeably wouldn’t fit the company culture or values. Given the total number of people we hire, efficiency is a must.

While our process has been able to expand to fit demand and our team has had to grow, we won’t compromise on quality. We truly cherish what this company stands for and want to see our success continue. With this in mind, we won’t settle for putting warm bodies in chairs. We expect to produce employees who do well and help the company thrive, which should be the main goal for any HR manager.

August Nielsen is the Human Resources Director for Veterans United Home Loans, and is responsible for hiring over 1,000 employees in the past five years for a company recently named the #1 job creator nationally in the financial industry by Inc. Magazine as well as making the Great Place to Work top 25.

Connect with August on Google+.


5 Comments on “Hiring Secrets of a Top Job Creator

  1. When I see contact center talent acquisition professionals taking the time to get to know the person rather than their marketing doc (resume) I’m pleased. Your success reflect a balanced use of questioning. Interested to learn more! Consider a webinar with your assessment vendor and invite us…@TalentPlatform

  2. These are all great tips on how to hire better and expand your workforce. Whether your interview is in person or through online video, it’s a good tip to focus on employees who will fit into your company culture. If the candidate won’t fit, don’t hire them. It might seem harsh, especially if you’re dealing with a top-notch candidate, but the truth is an employee that doesn’t fit into your organization is an employee who will eventually leave your organization. Employee turnover is expensive and can ground your workplace to a halt, so focus on candidates who will love to spend their 9-to-5 in your corporate environment.

  3. @ August: Thank you. You’ve done a fine job tooting VUHL’s horn.
    Let’s go through some of your statements:

    Stay True to Your Company Culture and Values
    This makes a great deal of sense IF your values are functional, positive, and you routinely test them to see if they are still relevant to the current/changing circumstances. Also, the more homogenous your people are, the less adaptable and more susceptible to group-think your organization is likely to be. Sometimes you want VERY different people on board to give yourselves a reality check…Speaking of “values”: when I hear a company values “passion” and “having fun”, I figure it means they want to hire lots of perky young folks and working them really hard until they don’t need them anymore- they’re ready to “drink the corporate KoolAid” and say “Yes sir, yes sir three bags full!” Speaking of your folks, it appears from your pictures, that you hire lots of young, happy, attractive, middle-class, clean-cut white people, and not too many folks who aren’t.

    Don’t Look at Achievements; Look at the Path That Led There
    This makes a lot of sense.

    Find a Common Goal not a Common Mind:
    I’d think that would be finding someone who wants to work for you that you want to hire.

    Streamline Your Entire Hiring Process:
    I agree with the statement. At the same time you also say “it is necessary to set expectations that keep the company culture in harmony”. It seems as if you spend more effort to find people who will conform to your corporate expectations than who can do the job well.

    IMHO, it’s more important to hire people who can get the job done well and won’t drive each other crazy, while maximizing employee autonomy, creativity, and empowerment in a minimally-political, functional, and ethical work environment, than creating one big corp-cult or corp-church. While this is more of a how of recruiting than a plan of who to recruit, I think many of THESE values below would be useful:

    Manifesto for Agile Recruiting
    (This was “sampled” from the Agile SW Development Manifesto. -kh)

    We are uncovering better ways of hiring people by doing it and helping others do it.
    Through this work we have come to value:
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • Quick, quality hires over comprehensive documentation
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    • Responding to change over following a plan
    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

    Principles behind the Agile Recruiting Manifesto
    We follow these principles:
    • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of quality hires.
    • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
    • Deliver quality hires frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
    • Internal customers and recruiters must work together daily throughout the project.
    • Build projects around motivated individuals.
    • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
    • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a recruiting team is face-to-face conversation.
    • A quality hire which is on-time and within budget is the primary measure of progress.
    • Agile processes promote sustainable employee development.
    • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
    • Continuous attention to professional excellence and first-class service enhances agility.
    • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done–is essential.
    • The best requirements, processes, and hires emerge from self-organizing teams.
    • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

    I challenge staffing organizations to adopt, implement, and maintain these policies and principles. Don’t know how? I’ll be happy to show you.


    Keith Halperin

  4. Keith, thanks for the comments. You have made some great points here.

    I like your comments that a company should want very different people on board, which is why we work on finding a common goal, not a common mind. We strive to find employees who love their job and can provide innovative ideas and the finest customer service to the men and women we are proud to serve.

    Similarly, applying this same concept to company values yields great return for employee morale, which is especially important for rapidly growing companies that always run the risk of thinning the foundation the company was built on – the culture and values.

    I want to reach deeper into our values, since these are viewed and implemented on a daily basis.

    Being passionate and having fun is our commitment to begin every day committed to excellence and finding fulfillment in what we do. Through celebrating victories, learning from mistakes, staying positive and embracing change, we continually improve as people, as professionals and as a company.

    Our second value, delivering results with integrity, is essential for the long-term success of the company. Hard-work, innovation and excellence are expected from all employees, and, as a company, we desire to do the right thing for the people we serve, never compromising integrity. With this value, we work to foster an environment of open and honest communication between customers and co-workers alike.

    The last value, enhancing lives every day, is our view on successes. We see success as the positive impact we have on our clients, co-workers and community. With this value, we wish to provide our customers with the best experience possible through our quality hires.

  5. You’re very welcome, Augie. Your values statements are good; at the same time most companies’ value statements are good (Can’t think of any companies’ value statements that aren’t.)

    While not wanting to compromise is a noble attitude, the reality is that life and work are a series of compromises and tradeoffs, and that few human things are completely black and white, but rather varying shades of gray. I’ve found that people who view most human activities in stark black and white terms are usually good to avoid. As a recruiting example: I sometimes find it necessary to say to hiring managers: “Speed, quality, or cost? Pick any two.” A manager who insists on all three isn’t being realistic: not all things can be accomplished through hard work and PMA.

    My best to you and all the folks at Veterans United in 2013,


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