Meet the Speaker Series: Brendan Browne of LinkedIn

Mar 18, 2015
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.
#SourceCon Meet the Speaker Series

The spring SourceCon conference is less than one week away! Our guest today is Brendan Browne of LinkedIn.

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Podcast transcription by Speechpad.

brendanJeremy: Hello, everybody. This is Jeremy Roberts, and welcome to the Source Con Meet the Speaker series. We’re very excited that Brendan Browne is going to be with us in Seattle. I’m going to let him go ahead and introduce himself real quick. Go ahead, Brendan.

Brendan: Thanks, Jeremy. Again, my name is Brendan Browne. I am the senior director of global TA for LinkedIn. I’m excited to be with you.

Jeremy: That is awesome. Now, one of the things I think everybody wants to know when they’re coming to a conference, they want to know a little bit about the person’s background, kind of have an idea of their personality and just get to know the speaker a little bit better. So that’s the goal of our call today. So I guess first off, how did you get into recruiting? Most people don’t set out to be a recruiter. So it’s always an interesting story to hear how people arrived in the role. So go ahead and tell us about that.

Brendan: Sure. Well, I first stumbled into recruiting, like many people do. I went to school at [inaudible:00:01:42] University outside of Philadelphia. I’m from Boston, moved back to Boston, was living with my parents. The number one thing I wanted to do was move out of my parents’ house. They started charging me rent the day I got back from college. 

A friend of the family said, “Hey, you’d be a great headhunter.” I didn’t know what that meant. I had no idea that was actually a real job that you could get paid to do. They introduced me to some folks who ran a small recruiting firm at a contingency agency outside of Boston. I interviewed with them, and they said, “Hey, if you blow it out your first year, you’ll make $30,000.” That blew my mind. I signed on the dotted line and started my career.

Jeremy: That’s awesome. So you started out contingency.

Brendan: Yep.

Jeremy: So how long were you in the contingency role before you transitioned over into corporate recruiting?

Brendan: Yeah, for a couple years. I learned from a woman from the Bronx, New York who had been in the business a while, and she taught me a lot about discipline and what it meant to really work with clients well. There was a guy in the office who happened to be pretty technical. He kind of taught me the core elements of the software stack at the time, which was really sort of all about the client server technology.

I did that for a couple years and had some success, and then got recruited to a company called Sapient that was based in Cambridge, Mass. I was with them for about five years, and they sent me out to the west coast during the first dot-com boom. That was a whole other chapter.

Jeremy: That’s awesome. So what is it that intrigued you, I guess, when you made that transition into corporate recruiting? What is it that really kind of made you feel the value there? What excited you about that?

Brendan: Yeah. For me, when I went to Sapient, the company was truly differentiated around culture and values. Today, people throw those terms around quickly and lightly and frequently. But in terms of how the company hired, it was front-and-center. Everything began and ended with culture and values throughout the entire recruiting process.

So selling that and finding people that aligned to that really gave me a supercharge. It was exciting. It was a unique thing to do, and it was something I had never done before. Then I was fortunate enough to work with a couple folks who really took me under their wing to mentor me just as a business person. 

So being part of an organization and not on the outside really gave me pride of ownership and a sense of belonging to an organization. So when it came to recruiting, it became really a natural extension of who I was, which made my job really enjoyable.

Jeremy: Absolutely. So you’re now with LinkedIn. Okay. So you’re the head of talent acquisition for LinkedIn, which probably is one of the more popular recruiting tools out there right now. So I want to get something clear for the audience. You are over the recruiting department for LinkedIn. You’re not a product person. So this presentation is not a, “Here’s how you use LinkedIn.” You’re going to go into more of your philosophies about recruiting. Am I right?

Brendan: Yeah, exactly. I am sort of one of you. I sit in the same seat that many people do. So what I want to talk about is my vantage point from being a guy in the trenches of recruiting and trying to build and lead a recruiting organization. So I am not here to plug product or pitch product, although I welcome any feedback, good, bad, indifferent. Yeah, my goal here is to have a conversation about what we do for a living.

Jeremy: That’s excellent. Now, I guess as you look at recruiting as an industry, what’s one thing that you would change about recruiting? What do you think we need to work on?

Brendan: I think upping our business acumen. I think that a lot of folks . . . I guess it’s two things, probably business acumen and storytelling, I think. I semi-joke, but definitely there’s a serious point. I get recruiting calls and hear recruiting calls that are essentially all the same. It’s sort of, “Hey, it’s Brendan Browne, calling from XYZ company, and we are building products that are going to change the world. We got wickedly smart people. We got great space. We got free food. How much job experience do you have,” or something akin to that.

I think on a storytelling front, our job is to know our business, so much so that we should be able to get in front of the CEO, a board member, best PhD in the world, middle-manager, someone gainfully employed, anyone and kind of blow their mind with the story of the company that we represent. So it’s incumbent upon us to really have the business acumen and the chops and the storytelling ability to be able to piece that together.

Then second point on the business acumen is just the same that anyone leading any other function in the company influences strategy, has input to strategy, brings to bear data to influence company direction or outcomes, we should be no different. We should be the same level of influence as the finance organization or business operations organization or the product organization or the field organization.

So I think it’s the challenge that I think we all need to step up to. Now that there’s a lot of data and great tools available in our profession, maturing how we run, I think the next, say, five years are a real opportunity for us. It’s our call to leadership, as TA professionals.

Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I guess you’ve been to Source Con before. Correct?

Brendan: Yeah, it was several years back when I was up in Seattle, living there. Yeah.

Jeremy: Excellent. Now, why did you agree to speak at Source Con? I know you probably get a few opportunities each year in your current role. Why would you agree to speak at Source Con?

Brendan: One, because I think I can learn a ton and watch from afar in the years I haven’t gone, who’s showing up and who’s speaking. So one, I’m excited to get to know some folks and probably reconnect with some old friends and, most of all, learn a lot and share some of my points of view on what’s happening and share some of the best practices. 

I think, above all else, I think elevating the profession of recruiting, I think, is up to all of us. So I think forums like Source Con are the perfect place to get together with some of the best people in the world at this profession to talk with the idea that, “Hey, let’s all raise our game. Let’s all elevate what it is that we do.”

Jeremy: Absolutely. Now, one closing question, and this is kind of unique to your current situation. What is it like to be the recruiting leader at LinkedIn? I think that has to bring certain challenges that other people don’t think about.

Brendan: Yeah. Well, I think first and foremost, the core accountabilities that I have are no different than anyone else. Right? If I can’t grow in scale the company through identifying, attracting, and hiring and retaining great people, I wouldn’t have a job. So that and doing the battles that we all fight, the challenges we have, the mistakes that we make. I am no different. Those are the same things I face.

I think that the expectations are a little different here, given that there’s an expectation that we probably do things differently or use data in a more innovative way. So there’s a fair bit of pressure on that front. One of the fun parts about my job is that I get to spend time with customers. Many of the attendees at Source Con are customers. So some of those folks I’ve seen in our LinkedIn customer relationship. Then I get to be the voice of the customer to our product folks . . . 

Jeremy: Right. Right.

Brendan: . . . things that they like, things that need to change, anything that I think or anything that I hear from my peers or friends or colleagues. So I see that as a privilege to represent what we do, not only as the LinkedIn recruiting guy, but me as a guy who happens to be close to our product team, and I can speak to and speak for folks in my seat. It’s a really neat opportunity.

Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. When you get frustrated, you can pick up the phone and dial the extension of the person who can actually fix it. So that would be nice.

Brendan: Yeah. There have been plenty of things. I had a great idea. We get involved fairly earlier and earlier on product ideas. [inaudible:00:11:35]. Plenty of times, I’ve been like, “This idea that we’re thinking about is just not a good idea, for the following reasons.”

Jeremy: Have you had an idea . . . You may not be able to answer this. Have you had an idea that just was an idea that came to you one day, that turned out to be a big product rollout?

Brendan: Yeah, there’s a product. I wouldn’t take credit for it, but I would point to folks on the recruiting team. The campus recruiting team . . . There’s several actually. There’s one very specific thing. There’s an app called Check-In, a tablet/mobile app, where people can check in on their LinkedIn profile [inaudible:00:12:15] use it for campus recruiting. Literally the product requirements document for that was written by our campus recruiting team. They just said, “Hey, it’s [inaudible:00:12:25] that we don’t have something that meets this need. Can we build something like that?” So that makes . . . 

Jeremy: That’s fun.

Brendan: . . . the job fun. Yeah, it’s neat. So any feedback people have . . . 

Jeremy: Well, absolutely.

Brendan: . . . like I said, positive or negative or ideas, share them with me because I take them directly back to the product folks.

Jeremy: That is very cool. Well, we’re excited to have you at Source Con again. For those of you who have not signed up, there’s still plenty of time. It is March 24th and 25th in Seattle, at the Westin. So if you can make it to Seattle, we would love to see you there. Brendan, is there anything you want to say as closing words?

Brendan: Well, I’m looking forward to, like I said, seeing some old friends and making some new connections and learning a ton up in Seattle. So I’ll see you guys in several weeks.

Jeremy: Awesome. Thank you for joining us today.

Brendan: Cheers. Take care. Thanks.

This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.
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