December 10

Episode 13: Attract and Retain Top Talent With David Adams


Is your business struggling to recruit and keep top talent? Thanks to COVID, people are facing uncertain times. In some cases, recruits are choosing not to work or the right work, which means companies are finding it harder now than ever to keep job positions filled.

In this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target, we interviewed the recruiter and founder of Career Link Network, David Adams, to discover what business leaders can do to attract and hire the talent they need to keep their business running.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • The unique challenges business leaders are encountering when trying to recruit top talent in the middle of a pandemic
  • How baby boomers retiring is impacting the workforce
  • How to overcome these challenges so you can hire and retain top talent


  • “And in all of that is uncertainty. Anytime you have uncertain times, you’re going to have a hard time attracting people. Or you’re going to have a hard time finding jobs.” – David Adams
  • “We also have encountered a tremendous number of people that will say, “No, I don’t want to work right now.” And that’s something I’ve never encountered.” – David Adams
  • “The other thing that’s facing the workforce is the huge amount of people that are going to be retiring because they can. You’re going to see an exit of the baby boomers like you have never seen. That is going to impact a lot of senior management in senior leadership roles in organizations across the country.” – David Adams
  • “You also have a tremendous amount of people that you had perhaps for sales that covered large amounts of ground. They’ve discovered, you know what? I have a family. There was a reason I had those children brought to the world. I’d like to be there and see them. And you’re going to see major pushback from those people to want to travel again.” – David Adams
  • “Gone are the days where you’re going to hire somebody that’s just going to sit there until they mildew. They want that defined career path, and you need to be prepared to do it.” – David Adams
  • “Companies are fighting back to not lose their talent, and you’ve got to be prepared. So I would say your message needs to be clear, concise, and you need to be prepared if you’d like the person to move quickly.” – David Adams

Links & Resources Mentioned…

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Read The Transcript

 Mike O'Neill: Hello. Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Show. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders tuncover tips to help you break down the barriers that are keeping you or your business stuck.

Joining me today from Chattanooga is David Adams. David is an executive recruiter and founder of Career Link Network. Welcome David.

David Adams: Hey Mike, thank you for having me.

Mike O'Neill: I've been looking forward to our time together. We've had an opportunity to chat offline. But I particularly wanted to have you on our show because you — in your 30 year career — you've seen a great deal and your perspective will be very helpful to our audience of leaders.

So thank you for being with us.

David Adams: Thank you. It has been a rather unique ride over the past 30 years and I'm amazed. When I first started, we didn't even have fax machines. We went from fax machines to computers, to the technology that allows me to say hello to you today. And that's quite an accomplishment to see.

Mike O'Neill: Well, it is. And I think you and I both experienced a little bit of the drawback with some of the technological advances. We had some issues before we actually hit the record button. So I'm confident we're going to plow right through any of these technical issues, but you started the company Career Link Network.

What does your firm do?

David Adams: We are an executive placement firm. We place everything from basically entry level to the C-suite  positions across the country in all 50 States. We have special expertise in medical, clinical, diagnostics, manufacturing, engineering. We do some accounting work.

Basically with our clients, we try to meet their needs. So we work  vertically and we do work  often with any type of investment company that has purchased companies — they're changing and growing them and it's changing the people they are.

Mike O'Neill: You know, the recruiting industry has changed dramatically. There was a time by which I only knew that there was one type of recruiting services.

What are the types of services that you offer in terms of, if I was to call you as a business owner or as a business leader, what might be the kind of options that you had and your firm could make available?

David Adams: We offer multiple types of placements. We have everything from permanent, which is basically we set up the interview, you hire, and they're permanent.

We do have some contract work that we do. Like I just finished a program for a purchasing director to come in and renovate all of the purchasing agreements that this private equity company has to try to get better buying power. And we put that person in on a six month contract.

But primarily we do a permanent type of placements and we offer three ways of acquiring our assistance.

We have contingency, engagement, and retainer.

Contingency means you get us to look for someone. If you hire them, you pay us.

Engage is a small percentage of the fee upfront. It basically shows that you guys are serious about hiring from us and then we fulfill it.

And then retain is generally for something that is either a confidential fill, a confidential hire, or a team of people. Or you just really need it done and you need it done now. We lift it, we get it done, and we would charge a third up front, a third at 30 days, and a third at the completion of assignment.

So we offer those three  programs to fit whatever the client needs.

Mike O'Neill: David, the options that a decision-maker has is pretty broad. They could choose to go with a recruiting firm or they could use one of these online options.

I typically don't mention a brand names, but I think we all know what we're referring to. Why would a company choose to work with y'all versus doing what we just described there.

David Adams: Well, of course, no one wants to pay for a recruiting fee or a recruiting service. It's expensive, but we're worth it. And there's a lot of really strong reasons to justify the cost.

First of all, we can get things done that you're overworked HR department can't do. Placing an ad now on any of the job sites — and I don't really care how many, algorithms they you use or what have you. People aren't looking at those. You're going to get some of the lower hanging fruit.

You're going to get the unemployed and there's nothing wrong with hiring someone unemployed, but it's not necessarily going to be the best person for your team.

If you could sit next to me and listen to how we recruit. I could spend 25 to 30 minutes with you. I can find out what your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions are. Where do you want to be?

All the questions that you all know. And I won't even identify your company. I'm not even going to share who my client is until I determine you're the person that should be put in front of my client.

And then let's say, I like you. And then I'm going to put you forward. I make you come back to me and sell me on the why. I do all the work that you wish that your HR departments could do, and then we do it correctly.

And then we type it all up, line them up. We do everything for you. We're basically your outsourced HR department. And it's well worth the effort.

Mike O'Neill: I appreciate you clarifying that.

So you're differentiating the type of service you can provide a company from online options. And the biggest differentiator I'm hearing is you're coming alongside HR as an extension of HR.

David Adams: We're a partner.

Mike O'Neill: We subscribe to the same kind of mindset. So we have that very much in common. I'm particularly interested in how, what your firm does, how it's been impacted by COVID and it's been so dramatic.

Give us a sense of what has happened to your industry. What's happened to the job market as a result of COVID.

David Adams: Well, that's like a whole session almost there this year is unlike anything I've ever encountered. We've had companies to pull back out of fear. We have had issues with the candidates.

In this subject matter about being unstuck. It really is. People are stuck with fear.

We have found this year because of the election — is the most contentious time I've ever seen in the history of elections. You're going to have 50% of the population that's excited about what's happened. You have 50% of the population that's not.

And in all of that is uncertainty. Anytime you have uncertain times, you're going to have a hard time attracting people. Or you're going to have a hard time finding jobs.

We also have encountered a tremendous number of people that will say, "No, I don't want to work right now." And that's something I've never encountered.

They will go through the process.

And to share a little story. I've got a role for quality director in a great location. In North Carolina. I've had two people not show up to do a drug screen. Two — and for the same role. And so that makes times are just different.

You've got the drug issues where people in many States it's legal and what have you. You have people scared to death of COVID. You have Companies that don't know which way to go.

So it's impacting us tremendously and we're having used every skill that we have just to try to pull people to get interested in your role.

Throw out the job boards they're worthless. Nobody is applying that will fit. It's just, it's a different time. People will send me their resume and never take my calls.

And it's just like, "why?" I don't get it. But it's just, it just has to be the side of the times.

And we're really hoping 2021 it's going to turn the circle on that. But then I just don't know. You turn on the nightly news and you're hearing so many people with COVID everywhere — you know, they've got it.

And so it's going to be really tough to pull people right now and to make a change and impact the teams you're trying to hire for we're struggling.

Mike O'Neill: David, I think you know my background is HR and my most recollections is that if we had an opening and we made known that opening, and we'll say this is a professional opening, we would be inundated with candidates.

And the challenge was how in a world do you work through all of them and find the best of this large response? What you're describing is very good companies are looking for good folks and the folks are not really willing to put their name out there.

David Adams: Not at all. I just have a brand new client that I'm working with. It's one of the biggest, best research companies. I'm going to put it on the level of Google and they cannot attract talent right now in California.

It's a very specific talent. Everything that we work on, it's basically purple squirrels with orange tails, but that's okay.

You know, there's, those people are out there and it's interesting that this organization is struggling and they have taken it away from their own internal HR recruiters and have given it to me to fill. Because they know I can deliver the goods and I have in the past for these managers and they know I can do it again.

But they're facing the same thing. You would think to simply by this company's name, that they would be lining up to work for them.

And they're not.

The other thing that's facing the workforce is the huge amount of people that are going to be retiring because they can. You're going to see an exit of the baby boomers. Like you have never seen. That is going to impact a lot of senior management in senior leadership roles in organizations across the country.

Some companies may not know that's coming. I do know it's coming because we've had multiple meetings within the NAPS organization about it. I speak to other thought leaders, so I know what's coming.

And I'm getting notes from a lot of people that I've worked with that are exiting and their own companies do not know.

So that's going to be something that the companies are going to have to face. HR departments are going to have to react, and they're going to have to react quickly. You need to take stock of what you have talent-wise and see, is this person about to zone out? Are they leaving?

And you've got to make plans so that we can bring somebody in alongside of those people, get them up and trained so that they can at least try to fill one of the two shoes that person has in your company.

Mike O'Neill: David, you mentioned the NAPS organization. What does NAPS stand for?

David Adams: National Association of Personnel Services. It is the oldest and largest training organization for the recruiting industry in the country. It's been around since the sixties. I'm a proud member and have been a board director of that organization for 10 years.

I am moving on up into an executive level soon, but part of NAPS, one of the things they do is train and they certify an office. My office is 100% certified NAPS trained. And what that means is that we are certified at all 50 States. We know how to work. We know the legalities — each state has certain things that you can and cannot say or do or ask.

And so we work and keep you legal and out of hot water. In other words, we know what we're supposed to do.

And a lot of recruiting firms don't even know who NAPS is. They've never heard of it. And I personally wouldn't work with someone who's not committed enough to be trained and certified. I put all of my people through a six-week training program that I pay for separate from me.

Plus, of course, all my years as well. It's really important. If we're going to represent you and your company, it's important to pick somebody that's going to do it correctly and represent you in the best possible light.

Mike O'Neill: And that's really what I'm spending most of our time together on. And that is done right — what does it look like? You've mentioned two examples. You've got a confluence of COVID, which nobody knows exactly what to do. We're all in reaction mode.

And then you're describing the challenges of the baby boomers who are retiring at a rapid pace. And both of these things are happening. Simultaneously.

David Adams: Right.

Mike O'Neill: And therefore, I imagine it's turned your world a bit upside down. You know, I was a little bit chuckled when you described that you have a client whose company name we would all recognize, but they're looking for a very specific role. I think you described it, as what, a blue squirrel with an orange tail.

David Adams: Purple squirrel orange tail.

Mike O'Neill: Purple squirrel.

David Adams: Yeah. We specialize in that.

Mike O'Neill: So let's say, um, I'm a decision maker. I need a purple squirrel with an orange tail. Right. And there are things beyond our control as a company. But you know, we can't control the COVID. We can't control the baby boomers leaving it at rapid pace, but what would you advise your clients?

The things that they need to be doing to best position themselves so that when they are looking for that purple squirrel with the orange tail, they have an increased likelihood that the candidate that's best fit says yes.

David Adams: There's I'm really glad you brought that up because there is — the process have to change.

I have clients that I no longer choose to work with because their hiring processes are broken. They have too many interviews steps. And when I say too many... upwards to 10 to 12 interviews — separate interviews — that we have to try to set up to appease everybody in the company.

Mike O'Neill: You mean each candidate has to go through that many?

David Adams: Each candidate.

And that's almost an impossibility these days because nobody has that kind of time. If they do, most likely they're not the best candidate. I mean, seriously, they're unemployed. They're not, they don't have the value that you should put in to the effort. So flying right now — I placed that person that plays for the contract role. The reason he was excited about the job is because. He could work from home and he could do most of the work from home. And he has to go in just a little bit just to be trained up all the computer systems, et cetera.

But that was one of his big things. He was like, okay. So our workplace is going to change like it or not that cat's out of the bag and people have learned that they want to work from home.

You also have a tremendous amount of people that you had perhaps for sales that covered large amounts of ground. They've discovered, you know what? I have a family. There was a reason I had those children brought to the world. I'd like to be there and see them. And you're going to see major pushback from those people to want to travel again.

And this travel  in general, I just picked up nine positions with a pharmaceutical company and their interview process is going to be almost a hundred percent on phones. The managers may go in and sit but there's no way we can fly them into New Jersey where the headquarters is for our final.

We can't do it. So that process needs to change. It needs to be clear and concise your management and team and a recruiter such as myself — one of the things I really request is that we're on the same page together. I want to sit down by phone and speak with the managers so that the message that is being presented is clear and concise.

You know, why are these positions open? What is where's this position going to go? Is there a career path? The new generation wants a career path. They want to see something that can lead to that next step.

Gone are the days where you're going to hire somebody that's just going to sit there until theu mildew. They want that defined career path and you need to be prepared to do it.

And you need to be prepared also to handle — if they're employed a counteroffer. We have encountered more counteroffers this year than I've ever seen. The counteroffer used to — that was the kiss of death. And I still think it is.

You know, if you accept a counter offer, you stay with a company. I guarantee you within four or five months, there's a target on your back, still.

However, it sounds really good to the candidates. And we're seeing a lot of candidates struggle with a counter offer. I had one just the other day, even though I countered, we countered and we wound up winning, but the company would have lost had I not been there to navigate all the way through. Because the owner of the company even came in and said, please don't leave, and things like that.

Companies are fighting back to not lose their talent, and you've got to be prepared. So I would say your message needs to be clear, concise, and you need to be prepared if you'd like the person to move quickly.

The longer you take, if you like someone, someone else does too. So the chances are pretty good when we open up Pandora's box and say, "Hey, do you want to interview Mike?"

And he'll say, "Well, I'll pause it, but sure." Inevitably, somebody is on a call and you and you're going to say, "Well, look, I'm here. I may as well check out my options." And if they can make a quick decision and you're frozen with your interview process, you're going to lose.

And it's very frustrating. And that's happened multiple times this year, where the companies just simply cannot get their decisions together. They can't get their team together.

Make the interview process easy show that you guys can make a decision so that the candidate can say yes.

Mike O'Neill: Yeah. Excellent. I didn't write down as you went, but some of the things that I'm recalling you say is that you have to be mindful. You've got to be crystal clear on what you're looking for and you gotta be able to communicate that.

David Adams: And make a decision, make a decision.

Mike O'Neill: You also stress that you want to have as few steps as necessary because that just prolongs the process.

And it sounds as if viable candidates tire of a protracted process and/or it opens up opportunity for one of your own competitors to snatch that  person up.

You really say it starts with kind of fundamentals, know what you're looking for. Be decisive. Eliminate unnecessary steps move quickly and be prepared in today's climate to do things you might not have done before when you mentioned the, the counter.

David Adams: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Particularly if this is a critical position for your company. If you're solid on a person, don't wait. Make the decision. I have companies to think I have to interview five people. You don't.

When we present a candidate to you, I may have interviewed 30 to 40 people before I send you one.

We go through numerous steps before one is presented to you. We eliminate, and we do all that work for you. I'm happy to provide you more than one, but sometimes it's just like looking for a house. Sometimes the first house or the first offer you get is the best one. And it's the same with a candidate.

Sometimes the first one that you see is going to be your benchmark and you're going to kick yourself if you don't hire them.

Mike O'Neill: You are quick to pick up the theme of this series is getting unstuck. Can you reflect on situations by which you maybe were working with a client that got stuck and what did you find that needed to be done for that client to get unstuck?

How did you help them get unstuck?

David Adams: One really comes to mind. And one of the things we do specialize a lot — and I've did this probably four or five times a year — is a confidential search. I had a situation where there was a leadership person that was toxic. And so people were just regressing, falling backwards, not doing their job.

They had good talent. It was a leader. And so literally they retained me to go and find the person for them. I found the executive to replace this person and recruited them. They never even knew the name of the company. Because it was sensitive and it had to be handled correctly, even the HR department that did the first screen had to do it on their own personal cell phones so there was no name associated with the company until she was in sync with me that this person is the hire.

And so they even interviewed offsite. And so once we had all that done, that person that was the toxic management was fired on Friday afternoon.

My person started that Monday and it was a hundred percent seamless. And since then the team has turned around, they're seeing better numbers. The people that were about to quit stayed. So sometimes unsticking the company can be changing out a leadership person. And that one was a real example.

Mike O'Neill: I appreciate you sharing that.

You've also shared a number of just really great ideas, but if you were to attempt to kind of summarize some takeaways that you want our listeners to remember about our time with David Adams, what might some of those,

David Adams: If you haven't used a recruiter, give it a shot. You know, we  only cost, and I only charge if I'm correct. But get ready, I'm going to be correct.

But we can do things that your own team cannot achieve and we do it quickly. We do it efficiently. And we're going to save you a lot of time and money.

If it's just a plain position that you feel like, well, whatever comes your way fine. But if you're really trying to upgrade, change and take your company to the next step, really, recruiting firms such as mine is the best way to go.

So that would be my take.

Mike O'Neill: This is excellent. Dave, if people want to reach out to you and connect with you online, what's the best way to do that?

David Adams: Well, my website is and I'm very easy to reach is just Of course, I'm also on LinkedIn — a little way to start searching LinkedIn to make your life easier — if you put in someone, because my name is very common. So if you try to put my name in, you're going to get 10,000 of them. But if you go my name and career link network and the word LinkedIn in a Google search term, it'll pull me up immediately. And so it does that with anyone and it does help you to get away from LinkedIn and not have to pay them the exorbitant amount of money that I have to spend.

Mike O'Neill: That's a great tip for finding David Adams, which we know there's lots of them out there. So we now know how to find the David Adams that we've spent time together with today. David, thank you for your time with us in your willing to share your insights.

David Adams: Sure. Thank you. I enjoyed it. And if anybody would like to reach me, just give me a shout.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I'm encouraging people to do just that. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. We've lined up great guys like David, that I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know.

We upload the latest episodes every Thursday, and I hope that you will subscribe through Apple, Spotify, or whatever your favorite podcast platform is.

But if you've been listening to my discussion with David, and you are realizing that perhaps you or your company is stuck, let's talk, visit to schedule a call. We'll explore what's got you or your company stuck and what you could do to overcome that.

 So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you've picked up some tips that'll help you get unstuck and on target. Until next time.
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