America Back to Work Ep 8: Ryan Cleaveland, Spotter Staffing

Staffing has changed a lot in the last few years—but it remains an industry that creates opportunities for companies and individuals. 

As we head into 2023, there are many uncertainties about where staffing will go this year and in years to come, but there’s no question that companies are still looking for top talent. So, if you’re not taking care of your team, someone else may by way of remote work options, increased salaries, great benefits … all with the goal of snatching up your best candidates.  

Ryan Cleaveland has been in the staffing industry for 20 years and co-founded Spotter Staffing. He joins Arnette Heintze on America Back to Work to tackle some of the difficulties facing hiring managers, like:

  • How to handle a rejected offer of a strategic hire
  • Where hiring and recruiting is headed
  • The key elements of a great onboarding experience

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S2Verify is one of the leading, privately held, pre-employment background screening companies in the United States. 

Arnette Heintze is co-founder and chief strategy officer at S2Verify. Before establishing S2Verify, Arnette spent more than three decades working at the highest levels of federal, state, and local law enforcement. 

He served more than 20 years in the United States Secret Service as a special agent and senior executive where he planned, designed, and implemented security strategies to protect U.S. Presidents, world leaders, events of national significance, and our nation’s most sensitive assets, including financial infrastructure.  

After retiring from the Secret Service, Arnette focused on building the growth and performance of innovative start-ups and SMBs. In 2004, he established Hillard Heintze, a globally recognized strategic security risk management and investigations firm.

In 2009, along with Bill Whitford and Jim Zimbardi, Arnette established S2 Verify with an approach and methodology that delivers fast, accurate, compliant, and affordable background screening insights crucial to better managing insider risks, threats, and vulnerabilities.  

America Back to Work Podcast Transcript

Arnette Heintze

Welcome to America Back To Work, brought to you by S2Verify. I’m your host, Arnette Heintze.

I’m excited to introduce our second guest for 2023, Ryan Cleaveland. He is based in Chicago and has been in the staffing industry for over two decades. He co-founded Spotter Staffing with his best friend—otherwise known as “the other Ryan”—to disrupt the industry while also doing a tremendous amount of good in the process.

Today he’s going to tackle some tough questions facing hiring managers, including how to handle rescinded offers from a strategic hire. 

But first…

Ryan, can you tell us more about your background before Spotter and then the genesis of your company—why you started it? Perhaps give us some insight on how it is working with your best friend with the same name? 

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, I can do that. Thanks. I guess, first of all, thanks for having me. I, uh, I don’t know, Ryan and I, we trade back and forth, uh, around who’s the other Ryan. So if he was sitting here today, I dunno that he’d loved me calling him the other Ryan, but, uh, but it’s, it’s all good fun and fair. Uh, crazy to think that this is already the second one of 2023. It was talking to the team earlier today, and it’s amazing that we’re 10 days into the first month. Just seems like every day seems to go a little bit faster. But, but yeah, I, I appreciate, uh, you having me. So I’ve been in staffing, uh, for, uh, now a better part of my life. Uh, like you said, over two decades. Uh, after graduating from Illinois State, um, I joined, uh, a large organization, uh, out of Baltimore, and, uh, spent 15, 16 years of my career there working in recruiting and staffing for organizations in a ton of different industries, manufacturing, architecture, software, uh, primarily in Chicago, but, um, majority of them had presence around, around the company or country, and sometimes globally.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. You know, um, Jenny and I, uh, have participated throughout the years with an organization called Vistage, and it’s amazing in that organization, one of the key topics that always comes up is issues around partners. And, you know, knowing that Ryan is your best friend, and, uh, how is it working with best friends in, in, in building and starting a business?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, it’s a great question. Uh, when Ryan and I decided to do this, there was a, uh, probably even more questions <laugh> about, uh, whether or not that was a good idea. Uh, Ryan and I have known each other for over 20 years. Uh, we’ve done some different business things together, but as you mentioned, our primary relationship is being close friends. I think the best part about being business partners and friends is that, uh, our relationship started on trust and honesty and willing and willingness to be open with each other. So that following into the business has created a really good opportunity for us. Uh, definitely seen other partnerships that have started out of friendship, and maybe they didn’t have that groundwork or that foundation and have, you know, certainly come into their struggles. But Brian and I, uh, we continue to, to to be friends outside of work and, uh, and give us, give each other what we need, uh, over.

Arnette Heintze

Oh, that’s great. That’s great. So let’s, let’s jump into this and, and talk to us a little bit about, um, you know, the, the role of talent and staffing companies like Spotter. You know, how, how has it evolved and what do you see it going in the, in the next coming years?

Ryan Cleaveland

That’s a good question. I, I think, uh, it’s certainly changed in the last few years and probably will continue to change, but staffing to me is, is pretty simple. I think it’s about creating opportunity for folks and for companies. Uh, I think, uh, staffing companies have created flexibility for organizations to hire, depending on where they’re at in their life cycle and growth. Uh, sometimes depending on where the economy’s at, and same thing for individuals that are looking for employment, creates opportunities for individuals that are looking for positions, uh, no matter where they’re at in their career, uh, and what their goals are in their life. So, uh, for me it’s about opportunity. I think, uh, if staffing companies are doing, doing what they should be, that’s, that’s what they’re creating.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. So as we get into 2023 here, and yeah, it’s amazing. 10 days have already flown by. Um, what do you think the number one positive prediction for the hiring and recruiting process, uh, is, uh, in the coming year? Have you got a prediction that you think might jump out at everybody?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, it’s, that’s a difficult question, especially with the fluctuations in our market lately and where the economy’s going, and everyone’s got an opinion on what might happen with the economy and when we’re gonna, uh, take a further dip, if we’re gonna take a further dip, how long that might be. And, uh, a lot of times staffing will follow that. Um, so right now, based on what we know talent is in demand mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, uh, should the, uh, the economy continue even at the, the pace that it’s at, that will continue to be the, the play. Uh, companies are still looking for top talent. They’re still looking for great individuals to join their team. I don’t see that changing, uh, at least in the next few months, probably into, uh, 2024 now. Yeah. Right

Arnette Heintze

Now is, is there a number one challenge to HR and staffing organizations today? I mean, is there one thing that you come up against and you go, okay, that’s a challenge for us?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, I mean, very similarly, uh, talent is in demand. And so if you are not taking care of your team, if you’re not advocating for your employees, if you’re not prioritizing their needs and making sure they’re supported, somebody else is probably looking forward to doing that for you. <laugh> the competition is, is can be difficult. And, um, you know, if there’s a opportunity out there right now, it’s certainly for the candidates, uh, and for the individuals that are seeking new opportunities. Um, and, you know, that’s, that’s a difficult side with the clients that

Arnette Heintze

Yeah, yeah. Company, you know, in that, in that candidate experience from, from the time you or, uh, companies start recruiting, uh, and start talking with the candidates, you know, they, they get, there’s an experience level they have with the organization. And can you share with us any thoughts you have about what are the key elements to, uh, a great hiring and onboarding experience for clients today? Is there anything that jumps out at you?

Ryan Cleaveland

It’s one of my favorite things to talk about. Cause I think there’s a lot of opportunities out there for organizations to make impacts and make impacts early. Uh, experience is a big deal. Uh, I think organizations, when they’re hiring somebody, an individual is certainly interviewing them as well and trying to make a decision on whether or not they wanna join that company or that team, especially in today’s world with talent being the demand. So for me, experience starts early and often, it is the first moment that you have an interaction with a candidate or a potential job seeker. And that may be an individual you don’t hire for, for a period of time, uh, or it might be someone you’re looking to hire right away, but the fir the first moment that you come into contact with somebody, email, phone, a phone interview, whatever that might be, that’s when that experience needs to start.

Um, I think organizations that provide an experience where is what that’s welcoming, that, um, makes people feel comfortable, that can lay out opportunities and what the organizations can able to provide to ’em will win. Um, I also think organizations that have an interview process that is not meant to ask the curve ball, crazy questions that throw people off and make ’em uncomfortable, but allow them to build a relationship and connect will probably win as well. Uh, so you mentioned spotter, uh, spotters, a staffing firm that we’ve had for four years, and we work in a space where the community is very tight knit. Our goal is to make sure everybody has a great experience regardless of whether or not they’re working for us, because at some point we may, we may end up working together in the future. So I think that experience thing is a big deal and it starts early and often.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah, yeah. You know, and as it comes when it comes to making that informed hiring decision, you know, I think we all, uh, at some level rely on our gut feeling and, you know, just the impression the candidate makes with you, but setting that to the side, what data is being used today to kind of help in that process? Is there any particular data-driven, uh, informed processes that you can recommend?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, the, the gut feeling can be, um, a troublesome one to go off of when you’re hiring and hiring itself. You, I I, I believe hiring itself, you can’t be perfect. Um, if you look at even some of the, uh, most well run organizations in the United States and probably across the world, but the United States, whether it’s Scouts Spur or some of the top N F L teams or, uh, the process that individuals go through to become a Navy seal, they’re going through a, a, a, a very, um, extensive screening process. So the fact that, uh, they put on that type of process and aren’t perfect themselves, I don’t think we can expect to be perfect. However, going off gut can make it harder on our, uh, on us. There’s a ton of tools out there these days. There’s personality assessments, there’s different organizations that will allow you to do, uh, video interviewing so that you can rate people based on the set of criteria versus ultimately, if I was gonna advise somebody starting from the ground up, I’d say, Hey, you need to start with what are the top three skills that they need to have, uh, soft skills they need to have, and top three hard skills they need to have.

And then how do you create a grading system so that you ask the same question or the same line of question to each individual that way you’re going off, to your point or not, you’re going off data, not gut feel or, uh, instinct. And, uh, while you wanna, you certainly wanna take into consideration emotional connection, emotional intelligence, those things that, um, that are definitely involved in a conversation. If you can break down a conversation into a grading scale around those top three soft skills and top three hard skills, you’ll probably find yourself to be a little more consistent with hiring. Uh, and I think consistency is probably the goal. Perfection is sometimes strive for, but probably not reality.

Arnette Heintze

Ok. Yeah. You know, I know all hiring managers will have an occasional crisis that pops up from time to time. Yeah. And a couple of examples, and I’d like to get your perspective on, the best way to deal with these is what do you do on a first day when you’ve got a no show, somebody that you spent maybe weeks or months recruiting, and then they don’t show. But I’d also like to get your perspective on something called catfishing, which frankly is kind of a new concept in this space for me, because I didn’t, I’m, I’ve, I’ve not personally heard of somebody catfishing an organization where, yeah, one candidate, one person is doing the interview, but somebody else shows up. So why don’t you share some insight with that?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, that’s, uh, that’s a, that’s a new one to me as well. I, I, uh, the, the no call, no show, um, unfortunately I’ve had that experience in over my years in staffing. Um, the Catfish is a new one. I ha I haven’t had that. And yeah, fortunately I’ve been, uh, I haven’t had a lot of individuals, um, that have had that, that being said, clearly it’s something that’s going on for me. If that happened day one, the first thing, you got some probably fires that you’re gonna <laugh> put out, whereas the individual who,

Arnette Heintze

Yeah, I pretty much know my response,

Ryan Cleaveland

Probably put some fires out beyond that. I, I think the opportunity is really reflecting on the interview process. Um, there was something missed, whether it was the, the goals and skills of the individual and how they aligned to the, the position that you were hiring for the timeline. There was something in that interview process that led this individual to not show up or to catfish you. And frankly, for the hiring manager, the individual doing hiring to not catch it. Um, the catfishing thing is an interesting one. Uh, again, I haven’t had it. Um, we do meet everybody that starts with Spotter, um, whether it’s for us internally or for our, our schools face-to-face. So, um, Arnette, you know, I, if I’m seeing you today, and I don’t see you on Monday when you start, right, that is gonna be a pretty quick indicator for, Hey, what happened here? And now I need to not only put, take care of that fire, but then again, I’d go back and, and consider where I may have, um, missed in my interview process.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah, yeah. You know, as, as we recruit and identify talent that we want to have, join our teams, um, it’s, you know, candidates have certain expectations, and I don’t know whether it is you, you hear a lot of discussion today about, uh, generations. You know, like, I’m from the boomer generation, so there’s a, there’s a certain, um, uh, quality we bring into a workforce, and, but different generations bring different, um, uh, expectations to it. So in the last several years, have you seen any expectations that are changing? And what do you think the future holds for us?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah, so I’m a millennial. I’ll just throw that out there. Um, I, uh, I think expectations certainly have changed and they will continue to change. Um, we’ve seen inflation go up over the last, uh, well, several months. Uh, so you see financial expectations change, comp packages change, uh, we’ve seen in the pandemic that’s forced a lot of individuals to work from home, and then individuals start to enjoy working from home. So you’ve seen that be an expectation. I think there was a major organization that was on the news last night that talked about having part of their workforce go back in person and the effects that’s gonna have on, on their, their workforce. So I think the expectations continue to change. What I don’t think has changed is that everybody has goals. And I don’t mean to be dramatic with that, but whether you’re from the boomer generation or the millennial generation, I would imagine if you and I were having a conversation about your personal and professional goals, you’d have some something to say about that, just like I would’ve something to say about that. So as I’m going through an interview process with somebody, as I’m trying to determine whether or not somebody should join the team or be gonna wanna join the team, that’s a very critical part of that conversation. What is the biggest thing you’re trying to accomplish in your personal professional life right now that will help me understand your expectations? And based on that, I can make a better decision on whether or not they’re gonna be right for the organization. Yeah. And, and this is something we can serve long term, so,

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. Yeah. So once a, once an organization has identified a wonderful candidate and they, they wanna move forward with them, we all know that there’s a, uh, a process around due diligence that most companies will undertake. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, the, what do you see as best practices in that due diligence space? We, you know, since, uh, we know, uh, background screening back pre-employment checks are critical, but they’re, they’re not the only element. Uh, and we know everybody listening would come to s to verify for their background screening check, but what do you think are some o other components of that, that bring value to the process?

Ryan Cleaveland

Certainly, well, they certainly should go to you for their background screening. Uh, beyond that, um, I, I think a critical one in, I may, I, I hope I don’t sound outdated in saying this. Um, I feel like sometimes I may be, but I think reference checks are, are critical. Um, yeah. You know, you sit in a conversation, you and me today are not, and I’m telling you things, your ability to validate that, to have checks and balances around that, that conversation are really important. Uh, and so having a conversation with a previous hiring manager, having a conversation with a previous coworker, uh, not just the individuals that you may want me to talk to, but the individuals that I need to talk to in order to validate that your skills are gonna be a great fit for our organization and allow you to excel in your career. So, uh, if I’m looking at maybe a post offer or even a pre-offer screening, certainly background checks, there’s times where drug tests are important, things like that, uh, credentialing, depending on the, the world you’re playing in. But I think those reference checks are, uh, kind of across the board something I will be putting time into.

Arnette Heintze

Yeah. So then once you’ve completed due diligence and you’ve got that ideal candidate you wanna bring in, and you, you believe they’re really aligned to advancing the vision you have for the company and all of the strategic plans you have, what do you do when that candidate turns down an offer? How do you, what’s your recommendations to organizations about how to deal with that?

Ryan Cleaveland

Yeah. Well, there’s probably a moment bit of freak out <laugh> depending on who the individual is. And they, they may have a little bit of a five minute of panic or a five second panic. Um, beyond that, um, it, it’s, it’s a really good question. So I think first, evaluating where you’re at with that individual, um, if that individual is still considering an opportunity, maybe right now it’s talents and demand, so they may have multiple offers and multiple companies pursuing them, there may be a chance for you to continue to understand their goals and, and better align your organization. That being said, I, I’ve had experiences, I think about when we first started Spotter, uh, the very first person I made an offer to actually accepted it. And then prior to start date, uh, she called and rescinded her offer. So, uh, I’ve been there. It’s, uh, can be a frustrating moment.

Um, usually, and I, I, I hate to be a broken record, but usually it has something to do with the conversations and, and the type of due diligence you were doing during the interview process. What types of information were you gathering? Um, were you hearing what you wanted to hear or were you hearing reality, uh, during the conversation? The example I shared with you when we first started, uh, I was hearing what I wanted to hear. I believe I had the best opportunity in the world for this individual. Um, in a lot of aspects it probably was, but when you looked at her long-term goals, um, it wasn’t the right fit. And I think if I were to ask a couple more questions, I probably would’ve realized that earlier. Not, uh, and been better scenes. Yeah.

Arnette Heintze

That’s great. So we’re gonna wind up our conversation today, but I have one final question that I’d like to present to you that I asked all my guests. Yeah. So, with S two, verify, if we ran a background, uh, screen, uh, test on you today, what would be the most surprising discovery?

Ryan Cleaveland

Oh, boy. Are you doing that <laugh>?

Arnette Heintze

No, we’re not <laugh>.

Ryan Cleaveland

Uh, well, it’s a good question. If I ask my wife, she’d probably say, I have a, I have a lead foot. Uh, I like, I like to think I go places with purpose. She thinks sometimes that maybe I’m going a little bit faster.

Arnette Heintze

<laugh> that, well, that’s actually a great response, which is, I’m, I’m, I’m going places with purpose, and that, that creates everyone

Ryan Cleaveland

I get there with purpose. Yeah. <laugh>.

Arnette Heintze

Well, Ryan, I wanna thank you so much for joining us today and, and all the, uh, invaluable insight. I learned a lot, and I’m sure everybody listening did as well. Please let our audience know where they can find you, your website, social media, anything that, uh, you think, uh, the audience might be looking for, where would they best track you down?

Ryan Cleaveland

Certainly, I appreciate it. So it’s SpotterStaffing.com. Uh, we, as, as you share, we work with, uh, school districts in the Illinois and, uh, Texas area to find special education staff. Uh, I certainly find us there. You can also find me on LinkedIn at Ryan Cleaveland.

Arnette Heintze

Thank you to all of you listening, watching, or reading. Please tune in to our next episode, where I will be interviewing Sarah Adler, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Wave—an early-stage company offering affordable, high-quality mental health care for all.

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