With a strong background in I/O psychology and a deep understand of the hiring and development process across industries, Sarah leads a team of talent experts and is responsible for the science behind our solutions.
What led you into this field?
I was a business major in college. Close to my senior year, I thought, “There’s something missing here. I’m just not sure this is the right career choice for me.” I reflected back on the courses I really enjoyed, and my favorite class by far was psychology. So my senior year, I took 30 hours in psychology and graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in business.
In graduate school, I focused on clinical and counseling psychology. I enjoyed my internships, but the business aspect was missing. My husband (my boyfriend at the time) did some research and told me about organizational psychology. One of my professors knew Janet Havis, who was one of the founders of Bigby, Havis & Associates, which later became Assess Systems and now Outmatch. I still had another internship to do, so I met with Janet and began working at Bigby, Havis.
The work I did combined business with what I loved about psychology–learning about people and understanding how they react in different situations. The work was fantastic, and I thought it was the most interesting job. I absolutely fell in love with it! That was 21 years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.
Who has influenced your career the most?
Dave Bigby, one of the company’s founders, was a huge influence. He was focused on data, what it showed and how to evaluate it, but he balanced that with an intuitive side that explored what was beyond the data. He believed in using what you knew about the client, the industry, and the job–and then combining that with empirical evidence to create the most predictive and effective assessments. Dave had a passion for technology and was a pioneer in delivering web-based assessments to the masses. He was very client-focused and people-focused and had high expectations. He’d assume we could do what was asked and helped equip us to do it. He gave us a lot of flexibility.
JoAnn McMillan, who led the organization with Dave Bigby, was another influential person for me. She was a fantastic mentor. Where Dave was a very progressive, innovative, big-picture kind of person, JoAnn would address the practical and figure out how to make things happen. Together, they struck a balance between dreaming big and going after tangible results, and that has been huge for my career growth.
Working with my counterpart, Carol Jenkins, has also really shaped how I lead and how I think. We have a nice balance in approaches and perspectives, and we can always bounce ideas off of each other. It’s been a true gift to have a colleague who can challenge and support me like she does.
What do you think it takes to be successful in your role?
I play a lot of different roles—I lead a team of talent experts, I’m part of the organization’s leadership team, I do a lot of high-level consulting and advising for clients, and I’m also responsible for growing and improving our organization. Each of those has important components.
It’s also important to understand where clients are coming from. Consultants or vendors can get a bad rap if they come into an organization saying, “Here’s how you should do things,” without understanding the client’s reality. When we talk to clients, we need to find out what their reality is, what challenges they deal with, and how we can help them come to the best solutions for achieving their goals in light of their reality.
We also need to help people articulate what they want and what their vision is. If we want to successfully implement assessment solutions that will work for the client long-term, then we need answers to questions like, “What are your current challenges from a people perspective? If you think about your department or organization two years from now, what does success look like? To get there, what changes have to happen in the way you hire and develop your people?”
What aspects of your day-to-day work do you find most interesting?
What’s interesting is that my day-to-day efforts look totally different every day! I think the variety is awesome. The clients, their cultures, and their situations are also very different to a certain extent. Obviously, there are commonalities, and that’s why we can help them. But because of the differences, my work is always interesting and never routine. Even with 20 years of experience, I’m constantly learning by interacting with clients, getting to know their business, and finding innovative ways to help them achieve success.
And it’s great working day-to-day with such an amazing team. Our talent experts are so different and so talented. I enjoy working with them and getting their perspective. Our people have great ideas and different angles about how they view clients and information. The fun thing is that the more I learn, the more I can help others by helping connect people with good ideas.
The growth and change in our company is very exciting. Our focus in Talent Solutions is to continue to become more efficient in how we develop, validate, and deliver assessments while making sure our talent experts are the top-notch advisors they need to be. That’s been a fun and interesting process.
What are some of the business challenges you’ve faced working in this fast-moving industry?
Organizations have been under a lot of pressure to hire the right people quickly, and technology is helping to accomplish that. Obviously, the Internet has changed recruitment tremendously over the last 10 years. Candidates search for jobs online, go through the application process online, and take assessments online.
Companies are amazed at their ability to tap into a whole pool of candidates and get plenty of data without even talking to them. The challenge is that the human element tends to be missing. Really good candidates have options, so it’s important to make a good connection and have a strong employment brand. We’re hearing from our clients that the goal is to gather less, but more predictive information upfront, to make assessments short and sweet, and to figure out how to hook the candidate.
To make recruitment engaging, we’ve implemented things like realistic assessment simulations. They create interest by putting candidates into a day in the life of an employee, so they’re responding to workday scenarios. We’ve also released a video assessment so candidates can record themselves and give the hiring organization a broader picture of who they are.
From a development standpoint, succession has been a huge challenge for a long time. In restaurants, retail, or any type of decentralized environment, finding the best leaders can be difficult. Organizations need to determine if people in entry or mid-manager positions are ready for the next level, and they need more than the supervisor’s opinion on an employee’s potential. Using assessments to make better decisions and also to prepare people is critical to ensure success when promoting top performers.
Our solutions can identify the right talent early. When a candidate for a role has potential at the next level, a company needs to focus on developing and retaining that person. We help by providing solutions that tap into potential and readiness and facilitate development. We also offer programs and assessments—including executive assessments and development-oriented simulations—along with leadership programs to help get people ready faster.
What are your goals for the Talent Solutions teams over the next five years?
From a business standpoint, we need to grow our capabilities. As we grow, add people, and broaden our client base, it’s critical that we maintain a strong partnership with our clients. One of my goals is to build and support a scalable model where we grow as an organization and expand our customer base, but in a way that maintains what is so unique about who we are as a company. Our talent experts know about I/O psychology, science, validation, and assessments, but their most important asset is advising clients and helping them achieve their vision.
I think we can build something pretty amazing if we can figure out how to quickly grow, but continue to build and maintain those strong partnerships between our talent experts and our customers. Our customers see us as part of their team, not as an external vendor. This is the strong competitive advantage we have and customers respond to it. Ultimately, our goal is to build these relationships AND show them continued ROI on our assessments.
That’s why it’s so important to maintain a company culture where these absolutely fantastic, talented people want to continue to work! Just like every other company, we’re not immune to the war for talent. It’s important to keep our teams challenged, with a sense of ownership, so they feel like this is a place where they can improve themselves and stay for a long time.
What’s something no one knows about you?
I live on 20 acres. I’m originally from New Mexico, and I love wide-open spaces. In a metroplex like Dallas-Fort Worth, the question was, “How can we get some space and have a little bit of that country feel?” I’m definitely enjoying our lifestyle. We have four horses and a cat. We also have deer, beavers, armadillos, and raccoons—everything’s out here!