Ep 16 – Recruiting 101: MJ’s Insider Tips on Attracting Top Talent

Home / Episode / Ep 16 – Recruiting 101: MJ’s Insider Tips on Attracting Top Talent

Are you tired of ‘panic hiring’ and making mistakes? In this episode, MJ O’Toole, executive recruiter with McFarland Stanford, dispels the myth of instant hiring, and shows us that success lies in sourcing candidates who align with your company’s culture. Emphasizing a positive candidate experience from day one, fostering relationships, and preparing an effective onboarding process are her keys to hiring success. Transform your hiring experience from survival of the quickest to thel pursuit of the perfect match.


Focus On Fit First

Key Moments:

[02:31] Finding a Culture Fit

[05:14] Making Your Company Attractive to Potential Hires

[07:24] Timing with the Recruiting Process

[11:14] How to Stand Out with Potential Hires

[14:10] Onboarding

[17:55] What to Look for in a Resume

[21:35] Relationships are the Key to Success


    1. "How to build trust during the recruitment process?"
    2. "What are the best practices for attracting top landscape talent?"
    3. "Why are conversations with potential candidates crucial even when not hiring?"
    4. "What are the top signs to look for in resumes when hiring landscaping employees?"
    5. "How to understand your company's culture for effective landscape recruitment?"
    6. "What is the best approach to creating an effective onboarding process?"
Episode Transcript
John: [00:00:00] The Roots of Success podcast is for the landscape professional who's looking to up their game. We're not talking lawns or grass here. We're talking about people, process, and profits. The things deep within the business that need focus to scale a successful company from hiring the right people and managing your team to improving your operations and mastering your finances. We've got a brain trust of experts to help you nurture the roots of a successful business and grow to the next level. This is The Roots of Success. Tommy Cole: Hello, this is Tommy Cole with McFarlin Stanford, and this is Roots of Success podcast. I've got an amazing guest, MJ O'Toole. She's a executive recruiter at McFarlin Stanford. I'm super excited because she's the ultimate firecracker in our recruiting division. it's good to have you on MJ. How are you? MJ O'Toole: You know, I am doing a lot better now that I'm here, Tommy. Thanks for having me. Tommy Cole: You've been, you've been jumping, yelling at me to like get on this [00:01:00] podcast and finally, We kind of broke down and said absolutely let's do it, right? MJ O'Toole: Mm hmm. Absolutely. Been waiting for this one. Tommy Cole: Yeah, it's gonna be a good one So MJ went to Troy University and spent a couple of years in the hospitality industry which is Very similar to the landscape industry. It's a serviceable industry you've been a recruiter for about a year, a little over a year, and you've actually fit right in. So tell me about what your day to day life of an executive recruiter looks like. MJ O'Toole: goodness. I mean, it changes all the time. Usually, whenever I come into the office, have my schedule planned out where I will devote a lot of time to sourcing for specific roles Throughout that process, I create call lists. I send out emails. I am doing resumes towards the end of the day, but primarily just planning out my days ahead in advance because it's so important just to make sure that you're on top of it and doing the correct thing.[00:02:00] Tommy Cole: our listeners, are mostly owners, operators, mid level managers. they're usually in their pickup trucks driving around listening. So as we, as we talk about recruiting, this should help them tremendously. And one of the things that I think you have a natural, trait and ability is to find the right fit for a candidate to be molded into a company's culture. What does that mean? help our audience understand what that is. Finding a Culture Fit MJ O'Toole: Well, honestly, that is a great question, and it is something I love to do. whenever I start recruiting for a certain position. I like to think about it as a puzzle the entire picture. It needs to be completed, but you do have to find that perfect puzzle piece. And so understanding the background. Which being an executive recruiter, I am mainly candidate facing, but luckily my client partners, they allow me to be an intake calls, get to know the owners, upper [00:03:00] management, and each individual company that I do recruit for to get a better understanding of their personality. Because I think that's so important whenever I'm conveying it over to candidates. What to expect in the interview and so getting to know their personalities and trying to do some matchmaking I always say over the phone and people laugh at me. I don't usually consider myself a recruiter I consider myself a certified matchmaker Because if I don't understand the culture Then I'm not going to be able to try to talk to somebody about a position and I think it's one thing about this job in particular that sets us apart from staffing or whatever it may be, is we do have to have relationships to be able to talk to people openly and, you know, being in the industry, this industry would be nothing without the relationships you develop. Tommy Cole: Yeah, you do a great amount of research with the company So you have to understand every company is different. They have a different playbook. [00:04:00] They have a different brand Culture, you know good or bad, but you have to understand that foremost and then go find that person, correct? MJ O'Toole: Exactly. Touching on that. I mean, there's a couple of clients that are popping in my head right now. One in particular that I do a weekly call with absolutely adore that man, him and the main owner of the company. I like to call him yin and yang. And I always say that the main owner is the methodical side of the business, whereas the person that I'm doing these weekly calls with, he's the extrovert that has his hands in all the different departments, but being able to get to know his personality, it has been tremendous in my search for that company. Particularly because I can say, well, this person, He has two kids. He is a soccer coach for his daughter, basketball coach for his son. And then it opens up the eyes for the candidates to be able to see, you know, he has work-life balance. He's able to [00:05:00] participate in his kids' lives, and that's something that people always are in question about because. You can say that it's going to be an eight to five job, but you know, sometimes it's not always going to be that, but understanding that people are people is so important. Making Your Company Attractive to Potential Hires Tommy Cole: Yeah, I get it I I believe you're interviewing the candidate as much as they're interviewing you, right? And, and so and so you have to really pull out something of that company that's attractive. whether the crews work 410s or they have. You know, cultured events or they have a bonus structure or they do residential versus commercial and you, you like one or the other. So you have, you're, you're building, you're probably trying to grab a few of those things out of that company and play match. com with that person. Right? So what are some good traits that that company, would you agree? Like you need to have what three to five things that you identify yourself and always [00:06:00] compare things to a lot to football and sports. they always say, does your football team have that identity? Like, what is it? You're known for the defense. Are you known for throwing the ball on every single play? High flying? Are you known for, like, what is it? What are a few traits that the good companies that attract good talent are known for? MJ O'Toole: Goodness. I could give multiple different examples. One in particular that I always found very interesting because it's very rare to see this, but one of the clients that we work with in Florida, they offer unlimited PTO. That is something that's so attractive to candidates, that. That yes, you have unlimited PTO. You're not just on a specific structure, but you do have to value the time of the client. And I would say another thing in particular is paddleboard. Doing that, I see a lot of different companies in Florida that are offering that during the summer, or even [00:07:00] clients in the central area of the United States, going on hikes after work whenever it's beautiful, doing get togethers where, you know, You get a jump house or a food truck once a month and you're able to treat your employees. Those are always things I've found to be very stand out ish, per se, when it comes to the candid side. Tommy Cole: Yeah, makes good sense. Timing with the Recruiting Process Tommy Cole: One of the things I really want to discuss, and I've experienced this over the course of many years. But you'll have a company that reaches out and says, okay, we need somebody. MJ O'Toole: Mm hmm. Tommy Cole: Oh my God, MJ. No, we really need somebody yesterday. Like we have to jump on it. It's probably already late, right? They're just, it's sort of panic mode. I feel like a lot of companies go in panic mode. But then also something happens when they're recruiting and there's this lack of quickness. There's this lack of Urgency. explain what a lot of [00:08:00] companies do that's kind of frustrating in that. And then next we need to move into the role of how do we be quick and how do we make decisions? One thing I've learned from the get go in my training to be a recruiter for landscaping is quality is way more important than quantity. I could send 10 candidates to a client right now that I know from our initial conversation, they would not benefit from having these people at all join their company. MJ O'Toole: It's a build up of trust that has to be understood between both the candidate side of what we're dealing with and compare it to what the client is looking for because I mean, I could get somebody hired and then they could fall off a week later. And then when it comes back to it, it's like, well, why did you send it to us in the first place? And it's just having an understanding that urgency, completely understand it. Like you were saying, needed somebody yesterday, but I would rather give you somebody that's going to be there forever instead of somebody that'll last three to [00:09:00] six months. And so just understanding that the processes. The time behind it is so beneficial because once I do present somebody and it's something that I pride myself on, I know that they're going to be killer. And I interrogate my client partners all the time whenever I'm presenting somebody, because I'm like, These are the 10 reasons why they are perfect for the role, do the write up for them, and they send it over because then there's no question Tommy Cole: I would agree with you. When you present somebody and it's in their inbox what's the timeframe to get someone in return for that company to return a phone call or an email and set something up? MJ O'Toole: So we usually say about 48 hours because throughout the process, especially too, if you have an A candidate and you just spoke with them, you know, they're perfect for this specific company because of their personality and understanding the internal team and how they operate. They're probably interviewing elsewhere and they're not going to wait on this company. They're going to [00:10:00] especially if they're not working at the moment Sometimes people jump at the first biggest thing that comes their way and even though I can vouch and say yes This company is perfect for you. I am so sorry that they haven't responded, but I guarantee they'll be interested We've tried a lot of different innovative ways that I found to be beneficial, where we do a qualifications page, you look at an account manager role open in Dallas, Texas, of course, if it's a high end residential company, you need to, if it says in the job description, 5 plus years of this listed in their list, their enhancements list, their direction of how many people they've been able to maintain and take on and just manage all at once. It's sending it over where truly there's no questions left as to can this person do it? Because everything's there saying they can. Tommy Cole: if companies have this sense of urgency, of a big client reaching out to them for them to bid their project. And it's a half a million dollar job. That sense of urgency should be [00:11:00] taken on an A plus candidates in your inbox. Correct. MJ O'Toole: Could not agree more with that. Because you need them, and sometimes you don't even realize the talent that's out there until you actually do look it over. How to Stand Out with Potential Hires Tommy Cole: yeah, I agree in the world we live in, There is so many open jobs and so little candidates, correct? So MJ O'Toole: The Tommy Cole: how companies, yeah, so how companies, how do they stand out? How do you, this in one of them has got to be an absolute quick response. Make decisions, don't take forever, but explain a few tricks. Definitely the job description because of course, depending on the size of the company, it could change for the responsibilities of a certain role, an account manager position that's open at a 500, 000 company in revenue compared to a 250 million company. It's very different sometimes. MJ O'Toole: So getting that understanding truly of what the [00:12:00] main core values are that you're looking for for each individual position, super important. So then whenever I'm talking to a candidate, I'm not just going off of my head, asking questions as to what I would usually ask. I'm going off of truly what the needs and the must haves are from the client's perspective. Definitely salary. I mean, of course that's a part of a job description usually. Actually, sometimes it is, because depending on experience, that can always fluctuate. Because if somebody comes in and the range is up to 70, but then they're asking for 75 and they have the experience to back it up. I've seen it happen before. And of course just information about the company. when it comes to revenue, what they specialize in, what softwares they use, what this company does and how they operate on a day to day basis. there's so many different things, benefits package. I also think, you know, resumes from somebody before that stood out to them. Tommy Cole: Yeah, that's good. I would add, let's add some [00:13:00] more to this because this is, this is good. So a snapshot, of the company in general, right? you know, their ideal client, your services, the size, all that, the job description benefits, a mock resume, similar to that, that just jumped out. Let's add organizational chart, right? So that would help you a ton for, right? Who reports to who, right? And some people may or may not even have an organizational chart, but that would be a value to you to see where that hole is vacant and who it's surrounded by. Does it report to the owner? Do you report to an ops person or an accountant? Or like, what is it, right? MJ O'Toole: Mm hmm. I do think that's so important because then too, when looking at the organizational chart, you can point out other indicators where they're lacking. Whether it be in maintenance, and they need, they gave us one specific role for a crew member, but they also need a production manager. Or on the construction side, and so it really does [00:14:00] show. where the weakest point is and it gives us an opportunity to not recruit for one specific role, but multiple. Tommy Cole: got it, got it. Onboarding Tommy Cole: Let's switch gears. Let's talk about onboarding. let's have this perfect scenario. You have this a plus plus company that onboards this new candidate project manager What is that company do that stands out to you the most when they onboard MJ O'Toole: I love to see an onboarding process where companies and clients will go ahead and provide, you know, the company vehicle or the truck bringing them in because it shows their commitment to the candidate and their eagerness to get them started as well as company uniforms because If a candidate is so excited to be placed with a client, I want to continue that and I love to keep up with people to be able to reach out to him three months down the road, you know, throughout every single day of the onboarding process to see what stood out to him and to get the reassurance that they made the right choice. I think the biggest [00:15:00] thing now that I'm thinking about it, I never want a client to lose interest just because they already have them. I wanna continue to see that devotion to the candidate because they were so excited from the beginning, Tommy Cole: Yeah. MJ O'Toole: but I think sometimes that's where the fire dies out. is people just feel like they become a number. And so implementing growth plans where three years down the road, you could see how a potential promotion could come into the place or whatever it may be. People like progress and they love growth. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Yeah, I would I would agree Onboarding is pretty crucial. So you've got this excited candidate That starts Monday, we'll say, next week. That better be, like, the most awesome onboard. When I mean onboard, like, their desk is set up, their laptop computer screens are set up, the phone works, it has everything in there, their swag gear is ready to go, they walk in, they're greeted. there's introductions, there's an office tour, there's a place, there's lunch going to be,[00:16:00] gift like that is an onboarding I will tell you a quick story. I worked for this previous company years ago and I started out as a project manager and, it might have been the worst experience of my life. And I went to go work for this company and I showed up and they're like, Hey, how's it going? And I kind of knew a few people there, some big. I knew the owner and they're like, yeah, man, just over there in the back. I literally had to like find my way to the back of this entire office and go find a spot. I mind you, I'm in the room with two other people and no, hey, how's it going? It was like sitting in a corner desk, no, nothing, nothing worked. I feel like I've moved across the country as an 8 year old and I walk into a classroom and no one says anything. Like, it was the worst experience ever and I let the owner know that. Didn't really care, but that was a terrible experience, an awful experience. Like, I was so [00:17:00] demotivated 100%. But if you are, if you carry on that excitement of having that candidate, it makes a huge difference in the retention of that person. MJ O'Toole: And that's the thing. I mean, when a candidate chooses the company, they're going to continue to choose that company until that client gives them a reason not to. And then that's when people go back, change their status to open to work. And that's when they continue to reach out to me and they're like, I need a new job. I cannot work here anymore. Tommy Cole: Yeah, especially with people with quick triggers right now, right? and you're probably seeing that a lot where I feel like they're taking notes or they're very observant and I would say even now more so than ever, they're not going to put up with that. Right? and so nor should they. So I, I believe that the company should pay extreme attention to that from day one and carry on. What to Look for in a Resume Tommy Cole: I love it. Yeah. Listen, you know. [00:18:00] Resumes are resumes. I feel they're the necessary evil, right? You have to have them to submit something. I would think you would agree that they don't mean everything. MJ O'Toole: Anybody can put anything on a resume. And that is one thing about me. I like to consider myself Nancy Drew because I'm going to point out all the clues and ask you the hard questions because what was your best year when it came to revenue? What was it like from a sales side? Were you the main sales person if you had applied to a business development manager role? Or when it comes to just average project size, you applied to a large commercial company, 50, 000, 000 in revenue. They do projects all the way up to 15, 000, 000 plus, but you've only managed up to 25, 000. It's understanding how. Your brain operates as an owner and operator, but also cross referencing it with what the client is looking for, because the client is trusting us to find the people while I'm trying to build up the trust from a [00:19:00] candidate side, I don't ever want to put anybody in a hard situation where they're going to pretty much feel that lack of experience, but it's having those tough questions and sometimes people get scared of it, but you need it to be able to feel confident. But it's the key indicators on a resume where anybody can put anything on there, but you have to think outside the box for the questions because that's when the truth will come out. And I rather it come out with me than if I send it to a client and then they're just like, MJ, what did you do? Tommy Cole: Yeah. Yeah. So your title is also interrogation a little bit. MJ O'Toole: Absolutely. You know me. I love to add a little feistiness to my conversation. Tommy Cole: So we have matchmaker, interrogator, and kind of some recruiting. Nancy Drew. MJ O'Toole: Exactly. Tommy Cole: I love it. Yeah. Listen, I feel like you can look at it and understand a few things, but at the end of the day, you just got in on a call and just ask them questions. MJ O'Toole: Oh, [00:20:00] exactly. Tommy Cole: A ton of questions of anything and everything aboutyour roles that you've experienced and experience share and what would you do in these situations type thing. And at the day, I think you're just looking for clues. To go, man, I could work with that person, correct? MJ O'Toole: Exactly. It's tr things from resumes to if is considered a job hoppe eyes, it's so important t reasons for leaving becau hear, well, you know, it It was this person didn't I was more experienced th all these red flags Tommy Cole: Okay. MJ O'Toole: Are you somebody that has to be a standalone person or are you able to be managed because sometimes people aren't willing to learn? Tommy Cole: I would agree. Well, they're kind of pointing the fingers everywhere else, right? MJ O'Toole: Exactly. Tommy Cole: but, you know, listen, early in my career, I kind of hopped around every couple of years, two, three years, right? I was raised to say, get as much experience as [00:21:00] you can before you start to sort of narrow your career down. So there's a balance there. I get it. I get it. so you have experience in hospitality, I love that service industry. and your mom was in landscaping. So you have this whole unique. Really awesome experience. by the way, your mom is awesome. She's, she's a great person. so MJ O'Toole: Tommy. Tommy Cole: thank you. Thank you. Thank you. so, so how is landscape similar to other industries? you came from that. Now you're sort of in this landscape world. What, what, what are some similarities of that? Relationships are the Key to Success MJ O'Toole: Oh, there's a lot. And it goes back to in the beginning realizing that even though it's hospitality and it's focused on hotels, resorts, whatever it may be, still relationship based. You can make a difference on somebody's stay. And that's the thing with my career doing contract jobs in the seasonal world. It helped me be able to talk to people because the first impression is the [00:22:00] most important impression and how you continue to present yourself after that. It's going to be very telling to whomever it is that you're dealing with. There have been so many times that I've been yelled at whenever I was in the hotel industry where people were like, you know, I. put down this much of a deposit and the room is this and the room is that. It's being empathetic towards the needs of the person. And even if you can't continue to change the situation because you're capped at what you can physically do, it is how you respond to it that will change the tone of the conversation. And that's one thing I found so beneficial from the hotel side, that's been so transferable for me over here. Is I have to have tough conversations. Sometimes I could absolutely love somebody. I could think they are the most perfect person for a position, but the client rejects them because of good reasoning behind it. It's having those tough [00:23:00] conversations, but not. stopping the relationship right there. You can't get discouraged by the nose it's understanding that the nose could eventually turn into a yes. And just because it didn't happen then doesn't mean it's not going to happen later. I've had people reach out to me eight months after they told me no and say, I'm ready. Can you please help me? Tommy Cole: yeah, yeah. Relationships are the key to everything. Whether you're trying to make the big sale, whether you're finishing a project, the client relationship there at the end of the day, when you're in the interviewing process for a potential employee for your company. Is to, is to foster that relationship, I would think you would agree, multiple interviews with their phone in person video, but always strike a, a very professional conversation. be very, engaged in the conversation, not completely distracted. you know, driving down the street and trying to have an interview, sit [00:24:00] down, focus. be very quick and precise about your decision making of I'm available tomorrow at 2, I'm available tomorrow at 3, and 6 o'clock. Will those work? No. Okay. How about the next day and be intentional about those things. Because candidate A, B and C are watching every move, but what, but not seeing every move, correct? So, the name of the game is act quick, have a good conversation, build a relationship because at the end of the day, it's a small world and you've seen it, all intertwined in a spider web across the whole country. So relationships are key, correct? MJ O'Toole: No, they are, and I think it goes back to skepticism, both from the client side, where they could, you know, At the end of the week, whenever the client partners are doing weekly updates on the progress of specific roles, and they see that nothing has been presented, they wonder what we're doing and it's going back to the fact that on the candidate side, [00:25:00] the skepticism is. Proving myself that I'm not a farmer per se, because I've gotten called that plenty of times where they're like, you just wanna make money off of me. And I'm like, no. I wanna benefit you by finding you the right job. I wanna make sure that the client has trust in us that the process could take a little bit, but it's gonna benefit you at the end because we'll find you that right fit. vice versa for the candidate too. Tommy Cole: Yeah. How satisfying is it when you find a candidate and they, they, there's a match? Like, are, does that get you fired up every day? MJ O'Toole: Oh, Tommy, it is my favorite thing. Like I said, I mean, you can ask any of my co workers. They laugh at me over the phone because. I am a wild card, but that's how I deepen my relationships with people. And it's the fact whenever I see something come together. And as I was mentioning, just the puzzle piece, like I see that one puzzle piece that I need, I am somebody [00:26:00] that is devoted to the process. I will find it. That sense of relief that the client is going to benefit from them and vice versa for the candidate because there's families involved. It's like, it's not just you that's going to get it mean, get this opportunity. It's going to be this base salary will help you pay for your kids Christmas presents or their birthday presents or their 1st car, whatever it may be. It is the most satisfying thing and it's something that just continues to fire me up because once you find that perfect fit, regardless of how many nose you heard before. You understand that that's why it took so long. Tommy Cole: Yeah, yeah, you, you're absolutely a ball of energy, firecracker. It's, it's, it's funny that within a few minutes of a conversation with someone on the phone, I feel like you guys are best friends. all of a MJ O'Toole: Oh, Tommy Cole: just... So, so as we wrap up, I want to mention a few things but, hiring with intention, that is like, I want to get across on that. Like you [00:27:00] said, there's gotta be a sense of urgency, quickness, schedule it, be on time, be completely all in, in the interview. Ask good questions, build a relationship, be an attractive company that brings in candidates without having to go out and get candidates, right? be prepared, when you're ready to hire someone, a snapshot of the company. Job descriptions, benefits, mock resume, org chart, all of that. What are you good at? Like those are the things that you need to be embedded in your company to have good people coming in the door and someone like you on your team looking for candidates. So as we wrap up, MJ, what is one thing that would set a company apart in recruiting top talent? MJ O'Toole: I think one of the most beneficial things for any business owner to know is if a candidate is sent to you. And even if it's not a specific open role with a client and we reverse it [00:28:00] on over to them, it's like, just in case you might need this, because sometimes throughout the busy seasons, people have a lot more needs than we recognize, but it's still good to show talent wherever it is, because. It doesn't hurt to have a conversation. It could be a 15 minute conversation that could change the entire perspective where it's like, no, we don't need this. But once you hear how deep in the industry somebody has, when it comes to knowledge, if it's a plant healthcare manager all about horticulture, and they realize, actually yes, moving forward, we do need this open role. It's just having the conversations, even when you think you can't make time for it. Just try it out. If we're spending the time on it We don't want to waste your time as much as we don't want to waste our candidates time But even to if the owner cannot interview the potential candidate for a certain role I think it's beneficial to know that maybe an HR representative Could do it [00:29:00] because that's usually a first step of an interview process. It doesn't have to be shot up at the top Of course, that does depend on the specific role though, because if it's a CEO, COO, that usually would go straight to the top. But if it's a production manager, account manager, find somebody that could just see. So your time, you didn't waste any. Tommy Cole: Yeah, being prepared is probably the takeaway there. Be prepared when you're ready to go hire someone, you better be ready. You might have a candidate or two ready to go. or it could take a while, so I get it. Well, MJ, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for taking time out of your day to be on our show. I feel like the audience got a few, nuggets to take away. we'll have you again at some point. And, it's good to have you on our team. you're a firecracker that I enjoy to have conversations with. And so it's been a pleasure. you need to get off this and go to work. So I'm sure there's some, some candidates that need to be, presented in front of some [00:30:00] people. MJ O'Toole: Exactly. I'll go right to Josh and Ben and interrogate them again, pick up where I left off, but it's been a pleasure, Tommy. And thanks for having me. Tommy Cole: Absolutely. Thank you very much. John: Ready to take the next step? Download our free Profitability Scorecard to quickly create your own baseline financial assessment and uncover the fastest ways to improve your business. Just go to McFarlinStanford.com/scorecard to get yours today To learn more about McFarlin Stanford our best in class peer groups and other services go to our website at McFarlinStanford.com And don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. See you next time on the Roots of Success.