#RealRecruiters Series: Matt Van Winkle, Senior Recruitment Consultant at Robert Walters San Francisco
In our #RealRecruiters series, we examine the career trajectories of real recruiters in the Robert Walters San Francisco office. Matt Van Winkle, Senior Recruitment Consultant, started out as a fundraiser at both the University of Redlands and Stanford, when he discovered that his skills would lend themselves well to recruitment. Hear his story below.
What were you doing before your career as a recruitment consultant?
I was a fundraiser for a number of years. I started my career in university fundraising at the University of Redlands and then Stanford, with a focus on raising money for undergraduate scholarships. After that, I was with the US Soccer Federation for two years also working in fundraising. I helped them start to build a network here in San Francisco and raise money in support of youth programs.
How did you first hear about Robert Walters?
I was actually hosting an event here in San Francisco and Simon Bromwell (Managing Director, US and Canada) was one of the guests. It was a fundraiser for US Soccer, right before a World Cup Qualifier with about 100 people or so in attendance. During the networking time, I connected with Simon, and we had about a ten minute conversation as I worked my way around the room. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but a few months later he reached out and asked if I’d ever considered a career in recruitment. At the time, I hadn’t, but I was interested in hearing a little bit more about what the team was doing.
Did you have any preconceived notions about what it would be like to be a recruiter?
I had a general sense of what recruitment was, but, in my mind, it felt a lot more transactional and less personal; It was all about filling a seat. Obviously, we’re still doing some of that, but the big thing that won me over about Robert Walters is that it is a lot more relationship-driven. We have the ability to get to know our candidates and clients in a way that I didn’t think recruiters could.
How have the skills you acquired as a fundraiser helped you succeed as a consultant at Robert Walters?
Going back to what I said before, as a fundraiser, everything is really relationship-driven. You're trying to find out about somebody’s passions, what they care about, and what they’re going to want to support. If you're asking them to fund a program or make a donation, people contribute because they care and are invested in it.
Robert Walters isn’t a non-profit, but they’re similar in that as a recruiter, you have to really understand what a candidate wants to help them find a job. If the candidate feels like you have their best interest in mind, they're going to open up to a lot more about what they want, and that helps the cycle move along.
Stanford was also a really collaborative environment, where everybody had their specific priority they were fundraising for, but the focus was on finding the right fit for each donor. Robert Walters is also a really collaborative environment where everybody is focused on finding the best solution for everyone we work with. That’s something that we do well, and an important part of what makes us successful.
How long have you worked at Robert Walters and what sorts of clients and candidates do you work with?
I’ve been at Robert Walters San Francisco for about a year and a half now, and I am a Senior Recruitment Consultant on the Design Team. My team focuses on placing design talent and working with startups to hire for Product Design, Visual Design and User Research roles.
You recently earned a promotion to Senior Recruitment Consultant. What were the biggest challenges personally professionally that you had to overcome in order to earn that?
The first challenge for me was learning a new business and transitioning from my previous career. A lot of the skills gained as a fundraiser were applicable, but there’s always a relearning process. I had to get a really solid grasp on the design market, determine what candidates are looking for, and understand what skills companies value. Secondly, I needed to gain the expertise to be able to advise both candidates and clients on their searches with a deep understanding of the market. The third thing that is a prerequisite to being a Senior Consultant is being comfortable enough in my day-to-day work that I can start adding value to other people on the team. That might involve offering advice or helping my team connect with new opportunities. I think that element came later when I had enough confidence and understanding in my role that I wasn't fully focused on that, and could start to think about other ways to improve the team and the business as a whole.
What is the most rewarding part about being a recruitment consultant?
Helping people find new jobs is the obvious answer to this question, but I also really enjoy helping hiring managers who are really struggling to find top candidates. Many companies we work with are not always the highest profile, because they’re still in their beginning stages of growth (many are startups). We're able to present candidates with roles that are really personalized to them, and help companies get in touch with candidates who they might not have otherwise been able to connect with.
Also, a little bit less literal: Anytime I hear somebody say “you're the best recruiter I've ever worked with,” it's always very rewarding.
We take a lot of care in the work that we do and we are really hands-on. Since we aren’t working on a ton of roles at once, when we get to the end of a process, we know the candidates really well. Typically, we’ve met them in person, we understand their motivations, and we've been in touch with them throughout their hiring process. It's not just like we've gotten their resume and forwarded it on; It’s a very personalized approach. I don't think a lot of other people out there have that opportunity to be hands-on and personalize the experience completely like we do.
What is your biggest motivator at work?
The biggest thing that motivates me here is the fact that we’ve got a really great team. It's very supportive and really collaborative; When you're having a great time, people are there to lift you up and celebrate your successes. When you're going through a slow patch or a rough patch, the people are here to help you navigate that to figure out what you need to continue improving. I'm always motivated to come in and work with our team, and that's something that has kept me going through good days and bad.
Would you recommend this role to friends? If so, what personality types or backgrounds do you think would succeed in this position?
Definitely. Personality-wise, people who are motivated by big benchmarks or achievements will do well here. I also think people that do the best are people that want to help others. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert doesn’t really matter as long as you can offer genuine advice to the clients and candidates you meet.
Across all of our teams in San Francisco, there are very few of us who are actually from the field or industry that we recruit for. However, the ability to understand the motivations of other people is a lot more important than understanding every technicality of the work.
In terms of career progression, there’s a very clear road path of what you need to do to be successful, and it’s up to you to do that. In other roles the career track can be more vague, but during my time here it has been made clear what goals I needed to achieve. Beyond hitting your KPIs, there are also multiple people at the managerial level who are advising and helping you think about what you want to do next and how you want to grow.
What is your best piece of advice for someone starting as a recruitment consultant at Robert Walters?
I think the number one thing is that everybody here wants to see you succeed. So, always ask for help from a manager or somebody on a completely different team. When you're first starting out in a role like this, there's a big learning curve initially, because you're taking on new responsibilities and potentially doing something for the first time.
You'll build momentum over time, so persistence is key. Your managers will likely tell you what they believe is the “best way to do it”, and over time, you’ll build your own methods. We have a great education program here and some really seasoned people who can give you advice. I think there's a lot of support here to help you grow and get up in running in your career.