Even though it may feel like it, Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman haven’t been podcast hosts forever. Sowash, a former Army Infantry drill sergeant, cut his teeth in online recruitment in 1998 with an outfit called Online Career Center before it launched a year later as Monster.com. He then went on to build DirectEmployers from the ground up, later steering RecruitMilitary toward revenue as CXO and built Randstad’s first military veteran hiring program.
Cheesman, meanwhile, is a self-described recruitment technology nerd. With previous experience working at eSpan, one of the world’s first job boards. In 2005, he founded HRSEO, a search-engine marketing company for HR, which was sold in 2009 to jobing.com. Cheesman is also well-known for founding Cheezhead, an award-winning industry blog.
Chad and Cheese’s two main buys
As more vendors enter the recruiting sphere, recruiters and TA leaders have their work cut out for them in picking and choosing the right solution. For years, Sowash and Cheesman have delved into the hundreds of companies within the world of recruitment as part of their buy and sell segment. But what would be their absolute top two?
“I was a huge antagonist early on, but he [Aaron Matos] put together a team that I do not think in their space can be beat.”
“The team at Paradox is unparalleled”, Sowash added. Nobody has a better team and has as much experience. And here’s the thing. Their founder, Aaron Matos has failed before, which is exactly what you need from a founder. They have to taste that. If they don’t taste it, they don’t understand what it actually means and focus on what the real world needs. I was a huge antagonist early on, but he put together a team that I do not think in their space can be beat.”
“Jobcase would be another”, Cheesman said. “Their CEO, Fred Goff is amazingly in touch with the industry. He’s a CEO who will reach out to or meet at various times to kind test the temperature of certain things, which most CEOs don’t do. He is supremely intelligent, and much smarter than we are. Which is one of the reasons why he gets a lot of information from from the the industry before and during the decision-making process. He’s an amazing leader.”
“The hardest part about being a startup is being a founder”, Sowash said. “Because you literally have to you have to own every aspect of the business. Every founder needs to really understand that you can’t just be a CEO and focus on the business. So for me, it’s about the person behind the business. One of the guys that I love just sold his business to iCIMS, Adam Gordon of CandidateID. I think he embodies everything that makes a company.”
“If want to build a start-up, I think you have to model yourself after a guy like Adam Gordon.”
“You can have great tech, but you have to get noticed”, Sowash continued. “Back in the day, Jason Goldberg did not have great tech when he founded Jobster. In fact, I think you could say he had shitty tech. Yet he got more funding than anybody else did. Because Jobstar had a vision and he articulated the vision well. But if want to build a start-up, I think you have to model yourself after a guy like Adam Gordon.”
‘If you try to control everything, you’re going to lose’
Leadership discussions have shifted in recent years, from bossy bosses to emphatic leaders. What is Sowash and Cheesman’s advice for talent leaders? “You have to learn how to delegate”, Cheesman said convincingly. “You have to be able to let go. You have to be able to trust your people. You have to be able to. And not just mentally but physically, you have to be able to physically let go and let people work the way they want to work, how they want to work and when they want to work.”
“To me, the leader of the future can delegate and control, even though they’re not putting their fingers in everything possible.”
“And that’s not easy”, Cheesman added. “Because the typical CEO, the personalities, they’re alphas. So they want to control things, drive stuff and push, push, push. It’s incredibly hard to do that today because you’re working from home. You’re in other parts of the world. To me, the leader of the future that can delegate and control, even though they’re not putting their fingers in everything possible. It’s all about trusting your people and delegating. If you try to control everything, you’re going to lose.”
‘Ask yourself: is anyone going to die?’
As corporate cultures go, Sowash and Cheesman have a wealth of experience. What sort of metaphors from their careers do they still use in their everyday lives? “My mantra is a simple one”, Sowash says. “As soon as you get into a corporate culture, there’s chaos and everyone wants to freak out. The first thing that I teach my team and I have to make sure that they understand is when you are presented with chaos, you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then ask yourself: is anybody going to die?”
The first thing that I teach my team is when they’re presented with chaos, you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then ask yourself: is anybody going to die?”
“And if the answer is yes, then dial 911. But other than that, it gives you a level setting opportunity. I think I was lucky enough to be in the military to understand what that actually means. But I feel like other people may need their leader to step up and say: it’s okay, just breathe. That’s the mantra. You should just breathe. Most knee-jerk reactions happen when things aren’t even legitimately important. We’ve seen that from founders over the years and we’ve seen that from big CEOs over the years.”
“The problem tends to be: we’re going to do everything that’s cool and nothing and the real stuff doesn’t get done.”
“I think it’s important to make sure that you have a budget dedicated to when your head’s on fire, or when you come across the hottest new, shiny thing”, Cheesman added. “So when those things come up, you have a budget. The problem tends to be: we’re going to do everything that’s cool and nothing and the real stuff doesn’t get done. Or we’re not going to do anything that’s outside of our comfort zone. As an organisation, you need to find your place between not doing anything and doing what fits your budget.”
‘It’s about standing up for the little guy’
Whenever you listen to Sowash and Cheesman — as thousands of listeners around the world indeed have — it’s not hard to envision them spending their knowledge on literally anything else. Instead, the two men have continued to produce insightful podcasts at an extremely high rate. “For me it’s all about standing up for the little guy”, Sowash said.
“I really want to ensure that my two daughters and my son can actually advance in the world moving forward.”
“If you think about it, whenever we talk about tech or we talk about the industry, we stand up for the little guy. Pay transparency, equity, those types of things. If two middle age white guys can stand up for that and our voices can be heard by anybody, then maybe we can actually push the piece forward. I really want to ensure that my two daughters and my son can actually advance in the world moving forward.”
‘It’s less about currency, and more about legacy’
“That sounds like the yearbook answer there”, Cheesman adds. “Mine’s probably much more selfish than that. I think a little-known fact is that Chad and I are the same age. We were born exactly one day apart. So part of the dynamic of our relationship is that we do come from the same timetable. So we have that dynamic that is really, really unique.”
“At 50, you start thinking sort of less about currency and a little more about legacy. In other words, what am I leaving behind?”
“But at 50, you start thinking sort of less about currency and a little more about legacy. In other words, what am I leaving behind? What mark on the world am I making? And let’s be honest, none of us are curing cancer. None of us are solving the big problems of the world. But in some little way, we are helping organisations grow.”
“I truly believe our grandkids one day will listen to this podcast and just say: What was Grandpa like? And what was it that made this guy today?“
“We’re helping people, you know, get jobs and be successful”, Cheesman continues. “Hopefully I’m leaving something behind, you know, financially. But I think, you know, it’s: What am I? I truly believe our grandkids one day will listen to this podcast and just say: What the hell was Grandpa like? And what was it that made this guy today? We’re leaving a little bit of a footprint of who we are or where we were in the world, which I think is kind of cool.”
All photo credit belongs to the fine folks of the E-recruitment Congress, where Editor-in-Chief Jasper Spanjaart was able to interview Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman.