Christine Winchester is a cybersecurity talent acquisition manager for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She has 18 years of recruiting experience and is a former U.S. Marine. Christine was recently recognized by Project S.A.V.E. with the annual Award for Recruiting Excellence and is an active volunteer for RecruitDC.
Q: How did you land in your first recruiting role?
A: It was an employee referral, which is the best way to get hired. I was referred by a friend of a friend. I didn’t have a particular background in the area I was hired for, but I did have exposure to recruiting through my time in the Marine Corps.
Q: What aspect of the role led you to think that this was the career for you?
A: First, there was my recruiting experience with the Marine Corps, which intrigued me. I was also interested in the HR side of house, but not the typical policy/benefits side. Then, once I started working in recruiting, it opened my eyes to how many areas you can specialize in.
Recruiting is not just recruiting. There is so much variety. There’s everything from sourcing, research and the candidate experience. There’s also the technical side of it, with recruiting systems and tools. And each part of the process has different steps, and you can specialize in each of those.
One aspect to recruiting that particularly appealed to me is I love a challenge. Not just a team challenge, but a personal challenge. When you’re working with people, every single person is different. Every experience and every conversation you have is different. You can’t expect an experience with an individual that you’re potentially trying to recruit will be the same as the one before. It never will be.
That creates other challenges that interest me. One, you’re trying to see if this person is the right fit for the role you’re trying to recruit for at the time. You’re also trying to build a relationship with them. Sometimes, you don’t know them at all. So you immediately have to find ways to learn who they are, from the way they say hello when they pick up the phone to what their body language tells you when you meet them in person. It’s a constant challenge, but you can challenge yourself even more. You can ask yourself, Did I do that well? Is there a way I would handle it differently next time?
Q: What advice and/or training would you recommend to someone just starting out in this industry?
A: I have several pieces of advice.
Self-assessment: I suggest spending time, if you haven’t already, doing a self-assessment to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. And then decide what aspects of recruiting will play to those strengths or if you need to improve in some areas.
Organization: The more organized you are and the faster you learn to be organized, the easier your job will be over time. In recruiting, it’s rare to have someone standing over your shoulder all the time telling you what to do. There can be a lot of ambiguity in your day. Therefore, you have to organize yourself to succeed. And being organized can make and break you later on in your career. Once you become a senior recruiter, for example, you’re expected to be able to track your numbers, track activity, and provide accurate information.
Curiosity: Another piece of advice is to be curious and seek out information. When I started out, YouTube and how-to videos didn’t exist. Now there’s so much fantastic information out there now, besides just books and classrooms.
Phone skills and grit: You’ll need to get comfortable with the phone and develop a thick skin. If you’re just starting out, you may be scared to get on the phone with a candidate. The truth is, you’re going to have phone calls that don’t go well, you’re going to have uncomfortable silences, you’re going to rub someone the wrong way. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Don’t be afraid to call people, especially the ones whose resumes intimidate you. Those are the people you want to talk to. You may fail, but you’ll learn from it. You either have the grit or you will form it over time. You have to be able stand up, dust yourself off, and try again.
Q: What tools you would say significantly changed how you recruit?
A: The first is my smart phone. I’m a visual person, so my phone makes it easy to look at an app, see a picture of a person, and review my call history to help me remember an individual. The second is not a specific ATS, but rather having a user-friendly tool that functions for the whole team and provides accurate reporting. Once I had the responsibility of managing the data coming through an ATS and how that data was being reported on and presented, I thoroughly understood how important that information was to an organization.
Q: Is there one activity that you believe sets you apart from other recruiters?
A: I have the confidence and a positive mindset; there is no problem we can’t solve through creative approaches. The “we” in problem solving is important, because it’s never just one person with the answer.
I also look at recruiting challenges with a strategic mindset. I understand how important hiring the right people quickly can impact organizational outcomes and how our daily actions either lead to success or failure. I bring my teams together to identify the issues and solve them together, whether it’s sourcing, outreach or engagement, a systemic problem within an organization, or interpersonal conflicts. Together we make the decisions to move us forward towards a better future.
Q: Can you share your favorite recruiting-related story?
A: When I was a junior recruiter, I got really excited about a hard-to-find candidate. This was a person where you needed to think carefully about how to best approach them.
I used a parsing tool to put their information into the ATS and emailed them from what I got from the ATS. Unfortunately, I was so excited to contact them as fast as I could that I didn’t pay attention. Instead of addressing the person by their name, I addressed them by their street address. They let me know very quickly that that wasn’t their name. I apologized immediately, but I never heard back from them.
As recruiters, we can make a big difference in how our organization’s branding – and our personal branding – is perceived. I learned that it’s not how fast you contact someone. It’s about paying attention to the details and getting it right.
Q: If you were not in Talent Acquisition, what would you be doing now?
A: I would be outdoors with a camera in hand. I love to look through a lens and capture the beauty of a moment that doesn’t happen again.
Q: What do you believe are current challenges facing the Talent Acquisition industry and do you have any thoughts about how to address them?
A: We spend too much time focused on how to find people and not enough time learning how to interact and engage with them. We need to spend more time learning how to having meaningful and helpful conversations with people who are potential candidates or looking for a job. That will help us get to know them, make them feel good about the hiring process, and ensure their needs are met.
Q: What characteristics do you look for when hiring recruiters?
A: While there’s no college degree in recruiting, there are a few things I look for.
- Curiosity. Will they seek out answers and are they a naturally a curious person?
- Passion and a sense of humor. Recruiting is hard. We’re in the business of people. There will be hard days. You have to be able to last but also step away and have fun.
- Self-improvement. I look for someone who continuously looks to improve.
- Courage. You need courage to get on the phone with people, deal with a manager who’s upset about something, or when someone on your team isn’t doing something the right way. You need to be able to stand up for yourself.