Right Person, Right Organization, Right Time, with Stephanie Maas – Episode 420 of The Action Catalyst Podcast
- Posted by Action Catalyst
- On March 21, 2023
- 0 Comments
- alumni, Business, career, executive, leadership, recruit, Southwestern Advantage, thinkingahead
Stephanie Maas, Executive Search Partner with ThinkingAhead Executive Search, one of the top 10 executive search firms in the country, and a Certified Personnel Consultant, speaks on getting her start selling books door-to-door, knowing your weaknesses and strengthening your aptitudes, following the “Jerry Maguire philosophy”, the definition of “talent”, what one of the nation’s top executive recruitment firms looks for, and address the question of when DOES a business need an executive recruiter, and why the secret to success lies in planning your bathroom breaks?
With over 20 years of recruiting experience with ThinkingAhead Executive Search and over 400 candidate placements, Stephanie Maas sits at the peak of her career, and year after year, she is one of ThinkingAhead’s top producers.
As a student at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 1996 pursuing a BS in Business Administration, Maas found herself engaged in the Southwestern Advantage sales internship, the world’s oldest entrepreneurial program for university students. Throughout Maas’s five years of selling educational books with Southwestern, she sharpened her passion for sales and fell in love with her now-husband, a fellow “book kid.”
When Maas was introduced to ThinkingAhead Executive Search in 2000, she quickly established her reputation as a key recruiting force in the Career Services industry where she utilized her Southwestern experience to place graduating sales interns into sales careers. After six years with the Career Services specialty, Maas transitioned into the ThinkingAhead Banking and Commercial Finance niche seeking to use her selling savvy and her “it’s always the right time to do the right thing” mindset to help other clients connect with the right talent at the right time.
Maas’s pleasantly persistent recruiting style and service-oriented approach can be attributed to her desire to make concrete differences in the lives of those she works with. Throughout her years of executive recruiting, she has sought to represent the qualities that ThinkingAhead so highly values including hard work, teachability, and service. She also helps educate outsiders to the best practices she uses in ThinkingAhead’s “That What She Said” video series on Facebook and Vimeo.
Maas’s desire to serve others refuses to stop at the doors of ThinkingAhead, bleeding into her personal life and the lives of the Nashville community. Maas attributes her love for faith and work ethic to her parents who taught her the all-encompassing truth of “with great power comes great responsibility.” This passion has led her to involvement with organizations purposed to serve the lives of underprivileged children and those suffering from breast cancer, a cause near and dear to Maas’s heart. Maas, along with her husband and children, lives by the purpose to “serve others and give until it hurts.” Stephanie is active in several non-profit organizations, including: Habitat for Humanity, Avon Breast Cancer Foundation, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Room at the Inn, YCAP, and the Martha O’Bryan Center. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their three children.
As a leader within ThinkingAhead, Stephanie Maas believes that her purpose as an executive recruiter is to improve the lives of others by providing life-altering opportunities for her candidates and client through talent acquisition. For Maas, her career in recruiting is a fulfilling way to contribute to the success of the companies she works with, the candidates she places, and the recruiters she influences. Maas’s years of service allow her the capability to provide her candidates with opportunities that often aid in “getting some of their lives back” as they step into new career paths.
Learn more at ThinkingAhead.com.
The Action Catalyst is presented by the Southwestern Family of Companies. With each episode, the podcast features some of the nation’s top thought leaders and experts, sharing meaningful tips and advice. Learn more at TheActionCatalyst.com, subscribe below or wherever you listen to podcasts, and be sure to leave a rating and review!
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(Transcribed using A.I. / May include errors):
Adam Outland: Welcome listeners to The Action Catalyst podcast. Stephanie Maas is an Executive Search Partner with ThinkingAhead Executive Search, one of the top 10 executive search firms in the country, to which she brings over 20 years of recruiting experience as a Certified Personnel Consultant. Stephanie is also much more comfortable building up others rather than herself, but she’s promised to be a good sport and talk with us today. So we get to start early. You know, how much you weighed as a baby, and we’re gonna go from there.
Stephanie Maas: Okay. 7-11. It’s super easy to remember.
Adam Outland: So, you and I have something in common, how you got started in your professional career, which you did while you were in college. So you went to U Chapel Hill, correct? Great school. I grew up in Boone, North Carolina, so right down the road and into the mountains and, and into the holler as they say. Talk to me about what you did during your summers in college and how that part of your story came about.
Stephanie Maas: Super thankful, by the way, for that opportunity. And um, I do have a little bit of a fun story. So I was going to Chapel Hill and one of four kids grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we all were paying a hundred percent of our way through school. So the summer before I literally worked three jobs. Every waking moment. I tried to work because I knew I needed to pay for school, and it was in the late winter, early spring of my sophomore year at Carolina.
I got a phone call and if it’s okay, I’m gonna mention his name cuz I give him a lot of props. His name was Phil Debe. He was a couple years older than me and he gave me a call and invited me over to this information session where you could make all kinds of money. So I went, I heard it. I signed up right away.
Could not have been more excited. And the really fun part was it took a while for Phil to actually tell me how he got my name. You know, I years later did the same thing that he did when, you know, college campuses recruited kids. Great, amazing summer experience. You know, you get referrals from the campus, sororities, fraternities, professors, you meet with them for referrals.
Hey, which students you know, have these qualities that you think would be good at this? And so for the longest time I was so anxious to hear from Phil, like, Hey, how did you get my name? You know, who recommended me, who thought so highly of you? And turns out the reference was actually, which very few people even know of anymore today, the white page.
Phil actually started going through the Carolina directory and called me not knowing me from Adam, and so I was what they called a. Book recruit. So that was super.
Adam Outland: How did you even arrive at U N C in the business school? I mean, growing up in North Carolina, U n C’s considered one of the top schools. People in state always wanna go to U N C, particularly for me cuz I’m a lover of UNC over Duke.
Stephanie Maas: Thank you. We can continue this call now.
Adam Outland: Right, haha. How did that happen? Like what was kind of your earlier life path that drew you to, to university?
Stephanie Maas: Ok so do you want the real answer or the fluff?
Adam Outland: Oh, um, I think the real answer sounds fun.
Stephanie Maas: Um, yes, I did all the things you’re supposed to do in high school to get into a good college. I knew I was always, I mean, my parents said, Hey, we can’t pay for it, but we know you’re going. My choices were to either go to NC State, which was kind of known as a more tech school, or it was gonna go to Carolina because that was more liberal arts and those were the two I could afford.
So those were my choices. So I chose Carolina. And why, why? You know, it’s kind of what people did. I had a knack for it going on my summer internship, going door to door, knocking 80 hours a week across the country, far from home as my parents like to describe it. Yeah. Uh, it’s just what people did seemed good.
I, at one point thought I might be an attorney, but once I realized how much more school I needed and how much alone time you spent, that did not seem fun. So I loved. My summer internship, I loved selling books. It was definitely the most challenging thing I had ever done, but it probably gave me my first exposure to what real confidence looks like.
I had never really challenged myself, quite frankly. Most of life came pretty easy to me. . It wasn’t hard for me to get good grades. I checked the box of, you know, doing the sports. I wasn’t great at ’em, but I wasn’t terrible. I did all the clubs cuz that’s what you’re supposed to do. So on paper I probably looked pretty decent, but going out and having this experience of really challenging myself and succeeding gave me a level of confidence that, you know what, maybe I can do more.
What I thought I could when I actually applied myself. And so business school was really a no-brainer. I didn’t think it would be hard. It’s an incredible program. It’s gotten, I think, so much better since I was even there. I’m not gonna say it wasn’t hard, cuz parts of it were, but I loved the quality of people that were around it.
I loved how serious they took it. But what I’ll tell you really fueled my flame was the experience selling.
Adam Outland: Hmm. I think that plays a big role into what you’ve done professionally because there’s multiple parts to working with Southwestern Vantage and College. One is obviously the selling of educational material and doing that door to door in people’s homes, uh, during the summer, but during the school year.
The other part of the program was if you were chosen for leadership to do recruitment and development of students to help them find success in that program and to grow the way that. And that was something that I think you had some experience with over your college career because you ended up as a recruiter, right?
Stephanie Maas: Yeah. So what I learned in recruiting is, while the selling books part was tremendously wonderful for my self-esteem and self-confidence, the leadership part was horrible. I wasn’t naturally good at it. I didn’t naturally understand people, but. Pretty good at getting them to understand the benefits of the program, even if I wasn’t the world’s best leader.
So when I was ready to transition away from the summer internship and some of the leadership that followed, and I worked with my career counselor at the time, that was one of the things we talked about was, Hey, I have some. and getting people to understand what’s good for them professionally, if you will, but not necessarily on the leadership side of things.
So the idea of then joining Thinking Ahead, which was 22 years ago in October and stepping into this recruiting role seemed very natural. And I, I think I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet who can say, I absolutely 100% love what I do.
Adam Outland: Tell us a little bit about that, because I know there’s a lot of executive search out there. There’s a lot of placement. The organization you work with is, uh, sister company of one of ours. Thinking ahead, what role did you play inside of thinking ahead when you first started? What role do you play now?
Stephanie Maas: So when I first joined, I actually, it was really cool. I got to bridge the Southwestern Advantage side of the house and the direct placement side of the house.
So I first stepped into what they called it at the time, career counseling or career services, where I actually would place. kids that had participated in the Southwest Advantage program into their career jobs when they were ready to transition away. So that was super cool. I got to do that for several years, but I loved it.
It was fantastic. I could speak from experience of saying, this is why, you know, selling books is so great.
And then I was also developing my own life. Getting married, getting kids, doing those things. So I could talk about, Hey, this is how it’ll serve you today, but this is also how it sets you up for success later in life.
So I did that for several years, but once we started to have a family, the travel got to be a little bit too much. So I was ready for a transition, and by this time I had seen the quality of people, the success, the lifestyle of other recruiters within thinking ahead. And I thought, oh my gosh, if I could.
Be good enough. That just seemed dreamy to me. Absolutely dreamy. I will tell you, when I went to my boss at the time and said, Hey, it’s time for me to transition away. I really kind of expected him to hand me the job on a silver platter, and he said, well, you know, I hope you’ll consider. Us as your, you know, as part of your inquiry into your next step.
And I was a little taken back. I was like, wait, what , uh, I thought it would be a gimme. And, uh, but it was some great counsel. He said, Nope. I said, no, I’m pretty sure this is what I wanna do. And he said, well, you need to make sure we’re the right place for you. So go out, interview a couple other firms. and we would like you to, we will invite you to interview here as well.
I was like, wow, okay. That’s awesome. It was a little bit of a pill to swallow for my ego when I did, and so that’s how I ended up. Now what I do is I specialize in commercial banking and commercial finance search in the primarily, I call it the Mid-Atlantic, but it’s primarily the greater DC Baltimore market.
Um, I do a lot of search up in Philadelphia and all the way out to Pittsburgh as well, but most of my work’s around the greater DC marketplace. So we are a boutique executive search firm, which folks in my industry kind of know what that is. Um, there’s a couple different models people follow. We really believe in, I like to call it the Jerry McGuire philosophy.
Where you take a few clients and you do a lot with them, it’s very high touch, high service. You just really get to know a few and you have a big impact on that. Versus some of my competitors who do, by the way, extremely well, they follow maybe a little bit more of what we call like a resume brokerage, which is high volume, high transaction. We do more of the boutique approach.
Adam Outland: This is probably really, I think the most interesting for so many of our listeners are business owners. In fact, one listener that’s a coaching client of mine is the chief banking officer for, uh, was regional now National Bank. And one of the conversations that we had was how valuable finding the right talent and the right people are to scalability of a business. What are some of the things you’ve learned around what good talent looks like and how to find it?
Stephanie Maas: Great question. I think, and I don’t know exactly if it’s a tagline, but it’s finding the right person at the right time for the right opportunity, and to me that is what talent is. Talent is as good. as where they are when it’s the right time.
You can be a tremendous talent, but if you’re in the wrong organization, it’s not a match. You know, you can be in a really incredible opportunity, but if it’s not the right time for you, you know, that’s a mismatch. A lot of what we get to do is not just finding the talent. But really aligning it with the right opportunity and working with our candidates to make sure, hey, is this the right time for you?
I will probably tell you that’s one of my favorite parts of my job is because I don’t have to be transaction oriented. Don’t get me wrong, not a not-for-profit. There is a business side to it, but the way that we’re set up, it’s so much more. I don’t even know if relational is the right. But it’s just a little bit more holistic and hey, talent is as good as the opportunity and the timing is, and finding that a little bit more sophisticated of a match.
Adam Outland: Yeah. And what kind of questions might you ask? Obviously you do this all the time as a recruiter, but putting yourself in the, in the shoes of so many of the folks that you serve in finding the right candidates, what are some of the questions that you find have the most value in vetting individuals?
Stephanie Maas: I think taking the conversation beyond the surface, asking things and really being willing, willing to dig deep into what’s important to you and why.
Um, what change would you like to see in your professional environment right now and why? Helping understand. without violating any co, like anything personal, but they’re personal dynamics. A lot of it is really diving into that. You know, a lot of recruiters call and, Hey, this is the job. Are you interested?
Are you qualified? Check, check, check. Yep. Send a resume, go out the door. A lot of my clients and candidates I have called on for years, so it’s a dialogue over time. It’s being willing to have the tough conversations. Hey, I know this is what you want, but you’re really not qualified. , or Hey, this is what you want, but the timing’s off and here’s why.
And just getting to know each other in a way that we can have those more sophisticated conversations. And then what’s so fun is when you do call ’em and you know you have something and you think the time might be right and you hear them go, oh my gosh, you’ve been listening. Yes, this is exactly what I’ve been hoping for. Yes, I wanna go talk to them and find out if it’s the real deal. That’s super fun. And that’s kind of how we do it.
Adam Outland: You know, one of the things we recommend in our company to a lot of the clients that we coach are to use recruiters because of the time sensitivity to finding a, a position and, and then also the expertise that, that it kind of takes to know the market and quickly source candidates.
And I’m not just saying this, but you, you know, the, the roadblocks that go up in people’s minds that are on that side of it is, how do I really wanna pay a recruiter? Do I really want to use executive search? You know, we could just find talent ourselves. What’s your answer for so many of those folks that are on the fence about the investment to have someone else help support that position and, and filling that role?
Stephanie Maas: I think it’s kind of like what we talked about before. It’s gotta be the right recruiter at the right time in the right circumstances. . We teach this in our training. Just because a company has a need doesn’t mean that they need us. Mm-hmm. . But if there are certain circumstances, like it’s highly specialized talent, if it is timely, if the market for that talent is very competitive, which we have certainly seen, I mean, we are in the greatest talent economy of our lifetime.
There are I think, three jobs for every one qualified candidate. So that makes a very competitive landscape for talent. If all those things are lining up, it’s probably. Good for you to go find the right recruiter to partner with. The other thing I’ll say is the right recruiter is just like finding any other partner you would ever work with.
Yes, cost is a factor. Most of us don’t vary that much, but if price is all you’re gonna do to choose, you’re probably gonna end up frustrated. So be mindful there. You’ve gotta interview recruiters, get referrals on. I mean, my best business comes from people who say, Hey, I have worked with her. Either she placed me or I worked with her at this other organization.
You need to work with her too. And then just find out is it that you need a highly sophisticated, customized solution? Like thinking ahead provides, or do you really just need a resume broker? And if you can understand all of that, the answer usually takes care of.
Adam Outland: You’ve been doing this so long, you’ve found a lot of success in providing great service to enough clients to where organically you’ve been referred and you’ve made a really fantastic name for yourself in that space.
What have been some of the roadblocks, personally, in your growth in the last 22 years of building an executive search practice within? Thinking ahead, like where do you, all of our listeners have those roadblocks? What’s what’s been like one for you that you think about that you had to work through?
Stephanie Maas: So I’m gonna give you a little bit of a long-winded answer, but I think it might be helpful. So in the very beginning, the hardest thing was establishing a reputation for myself. The executive search business has a very mixed reputation. There are some that are fantastic and very ethical and wonderful, and then there are some that are not. Mm-hmm. . So in the beginning, one of the things that was a huge focus of mine was really trying to differentiate myself through my reputation, going above and beyond to show that, hey, I am very customer oriented, service oriented, so forth and so on.
That was in the. Once that got a little bit established, kind of, I would say, you know, the next, if that was the first five to seven years, the next five to seven years was honestly a balancing act. I had a young family. It was the demands on my time of wanting to build, wanting to be very successful, but also knowing that this was a critical time in my life to be present at home.
So some of that included just, yeah, I would love to stay an extra hour, but I’ve got a basketball game to go to and having to make those decisions. By the way, I never, ever, ever have regretted the being. even down the years that I made less money or whatever the case may be, and now I feel like I’m in this stage.
I’ve had the last several years have been just tremendous. There were some things that contributed to that. One of ’em was I was just looking for opportunity to give back. take what I knew and teach it to other people. So I started running training for the company. Hmm. Everybody knows that the teacher often learns more than the student.
So that by really thinking about how I could give back to my industry, how I could give back to the other recruiters, how I could give back to thinking ahead that just. Catapulted some of my results. And I would say if I look to the next three to five years, I know I can produce at a certain level. It’s just the way our business works.
So the things that are most important to me now are staying current. You know, things that work 10, 15 years ago won’t work today, so I need to make sure I stay current. And then also, I heard this quote over the last six months and I think it’s just, I can’t remember who said it, and I’m terribly sorry that I can’t, but they said there’s no real value in what you know until you share it with somebody else.
Adam Outland: I said that. Yeah, it was me.
Stephanie Maas: I figured, I thought it was, um, I just couldn’t remember. I’m sorry. Um, yeah, that makes complete sense. Really good. But I, I think there’s a lot to be said for that. The other thing, I know you didn’t ask this, but I wanna put this out there. In building my reputation, one of my absolute hands down favorite things about working at Thinking Ahead, and I will give Greg Bouche and Tim Knight a tremendous amount of credit for their leadership in this is they taught me very early on that always the right time to do the right thing. And man, we all know what it’s like to struggle. We all know when we get tempted and every single time I went to Greg or Tim with a, what should I do kind of thing, it was always lovingly received with what’s the right thing to do. That’s what we’re gonna do and everything’s gonna work out in the end. And once I got a hold of that, I feel like that’s, that’s what’s made the difference in my reputation.
Adam Outland: And I think what you just shared about Greg and Tim and yourself are probably big reasons why thinking heads. It’s grown to be such a competitive executive search firm and recognizes one of the top 10 search firms, and you guys have built, uh, a really successful practice in doing so since you did a lot of internal trainings, I wanted to do a quick lightning round and to get our listeners some tools and resources too. Give me the most used app on your phone, that’s appropriate for this podcast, that is.
Stephanie Maas: I’m mortified to say, oh my God, it’s Instagram. It’s terrible, but I’d love to scroll and laugh at all the different memes. I don’t do much on social media, but that is my on board. Who’s gonna put something out there that’s gonna make me laugh?
Adam Outland: You gotta move to TikTok.
Stephanie Maas: Oh, yeah. And I refuse to, and I, I need to start snapping or chatting or some, I, yeah. It’s terrible. But, um, I am a typical mom with three kids at my age. It’s the gram.
Adam Outland: Is there like a productivity app or system or tool that you’re a fan of?
Stephanie Maas: I’m super old school. I’ve got a, we got a good news board in our kitchen and we, me and the kids write a positive quote for every week.
So I am a huge believer in writing down what you wanna do, why it’s important to you, how you’re gonna do it. That smart acronym, I forget all of the exact ones, but you probably know which ones I’m talking about. It’s like something measurable, achievable, realistic, yes. And timeframe. To me, those are age. . I am constantly looking at where I am, where I wanna be, am I on track to get there?
I’m also a ridiculous planner. Um, I get teased at work all the time. I don’t actually plan my bathroom breaks, but I kind of do. I just don’t put ’em in my calendar. That I think, is one of the biggest keys to success over any length of time. You gotta be flexible with your plan, but 80% of the time you gotta have a plan.
Adam Outland: I love that. What about a recent book or podcast that you’ve listened to that you really enjoyed.
Stephanie Maas: Okay, so for humor, it was Smartless. I literally laughed my batooty off on that one, so I’ll be continuing with that. I’ve been reading a lot of books that revolve around therapy, so a couple of them. Voice of the Heart by Chip, dod, if anybody hasn’t read that, and if they feel like their life isn’t as fulfilled as it could or.
I think that’s, it’s a real easy read. It might be 150 pages, but it’s incredibly complex. Also, Phil Stutz, he’s got a book called Tools. It’s super heady. Like I can read like five pages. I’m a voracious reader, like five pages and I gotta put it down cause I gotta think through everything that just got told to me and I wanna take notes and, but it’s incredible.
So that’s kind of recent, but I will tell you books that I’ve read in the past that I really appreciate and I know that they get a lot of recognition. Atomic habit. , that’s kind of a newer one. Been around for a little while, but still gets a lot of credit. I read that last year and I thought that was incredible as well.
Adam Outland: What’s one of those habits that you feel like, speaking of atomic habits, that you’ve feel like you practice that helps you in your success?
Stephanie Maas: I’m gonna be very transparent as a female, which I am, for me, it is exercising. Now, please, as soon as I say that, someone’s like, oh, she’s gonna look like a trainer. I don’t, I look like a normal woman in her mid forties that has three kids.
But this is a habit that I grew up in the age where my mom used Dexter tram. When she wanted to lose weight, she would do exercise videos, literally Jane. But it was only when she was dissatisfied with her weight. So that growing up was my perspective of exercising. When I was in high school, I did sports, but quite frankly, it was only cuz my friends did ’em and I wanted to hang out with them.
So to me, growing up and I would say until I was about 30, exercise was something that I. Did when I needed a result, it wasn’t just part of who I was. And I would say when I was about 30, I’m trying to remember maybe a little bit after that, but sometime early in my thirties, we hired trainers to come to the company, put together a little workout room, and for some incredibly cheap price, you could go workout over lunch with these trainers.
And I have been doing. Ever since. In fact, one of the trainers that I met, she comes to my house twice a week now. I’ve been working out with her for 10 plus years, and the practice here was, in the beginning exercise was a way to change how I looked. And over time it has now become a part of my mental health.
Quite frankly, my physique has not changed all that much, but for me, the exercise habit is about my mental health. And even though I know there are physical benefits, what it does for my mental health is far and beyond anything I could have imagined. So that’s a little one.
Adam Outland: That’s great. And then I guess who’s a person you’ve never met but would love to?
Stephanie Maas: I’m embarrassed now. You know Ryan Reynolds. I’ve had a probably 10 year crush on him. Again, I’m not interested in anything romantic there. Him and Blake seem like a lovely couple, but he just seems so sarcastic and he would be up there. And I gotta go with Jason Bateman. Loved him in Arrested Development.
I loved him in the Ozarks. Holy scholly. I usually can’t watch stuff that intense, but it was so good. And I think my allure to these folks is that at their craft, they’re in my mind kind of geniuses, but. They don’t for me follow like the Hollywood stereotype. So yeah, I love it. Supposed to be my top. You will notice, of course there’s a theme. None of them are hard to look at. They’re all tall, dark, and handsome.
Adam Outland: And humor is the connecting theme there too, right? Humor is the number one. That’s amazing. This has been a great interview, just learning a little bit about you in summary, some of the lessons that you can pass on to our listeners as a recruiter and what I think one of the biggest strength.
From my seat where I’ve used executive search and recruiters in the past is their ability to listen and distill and help distill what someone’s looking for. For you, especially you, you have that gift of helping people open up and being able to listen and maybe using a little bit of that sarcastic humor to break the ice and uh, mellow them out. You feel like that’s fairly accurate?
Stephanie Maas: Yeah, I would say.
Adam Outland: So for listeners, that’s what she did with me before we even started interviewing and it worked wonders. So thank you so much for taking the time.
Stephanie Maas: Thank you. Awesome.