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The Resilient Recruiter

Mar 24, 2021

“The big hypocrisy of our industry is that we hire all these people for our clients yet we suck at hiring people for ourselves.” 

If you agree with this statement, then you’ll love the directness and honesty of my podcast guest Monte Merz.  Listen in as he shares his secrets to hiring recruitment rockstars - from the interview process, training, coaching and compensation. Hear why his firm has won multiple awards for being one of the best companies to work for in Denver and one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.

Monte is the managing partner of High Country Group in Denver, Colorado. The group has 23 members of staff including 18 fee earners and is comprised of several different divisions: Energy Search, Executive Search, Tech Search and Staffing. Prior to launching the business in 2002, Monte spent 8 years working for some of the biggest recruiting firms in the world - from running a desk to becoming a Regional VP.

Episode Outline and Highlights

  • [4:09] Monte’s “accidental tourist” story of starting his recruitment career
  • [11:00] How Monte was promoted and fired on the same day, leading him to start his own recruiting firm
  • [15:35] What is the “leaky bucket theory”?
  • [17:05] Why High Country had a terrible first year in business and the actions Monte took to turn things around.
  • [25:03] Using a process that works - Monte’s “Funnel # Plus” model.
  • [32:18] Hear Monte’s approach to job sustainability and compensation plan.
  • [37:04] Monte’s firm has an exceptional “per desk average” with the majority of his recruiters billing over $300,000 per year. Hear how he recruits and keeps good people.
  • [47:30] How to recognize a rockstar - hear the qualities you should look for.
  • [50:47] Monte’s long-term vision for his firm.

How Monte Started 

Monte considers himself an accidental tourist when it comes to his recruitment career. A farm kid in Nebraska, he wanted to move to Colorado.  An interview for a recruitment job gave him the opportunity he was looking for.  He started running a desk and soon became a top biller in the region. What made him perform so well? The same qualities made him successful as a high-level college wrestler. His work ethic, ability to learn, leadership qualities, and having a logical approach when dealing with people. Hear his story of how he managed to get himself hired, promoted, and fired on the same day.

The “Leaky Bucket” Theory

How much do you spend on marketing for your recruitment firm? Monte believes that what makes his business successful is being really good at what they do, which is finding people. He then explained the “leaky bucket” theory:

“If you are just going out at full speed, like a, name the national, you know they’ve got 10 to 20 holes in their buckets where they are just constantly losing their clients by not delivering.  You are always gonna be losing a client but if you only have like, one or two holes in your bucket, you just do really good work, and you are doing direct source recruiting and referral-based recruiting and just doing it right, there is always gonna be a spot for that.” 

The Funnel-Pound-Plus Approach

Every recruiter and business owner has a business system that works for them. When hiring someone, his training is focused on keeping it short and would focus on his system or approach. Here is how Monte shared his funnel # + approach, summarized verbally:

  • What to do (funnel)
  • How much to do (#)
  • How to not kill each other while you do it (plus)

During our conversation, he explains in detail how this system works and how he does the knowledge transfer to his new team members. When coaching and communicating with his recruiters, he has always been objective but solution-oriented. 

A Sustainable Compensation Plan

Monte shared a simple, yet very effective approach to compensation: 

“My comp plan is, I have a very aggressive comp plan. I figure that I want to pay people at such a high level that I’m never gonna lose somebody because somebody else offers them more.

If you are successful, you will never leave.  If you are not being successful after a year or so … I am not the “hire slow, fire fast” guy. I am a “hire slow, fire slow” person. You can’t get fired around here for not billing.  You can resign if you are not making the money you want.  You don’t get fired for not billing, you can only be fired for being an A-hole.”

And the key to success? “if you do enough interviews, enough send-outs, and enough job orders, you will be successful.”

How to Look for a Rockstar 

I am sure you would agree with Monte’s statement: “The big hypocrisy of our industry is that we hire all these people for people yet we suck in hiring people.” Monte’s average tenure is 18 years, and a big proportion of his people are in the “excellent” range. He shared some of his practices:

  • Being upfront in the interview process
  • Quality vs Quantity -  “I would rather have 18 to 20 rock stars than a hundred idiots”
  • Hire 1 to get 1, instead of the usual practice of hiring 10 to get 2.

Listen to how he interviews potential team members.

Monte Merz Bio and Contact Info

Monte Merz is the Founder and Managing Partner of The High Country Search Group.  Originally from Nebraska, he moved to Denver in 1994 and got started in the Recruiting Industry at the tender age of 25.  Recruiting came pretty naturally and after three years of being the top Finance and Accounting biller for the national recruiting firm everyone knows, he chose to move into a management role with another national recruiting firm everyone knows.  Five years of management experience there resulted in explosive growth, unbelievable experience (good and bad), and a series of promotions that brought him responsibility for multiple offices and a Regional VP title…. as well as some internal intellectual conflict as to whether continuing down the path of the large National Recruiting firm model was really the best long term solution for him (or his teams).

In February of 2002, Monte managed to get himself promoted and subsequently fired for lack of enthusiasm for the aforementioned promotion, all in the same day… and The High Country Search Group was born.  Having sworn off management and being responsible for people for good, Monte embarked on a solo recruiting career he promised would expand no further than the breakfast nook in his kitchen.  

Fifteen years later, High Country has 23 employees, three Perm Groups, a Staffing Group, and multiple local and national awards for both “Fastest Growing” and “Best Company to Work For” and Monte has clearly failed on his promise to stay a simple little one-man shop.

How did this happen?  He kept his promise to stay simple, it just didn’t stay a one-man shop.  Simple rules, consistent execution, and almost zero turnovers lead to slow but steady growth and a local shop doing more than 10 Million Dollars in annual Revenue… and a 15-year overnight success story sort of just happened.

A farm kid from Nebraska, Monte was a 2-time All-American and 2-time Academic All-American Collegiate wrestler.  He was a Volunteer Graduate Assistant Wrestling Coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and in 2016 at age 46, clocked his first sub-3 hour marathon at the 2016 Boston Marathon.  Don’t be overly fooled by the country jargon, he’s about as laid back as it comes, but at the end of the day, he’s an incredibly competitive, process-driven, numbers guy.  And, if you give him a listen, you might just find some simple wisdom that resonates.

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