Mary Ann Knecht, Vice President of Operations, Prudent Technologies & Consulting
Years in staffing: 37
Fun fact: Mary Ann has held nearly every role in the staffing industry, including her entry into the space as a technical consultant. With a background in engineering, she spent over 10 years on the consulting side with Analysts International (AIC) before joining the corporate side of the business. In nearly 30 years at AIC, she enjoyed gaining experience in different functions of the business fueled by her firsthand understanding of both the client and consultants’ needs. Always hungry for an opportunity to solve problems, Mary Ann joined Prudent in its early years to help with business development and operations and is nearing 10 years there with no end in sight!
I’m so grateful to spend time learning directly from tenured leaders in the staffing industry. It’s rare to chat with someone with nearly 40 years of experience in one industry that is still excited about the ride! Talking to Mary Ann was a refreshing reminder to find something you love to do and it won’t feel like work. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did!
What advice do you live by?
You have to keep an open mind and be flexible. It’s as true today as it was 20 years ago. This mindset is especially relevant in the staffing industry. I like the entrepreneurial attitude towards clients and business. We look at opportunities and think, “how can we do it?” The phrase “think outside the box” is overused, but I do think it’s important to develop solutions and alternatives given the global nature of what we’re doing. Over the years, the staffing business has been commoditized compared to what it was in the old days which can be very frustrating. However, it is possible to keep an open mind and find new ways to be successful. For example, instead of looking at VMS as a roadblock, you can partner with procurement/VMS and identify how you can manage it and make it successful.
What does it take to be a great leader in the staffing industry?
Be aware of different situations and what motivates your stakeholders. Although not everyone has been on the technical side which was my background, I think it truly has helped me understand what our consultants are facing when they’re working with our clients. Sometimes they can feel disconnected, so I think it’s very important from a leadership perspective to stay close with consultants out on client sites. It requires coaching for our team in the offices to keep empathy for our consultants’ needs and stay proactive to build relationships.
Honesty is always important and it starts by setting an example. Always being up front and communicating is how companies can last and build loyalty. One of the reasons I gravitated towards Prudent instead of taking time off was because I liked and respected what Praveen the President was doing – and knew he was honest and open to ideas. I know I don’t know it all after 37 years and am always open to trying things, even if idea that didn’t work in the past might in today’s environment. You need to be very open-minded about how you attack the business in this industry.
What do you wish you would have known when starting in the staffing industry?
Get out of your silo and try to understand the business from all aspects – get to know the salesperson, recruiter, other consultants, etc. and continue to build relationships. I worked on internal projects so I saw both sides of the business in terms of what it takes to negotiate the contract, but many don’t realize how hard a job it really is to do sales and recruiting. Keep your ear to the ground as that’s where you find out about opportunities with consultants, clients and personally.
What’s next in the staffing industry?
Virtualization of our business is going to be a big change as the industry moves forward and offsite support is embraced more. The speed at which technology changes is another significant change impacting our industry. As technology continues to grow at a rapid pace, being able to find the resources to meet clients’ supplemental staffing needs in whatever form that it takes will be an ongoing challenge. For example, in the last year we’ve done more direct hire as even large corporate internal teams can’t find qualified candidates. This pace of change is impacting all IT, not just staffing.
Is retirement on your horizon?
Some days, I wonder why I’m still in this business when there is so much you can’t control, but every day is a little different which keeps me excited! I still like working and full retirement isn’t on my horizon because I like the challenge. As you look at your own job and your career, be true to yourself – what do you really want to do and what makes you happy?
Are you an industry veteran that’s excited to share your lessons with the next generation of staffing leaders? Share your insights as part of this #womenINstaffing Wednesday series. Contact me to learn more.
Confused on the hashtag (#) in the title of this series? Let me know if you’d like to join a virtual roundtable with a few other female staffing execs to discuss the power of Twitter to build your personal brand.