Legal Blog

CEO Interview with Wanda Smith, President & CEO, Symphony Placements

1415240064_Wanda SmithThe American Staffing Association has described its industry as the “canary” of the economy. Shifting staffing demands in the workforce are front-line indicators that herald, rather than follow, employment trends. Professional staffing agencies must be agile, almost prescient, to succeed.

Symphony Placements, headquartered in Baltimore County, Maryland, is a player with just that talent and staying power in the recruiting and staffing space.

Since 2006, President and CEO Wanda Smith and professional recruiting staff have “harmonized” the needs of Fortune 1000 companies and job seekers in an increasingly complex employment marketplace. Smith’s full-service staffing agency serves businesses throughout Maryland and Metro Washington, D.C. with direct-hire, temporary, temporary-to-hire, and contract staffing. Symphony also provides outplacement, training and human resource consulting.

Symphony is considered a leader in health care staffing in Maryland. Other sector specialties include Accounting, Legal, Insurance, Engineering, Property Management, Customer Service, Clerical, Administrative, Call Center, and Computer Technology.

CEO Smith’s personal motto embodies what distinguishes her company: “Giving more than getting.” For that, the company has been rewarded with a handsome return in growth. Wanda says today employers require a “total human resource package” of attributes in a job candidate, not just a skill-set, regardless how hot in demand. Increasingly, job seekers require accommodation of work/life balance. Symphony masterfully brings the two together, with a sense of urgency and focus, aware they are creating new relationships which affect profitability and quality of life for both sides of the employment equation.

“Giving more than getting” translates also to serious community involvement. Wanda is invested in supporting organizations like Goodwill Industries and the Maryland Food Bank. Last month, she joined the Advisory Board of the  Casey Cares Foundation.

Q. Did you always know you’d be an entrepreneur one day?

A. Taking risks and innovation and leadership started in my childhood. I can remember always selling something in our neighborhood. I grew up in a rural area and of course in my time, we did not have iPhones and technology. I would pedal my bike to sell Girl Scout Cookies, home grown vegetables from our garden or handmade items to our neighbors. My parents had a lot of land and grew many vegetables. I managed to convince them to allow me to put up a road side stand so I could sell their excess crop. I am competitive by nature, so owning my own business and doing well is one of the most competitive things I could do.

Q. How did you get your start?

A. Actually, I started in temporary staffing in 1988. In 1996, a regional staffing provider established in DC, Maryland and Virginia invited me to join their team to start their allied health staffing division. Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about staffing healthcare professionals. I knew I had the insights of a staffing agency and always loved to be challenged, so I saw this as an opportunity for my future and opened three offices for them. I hired a great team and listened and learned a lot.

I pride myself on not being fearful to ask questions. In 1996, I did not realize how valuable this opportunity would be for me in years to come as a leader in my own agency. Today most of all the major healthcare organizations and independent physician offices utilize staff from Symphony Placements. We are considered a leader in the Maryland health care marketplace for staffing.

Q. You’ve said conditions have “flip-flopped” several times during your tenure in the staffing and recruiting industry. How so?

A. Over the last two decades, the hiring requirements and expectations of employers have changed significantly. To meet the needs of our clients, Symphony Placements continually must be flexible and adjust our approaches to provide successful results. Clients no longer are simply interested in the candidate’s skills; they are looking for and require a total human resource package. What does that mean? Not only does a candidate have to possess a specific skill set (we provide in-house assessments) but also have a great attitude, can pass a criminal background check, pass a drug test, and present professionally in person with verbal and written communication skills.

Q. Are there shifts that you can attribute to lifestyle or generational attitudes?

A. I want people who walk through the doors at Symphony Placements for a job to experience professionalism and feel that we care about them. We want to help them find the right job, position, assignment or a new career. We Baby Boomers are hiring and supervising Millennials. We need to make work interesting. We need to capture their attention and to engage them. I think it is the most challenging group of people I have ever worked with in my 30 years in the staffing industry.

Another challenge for employers is the change in the work ethic of our population. We are faced with a work force that cannot work five days a week or arrive on time. I sit on several trade schools advisory boards. Teaching our new work force soft skills and life skills is challenging. In their world everything in their life comes before work or keeping their job. Trends that have been addressing the Millennials and the healthcare industry in particular include working longer hours in a day to have more days off in a week. With many of our clients offering evenings and weekends, our employees are working more around the clock and over seven days a week than ever before. Flexibility can be a key factor with various clients and Symphony Placements is always leading the charge!

Q. How do changing regulatory requirements impact your business?

A. For our healthcare clients, as an example, all applicants must be certified, graduated from an accredited trade school or college and present up to date health screenings. Recently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has yet again updated requirements for regulations and certifications for all persons working in healthcare.

Whether you are in direct contact with patients or administrative support staff, not directly working with patients (hands on care), the CDC requires the same health screening. This requires us to take extra steps to verify licenses, education and health screening before we present a candidate to a client.

Q. You have been celebrated for the impressive growth of Symphony Placements. What helped you achieve that momentum?

A. First and foremost, providing time and time again services to our clients that meet and exceed their expectations is a key to our continued growth. One of the reasons I started my own staffing company in 2006 was to focus on personalized customer service and relationship building. Giving more than getting has always been my motto and I have been honored by the return in our growth.

I have always tried to customize the service level for each and every client. I designed a process (it has changed with the times, of course) and my team adheres to the process without cutting corners. We make sure our search for the appropriate candidate is fulfilled with a sense of urgency and we only present the candidates that are qualified. It is not like a box of chocolates, picking the one you hope you like. We take pride in attracting top candidates and in turn presenting them to our clients.

As a woman owned business, our MBE and Certification has opened doors for new business and working with companies on an overall human resource solution, creating winning opportunities for Symphony Placements in the past three years.

Q. How do you think your management team would characterize your leadership style?

A. I don’t micromanage. If a member of our team needs that style, they work at the wrong place. I hire the best and the brightest recruiters and support staff. It is evident to all of my team members and clients how passionate I am about my work and my company. Over the years, leading my team to create a well established process has guided our recruiters to success. In turn, our candidates and clients experience harmony in their staffing and we have accomplished our goal. My message is clear for our team to follow the internal and external processes and successful results will be achieved.

Q. What’s the best business advice you’ve gotten? Given?

A. You can’t control everything. When individuals disappoint you, learn, move on and don’t dwell on it.

If you desire to be successful, put your best foot forward the first time. Take pride even if something does not turn out. Take ownership of your mistakes; don’t try to blame everyone else.

Q. How do you spend down time, assuming you have any?

A. My husband John is my number one supporter and keeps me in balance with business and life. While I wake up each day excited for my business, John reminds me there is more to life than business, board meetings and charities. I love to entertain with dinner parties and I have been told I am amazing in the kitchen! We travel, shop, golf, and we have two new puppies: five-month-old “Barney Rubble” and six-month-old “Ripley Believe it or Not.” They are joys and need my attention! I am delighted to come home to these friendly little faces and wagging tails. Unconditional love is great – and really puts everything else in perspective.

Connect with Wanda on LinkedIn



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