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Companies are always on the lookout for talented people. In this interview series, we talk to seasoned HR professionals to pick their brains for ideas and insights on finding the right talent for our organizations.

N Scott Millar

N Scott Millar is Senior Vice President and General Manager, Corporate Human Resources and Corporate Audit, Ethics and Business Consultation, Corporate Communications, Canon U.S.A., Inc., and Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Canon Solutions America, Inc.

In his HR role, he oversees people strategies for Canon U.S.A., Inc. and Canon Solutions America, Inc. as well as Canon’s other operations throughout North and South America. He helps ensure alignment and continuous development across multiple business segments. Areas of focus include talent acquisition, talent, leadership development, total rewards, employee engagement, and HR operations and support.

Hi Scott, welcome to the series! We’d love to get to know you a bit better, what brought you to this specific career path?

Before joining Canon U.S.A., I worked at Canon Virginia, Inc. our flagship manufacturing, engineering and technology center in the Americas that is located in my hometown of Newport News, Virginia.  

During college, my summer job was working in the welding and painting departments of the Newport News Shipyard, building aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. I began my Human Resources career in the public sector, working in local government for the City of Newport News.

Many of my life experiences come from working in human resources, engaging and leading people and business operations. At Canon, our philosophy is that our outstanding and talented employees are our most valuable assets. 

Our mission is to nurture, cultivate, develop, and sustain this talent and do our best to ensure our employees enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling career working within our organization. 

We seek to provide outstanding and valued programs that attract, develop, motivate, engage and retain our talent. My role in HR has always been to help maximize the contributions of people, and lead human capital to outstanding results.

It's been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you first started and what lesson you learned from that?

I see a lot of college students worry incessantly about finding the “perfect” job or internship immediately. 

An important lesson I learned early in my career, and by interacting with people who are now starting careers of their own, is this: don’t worry about finding the perfect fit right away. 

With time and perspective, you’ll have a long career and plenty of time to get it right. There’s really no harm, early in your career, in finding out what you don’t want to do for the rest of your life. 

Don’t lose sleep over having a bad internship or first job, because if you work at it and find it’s not something you want to do, it’s better to find out early instead of 15 years down the road when you have invested a lot more time and energy. 

In your initial roles, rather than “perfect”, focus on finding opportunities where you can add to your career toolkit. 

Everyone has skillsets, abilities and knowledge that accumulate over time with experiential learning. Early in your career you want to gain knowledge and additional skills that will contribute to your overall career growth and advancement. 

If you can land that opportunity early in your career, you will be ahead of many of your peers and then you can continue to build on that foundation. That’s the best advice I wish I had received early in my career.

What's your favorite life lesson quote and how is it relevant to you? 

These are my two favorite quotes – in many ways they are similar and encourage us to get out of our comfort zone, take risks and go beyond the boundaries:  

“If the highest aim of a Captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” — St. Thomas Aquinas

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.”  — Mark Twain

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company, how are they helping people?

Employee experience and culture are items on which we are focusing. At Canon, we’ve done a lot of work to enhance the overall employee experience and work environment. 

It’s important to be sensitive to the needs of employees and how to best balance business strategies and operational goals with making sure that the overall experience is positive, rewarding and provides a great work-life balance. 

Focusing on the company’s communication strategies with its employees and being transparent can foster a productive work culture and is an important factor in attracting and retaining key talent.

Current Canon employees know our company, culture, and the qualities that make people successful here, so this is a great way to start identifying talent for key positions.

Hiring can be very time-consuming and challenging. Can you share with our readers a bit about your experience with identifying and hiring talent? What's been your most successful recruitment-related initiative so far?

Employee referrals have been a successful recruitment-based initiative.

Current Canon employees know our company, culture, and the qualities that make people successful here, so this is a great way to start identifying talent for key positions.

From a corporate standpoint, the big question centers on fit. Candidates are always looking to see if you, as a company, are a good match for them. Canon can provide solid compensation packages, benefits, and, for many roles, a hybrid-working environment for a more flexible work style. We also afford professional and career development opportunities, including learning centers dedicated to skills training.

We’ve also thought outside the box to create programs that reach different demographics. The SPARC (Skilled Professionals at Rising Canon) program exemplifies this.

Established to inform high school seniors of the diverse career options available in the technical installation,maintenance, and repair fields, SPARC allows students to unlock opportunities of which they might not have been aware. 

It’s also important to build talent pipelines. This pipeline can be internal, such as intern programs, or external, such as through vocational schools. The idea is to build a talent flow that can continually feed into the organization. Our intern program is a great example of a successful pipeline.

If there are competing offers, the company consistently communicating throughout the process can often provide the advantage necessary to land the most talented candidates.

Once talent is engaged, what's your advice for creating a great candidate experience and ensuring the right people go through the process?

Once talent has been identified, it's crucial to establish strong connections with candidates and demonstrate they are viewed as individuals—not just names on a résumé. 

This process may sound simple, but by taking the time to make the interview process feel like an organic conversation, a company can enhance its reputation.

Screening questions related to the position (such as ability to travel overnight) can help people progress through the interview process. 

Enticing quality candidates from the outset—and ensuring their interest doesn’t wane during the interview process—requires diligence on the company’s part to create a positive experience throughout the entire undertaking. 

Recruiters and hiring managers play essential roles in maintaining that engagement and inspiring confidence that the company is serious about the opportunity. 

If there are competing offers, the company consistently communicating throughout the process can often provide the advantage necessary to land the most talented candidates.

Maintaining a fast pace and making decisions quickly can also serve as an advantage for both the company and a candidate, which is why we measure time to fill as a key metric for both our recruiters and hiring managers.  

Based on your experience, how can HR and culture professionals work with the broader organization to identify talent needs?

Proactive and ongoing internal communication helps anticipate the roles that need to be filled and identify the type of skillsets required for those positions.

Human resources can take a business-partner approach, where forecasting needs can help avoid a scramble to fill positions. Working across departments to identify potential sources of talent can also assist in removing urgency from the hiring process.

Canon has long emphasized opportunities for our employees to grow their careers internally.  We’ve taken proactive steps towards broadening ways to expand both skillsets and greater access to professional networks.

For example, SOAR (Strengthening our Alliance as Rising Professionals) is an employee business resource group (BRG) within Canon U.S.A.’s overall diversity & inclusion strategy and mission designed to enhance and enable the development of emerging Canon talent.  

SOAR partners with other Canon employee resource groups to promote internal career opportunities. The SOAR steering committee includes senior representation from Canon’s business divisions and subsidiaries whose interests align with engaging, enabling, and empowering rising professionals in their professional and personal development.

In addition, Canon established its WiLL BRG—Women in Leadership Levels—which offers guidance and companionship for women in the tech industry. Led by women who have progressed through the ranks, these programs have been instituted with support from the broader organization as they help identify and attract the best candidates from a diverse group.

In our Business Information Communication Group and even at Canon Virginia, we employ job rotation programs designed to develop emerging talent and this initiative is poised to expand to other business units.  

Additionally, we have development training for emerging leaders and high-potential contributors, underscoring that developing leaders is a key focus for our organization and an ongoing area of focus.

Is there anything you see that recruiters, internal or otherwise, do regularly that makes you think, "No, stop doing that!"?

Presenting a professional demeanor throughout the recruitment process should be the default expectation, but some HR professionals forget to do so.

As an internal practice, our team tries to refrain from having recruiters read job descriptions verbatim as we want them to offer additional insights and information about the job opportunity and our company culture.  

In general, recruiters not knowing what the job truly entails is not good for the candidate or the company they represent.

Treating people with respect should be a guiding principle. A company should do its best to avoid “ghosting” candidates and reasonably update and respond to anyone who has interviewed. Establishing a good relationship with a candidate always goes a long way.

Speaking about company culture, values, mission, and innovations, instead of just focusing on the particulars of a specific role, provides a more meaningful and enticing approach as it generates excitement and enticement, making it easier to maintain engagement with the candidate.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven't already reached out to you?

For established connections and potentially strong candidates, providing periodic company updates about technology advances and innovations helps make inroads to future recruitment easier. 

Also, speaking about company culture, values, mission, and innovations, instead of just focusing on the particulars of a specific role, provides a more meaningful and enticing approach as it generates excitement and enticement, making it easier to maintain engagement with the candidate.

Finally, direct messaging and social media engagement can be excellent tools to establish and maintain that connection.

What are the three most effective strategies you use to retain employees?

Emphasizing a work-life balance can be an effective strategy to keep workers happy and productive. Showing that our company has fully embraced a family-oriented culture has become more critical since the pandemic.

A more flexible environment that embraces hybrid work for many positions has definitely kept employees engaged and satisfied. Canon recently introduced a new BRG – PACT.  Parents and Care Givers Together provides resources to employees with childcare and elder care concerns and promotes a positive work life balance in our new working environments.    

Employees who feel like they and their employer are making positive contributions to their communities also helps boost morale. One of Canon U.S.A., Inc.’s strongest beliefs involves the idea that we should contribute to the communities we serve. 

We use the term Kyosei, which translates to all people, regardless of race, religion, or culture, harmoniously living and working together into the future to reflect our corporate philosophy. This mission drives everything we do, from product development to environmental conservation, recycling, and sustainability initiatives.

Empowering employees to make suggestions on how our work environment can be improved can also serve as a significant morale boost. 

An example of employee feedback leading to a corporate policy shift was the support for hybrid working environments.  

Now, most Canon employees work from home multiple days per week. We also recently launched the Canon Intrapreneur Program – encouraging “internal entrepreneurs” within our organization to leverage new ideas and innovations from our internal talent.  

The goal of this initiative is to develop an entrepreneurial way of thinking inside of Canon. Adopting an agile way of thinking is a critical business skill to learn. It makes us more adaptable to ever-changing market conditions. It also helps us uncover the potential in our employees, and possibly discover the next big product or service idea for Canon.

Can you share five techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? 

1 . Keyword searches for candidates can help identify talent. The process starts by doing a search of resumes for the skills and experience needed and then refining that search to make it more specific.

2 . Once potential fits have been identified, reaching out quickly is key, especially in a competitive market. Having those conversations to get more details, gauge interest, and see if there is a fit can help bring in the right people. Experience and education are two significant indicators to help identify talent.

3.  We’ve tried to identify keywords based on the skills needed for the position and what resonates with those currently working here. Those terms help attract new candidates and provide a framework for the types of people who have found satisfaction here. It is also helpful for candidates when trying to determine if working for us would be a good match. 

4. Focusing on the culture has been a successful technique as well. If people come into a job but are uncomfortable with the culture, they won’t stay long. Setting expectations of the culture from the outset can remove ambiguity for people considering a transition to a new position.

5. Advertising and contacting various groups, such as school job fairs or our Veteran community, are great tools. In fact, we are proud to say Forbes recognized Canon U.S.A. as one of America’s Best Employers for Veterans in 2022.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with and why?

Jimmy Buffett, Condoleezza Rice, and Bill Murray—now that would be a dream and entertaining golf foursome!

Thank you for your insights Scott! Where can we follow your work?

You're welcome. Either at Canon USA or my LinkedIn.

Further resources from the series:

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.