We talked to Brandon Labman of ROCS about hiring top college grad talents and the effects of COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brandon Labman: We are doing well overall. It has been an interesting time working from home full-time while also having kids at home full-time, but it has been fun to spend more time with them. My wife & I have 4 kids, 2 who are doing remote schooling and 2 who are younger than school-age. Every day brings excitement in between meetings -sometimes I am helping out with schoolwork and troubleshooting tech issues, sometimes I am breaking up an argument, but it has been great to see how adaptable the kids are.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ROCS.
Brandon Labman: My business partner Tom & I started ROCS (“Responsible Outgoing College Students”) Grad Staffing when we were freshmen in college. We were interning for a non-profit, and they were having issues with hiring and asked us if we knew anyone else that wanted to work there. That sparked the idea that maybe this was a problem other companies also had that we could help to solve, and ROCS was born. We had $400 between the 2 of us and no knowledge of the staffing industry when we started. Our goal is to help companies hire the best and brightest recent college graduates for entry-level positions. We recently celebrated our 17th year in business and have helped over 450 companies throughout the Northern Virginia & Washington, DC metro area hire more than 3,500 top recent college grads.
How does ROCS innovate?
Brandon Labman: ROCS is all about innovation. Since we didn’t have any knowledge of staffing when we started, Tom & I have always taken our own path. We’ve learned some lessons the hard way, but overall we’ve had a lot of success. We have been through tough economic times as a company before, and actually gained one of our all-time biggest clients in 2009 during the recession. Thinking outside the box and not being tied to a large corporate structure has allowed us to follow our instincts and make changes when necessary.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brandon Labman: Obviously, COVID has had a huge impact all over the world, and we are lucky that our employees and families have been able to stay healthy and safe throughout the health pandemic. Early on in 2020, we were projected to have our biggest year yet, and we moved into a brand-new office space at the beginning of the year. Our team has been working remotely since March, so in some ways, we have come full circle since our business started out of a dorm room (although technology makes things much easier today). Due to job losses and cutbacks in hiring across the board, 2020 is looking quite different from what we projected, but we’ve been proud of how our team has handled all of the changes. We’ve seen a steady increase in hiring since the summer, and while we aren’t back to where we were prior to COVID, we are excited by the way things are trending and hope to be back to our pre-COVID levels soon.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brandon Labman: Back in March, we spoke to our team and tried to give them a heads up about the challenging times ahead. We were lucky as a company to be in a strong financial position at the start of the pandemic but being a small business. We weren’t entirely sure how things were going to go. One of the takeaways I gave my team was that if we weren’t moving forward & working to improve, we were moving backward – there was no remaining the same during this time. We had to make some business decisions that were challenging. Still, at the end of the day, we wanted to make sure we focused first and foremost on our employees and the health and longevity of the business. Hence, we are able to look back on this time and know we did everything possible to continue to move forward and improve as a company.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brandon Labman: There are a lot of big names in the staffing world. One of the things that helped us to be successful was carving out our niche, which allowed us to focus on being really good at what we do. We learned early on that we didn’t want to try to fill every job that came our way, and saying “no” to some business opportunities allowed us to continue to grow and thrive in the areas we were best at. We’ve also reached a point in our business where we have the stability and years of experience to qualify us to compete against the big names. However, we are still small and agile to be able to adapt and implement creative solutions.