Casper Zorg is a senior HR professional based in Amsterdam. He is currently an Interim HR Executive/PMO at HR Advance, having previously been VP Human Resources at AEG Power Solutions and EMEA HR Director for Hoya Vision Care.
What was the best interview experience that you have had to date?
The best interview experience that I’ve had was very early on in my career. I remember the interview at the time was with a Dutch HR Director. He was very much focused on my areas of strength and weakness and my personal interests within the HR field. I guess that had to do with the fact that I didn’t really have much work experience at the time - maybe two or three years in total - so there wasn’t very much to dig in there, which meant it became a broader conversation around what I was interested in focusing on.
It was my first step into the international HR field, so it was quite a broad role with various projects in a number of countries. It was quite a diverse role to begin with and a good role to start a career with.
Out of all the positions you have held over your career, which position excited you the most?
I would have to say Global Mobility Manager. It’s a position where a lot of different things come together. From a content perspective, you have a legal and a compliance side relating to employment contracts, visas, permits, that kind of thing.
It also puts into play Comp & Ben [compensation and benefits] in multiple countries, migrating a person from country A to country B. That’s a comparison that goes beyond your standard salary and bonus, also looking at tax climates, things like that. And then there are also the cultural differences, moving someone from Brazil to Vietnam, for example. So, there are a lot of different HR elements in that context that come together.
What changes have you seen to the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and, in your opinion, what have been the drivers for the changes?
In the 15 years that I have spent in my career, there have been a couple of macro developments that have really shaken the employment market in the Netherlands.
I remember, when I started my career, we had a credit crisis - companies were restructuring in difficult economic times. Right now, we are in opposite times, where we have a shrinking labour market in western countries, combined with a decreasing interest to work with your hands - that presents challenges for companies in specific sectors.
It goes beyond the war on talent; it’s kind of “social status-driven”. People nowadays are more and more driven by the title they hold and the salary they earn, and that just means that working with your hands is not sexy anymore.
Looking ahead to the next five years or so, what we will also see is a concerning and profound discussion that I’m expecting will take place in the Netherlands - and probably in Western Europe as a whole. There is a very strong increase in convenience - or middleman jobs. There are a lot of people these days who get groceries delivered and order everything online, meaning there is a lot of workforce consumed in the convenience area and, at the same time, we have increasing shortages in what I would call critical occupations like nurses, teachers and probably transportation.
I expect that, in the next five years or so, we will see some societal discussions on how we can refocus the labour force.
What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you get to the level that you are at today?
I’ve chosen my career steps quite specifically, focusing on getting the experience and the knowledge in different fields of international HR. So, HR project management is a great starting point, because you get involved in a whole range of HR topics and aspects, performance management, Comp & Ben development… From there, I specifically moved to Comp & Ben, which was mainly driven by the fact that there’s quite a high demand for that.
The natural step from there was global mobility to get the legal/compliance side, the contract set-up, and get that knowledge, and then the leadership experience. I guess in all those positions, I’ve taken a fair chunk of risk in the sense that I didn’t really have the knowledge and background at the time for those roles, but I basically decided that I would work for the experience and knowledge up to my 30th, and later on for the money. Up until my 30th, I would say that I spent probably ten to 15 hours a week to gain the knowledge and capabilities that I needed to perform my current job well.
The fundamental question in building your career is whether or not you are willing to spend personal time to increase your knowledge and capabilities. More than once, I have had people ask if I could make a certain amount of time available to teach people how to become proficient with Excel and other skills, and I am always willing to do that… between 5pm-7pm; outside of work time. Interestingly enough, about 80% of people are then no longer interested, because they don’t want to spend personal time building their capabilities; they want to spend company time.
What is your favourite business motto and why?
I have a favourite motto, which is actually hanging in my bedroom. Not necessarily a business motto, but it’s a big plaque that just reads, “Life starts at the end of your comfort zone.”
Throughout my career, I’ve had many tips and advice on what I should or shouldn’t do but, ultimately, of course, you need to assess that for yourself.
There were two in particular that stood out for me. One is, work until age x for the experience and thereafter for the money. If you want to bump up your salary earlier, you need to be aware that you will face higher expectations, which means you will no longer be that star talent, because, if you’re paid as a professional, you are expected to act as a professional.
Advice that I remember from my very first job was from the CFO. He recommended that, whenever someone asks you if you’re willing to pick up a certain challenge, first say yes and then consider what you just said yes to. That kind of attitude will automatically push you to take on challenges that are outside of your comfort zone, which will give you the strongest learning curve ultimately.
What advice would you give to aspiring HR leaders?
The best advice I can give is to not go over people’s backs. I have seen too many people elbowing their way to senior positions - it never really works well; you leave a trail of bodies behind. Certainly, for an aspiring HR leader, I think authenticity and the people side are ultimately the most important.
People will naturally know if you’re authentic and if you’re honest. Some people are born with it, most people learn it, but I would say authenticity is probably the biggest asset that you have as an HR leader.
What do you feel the future of HR is?
That’s a very difficult question, because I think the role and the profile of HR as a function has constantly changed and is always changing. I remember when I started my career in difficult economic times, HR was focused on process improvements, restructuring, business transformation, and - as such - was very internally focused.
With the current labour market, the focus is much more on recruitment, onboarding, and on retention, to a large extent, so we see that HR professionals will then automatically be more externally focused.
So, HR kind of follows the macro trends, what is happening in the bigger world, in the country, or maybe even beyond that, and then align our HR perspective accordingly. It depends on the company, the macro situation. This is the interesting thing about HR in general; its’s a bit fluid. The focus is different everywhere and it’s changing all the time.
For the last ten to 15 years or so, we had a pretty profound focus on HR as a business partner; transforming HR functions from administrative payroll/contracts departments into more of a business partnering component. Some people are capable of doing that and some people are not, but that was the worldwide focus, I would say.
The last couple of years, HR is more focused on digital transformation, getting HR systems up and running. I think most companies, by now, have implemented those digital platforms or are currently in the process of finalising that.
Now, we have Web3 and blockchain technology coming up, which is also going to present some interesting developments from a systems perspective. The whole internet and HR systems are moving away from the standard server systems towards a decentralised blockchain storage. That presents some interesting opportunities. When we work for a company, they will have an HR system that will contain a lot of information that you would put in there to create your own profile and, once you start storing that in a blockchain and follow the Web3 development, you would be able to transfer those records between employers, meaning you can build a lifetime profile and better align with the lifetime phasing that everybody goes through. This just serves as an example to indicate that change in one movement can step over into another.
Thank you to Casper for speaking to Melissa Adey, Senior Consultant in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.