Mortgage Careers 2010 Jun 11 2010

Freddie Mac's Michele Espada: 'It's a Candidate's Market'

By kyle stock

How's this for a corporate mission: Save the U.S. real-estate market and make money while doing it. Needless to say, workers at the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., also known as Freddie Mac, now an arm of the federal government, are busy these days.

But despite some dismal recent results (a $6.7 billion loss in the first quarter), the real estate giant is still snapping up mortgages and stocking in talent. FINS spoke with Michele Espada, one of Freddie Mac's recruiting directors, about the firm's forays into social media, why it's competing for talent with Microsoft and how she deals with the stigma of being bailed out.

Kyle Stock: Can you bring me up to date on recent hiring?

Michele Espada: In the first quarter, we were busy. We hired 338 people and that's across all of our divisions. In 2009, we hired 1,300 people, roughly, between internal and external hires. About 62% were external.

We're always around 5,000 [employees].

Freddie Mac currently employs around 5,300 people.

KS: You mentioned hiring across all divisions, but are there any in particular where Freddie has been growing quickly?

ME: Our largest division in the company is operations and technology, so those departments always account for the predominant amount of hires. That's been the case recently as well.

KS: How about geography. Are there any parts of the country where Freddie has been bulking up or is it mostly in the McLean, Va., headquarters?

ME: We do have offices in Reston and Herndon, Va., and in Atlanta, New York, L.A., Dallas and Chicago. But most of our IT and operations jobs are in the headquarters.

KS: What exactly are these folks doing?

ME: We're hiring database administrators and a lot of information security professionals. We're also hiring application support directors and a lot of development positions.

KS: How about demand in other areas? I know there's a lot of activity mortgage restructuring these days.

ME: In the restructuring side, we've really remained consistent and we haven't necessarily added a lot of people. However, in the default asset management space we have a constant stream of hires.

KS: Is that different from foreclosure prevention?

ME: That's exactly what that is. Last year, we hired 150 people in default asset management.

KS: How about executive recruiting and retention? Has Freddie been active in those areas?

ME: Our CEO and CFO were filled last year, which was a great step. There's still recruiting going on at senior levels, but I don't think it's at a pace anything like what we're doing on the nonexecutive side.

KS: Where do you find talent?

ME: We use a lot of traditional sources but we also engage social media. People do still want to come work here, so we do have a lot of traffic on our site. We use skill-set specific forums, so if we're targeting individuals in information security, loss mitigation or internal auditing, we'll go to very narrow avenues.

KS: For example?

ME: Well, LinkedIn has a lot of neat user groups. We're a conservative company, but there aren't many companies that aren't on LinkedIn. I'd say we're evolving. We're not quite at Tweeting. Freddie Mac also has a Facebook page. And we're seeing a lot of employee referrals. We paid more employee referral bonuses in the first quarter than we expected.

KS: Do you use outside recruiters?

ME: We do. We like to create strategic relationships from agencies that can help us, but we only do that with firms that have these very specific specialties.

KS: Do you hire a lot from Wall Street?

ME: We do, though relocating today is not suitable for everybody given the housing crisis and what their house might be worth.

KS: How about from within the government?

ME: A lot of people come from places specific to their specialty. So if they're an auditor, they will have worked at the big auditing firms. And our tech people may have worked in any number of industries.

KS: Is it a challenge to get noticed by those job candidates?

ME: It is. At the end of the day, people know us from our mission. So if you're an IT service professional, you're not thinking of going to Freddie Mac, you're thinking of going to Microsoft.

KS: How did the crisis affect your recruiting?

ME: Initially, we definitely had people less interested and just waiting it out. In August 2008, we definitely saw a downturn in the resumes coming into I'd say that August through January was a slow period for us. But, even internally, we were trying to figure out what it meant, so our hiring was not as robust.

But beginning in 2009, people saw that our mission hadn't changed. What it means for us is that we needed to recognize that these candidates are interviewing us as well as us interviewing them.

My opinion is that today is a candidate's market and they have choices. They are going to be very deliberate about the next company that they work for. They're assessing: "Is this the right place? Is this the work I want to be doing?"

KS: Freddie Mac has certainly made a lot of headlines in the past two years. Do you battle any kind of stigma in attracting talent?

ME: We do. Because we are in the press, an informed candidate knows about our situation and does ask questions. The good news is that our CEO "Ed" Haldeman is very transparent and a very engaged leader and he arms us often with data about what's going on, so we have real-time feedback for our candidates.

KS: What advice would you have for someone looking to get on your radar and join the company?

ME: I know there's a lot of myths and philosophies about resume databases, but they are the first place recruiters go. And I would say they can network to find out who does work here. We do rely heavily on employee referrals.

KS: How about downsizing? Are there any areas where Freddie is shrinking?

ME: No. Certainly in these economic times, the company is closely evaluating how efficient we are and whether there are skill-gaps.

KS: Did the crisis make it any easier to find and pick up talent?

ME: I don't think so. The talent we're looking for is very specific, what I would almost call premium. The candidates have other options. Even people that may have been downsized from another institution are being very deliberate about their next job.

KS: How about traditional finance roles, is Freddie hiring on that front?

ME: We have those needs but nothing other than our standard hiring. We have 22 finance positions open. They are skill-sets like financial analysts.

KS: How would you describe the culture at Freddie?

ME: I think today the culture is one of focus on our task and on our mission and one of change.

KS: Is it more Wall Street or Washington, D.C.?

ME: I never worked on Wall Street. I think we actually probably have subcultures. If you go into info security, where we've hired a lot of people from Wall Street, then it's probably more Wall Street. The pace might be Wall Street.

KS: What can we expect in the next few months?

ME: I think you're going to see a consistent focus and potentially the same volume of work. We don't expect to slow down from a recruiting perspective. We're trending to hire the same number that we did last year.

Write to Kyle Stock

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