Welcome to the latest post in Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A series, which features insights from those who have made our company a great place to work and a premier provider of talent solutions.

This post features Jim Johnson, senior vice president, who drives operational effectiveness for Robert Half North American technology talent solutions teams through training and development programs. 

Jim attended college with a focus on elementary special education, but his passion for technology eventually led him to a career in IT recruiting and training. He joined Robert Half more than 23 years ago as an account executive director and has held progressive leadership roles with various teams, as a recruiting business consultant/trainer, and vice president for technology talent solutions. In 2017, Jim was named senior vice president where he is responsible for developing training programs and working with employees to help build their technical skills on best practices in the IT recruitment sector, especially for implementing and utilizing new tools and leveraging data to improve how we help and inform our customers and identifying and responding to trends in technology and hiring.

“The teacher in me gets a thrill from taking a complex subject and simplifying it for a non-technical audience. My motivation is seeing someone gain confidence and become successful, and knowing I had a part in that,” Jim says.

Here’s what else Jim shared with us about his career, the value of making in-person connections, and his enduring love for live music.

Where are you from originally?

I was born and raised in the small town of St. Peter, Minnesota, where I still live today. Aside from a few years away to attend college, and living with my family in Lakeville, a Minneapolis suburb, for eight years, my wife Aimee and I always wanted to come back here again. I like the rural feel and being in a community where you can really get to know your neighbors. 

What’s a fun fact about your career path, and how did it lead you to Robert Half?

When I went to college, I wanted to be a disc jockey and have a career in radio, but I realized it wasn’t for me. So, I thought I would go into business, and tried accounting classes but that wasn’t for me either. So I focused on elementary education, with a focus on special education.  I was fortunate to come back to my hometown and for a time taught in the same schools I went to, with many of the same teachers.

Today I have a microphone in my office, and I continue to help people learn every day, so in a way my role at Robert Half allows me to combine the teaching piece and the radio piece. It shows that if you follow your passion and do what you enjoy, you’ll enjoy what you do. 

What types of training projects do you work on?

I’m focused on the technology talent solutions practice and working with stakeholders across the company. I help them learn how to leverage our systems, data, and internal reporting tools so we can offer the best solutions and talent to meet the needs of our clients and candidates. I provide everything from formal training sessions like new hire orientations, focused training for specific areas, and team and individual support. I’m also helping create and support pilot programs around the future of work and updating and expanding our internal technology academy. 

What advice do you have for today’s technology professionals?

Challenge yourself to make contacts and interact with people without relying too heavily on technology to feed you the information. Whether you’re a candidate, an employee, or a manager, put away your devices and engage and network in person whenever possible.

Today we’re so connected digitally that we’re losing the “art of conversation,” and that’s a skill that will benefit you and add value to your capabilities no matter what role or industry you're in. This is especially important for new hires or someone taking on a new role, where so much of what you learn in your job comes from listening and watching others. 

How has the pandemic changed the way you work?

Before the pandemic, my life was like the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I would get up around 3:30 a.m., drive to the Minneapolis airport, fly somewhere until Thursday and then fly home and work remotely on Fridays. That all changed in March of 2020. Now I work entirely remotely, and I haven't seen an airport or been on an airplane since. 

Even though we can be more efficient and reach more people working remotely, for me, there’s nothing like having conversations in person. The advantage of in-person training is the synergy of sitting next to an experienced colleague and listening and observing, and that’s a challenge to re-create in a remote environment, but a challenge that I welcome.

What advice do you have for employers to help them connect with employees in a remote or hybrid environment?

It’s important for employers to identify the flexibilities that individual employees need. Some people prefer in-person interaction and may struggle to be productive in a remote setting. Managers should continue to set aside time to talk to employees about how they’re doing and be creative in solving any challenges they’re facing. 

On the other side, because we’re so connected some employees may have a hard time disconnecting from work and separating their personal and professional lives. Managers can help people find those balance points. Make sure your employees know that one; you care and two; you're willing to work with them to find the best way for them to be effective.

What’s your favorite productivity hack? 

I have two. At work, I avoid procrastination by “tricking” my brain into focusing on a project for five minutes. Once I’m into it, I find that my brain has re-engaged and those five minutes turn into 10 or 20 minutes and I’m able to roll things out more quickly. Second, when I’m not at work, I hold myself to the expectation that I’ll disconnect from work. If you don’t protect your time, nobody will. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

I spend time with my family. I really love attending live music concerts and music festivals. I also golf and try to get out on a lake on the weekends. Gardening also holds a special family connection for me, along with canning. I’ve even won prizes at the local fair for the canned goods and vegetables I grew. 

Follow Jim Johnson on LinkedIn.

Meet other Thought Leaders at Robert Half, such as Tricia Plovie, John Reed and Jeff Weber.  And be sure to subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for future installments of our Q&A series and to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest hiring trends.