John Hillenbrand: Industry Executive Speaks about His Success as a Recruiter in the Chemicals and Advanced Materials Industries.

Our team has a combined 300 years of experience in our areas of specialty and each of our dedicated practice areas are led by professionals with direct experience in your field. Today we sat down with one of these leaders to talk about his transition from industry to recruiting as we approach his two-year anniversary with The Chatham Group. Prior to joining our firm, John had a 37-year career in the industrial space, where he held various commercial leadership roles with companies like DuPont and Owens Corning. John was an MRI Top 3 Rookie of the Year in 2022 and we asked him about how his experience in industry, and extensive network, have contributed to his record-breaking success:

Question: “John, what made you consider recruiting as the next step in your career?” 

Answer: “Throughout my career, I’ve always enjoyed serving as a coach or mentor – for me, it was probably the most rewarding aspect of leadership.  When I retired from my industrial career in 2021, I guess I wasn’t fully ready to simply wait passively for folks to reach out to me for help with a career decision, to serve as a reference, or help open a door to a new opportunity.  A friend whom I’ve known for 20+ years introduced me to The Chatham Group, and as I explored it, the opportunity to proactively help people find great opportunities and navigate through difficult career decisions was something I needed to try.”

Question: “How has your experience in industry contributed to your success over the past two years?”

Answer: “Having worked in multiple industries and in a variety of roles over almost four decades, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with some amazingly talented people along the way.  My network of friends and colleagues has been a tremendous help to me as I’ve climbed up the learning curve of executive recruiting.  Despite trying to do thorough due diligence, when you take on a new challenge like this, it’s definitely a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Having been a hiring manager many times and a candidate a couple of times, too, I’ve seen true excellence and partnership with recruiters and I’ve seen the polar opposite, too – I definitely don’t want to be THAT guy!  So, when I engage with clients and with candidates, I try to put myself in their shoes and seek to understand their expectations, their aspirations, their non-negotiables, etc.”     

Question: “What is the most rewarding or challenging project you have worked on?”

Answer: “Honestly, whenever you succeed in connecting a client who has a business-critical need with a terrific candidate, it’s extremely rewarding.  Probably the most comprehensive project I’ve worked on so far was a CTO search I led last year for a multi-billion-dollar company in the advanced materials space.  This was a search where I could definitely lean on my personal network.  Along the way, I met some terrific new external candidates and also got to know some highly talented internal candidates, too.  With any C-level placement, the stakes are very high for the CEO, the CHRO, and the entire organization, so you feel a heightened sense of responsibility to deliver the best outcome possible, which I’m happy to say we did!”       


Question: “New learnings/what has surprised you about working in this industry?”

Answer: “Wow – how much time do you have?  Let me start by sharing three that are top-of-mind.”

1) “By far, the biggest complaint about our industry that I hear from both clients and candidates is poor communication – particularly “ghosting.”  Candidates may go through a series of interviews, that seems to be trending in a positive direction, and then the hiring manager goes radio silent.  Or a candidate is lined up for an interview that they seem to be excited about and they suddenly don’t show up and won’t respond to any attempts to reach them.  There are many other variants of this story.  One thing that attracted me to The Chatham Group is our commitment to a full-service, high-touch experience for both clients and candidates.  As the saying goes, “Bad news doesn’t improve with age.”  While it’s never fun to deliver disappointing news, I find that people appreciate honesty and transparency vs. avoiding a tough conversation.”

2) “I’ve also learned that it’s important to acknowledge the role of serendipity or just plain dumb luck in this business.  On at least a couple of occasions, a search we were doing for a more generalized role turned up a uniquely qualified candidate who was PERFECT for a very hard-to-fill, highly specialized role for another client.”

3) “With a few exceptions, the current state of talent acquisition is very much a candidate’s market.  In general, there is a real shortage of qualified, viable candidates to fill key positions.  For early-to-mid career open roles, the best candidates will often have multiple jobs to choose from.  For clients to win the battles for the best people, they need to be highly responsive and move with a real sense of urgency.”    

Question: “What advice would you give to a hiring authority trying to navigate the current market?”

Answer: “First of all, when a client decides to engage a firm like ours, the best outcomes result from working together in true partnership, and not as a transactional, arms-length service provider.  We can add the greatest value when an open role is business-critical and the client acknowledges that it’s hard for them to attract the RIGHT candidate on their own.”

“Building on my previous point about it being a candidate’s market, I NEVER advise clients to shortcut or compromise on the rigor of their selection process.  What I DO advocate for is for them to be as EFFICIENT as possible in their evaluation and selection process.  For example, several months ago, I introduced a great candidate to one of my clients.  Because of travel and other scheduling conflicts, the client had to push off the candidate’s site visit by a few weeks. In the meantime, the candidate met with another company at a major trade show, went through 3 rounds of interviews, and received and accepted an attractive offer, all of which occurred within a 2-week window, well before the site visit with my client was scheduled.”

“To end on a positive note, I’m very appreciative of the clients who’ve placed their trust in our team and me – and it’s been wonderful to meet and work with great candidates as we strive to deliver win-win outcomes for all.  If you have a key open role where we might be able to help or if you’re ready for a new chapter in your career, I’d love to hear from you at”

To schedule a call with John, or one of our other dedicated Account Executives, visit the Who We Are tab on our website