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A salute to my early career

Rather than following my friends to University when I left school, I took an alternative route into the workforce by joining the New Zealand Army – not exactly the most obvious career choice for a female with a short and slim build who grew up as a ballet dancer!

This time 19 years ago I had just completed my three months basic training with the NZ Army and had started my trade training as an Administration Clerk. With Anzac Day occurring this week I reflected on how my experiences within the Defence Force have shaped and contributed to my career and the person I am today.

What initially attracted me to the Defence Force were the recruitment officers who attended our career days at high school. The thought of being part of a well-known organisation who promoted the benefits of a variety of career options excited me… I wanted to do that! This is also where my passion for recruitment started.

Joining the Army as a nearly 18 year old taught me many fundamental work habits that are still with me today:

  1. Timing is everything. It’s called 5 minutes place of parade. You cannot be late in the Army, and in fact if you are not 5 minutes early, then you are late as well. In my work life I am very rarely late for a meeting. It has been drilled into me that whether you are an attendee or the meeting organiser, it’s your duty to commit to the appointment you have made and show courtesy to the others who are giving up their time to attend. I have become a great timekeeper and loyal to appointments.
  1. Presenting yourself well. Although there are no uniform checks in the civilian world, it is still important that you present yourself well in business. In the Army you are taught how to iron your shirts right down to putting creases in your PT shorts. Ironing wasn’t my forte (and still isn’t, so let’s say there are no creases in my shorts). One thing that has stuck with me is when I am wearing shirt and pants, I still check to make sure my buttons are in line with my pants zip.
  1. Ongoing training. Training is part of Army life; you are always upskilling and attending courses as part of your soldier and trade development. Self-development, whether it be for work, upskilling or personal enhancement, is important to keep yourself relevant in the changing workforce where nothing stays the same.

While these days I’m recruiting executives, I would still recommend the Defence Force for the many different career options they offer. It is not all about being a front line soldier; you are able to learn a trade and complete a university degree while working. I made friends for life – it’s an experience I will never forget.

How did your first job shape you? What still resonates with you from your early career?

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Posted in Slade Executive

Cure the Sunday afternoon blues

“It generally started about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, irrespective of rain, hail or shine and the activity or people I was with at that time. I’d start thinking of the next day and my shoulders would instantly tense up, I’d start snapping at my kids and/or wife and increasingly become more taciturn and grumpy as the day progressed. This would happen every Sunday and started to have a real impact on my quality of life, family relationships, and started to limit the activities I would do Sunday afternoon and evenings.”

Sound familiar? It’s an unfortunately common situation for highly pressured executives. A candidate once shared this personal story with me, which fortunately became a wake-up call to consider a career change.

I recognise that it’s rare to find individuals who bound out of bed on Monday mornings – naturally most people would prefer to be at leisure than go to work. Of course our level of motivation varies with the demands of our role, our clients or customers, and our employer. However, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs that can affect your job enjoyment, intense and sustained angst about work is not normal. Left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage to our health, including stress, pressure on relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and a reduced work/life balance.

On the surface this individual seemed to be in the ideal work situation: he was in a key leadership position within a successful global blue chip organisation, earning an impressive wage, on a fast-track path to further success and growth – but it was just not right for him.

I appreciate that it’s not a simple matter to change jobs. Financial considerations, geographical location, time available to job seek, or your personal situation can be constraints.  If this sounds like you, consider these alternative strategies:

  • Speak up. Have an honest discussion with your manager and/or HR about revisiting the aspects of your job that cause you angst. Do these need to be delegated or shared with others in the team? Is your workload achievable within the resources and parameters provided? Do you need further training and mentoring to help you perform your job?
  • A sideways step could be an option if you like your company, but the role or your direct manager is not a good fit. Is there any opportunity to move to another role or division within the company?
  • If your employer and/or company culture does not align, but you enjoy your role, network across your industry through LinkedIn, industry forums and seminars, even former colleagues who have left to join competitors. Make yourself known throughout the sector, whilst maintaining your professionalism and remaining discreet about your intentions. This could lead to a direct approach to you to consider a job should an appropriate role arise.
  • Consider investing in additional training and/or studies that will further your professional development and enhance your employability to other organisations. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to pursue a field outside your current area of expertise. It also serves to demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and continuous development.
  • Have a confidential discussion with a recruitment firm who specialise in your sector/job of choice. Whilst this should be implicit, emphasise the need for the recruiter to respect your confidentiality and ensure your resume is only sent out to prospective employers with your approval.

Whilst it might be a work in progress, you will find that the simple act of taking control of your work situation can improve your outlook and with this perspective, allow you to enjoy your whole weekend.

As for the candidate mentioned previously? After taking a leap of faith, he did change jobs and has continued to progress his career with another organisation better suited to his style. He has also joined that rare group of individuals who look forward to Mondays.

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I could have been French President…

Growing up in France, I’ve always been interested in politics, as well as the way people communicate.

I’m now an expat, but every day is still a cultural challenge, every meeting a learning experience.

As an education specialist, currently working with schools to recruit teachers, one of the first questions I always ask candidates, regardless of their level of experience, is “Why do you teach?” I’m looking for those éléments de réponse, as we say in French: I want to hear their aspirations, understand their motivation and learn why they care about their students.

Early in my career, I studied Public and Political Communication. After graduating with a degree, I worked as a project manager for a digital company. However, it was during an internship in a web agency as a 19 year old that I realised my ability to interpret what the clients were trying to say when we sat down with them for a project briefing. Those complicated design briefs which everyone struggled with, simply made sense to me. In the same way, I find I’m able work through all the strategic plans, position descriptions and resumes to find out what my clients and candidates are really looking for when recruiting today.

As a consultant, you uncover some inspiring stories from people at various stages of their careers, which often align to the growth and development of the organisation they are with, or seeking to join.

Back in France, in 2012, I had to forgo one childhood dream (the presidency) to fulfil another. I had always wanted to travel, so I left France to explore the world.

Arriving in Australia, originally to save money to travel to South America, I found my way to Broome, ended-up living there for two years, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. Living the life of a backpacker, working as host on a luxurious boat in one of the most naturally beautiful regions in WA – it’s pretty hard to beat.

I love meeting people when I travel, so eventually I met a guy, who knew someone and one conversation led to another… I moved to Melbourne and I’m now part of the Slade Executive team.

Like me, our team is passionate. We all have different reasons why we do what we do.

In the education sector, my colleagues and I have the ability to influence the growth and development of the people and the organisations we work with. When I think about why I’m really enjoying what I’m doing right now, I’d say it’s my curiosity about people that led me to recruitment. I am constantly inspired by the stories of others – whether your goal is principal or president, it’s always interesting to know what motivates people to achieve their dreams. I hope some of mine resonates with you.

So what about you, why do you do what you do?

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Resourcing the new Infrastructure State. A challenge for Victoria?

Victoria – The Infrastructure State. It could be a number plate. The Melbourne Metro Rail project is underway, level crossings are being replaced, plans for ‘sky rail’ continue to cause controversy and an airport train could be back on the agenda. For roads, the Tulla freeway is being widened, the West Gate and Bolte will get improvements, and the Victorian Government is considering a proposal to build the ‘missing link’ Western Distributor.

Last December at the Engineers Australia Transport Year in Review, I listened with interest to Corey Hannett, Coordinator General, Major Transport Infrastructure Program on the current infrastructure program of works scheduled for Victoria. From a project resourcing point of view, the Government’s main concern is the lack of skilled project leaders to deliver this ambitious program of works.

Key themes presented were:

  • Ensuring the right balance between public and private resources to manage multiple, overlapping projects within optimum timelines
  • Sourcing skilled project leaders across different disciplines, including CEOs, Project Directors, and Senior Project Managers
  • Diversity in the Construction sector

From an executive recruitment perspective, these concerns certainly mirror our experience when consulting with organisations in building, construction and engineering over the last 12 months: Demand for experienced, diverse and specialist talent is at a premium. As the momentum for construction work Australia-wide continues to gather pace, the question remains how do we address this to help the immediate needs of Victoria?

There are serious concerns about poaching staff being felt across the sector, which is experiencing significant problems with retention (a fact that’s not lost on us when headhunting). Here are three points that were raised to consider when hiring, which also resonated with me:

  • When considering a candidate’s abilities, look for transferable skills, taking the time to consider all of their work history, not just the first page of the CV
  • You don’t need someone who has done the exact same job, you need someone who can do the job
  • Victorian employers may benefit from staff attrition with the completion of major projects interstate or could source talent from other sectors where demand has subsided, such as mining (particularly in WA and QLD)

I will be a keen observer over the next few years to see whether we have the appetite to meet the talent demands of the Infrastructure State.

What measures do you think are needed to address talent shortages for major infrastructure projects in your state? Share your point of view to continue the conversation.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

‘Trump’s wall’ can’t stop talent fleeing the US

At 6:41pm Eastern Australian time on Wednesday 9 November, within half an hour of the calling of the US Presidential election result, in came an email with a request to chat from a very highly regarded Assistant Professor at a major Californian university.

“I have been quite fulfilled at (the) University,” she said, “but the results of our election have made me seriously concerned about the future of environmental science research in the US. I now want to consider something new and somewhere new.”

In our tightly interconnected world we are vulnerable to global shockwaves: the prospect of a Trump presidency may seem ominous for the global economy, but it could also throw up opportunities. We expected that Brexit would see some international professionals seeking opportunities in Australia to the benefit of business and universities here, but this week’s US election result could have an even bigger impact.

I have been recruiting academic roles for a major Australian GO8 University of late and our search for three of that University’s schools has involved contacting academic leaders all around the world. A number have been interested to talk further, and perhaps will apply, but most prospective candidates were happy where they are.

It’s not surprising. Given the new President’s comments on climate change in the lead up to the election, further concerted action on climate change appears unlikely in the US. But what really struck me was that this academic was ready to act on her convictions and back her professional experience, to up stakes and head to ‘warmer’ climes that hopefully (we’ve also seen some of our leading scientific minds looking abroad for a more welcoming political climate) will be more compassionate and supportive of her work.

Not everyone can move countries at will of course. The Assistant Professor is fortunate that there are career pathways within her professional community that facilitate knowledge sharing amongst academics. If she is able to continue her work here, her research will lead to a better understanding of climate impacts, from changes to wetlands, arid and other landscapes (highly relevant considering the environmental challenges we face in this country), then we will all benefit from her expertise.

So while some nations are talking about building walls that may prevent workforce mobility, Australia could be holding a winning hand if we maintain open-minded policies. From an executive search perspective and as a regular international traveller for senior appointments, I’d love to be able to refer more talent both ways.

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Hiring the whole person (not those gingerbread men or women)

“I recommend that you hire someone with a less-conventional story if you want the people on your team to innovate and collaborate in the way this new-millennium workplace requires.”

– Liz Ryan, Forbes.

Next time you’re hiring, challenge your thinking about who would be ‘right’ for the job by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does the candidate really need a defined career history or specific qualifications?
  • Are their skills and capabilities more important than their attitudes and values?
  • Do they have valuable experience outside of work, such as involvement with community, sport, arts, family etc, which they could bring to role?

When looking for the ‘right’ candidate, hiring managers often take the cookie-cutter approach: they select an obvious match to the skills, experience and career path of the incumbent or job description. Liz Ryan, a former HR Senior Vice President in a Fortune 500 company, has written in Forbes about why this is a bad idea. “Cookie-cutter candidates who have the exact experience detailed in the job ad and who have perfectly linear, manicured and stepwise career paths are seldom the best hires, in my experience,” she says.

Working on a recent assignment got me thinking along the same lines: We need to look at the whole person, not a tick sheet of have they finished this, completed that, and moved from one role up the ladder to the next.

The role I was recruiting was for quite a traditional market, so I was pleasantly surprised when the employer hired the candidate who had a more varied background than other candidates. When providing feedback, the employer explained that their chosen candidate demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and a growth mindset, which they valued highly in comparison with other candidates (who were all equally capable of doing the job).

Ryan’s advice rings true in this case, where more rounded life experience has paid dividends. Top candidates are also looking for employers who have an open-minded approach. Over the years in business I have observed successful leaders often held a variety of roles across different sectors. This has enabled them to take the best from each experience and contribute to their evolution as visionaries. LinkedIn has compiled some inspiring lists of its Top Voices, which include diverse examples of influencers, entrepreneurs, management and organisational culture experts, as well as those organisations who rank as Top Attractors for talented individuals.

Encouraging diversity within your team will help shake-up your current thinking, bring new dynamics, and offers a variety of perspectives – or as Ryan says, “When in doubt, hire the quirky candidate.”

Have you ditched the cookie-cutter? What are some of the innovative qualities you look for in candidates for when hiring?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

A brand new box on the org structure

In a global survey of 500+ business leaders conducted by IIC Partners, three out of four respondents (76 percent) said they didn’t have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO). While a majority of organisations might not have a CDO, it’s becoming critical for businesses of all sizes to consider digital when recruiting any leadership roles.

Digital transformation began long ago in the corporate sector and has an even longer lead in industrial environments – just consider the history of robotics in manufacturing (circa 1955) or computer assisted design and engineering (1970s). Driven by PC, communications and database technologies, digital has successfully worked its way up the chain from IT to the back office, through administration to the front of house, via marketing.

Slade Executive is recruiting senior executives in digital right now, and we’re seeing an international trend in key digital appointments as part of the overall organisational strategy. Charting digital alongside traditional C suite roles, such as finance, operations and human resources, recognises its strategic importance. Along with information and marketing, we’ve seen that digital has the capacity to radically influence the competitiveness of an organisation in the present climate and will no doubt be essential to the survival of many industries in future.

In smaller businesses or those with more modest resources, a cross functional hybrid is the model for CDO. Agile executives who can work across a combination of digital, marketing and information technology are already highly sought after. As industry background becomes less relevant and a diverse CV looks more appealing, digital acumen is now one of the most commonly requested attributes when hiring leaders.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Managing funds with a social conscience

We’ve got the sun. We’ve got the space. With renewables fast becoming big business abroad, it’s obvious that the industry has huge potential here in Australia.

It’s great when you see a local company taking on the challenge. Recently one of my clients, a boutique infrastructure fund manager, was preparing to launch a fund focusing on investment in solar energy. Their initial fund raising target was $25 million, and with the prospect of subsequent equity to be raised at a later date, aimed to raise a total of $75 million. According to the fund manager, when fully invested, we would be talking $100 million. Those are considerable dollars in anyone’s book.

The fund expects to drive the expansion of the solar market by creating employment, supporting Australia’s only panel manufacturer and will produce associated social benefits, such as displacing diesel within remote indigenous communities. In terms of environmental benefits, the project will abate approximately 260,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to powering almost 50,000 homes per annum.

The fund was looking for an executive to raise funds from the High Net Worth investor market, but only required support on a part-time basis. They engaged me through Slade Executive to recruit an experienced BDM. The position had the dual appeal of flexibility for a business development professional who was looking for something different from the usual fare in managed funds distribution.

The successful candidate (an outstanding individual, highly experienced in the sector) has a young family and was attracted to the role by the opportunity to make a difference to the environment, not only for the future benefit of their children. They were also comfortable with taking some financial risk (the role is heavily performance based), but most importantly, the candidate believed in the goals of the fund.

While I’m not about taking credit for someone else’s hard work, my candidate has done a fantastic job. In fact they raised $100 million straight-up and the fund has now been closed. Sometimes we recruiters cop a bit of flak for the odd rogue in our midst who has left their social conscience at the door. Ditto the finance industry. So it’s a nice feeling when the stars align and everyone benefits while making a contribution to better the world we live in.

What socially responsible commercial projects have you been involved with?  How has working with an innovative partner in the corporate sector changed your Point of View?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work