Be More Podcast: Hiring HR Talent With Laura Mazzullo
Laura Mazzullo, human resources (HR) recruiter and owner of East Side Staffing, joins us to discuss the changing face of HR recruitment.
Laura Mazzullo, human resources (HR) recruiter and owner of East Side Staffing, joins us to discuss the changing face of HR recruitment.
Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week we’re joined by Laura Mazzullo, human resources (HR) recruiter and owner of East Side Staffing.
In today’s job market, would you say it’s tough to hire talent? How about hiring HR talent? The majority response to such questions will presumably be: “Yes! It’s incredibly competitive!” But why? And how can you overcome these challenges?
Laura Mazzullo is joining the conversation today to talk about her perspective on the challenges with hiring HR talent, and as a sneak preview: it’s not a pipeline issue. Laura is the owner of East Side Staffing and has extensive experience in HR recruitment.
"I find that many HR pros still feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. And I want us to encourage people to dismantle that conditioning."Laura Mazzullo Human Resources Recruiter Owner of East Side Staffing
Discover how to effectively hire HR talent by listening to the episode audio or reading the key takeaways and the transcript below.
Patrick Cournoyer: Would you say that it is tough to hire talent in today’s market? How about hiring HR talent? I would guess that the majority of you would say, “Yes, it is really tough to hire HR talent right now. It is so competitive.”
Why is it so hard right now? Laura Mazzullo is joining the conversation today to talk about her perspective on the challenges with hiring HR talent. As a sneak preview, it is not a pipeline issue. Laura is the founder of East Side Staffing and has had an impressive career with HR recruitment. Let’s jump into the conversation and get to the center of these challenges and share some ideas on how you could make it all a bit easier. Laura, thank you so much for joining the conversation today.
Laura: Thank you for having me, Patrick. I’m excited to talk with you today.
Patrick: Great. We are going to chat all about recruitment today, which is a passion of yours and the work that you do. Let’s first start out with a quick introduction to the audience a bit about you, your career journey, and what you do today.
Laura: Thank you. Yes, it was funny, I laughed when you asked me about my career journey. How long do we have? I can do this in two minutes or less. I do it every day. I’ve been recruiting for 18 years. I started recruiting specifically for the HR and people area of the business in 2007. Right before the recession, I had joined a global recruiting firm that year here in New York. There were 22 recruiters just placing HR professionals. That’s how busy the market was. Then 2008 came, which for those of you listening who worked in that time remember how much HR hiring was impacted.
We went through five or six rounds of layoffs during that time. By 2012, I was the last person remaining from that original team and I was running their HR practice by myself. That’s when I realized, “I should start my own business.” I resigned and I launched Eastside Staffing eight and a half years ago, really with the mission of creating a boutique firm solely for the HR profession. Because as you and I both know, it can be a very underserved community.
I really developed a passion for this space and it was evolving a ton during that period, of course, even so much more in the last decade. That’s really my career in a nutshell. It’s a boutique consultative service for HR. Then in 2020, I also started offering coaching for recruiting because I realized there were so many underdeveloped corporate recruiters who needed support. That’s another offering that I’ve been enjoying.
Patrick: That’s great. We’re going to talk a bit about that today, specifically around some of the challenges and some of the broken processes and parts of the recruiting process because they’re out there for sure. If we ask any organization, I’m sure everybody in the audience today, if we were to say, “Oh, are you 100% fully staffed and have everything planned for the next year and you feel 100% confident with what your recruiting plans are?” I would probably guess that the majority of people, if not everybody, would say, “No, we’re nowhere close to that.”
We’re going to have a fun conversation today and also a pretty honest and direct conversation about some of the challenges that organizations are facing right now, and quite frankly that the recruitment process is facing. We’ll get into all of that. Laura, first, how would you describe the HR hiring landscape right now? I just want to preface this conversation a bit as well because we’re going to talk more about hiring HR talent because hiring all talent right now is a challenge for organizations, but with this amazing new focus on people, culture, experience at organizations, the need for really stellar-effective people team, HR team, leaders, practitioners has gotten even more critical in let’s say, the past year.
Talking about hiring for HR or people teams, what do you think the landscape is like right now?
Laura: I think for all of our listeners, I just want to preface this also by saying when Patrick and I are talking about HR, we’re including all of the areas of HR. Whether you’re in talent acquisition, employee experience, recruitment, whatever your team is called, I want you to know that we are including you in this discussion. I think the landscape is evolving really quickly in real-time.
What we saw in 2020 was very similar to 2008, which is when there is a financial crisis or any sort of crisis that’s impacting a business, leadership will halt HR hiring. Their immediate reaction is, “We can’t afford it. We can’t do it.” As a result, you have a very understaffed HR department that is really at high risk of burnout. What we saw coming into 2021 were these HR departments that were frantic and overwhelmed. Then the CEO starts to react to that and says, “We need to hire immediately.” It becomes this panicked reaction to having an understaffed department.
Now, I think what we’re trying to figure out is, is it actually a busier market than 2019, or does it just feel busier because we’re not doing it in a really proactive, thoughtful way, but people are actually just panicking and reacting? It’s just something we need to keep unpacking.
Patrick: I couldn’t agree more, as far as this immediate knee-jerk reaction that happens. It’s happened many times. As you said, it doesn’t matter if it’s now or a couple of years ago, or even in any type of circumstance where we think things are moving along well, and then all of a sudden, there’s an immediate need to hire, and there’s this knee-jerk reaction. It’s like, “Oh, we need to hire somebody. How quickly can you get somebody in? How quickly can you hire?” How many times have I heard that question or, “Can you have somebody start in four weeks?”
Everything is based around how quickly you can get somebody, and how fast you can hire somebody, and that is a big part of the problem or the challenge. What do you think, Laura, as we start to unpack this a little bit, as you said, and start to understand a bit of what’s really not working right now, and where the significant challenges are. What do you think most HR managers or as you said, leaders within people teams, again, it’s the umbrella of anybody that works within HR and people. What would you say most HR leaders think is the hardest part about hiring today?
Laura: We’ll call it all hiring managers, anyone who’s hiring for HR. This is a great question. What do hiring managers think is the hardest part of hiring? If anyone’s listening right now, I would ask you just to take a second with that question. If I was to ask you, “What do you think is going to be the hardest part of hiring for your HR department?” What do you think that would be?
I’ll tell you, Patrick, when I ask HR leaders this, because this is a question I incorporate into every single one of my intake meetings, 9 times out of 10, they will say, “The hardest part will be finding talent.” That’s a myth, really. It’s not typically the right answer. Sometimes it is, depending on how unique or unusual or specific a role is, but 9 times out of 10, that is not actually going to be the challenge they’re going to face. I think that reality in and of itself is a really important pause for reflection.
Patrick: Why is it that you think that people say, “Oh, it’s a pipeline. It’s an issue with finding talent?” Do you think that’s historically been the challenge?
Laura: Yes. I think there’s a lot of assumptions made in hiring and that we’re conditioned to answer things in relation to the way that we always have. When we talk in HR about moving towards it being a more strategic function, and all the other hundreds of buzzwords we hear all day, really what we’re talking about is deconditioning our brains, unlearning what we’ve learned, and challenging assumptions that we’ve always made.
We’ve always assumed the hard part of hiring is finding talent when in actuality, if we look at what a company has to do to hire well, the finding the talent is probably easier now than it ever has been, thanks to social media and to all of the resources at our fingertips to connect with each other. Obviously, it’s easier to find talent today than it was in 1995, but sometimes we just answer in the way that we always have.
Patrick: What is actually the biggest barrier right now to hiring HR talent?
Laura: The million-dollar question, right?
Laura: What is the barrier? Gosh, there are so many ways that I want us to talk about this, but I want to come back to what you said in the beginning, which is around panicking and how a lot of leaders are really reacting. I’m often coaching my hiring managers on how panicking isn’t a hiring strategy. I had a hiring manager call me the other day and she’s like,” My HR team is burning out. We’re like the Titanic, we’re sinking.” While we chuckled, I said, “We’re going to have to take a b and just take a moment because that’s not going to actually attract talent to the role.”
If we’re all nervous and panicked and rushing, that actually is going to repel talent. If we’re thinking about talent attraction, that’s not a strategy. We want to be calm, we want to be focused, we want to be thoughtful, discerning, structured. That sometimes is an issue of just calming down and building an actual process out. The biggest barrier to hiring HR talent is that most hiring managers because, again, these are going to typically be people-leaders hiring for their own team, or of course, the CEO hiring ahead of people. Typically it’s going to be a people-leader.
They sometimes struggle to receive actionable feedback from their recruiting partners because there is an assumption that they should know it all, that they should have all the answers. It takes enormous humility to say, “Yes, I am an HR person recruiting. I’m hiring for my own team, there are going to be some things I need to improve upon, there are some things I’m going to need to learn. I am willing to enter this process with humility and I’m excited to learn as we go.” That’s an amazing approach, but that’s really, really hard for a lot of people in this space.
Again, that’s part are the conditioning because we have been taught, we should have all the answers, we should know it all, we’re the givers, we’re the doers, we’re not necessarily the learners, but it’s something we really have to dismantle that HR is just as worthy of an experience of development as anybody else. Hiring is a skill. Any skills worthy of being honed, I often make a sports analogy, if you were learning to play a sport, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’ve got this. No big deal, I know how to do this.” You would be curious to learn more and you would be a student of the sport.
Patrick: We’re going to talk in a minute a bit about coaching, counseling, therapy for HR leaders, because you’ve talked about that and I’m really interested to hear more about your thoughts on that. There’s a question that comes up and I’m curious to hear your perspective on, new requisition is open, the decision is made that a role is going to be hired. The first question in the conversation that I had about the recruitment strategy for this specific role is, how long is it going to take to hire this role?
Everybody uses time as a measurement of success with recruiting a new member of a team. What do you think about that? I’ve always had mixed thoughts about that, but everything is always, “How long is it going to take? I need this role ASAP.” How long is it going to take you to hire this person?
Laura: I actually have a YouTube video on this exact thing, which will link in comments for our viewers that– I’m laughing because it just happened this week. I’ll give a real life example. Typically, a hiring manager will say to the recruiter exactly what you just said, which is, “How fast can you fill this position?” As if it’s the recruiter who has complete control over the timing, which unfortunately is something we were conditioned to believe in recruitment that we’ve all had to unlearn, which is shocking. We don’t actually have control over people. We can only do so much, it is a team effort. What I say to my hiring managers, first of all is, it’s a we. How quickly can we fill the position is a conversation that we can certainly have.
It’s not one person’s job. It’s a team sport, especially in 2021. I really do reverse pipelining or funneling or whatever kind of marketing term we want to use. You can go from their start date backwards and figure out how long it’s going to take. The interesting point is– Typically an HR leadership role, for example, it shouldn’t take more than six weeks to fill from start to finish, if you have a recruiting expert who already has a network, or if you already have a great candidate pipeline.
Because think about it this way, if the recruiter is sourcing and screening and sending resumes, that short list might come within the first 10 days. That gives you another four weeks to go through interviews. That seems like it’s plenty of time, but usually that’s exactly where the stalling happens, where, “Oh, I’m on vacation.” “Oh, the hiring manager didn’t get back to me in a week.” “Oh, we want to add five more people to the panel.”
It’s typically not the fault of recruiting if the timeline goes longer, it’s just really important during the intake meeting to set all those expectations and to make sure everybody is held accountable for having a role in sticking to that timeline. I’m okay with measuring the timeline because I can understand why somebody wouldn’t want their roles sitting open for three or four months. What I do have an issue with is when it’s the blame towards recruiting as if it’s not a team sport.
Patrick: Let’s talk a bit more about that. Specifically you brought up this idea of moving the goalpost of, “Oh, we’re going to add five more people to the recruitment panel. We’re going to pivot our recruitment process or agree to pro upon process.” In that intake conversation about the planning for the strategy to hire for a specific role. Where are recruiters and hiring managers going wrong today? Where are the biggest problems that you see?
Laura: I’m smiling because I think we’ve just answered the question again on what the biggest barrier to hiring HR leaders is. Because again, none of this has anything to do with finding talent. It’s so interesting. Anyway, you’ve found let’s say there are– I’m a big believer in one short list. You don’t send resumes one at a time. Here’s one, two weeks later, here’s another one. It’s like here are the best three to five candidates and Mr. Hiring manager, or Mrs. Hiring manager is going to pick one of these five. That’s how we should hire efficiently. Especially if we are doing some serious competency based structured-interview guides, and that the hiring manager has clarity and we’re being data driven.
Again, these are topics for a whole another session, but obviously you want to put into place a very systematic approach.
I think what happens is even when we do that systematic approach at the start, sometimes hiring managers forget that they need to stay on track and they need to follow the process because again, this is specific to HR. What I find is that HR pros think they’re the exception to the rule. When I’m talking to an HR leader and saying, “Okay, we’re going to build out the 10 core competencies you’re looking at for this role. We’re going to build a structured interview guide. I’m going to coach you through catching your own biases and how we’re going to talk it through.” They’ll say, “Yes, I don’t need any of that. That’s the kind of stuff my business needs and the rest of the business needs, but I’ll just go off gut instinct. I’ll just go off if I’ll know it when I see it”.
That I think is a massive barrier. It’s like feeling you’re an exception to the rule when actually, if you can follow it just as head of marketing would follow it or head of sales would follow it or head of legal would follow it. You’d probably exponentially become a more exceptional hiring manager.
Patrick: This idea around a barrier of not following processes is so relevant because I really feel that and I’m just curious if you experienced this as well, a lot of times there’s intention to follow a process and then a couple of weeks go by the process is followed. Then this sense of hiring managers and recruiters as well can start to become a bit impatient with the process and a pivot happens where to try to speed up the process. What are your thoughts on changing the process and agreeing to the prom process for recruiting a role midway. Do you think that’s needed? Not?
Laura: Why do you think that’s happening? I’m curious. What were you saying there? You feel it’s more about impatience that makes the change?
Patrick: I think it’s about pressure and impatience. I feel that a role becomes new and there’s a lot of excitement around hiring a specific role. The process starts, everybody has a lot of energy around it; hiring manager, the recruitment team, the organization, whoever the internal stakeholders may be that you’re working with. Then maybe a couple of weeks go by and new roles are coming up and there’s another requisition, another role that gets opened up. There’s this idea sometimes that, “Oh, well.”
Focus gets diverted away from that original role that was being worked on. I feel sometimes this sense of impatience can creep in because, “Oh, now I have another role or four more roles or five more roles.” Then recruiters feel overwhelmed because they have so many requisitions that are open and so this impatience builds. I’ve seen, where, if there’s not a lot of fast traction at the start and a lot of excitement with candidates or with the process, that sometimes it can just fall off a bit. Then it turns a bit to, “Okay, let’s get this done.”
Laura: Yes. Look, I’m learning every day in recruiting. Just because I’m an “expert” in it and I’ve done it all these years, I’m always reminded of things that I can be improving upon. I’m giving you an example this week of where I realized I could have done something better. I’m working on an SVP of people search for a client. I sent the shortlist within two weeks and then the first round of interview happened three days later, which was great timing, then there was a three-week stall for the next round.
One could argue, “Oh, my gosh, Laura, how did you let that happen? That’s nuts and unheard of.” I hadn’t thought about getting that person’s availability before the first round. I just assumed they would be available that following week but they weren’t, they were on vacation for 10 days. That would have been really important for me to have gathered because then, I might have stalled either when the shortlist went out, or I would’ve stalled that first round a couple of days, so there wasn’t such a long gap between the two rounds.
It was a good reminder for me, I’m literally getting every single interviewer’s availability, even if it’s four, five weeks out. Asking them to put time on their calendar, even just a blank spot, this will be an interview for this role. It was a reminder that sometimes these stalls happen because in recruiting, we forget to go two steps ahead. Again, one could argue this was a team effort, I could have been alerted of that, et cetera.
Just a humbling reminder that you’re absolutely right, we can lose momentum if we’re not actually all aligned even with our calendars. Especially now that it’s summertime and school is starting, even when this airs if it’s September. I am always busy with HR. It’s really important. I’m reminded to ask my hiring managers all the time, “Are you ready to hire? Do you have the time that is going to be necessary to interview and to debrief?”
Sometimes they’re not, sometimes they’ll say, “Give me three weeks, let’s start it then.” I’d much prefer that than to start and stop, and start and stop.
Patrick: That’s a good segue into this next question that I have for you, which is around development and continuously learning and growing. You just mentioned you’re an expert in this field, you’ve been doing this for many years, and you continuously are learning. You provide yourself the space, the ability, the time to be able to learn. You’ve previously mentioned that HR leaders, every HR leader, should have some form of coaching, counseling, therapy, some aspect in this area. Why do you feel that way?
Laura: Yes, it’s such an important conversation to have. I think there’s a lot of conditioning in HR and I will say, it’s mostly a women-led field, which is not to stereotype because obviously, I think all people are worthy of coaching and development but there are a lot of women in business, who have been taught over the years to be perfectionists, to be people-pleasers, to be caregivers, to be nurturers. That doesn’t really help us when we’re trying to become more strategic, consultative, “sit at the table” executives.
I remember once having a colleague of years of mine say to me, “My concern in HR and recruiting, is that we’re basically a sponge for everybody’s emotions. We’re dealing with hiring manager anxiety, with executives worries, with employees concerns. All day long, we’re just taking all of this emotional labor in. What are we doing with it?” I realized that if we want to have equanimity, if we want to have balance, if we want to feel that we have that elation at work, and that calm at work, we have to do the work.
It’s not just automatic that we’re going to learn these skills. There’s just a lot of unlearning we have to do and I think we’re asking HR professionals right now to move from order taker to strategic, from transactional to consultative, from just doers to being people first, and values-led, but we’re then also not making space for those skills to be developed. I don’t know how you can ask someone to make those drastic transitions without giving them support.
A lot of the work you have to do in HR is really around people and human beings. You really have to know yourself first. You have to know what your triggers are, and what your inner demons are, what your inner critic is saying, what’s coming up for you, what your values are, what your boundaries are. If you don’t have that sense of self-awareness and self-reflection, I think you can easily get tossed around emotionally in this job, especially as we’re asking more and more from people.
Patrick: I really, really love that. Because this past year has enhanced the expectations of everybody working in a people function. I’ve been talking to a lot of leaders over the past year and it’s been interesting to see the evolution of these conversations from HR leaders, that their primary role is supporting people within the organization, as you said, their primary role is working with people.
I’ve spoken to recruiters that are responsible for bringing, obviously, new talent into the organization. All the way through to front line managers, that are people leaders, that now have all of these additional responsibilities placed on them because they have dispersed workforces, which they’ve never had before. They have well-being-focused expectations as leaders, they have to be individual while being leaders for everyone on their team, while also keeping their team’s well-being in mind.
All of that, it’s a funnel in a lot of ways. We have these frontline leaders who have really high expectations of people’s leadership now. They’re learning to have DEIB discussions, and wellness, and mental well-being that they’ve never had to have before. They have not been confident and comfortable in. The first person that they go to for help is their people partner, their HR leader. These HR leaders now have an entirely new set of expectations, of being the guide and the support and the expert knowledge for these front-line people leaders that now also have these additional expectations.
That is a lot. You touched on this at the start, which was this concept of burnout. When you think about the end of 2020, where so many HR leaders were already at the verge of burnout and feeling burnout. I really think now it’s even more relevant in organizations, and it’s just going to get worse. It’s not going away. I really like this idea of focusing on HR leaders and giving them a minute to just find out about themselves, to vent, to-
Laura: To learn.
Patrick: -learn, yes. To learn.
Laura: I think what’s interesting, I remember writing a blog in 2014 about how HR pros need to put their own oxygen mask on first. I find it interesting that we’re still having this discussion, all these years later. Most HR pros I know are exceptional human beings with an incredible capacity to give, to love, to nurture, to problem-solve. Again, even the most strategic, business-savvy people at the core, are just really heart-led, which is so wonderful and something I love about this profession but that comes with an enormous responsibility and a drain.
You need to replenish yourself. I find that there are a lot of HR pros that still feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. I really want us to encourage people to dismantle that conditioning. We shouldn’t tie our self-worth to our output, or how much of an expert we are or how perfect we are or how we should know it all. I can’t tell you how often, probably almost every time, Patrick, that a new client calls me to get my help, either to coach their TA team or to help them on a search, they’ll start the call by saying, “Oh, I’m so embarrassed, we’re struggling with this and we need your help.”
I really try to reframe that right away. First of all, you should never feel embarrassed that you need help. It takes strength to admit you need help, and that’s what I’m here for. We just need to encourage people to dismantle that notion that they should know it all, or else they’re somehow failing. We are all learning, we are all growing. There’s a reason humility is one of my company’s core values. I believe we need it in recruiting. We are always learning, and yes, I think that the more we can focus on our own areas for development, the better we can be really partnering with our businesses.
Patrick: I love that and I love your passion around that, Laura. Because opening up the discussion around it and having the audience here, it is okay, you don’t have to– If you work in HR particularly, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have the answer to everything and there is that switch of conditioning that needs to happen.
Laura: Yes, there’s nothing to fear. I once had someone say to me, “What if I got fired because I had to get a coach, because I wasn’t the expert, and then they saw that I didn’t have all the answers? I thought, we’re not there anymore and maybe that is the beauty of this market that we’ve been talking about that HR is so valued now. I don’t know one CEO who would think it’s a weakness for their HR leaders to want to develop their own teams. In fact, I think they would genuinely encourage it.
Patrick: I agree with that. I do. We are coming close to the end of the conversation, Laura. A few tangible ideas from you for the audience would be great, particularly around what do you think an HR manager that’s listening today could do to improve their ability to hire great HR talent? We’ve talked about a couple of things today in general, but what are maybe two or three things that you think could be changed today by an HR manager to improve their ability to hire great talent?
Laura: What a fun question. I love actionable feedback.
Patrick: [chuckles] Yes, absolutely.
Laura: Number one thing is clarity. To be really clear on what you need and want and what you’re looking for. Not too vastly, not to feel you’re just floating in air, to be really clear on what you’re looking for. Then to build out a competency-based hiring guide to help you. That way you’re being really structured and really fair and equitable in the process. The second thing which is really rare for a lot of HR leaders but I would encourage you to be willing to receive actionable feedback from candidates. Often your recruiting partners will be getting feedback from the candidates on, “This is what my interview was with Patrick. Here’s where I really liked how his interview style was. Here’s where I thought he could have improved.” Especially when you’re hiring for people-people.
I often received really great feedback from the hiring managers and not everyone’s receptive to that because it can feel a little uncomfortable to receive some information that can be potentially critical, but I would argue that’s really where the change can happen. I would encourage people to be open to that psychological safety with your recruiting partner, to receive feedback from candidates that can help you improve.
Then the third piece would be, I think, to circle back to what we were talking about in the timeline. To be really clear on your readiness to hire and ask yourself if you’re ready to hire, how your timeline looks, do you have vacations coming up? What’s your schedule like and make sure the next four to six weeks, you have time on your calendar every week for the candidates and your recruiting partners so that you can provide the most exceptional experience. The more that you stall and stop and go the harder it is to close that candidate at the end. Those are the big pieces that I hope can help you reframe how you’re hiring right now.
Patrick: Excellent. I love to end on some tangible suggestions for the audience to be able to think about and maybe take back and start implementing today. Laura, we are at the end of the conversation. First off, a very heartfelt thank you for sharing your passion, your perspective, and direct conversation about the recruitment world today, particularly around HR and hiring HR talent. How can the audience find you if they want to find out some more information about you?
Laura: Thank you. It’s been such a fun discussion. I know we could have talked for hours, so hopefully in 30 minutes, the audience has some food for thought, but you can find me. I’ve got a YouTube channel called LearnWithLauraHR. My website is eastsidestaffing.com. I’m often on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Twitter and Instagram are at eastsidestaff. Of course, Laura Mazzullo on LinkedIn. I welcome all in any connections. I love learning with you all. It takes a whole group of us to continue to learn. We’re not on this journey alone. Just a reminder that we’re all learning together.
Patrick: All right, Laura, thank you very much. One of those videos that you mentioned on YouTube, there’s a great section around this idea of slowing down to speed up. Those of you in the audience, I loved this part of the YouTube video go find it, but this concept of slowing down to speed up really resonated with me. Laura, thank you for all of the thoughts and contents that you put out to the world. We should have another discussion in a year and see where we’re at.
Laura: I would love that. Thank you, Patrick. Have a great rest of your week.
Patrick: You too.
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