Today, Laura Johnson is joined by Hassanah Rudd, Global Head of Talent at Squiz, tech start-up.
Hassanah has 25 years of experience in the recruitment industry and still loves what she does, today. Hassanah has lived in England, New Zealand and Australia, taking on a variety of roles. However, her passion for recruitment has never faltered.
Attributing half of her career moves to chance and headhunting, Hassanah speaks of the different stops along her career path as a stroke of serendipity. Finding her knack for recruitment when she was working at a job centre in Oxford, Hassanah’s move to New Zealand was facilitated by her confidence in her recruitment abilities. Here, she transitioned to in-house work and eventually the tech start-up where she works today.
Hassanah discusses the difference between in-house and agency recruitment, admitting that her passion lies with in-house. Although she credits agencies for teaching her a lot and allowing her to work with different industries, she explains that she enjoys being close enough to something to make a positive difference. Being headhunted for her first in-house role by a friend, Hassanah was thrown in at the deep end and never looked back.
Offering advice for those making a similar move, Hassanah stresses the importance of investing in relationships. Speaking candidly about the necessity of a strong network, Hassanah explains that in this space, building up trust is critical. Not only in terms of your peer group, but also key stakeholders.
“If you can develop really strong relationships, you can affect change. You can nudge the thinking.”
After these roles, Hassanah progressed into leadership positions and discovered she had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. At first suffering from imposter syndrome, she questioned her ability to lead leaders. However, championing mutual respect, Hassanah left a positive legacy at these companies and discovered that vulnerability and self-confidence were her greatest assets.
“You’re never going to get it right all the time. So you also have to create a space where it’s okay to fail.”
Hassanah acknowledges the value of mentors in her career, reflecting on one who gave her some advice that she still lives with and works on today. For this reason, she encourages finding a mentor that will sometimes challenge you.
To hear more from Hassanah, including why she never switches off, listen to the latest episode of Strivin and Thrivin now!
Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson, and today I’m thrilled to be joined by Hassanah Rudd, Global Head of Talent.
To get us started, can you tell us a little about your career background and your current role?
Hassanah: I am a very ancient recruiter, I’m extraordinarily old. I fell into the industry over 25 years ago. Originally, obviously from the UK, but 20 years in New Zealand and a further seven in Sydney. And the entire time I’ve been in recruitment of one form or fashion, a lot of time in agency, and then went into in-house and then tracked up from there, and absolutely adore it.
Laura: What made you start in recruitment in the first place?
Hassanah: Like most people I fell into it. It was one of those things that you don’t have that as a career choice at school, it’s like “Would you like to be recruiting?” In fact, actually, because I am so old, I don’t even think the profession actually really existed to that level. How I actually fell into it was a weird story. I was working for the Job Center in the UK in Knutsford, and I set up a temp desk myself because it was taking too long for those roles to hit the floor.
And of course now I’m dealing with a lot of the agencies trying to help people through that. And the agencies were like, “You should do this for a living, you should do this”. And when I moved out to New Zealand, I was like, right I’m going to do this. I’ve loved it. I love it.
Laura: I love that story. What did you want to be when you were at school though?
Hassanah: So when I was at school, first off I thought it was going to be a gymnast, I wasn’t that good. Yeah, too many injuries, I grew too tall, this wasn’t going to work. So then, I wanted to do dancing and be an actor. I actually have qualifications in Theater Arts, Drama. I’ve got an A Level in Dance for God’s sake. I thought I’ll go and do this. However, there was two major issues with it. One, I was never that good, so that was a big thing. I had to own it, I was never that good. And number two, I realised that I don’t quite like being starving.
The whole starving actor, please. I was like, I’m not that good, so I’m never going to get a good break and I’m going to spend my life like waiting and never earn anything. So, then I literally spent a couple of years doing all sorts, I worked in insurance, I worked in a garage and then I literally, how I fell into my career is I moved from up North to Oxford, walked into the Job Center, which is what you did to look for a job. And they said, “There’s a job here. Would you like this one?” That was it.
Laura: I can definitely see the acting and the dancing side. And then I guess after recruitment, so you spent all this time doing recruitment, and then you moved in-house and that’s something that comes up quite a few times, just in terms of that transition. What spurred that move?
Hassanah: All the cool stuff was happening in house. As much as in agencies, like it’s a bunch of fun and you get to deal with lots of different people, learn lots of different industries and have great relationships with the Hiring Manager. Reality is, is that you’re not quite close enough. You’re not close enough to really affect change. You know, you saw these opportunities that everyone was doing, really great things doing employment branding and the workforce planning and all that.
I was like, I want to do that. I want to be close enough into the business to be able to make a positive difference. And I was lucky enough that I had a friend of mine, who became my boss a couple of times, head hunted me and he was like, “Do you want this job.” I was like, “Yes please.”
Laura: That’s brilliant. I guess for anyone else that’s thinking about making the same move, what advice would you give them? Or what do you think are the biggest lessons that you learned making that switch?
Hassanah: Okay. So the biggest lesson I learned was that I hadn’t spent nearly enough time learning how to do PowerPoint decks. I’ll be dead straight honest, right? Producing of decks, to this day I really hate doing them. It’s not a strength. I can do them, but I will procrastinate like nobody’s business to do that. I had to learn the hard way painfully to be able to present that information in a really good way. I was used to being able to talk and not have to do that, so that was a key part of learning.
The second part is you really, really need to ensure you either have, or keep investing in relationships because it all hinges on that. If you can develop really good relationships, it isn’t just with the people you’re leading or your peer group or within the P&C wider, but it’s all your key stakeholders. If you can develop really strong relationships, you can affect change. You can nudge the thinking. You can get them to trust you to present something wacky and a little bit farther out, that they’re going to go, okay I get where you’re going. I’m going to trust you to do this.
Might not always work, but you’ll get it. And that piece is absolutely critical because at the times when something goes wrong, and it will always go wrong. They’re way less likely to throw you under the bus because they’ve built up trust, they’ve built up a relationship with you. And they see you properly in that trusted advisor stage, that bit is absolutely critical.
Laura: So, we were talking about trust before and you just brought it up now. How do you think as someone, I guess, starting any role, but we’ll use kind of in a TA role for this example. How do you build up trust as a TA person within an organisation?
Hassanah: You’ve got to go around and listen to people. The first thing you do is a listening tour. You make the time to see all of the key stakeholders, anyone you think, anyone directioning in you in terms of this is the people you need to go and see. Include your team, yeah. Include the team if you’re leading the team. You go and ask them, “Okay, what’s working for you? What’s not working for you? What’s keeping you up at night?” And listen, because they’ll tell you, “This stuff’s working. This stuff’s driving me crazy”.
You get an opportunity to also present who you are and what you want to bring to the table for them. And then you can go, all right, well where are my quick wins in here? Right, I might have some big rocks. What am I going to do to change it? Because they care about that. So, if you care about it and you show them that you’re doing something about it, it starts to build some trust up as well.
Laura: That’s brilliant. And then I guess, going back to your career, so obviously Recruitment, in house, and then you’ve gone Telco, Start- up, like talk us through a little bit about that. What was kind of deliberate choices, because the way you wanted to go, and what were just great chances that you were like, “Yeah, I’ll give it a go”.
Hassanah: Probably half my career actually. I’d love to say it was much more thought out than it was. It’s not, about half of it is, about half of that. So yeah look, the first in-house opportunity I got to work with an incredible boss, who to this day still remains a mentor to me, he is amazing. I got to have an opportunity to do a huge turnaround, I was literally dropped in the middle to go.
He said to me, “I don’t think they like us, go and find out how bad it is.” A week later I rang him back and I’m like, “They don’t just like us. They hate us.” I had to do this whole transformation around it, which was brilliant, brilliant learnings to it. So, that was me learning around sort of in-house, effective in house delivery, how to solve the problems. Even the team you know, it was basically the same team that they hated, and a year later they loved them. So it was also wonderful to see the development of the people to that.
And as that was sort of coming towards its end stage, I got head hunted by NBN, I tended to move by headhunts. This was an amazing opportunity to go in when they were doing huge growth targets of going from like seven to 7,000 in seven years, was amazing to be part of that. They’re very data driven, which appealed to my data driven geeky heart. I’m going to own it, it took me years. I was like, I felt like there should be like AA for people who love the data, because I’ll be like, “Hi, I apologise, I’m a data geek and I take it day by day”.
So, that was really outstanding work, I learned so much through all of that and huge pieces of work around diversity again. So, lots of different things, and again that was a different challenge. You come in and go, well nothing’s really broken but we’re on this mad scale and how do you still then continue to innovate and make things better. Again, lucky with a really great boss and a good team.
And as that was tailing off, because the primary build was completing and it was a downsize in some respects. Then I got headhunted by Transport for New South Wales. This was one of those moments where I went, oh, huge opportunity. Standing up the very first in house function Transport had ever had. The team was enormous, it was 90 plus in the team, I was leading leaders here.
So, although I’d had decent team sizes, this was the first time of something that sizable, and I did have a lot of self-doubt around that. And I did actually ring back of my mentors and say, “Am I biting off too much here? Like tell me honestly.” And his response was, “Er no, you’re a good leader. Why do you think this is any different? So you’re leading leaders. You know what it is to be a good leader, make sure you infuse that through who you lead.” I was like, okay yeah, maybe over thinking that.
So, huge amounts of work through that, a lot of time in that. There’s a lot where you can affect change, but you’re within quite strong guidelines and you could see opportunities go past. It really was a challenge for me personally, because I hate missing an opportunity if you can make things better, it bugs me. But I know that at the end I made some really fantastic work. I’ve still to this day, I kept a text off the Secretary at the time, like on my last day. And he texted me just to say, “You’ve left an incredible legacy here. You should be proud of all the work you’ve done. This place is different because of what you did”. And I can’t delete that, it was just too wonderful to do.
Now this is the time when I’d really made a choice, I really wanted to get into tech. I absolutely really wanted to be able to get into tech in a really strong way. And so, I was like, no this is my next move. There were a few other things coming through on the headhunts and I’m like no I want to do this. And then I was lucky enough, my boss at Squizz to tap me up. And I was like, the minute I met her, I was like, “Oh yeah, now I’m done. This, I’m working here”. So it’s a half and half, half thought out, half not.
Laura: There’s lots of questions I want to talk about there, just in terms of mentoring, leading leaders, whole bunch of other stuff. But I guess there’s so many different changes that you’ve made, and like you say some of it’s been chance, some of it’s been choice. I guess, going back, if you had to go back to the start of your career. What advice would you give to younger you?
Hassanah: Don’t doubt yourself so much. I missed opportunities due to what you’d term now, imposter syndrome. I’ll be honest, there were times I should have leaned into stuff and I was like, oh no, I’m overstepping, I’m not that smart. I still don’t think I’m that smart. But it’s like, I can’t do this when I could have done that. That to me, I look at it and go, well you know it’s led me to where I am. However, I probably could have been a lot further forward in some of that if I had not been that person back then.
Laura: Yeah. But it’s probably also going back to your point about being a great leader, like understanding that and having that self-awareness but also I guess as well, then you can start seeing it in other people.
Hassanah: Yeah. And I think with leading, you should question every day am I doing a good job? Everyday and every day you should go, how am I learning to do this better? There’s stuff coming out all the time and you look at it and go, oh that’s quite good, I should look at doing that. It’s like, come off conversations and go, did I handle that really well, did I not? And if you don’t, go back and say to the person, “Hey, I didn’t handle that really well. So let’s go back over that again, this is what I meant to say”.
You’ve got to care. You’ve genuinely got to care about the people that you are privileged enough to lead, to enable them to grow their careers as well. Plus you learn off really excellent bosses, and you really learn off bad bosses.
Laura: You do, but I guess on that, so you’ve obviously got a very demanding role. You’ve got dogs, kids, family life, all the rest of it. How do you stay on top of everything that’s going on and make sure that you are learning and you are developing as you go?
Hassanah: I consume a huge amount of information, huge. I’ll tell you right now, I’ve got two of Hung Lee’s Brainfoods online podcasts paused, I keep going back to them. I follow everything, so I’ve signed up to Hung Lee’s Brainfood example, the curated information in there is wonderful. Lars Schmidt’s work he’s doing with the HR Open Source, the work that he’s doing with the Accelerator, HR Accelerator is amazing.
There’s lots of new things. When we were being able to get out and about I’d go to every event I possibly could, because you’d learn from what the speakers were, but then you’d learn from being in the room and talking to people. Half what I learned at conferences and events were in conversations in the bar afterwards, like working the room, chairing the room and learning all of those things. But yeah, I’ll read stuff, I will look at podcasts, I’ll go through stuff on social all the time, I follow a huge amount of HR related topics on Twitter as an example.
And I read a lot of books, a lot of books and I’ll go back and read them as well. Just because even if they’re quite old, like I reread ‘Work Rules’ by Lazslo Bock recently and people go, “Oh you know it was legendary at his time”. And people say, “Oh well, it’s moved on”. Actually, you know what? There’s still some nuggets in there that actually still ring true to this day, which we’re still not doing, we’re still not doing it. So, trying to find a way that works for you, but I’ve always been like that, I just love learning.
Laura: I’m the same way and I think there’re certain books you do go back to, and I think ‘Work Rules’ is one of them. And I think it’s like anything, and I remember someone saying to me really early in my career and same with books, events. He was like, “You just need to take one thing away, and in that sort of thing just take one good thing away.
You don’t need to agree with everything that’s said or the rest of it”. And that’s always stuck with me, and there are a few. Yeah, I’ve actually just got Lars’ book as well sat on the bookshelf, I’m going to start that this weekend, I think.
Hassanah: Yeah. Great stuff.
Laura: All right. Let’s talk about mentors for a minute. So it sounds like you’ve had some incredible mentors throughout your career. How have you gone around about finding mentors to begin with, and then how do you get the most out of those relationships or the most out of the time that you spend with them?
Hassanah: I will be honest. I have a couple of mentors and I basically asked them. I fronted them up and said, “Hey, would you mind?” Or I would say to them just so you know, you’re now going to act as my mentor and I’m going to call you up. Honest. Okay, the key part to this though, is choose people that are going to challenge you. There is no point choosing someone as a mentor because you think they’re going to agree with you on things.
To have a good mentor should make you feel uncomfortable most of the time. And you should also have some space afterwards, because sometimes they’re going to say something you’re going to need to sit with for a bit. Yeah. It’s going to challenge your world view, and you’re going to need to go, right okay, I’m going to need to sit with that, like digest that piece in. It should be not a completely comfortable relationship in those areas either.
That isn’t to say that sometimes they’re going to call you out with the imposter syndrome as an example, or when you start doubting yourself when it hasn’t got any evidentiary base, shall we say to it. But that’s basically how I’ve tended to do it, I’ve just literally found people that I was like, okay I really like what you’re saying or you’ve challenged me about this. One particular person is an amazing head of OD and just incredible. And she is so precise with what she says, and she can say really small things and you are like, “Hmm…” she challenged me.
And she gave me something to this day that I still live with, that I had to sit with for a while. And I will be honest, to this day I still think about it and I still try to practice it. But her I said, “Would you mind?” And she was like, “Absolutely”. Most people when someone asks them to mentor, are generally quite comfortable doing it. And you know, she’s skilled in that type of facilitation, and she does work with board work and CEOs and all of that.
So she’s not uncomfortable having those uncomfortable conversations. But to this day, almost every day, I still have to think about it because I’m still practicing it.
Laura: That’s brilliant advice. Can we talk about leading leaders?
Laura: Because there’s a difference, and we’ve talked about it a few times in the podcast, right? So usually you’re a great individual achiever, which means you get promoted to being a leader. And they’re actually really different skillsets and no one really tells you that until it happens. And then you’re like, oh hang on, not quite equipped for this one.
So, then I imagine then, leading leaders is again a similar jump in the same way, where again it’s a different skillset and you need to put different tactics. So, I guess what did you learn going through that transition? What would you tell anyone else that’s going through a similar transition at the moment.
Hassanah: Okay. So I’ve got a couple of important rules to it. I mean these are just me personally. Your direct reports, okay, your critical team, this isn’t saying everybody isn’t, but they’re your critical team, be respectful of them as leaders. This does not mean you decide to jump over their heads and start having all sorts of like digging your fingers in over the top of them, putting long fingers in there, like go in and having like mad loads of conversations with their direct reports.
You’ve got to be respectful. Now that doesn’t stop you going I want to have a conversation with their direct reports. It might be through a skip interview scenario or just, “How’s it going?”. But at that point I would talk to the leader and say, “Hey, look I’m thinking about doing this. Are you okay with this?” I’d actually ask them, are you okay with this?
Because otherwise you’re going to hobble them and chop them off at the knees. And you’re also then not teaching the people that they lead, that I respect their leaders and do it that way. So you’ve got to have a level of respect in there, and that’s just me personally I think. The other aspect too it, is there’s a level yes of trying to model what a good leader is, but we’re all imperfect. Okay, so you’re never going to get it right all the time.
So, you also have to create a space that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to have, I used to refer, there was one I used to refer to it as the vault. It’s like spill it, like whatever’s gone wrong. And I would talk about the stuff that I stuffed up that week and where we went wrong and what was frustrating us. So, it enabled us as a team together to be comfortable and safe within that environment, because otherwise it can be quite lonely. It can be absolutely quite lonely.
But you also need to focus on the people so that when you were actually having the one-on-ones with your direct reports, it’s like, “Okay tell me about your people”. I expect my lead, my direct reports to know their people. Yeah. So, I’d ask them, tell me about your people. How are they doing? Where’s their challenges? Because I’m asking them to get to know them as well. So it helps them to go, yeah this is a connected leader to his people or her people.
They understand what the challenges are. And at the same time I’m learning what’s going on in the wider environment as well, without having to go, “What’s happening?” I’m like, tell me about the people it’s always about people.
Laura: It’s always about the people, that’s pretty great advice, thank you. Just looking at timing, I’m going to ask you two more questions and then let you go. So, we’ve talked about the fact that you’ve got a really demanding job. You’re learning all the time. You’ve got a family. What do you do to switch off?
Hassanah: I don’t know if I do. Oh, I think, no honest to God. It’s a combo piece because I am very lucky that I love what I do professionally. I love what I do professionally. So, even with like today, I got up at five o’clock this morning because I had calls into the New York office and my day’s going to end at 10 o’clock with calls into Emir tonight.
But I actually enjoy what I do, so it doesn’t feel like having to switch off to that point. I might be a bit crazy town on that level. And the learning piece, I get energized from that as well, that doesn’t drag me down, it’s an energetic piece for me. Outside of that, yeah it’s spending time with the family. We just hang out and have a laugh.
I’ve got three kids, so that’s actually doing that, and then hanging out with good friends. That part to me is really, really important as well. It would be nice to have more time for a couple of project based work, but I don’t.
Laura: I get that… Okay. And then last question, who else would you like to hear from on the podcast?
Hassanah: Oh Laura, there’s lots of people. There are lots and lots of people. All right, how long have you got? Do you want a big list?
Laura: You’ve got five minutes, go.
Hassanah: Okay go and have a chat with I think Belinda Atkinson at Metcash. I got to know her, I think we got to know each other at a conference, then realised we actually worked next door to one another years and years ago. Yeah, great person, flies under the radar very much. I really, really value her and spending time with her.
Oh my God, right Neil Gurning, Chris Long, there are so many people now I’m having a blank. That’s terrible isn’t it? That’s worse somehow.
Laura: It’s like you’ve got too much choice, so it’s all just like “Aah,” I should have told you three names and made you really look at it, and go like three that’s it.
Hassanah: Yeah. You could have done that, that would be…
Laura: Yeah. Should have done, that would have been so much easier. But no, that’s a good list, that’s a good start.
Hassanah: I can give you more afterwards, I can send you a whole list. Yeah. The people I just mentioned, those three, they’re local. Yeah, Lars is unbelievable. Yeah, absolutely. Again, same sort of, like fantastic. Like I would never, ever not spend time with Bill Boreman, love the man to bits and pieces. He’s still, the way he looks at the world is really fascinating.
Get one of the gods, like Dr. John Sullivan would be amazing. Like, you know I still read his stuff as well on how he looks at the world on those areas. There’s some really great people, really good thinking going on and real challenging world views. And how do we stretch this forward? And some of the issues we’ve got in our industry nobody’s ever solved before. So, it’s just keeping on going and trying to go, well how else do we try and fix this stuff?
Laura: It’s the same as we were saying before. So, we’re in this world that we’ve not had to navigate before. We’ve not had to have these problems before, so there aren’t answers. And we can’t go back to the usual toolkit of stuff and go like, well usually X, Y and Z, because none of us have ever got any idea what is happening.
Hassanah: And what I would say to that, like I said, as I may have mentioned that I’m old. So I have recruited in the dotcom crash, 9/11, GFC when I was in banking finance for four years, so that was a bunch of fun. I’ve seen all of it. I’ve seen it where you have like a hot job market, can’t find candidates versus around the other way, it stays like that for a little bit. Nothing, I never seen anything like this, never. I don’t think anyone else has.
This is a unique set of circumstances that we’re all trying to navigate our way through. And when you’ve got new set of circumstances, the old stuff isn’t going to work. It’s like, stop going “Oh well we’ll just keep plodding on”. You’ve got a whole new scenario. Yes, there may be tools in your toolbox you can apply to solve those problems, but you can’t cookie cutter this stuff, or just pretend like it’s going to go on.
And the interesting part, reading ‘Work Rules’ recently, is that one of the things I’m seeing that I don’t like is this, oh well we have to interview people like 19 times and make them do this presentation and a white boarding and all of this type of thing. You reread ‘Work Rules’ and they use the Rule of Four, you get past four meetings, it loses its efficacy, but it’s been set up to pretend like there’s a bunch of candidates out there. There’s not, there’s not and it aint coming back.
Laura: But not just that, no. And I think that’s exactly it. So I think that was the bit that bothers me on that is, I really feel that interviews should be much more of a two-way value exchange than they are. And I think when they’re set up with these, you have to go through all these steps, and you have to do this and you have to that, I’m sorry two-way.
Like, what are my priorities or what are you bringing me? And I think if we could get more to that two way value exchange of how are we going to help each other grow? Then we’re going to be in a much better place. But I think going back to exactly what you’re saying about loving to learn, right now is your environment because every day is a school day right now.
Hassanah: Oh yes. I know this stuff, but I love it, it does energise me. It’s a real strength that I get to bring innovation to the table and look at things a little bit differently and try some things. But again, this is one of the reasons why mentoring is so important. You know, you need to be able to bounce that stuff off other viewpoints, and highly skilled viewpoints, that can advise and challenge your view and how you’re doing things and help you grow professionally as well.
So, without that, yeah you’ll get there in your career. Will you? Yeah, absolutely. You’ll still get there, but you’d get there a lot darn sight faster if you’ve got access to good mentors, that I would say.