Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson and today I’m lucky enough to have Steve Grace as my wonderful co-host. Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Carlie Bowden.
To get us started, can you tell us a bit about your career background on your current role?
Carlie: Sure. I guess like many other people I fell into recruitment…
Steve: You’re the third person to say that today. It’s very funny.
Carlie: Coming out of school, I started working hospitality for a number of years and did a bit of travel and made my money being able to just work weekends and then go overseas, come back and work heavily again. And then I decided I probably needed to do something a little bit more and I studied PT and massage. I did that for a while and then I realised it being my passion was no longer my passion when I was doing it 24/7. So, I decided I wanted to do something a bit different and studied HR, and then going into HR, trying to get a job was nigh on impossible without having any sort of experience. So, having a bit of sales background, I felt… It looked like a stepping-stone into HR, but never came out. To give you a bit of an understanding of my current role. So, I’ve joined The Nudge Group. It’s been probably just over six months now, and I’ve worked with Steve before for roughly about five years.
For me, I think the best thing about recruitment is the team that you work with and having worked with Steve for five years and then going to another agency for a year, it made it very apparent that I got really lucky the first agency that I worked with, with an amazing team, an amazing manager, and learned a lot there. So, it made sense to join him again and…
Steve: Why don’t we talk through that? Because what you’re doing now to what you did for quite a big period at your previous company, and then when you started that previous company has been. That in itself has been quite a big evolution. It’s very different to where you started to where you are, what is it? Seven years, eight years in recruitment now, something like that? So, talk through that and perhaps how you’ve experienced that, because I know there’s been some massive challenges because obviously, I’ve been there through that period and I think it would be really interesting for people to hear how, even though you’ve worked in recruitment, your role has changed drastically over that time, a number of times.
Carlie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for me, someone that is quite a routine person, change is actually quite scary. So, when I first came into recruitment, I was really, I just saw it as a stepping-stone into HR and I wasn’t really thinking, ‘oh, this is going to be my career path’. So, when I first started, I was looking at some very technical roles and working in the private sector with some more senior people that were mentoring and helping me understand recruitment ins and outs. And then after a while, I actually transitioned into government recruitment, which is very different for starters previously, it was mostly permanent recruitment that I was looking at and then moving into government, it’s all contingent.
So, contracting desk with different areas of government in the beginning, but I ended up becoming more focused around the project services and change management for government, which it’s a completely different world in that you start to live and breathe government. All you learn about is government, all you read about is government, all you’re really interested in, is government, and no one is interested in hearing about it because it is really bland and boring, but I ended up doing quite well in that space.
It suited me well because there was less highs and lows in government. I feel when you have a contractor book, if you lose one contractor, it’s not the end of the day, but if you lose a permanent placement, that could mean so much for your next month. So, it really suited me and there seemed quite a stable place to work… It was quite stable in what I was doing. And I ended up building a large contractor book and I guess top biller for a few years, and then transitioned into management, which was not something that I really wanted. Wasn’t something I was aiming for. I think the hardest thing for me, for moving into management, was realising that my performance was going to be judged by my team’s performance.
And the expectation that you have of your team when I was just doing recruitment for myself, I had quite high expectations for myself and I was quite driven and motivated, and for me to put those expectations on a team, sometimes just isn’t realistic, and the thing that I had to come to terms with was, if I was someone that wanted to be an overachiever, if everyone else was going to be happy to work at that level, I wasn’t going to be an overachiever. So really, I had to bring it back and go, ‘okay, you need to know who’s in your team, what motivates them, what drives them, where they want to see it, do they want to overachieve or do they just want to be someone that’s stable and has stability, and is that what their ultimate goal is?’. So, it was quite interesting managing a team for a year, I did. And then…
Steve: Well, you didn’t recruit that team as well. I think that was a big part of it. I think Carlie is an extreme overachiever and for her to then hire a team would have been difficult, but to actually be given a team, which she didn’t necessarily get the choice of, although she did hire some as time went on, but at the beginning it was like, here’s your team. That, I think, for a girl who says she doesn’t like change, she’s been through more change than pretty much anyone I know in recruitment.
But yeah, I think I’m interested to know how you dealt with that because you went from being, and this is always an interesting topic, you went from being a peer to a manager of some of those team members, and obviously, yes, you did hire some as the team continued to have success. And you also went from being a super overachiever to managing people who just didn’t necessarily want to overachieve at all. They just wanted to do the minimum, but they wanted to do what was required to be done, and that was enough for them. So, why don’t we talk about that a little bit and how you dealt with going from a peer to a manager and then how you dealt with managing people who just had no desire to be at the level that you generally work at?
Carlie: Yeah, and I think that that was one of the biggest struggles, was the fact that I was going from a peer to managing people, and these people I’d worked with for a number of years and had created friendships and relationships with, and I’m a bit of a pushover in that. I’d rather just do it myself than put someone in the hot seat and say, ‘You do what you have to do this, you have to do that’. I’d just rather pick it up and save them from it. And one of the things that I had to learn was, the more that I did that, the more detrimental I was to their growth. And that’s probably the only reason I stopped that, they were never going to get the chance to grow if I kept coming in to save the day.
But yes, it was a huge challenge and to be able to have continued friendships. And that’s the reason that we love recruitment is that we have these really strong bonds with the people within our business, because you go through highs and lows, but then to continue having that bond, but then have the gravitas to go back to them and say, ‘No, you’re not pulling your weight. No, you shouldn’t have done this’. And we did have some challenging times with people in the team that would just push it because they could, they took advantage of how nice I was. But I think the thing that I really learned from that was, honesty was key, and if you’re honest, no matter how brutally honest, they really can’t say anything to you because you’re just giving them the facts. They can’t say that this is unfair.
Look, honestly, you’ve done this, and this is a consequence from it, or you’ve done this, so you no longer have this privilege because you’re not acting in the manner that we need you to. So yeah, I guess that was one of the biggest challenges from there, I think, and this is essentially why I ended up leaving. And I don’t think it’s something that I ever really overcame, was how do I make people that aren’t necessarily as driven as myself to perform to targets that I’ve agreed to with my manager, and I ended up finding different ways to go out and leverage other work outside of government and bring that in and make placements and then be able to bring the team up to where we needed to be to meet targets. But then my director at the time said, ‘Oh, well, I don’t want you just to be doing it all. I need you to get the team to do it’.
And so, it just said to me at that time, even if you do think outside the box and you graft as much as you possibly can just to meet targets, unless you’re going to do it the way that he wants you to do it, it’s not going to be good enough. So that was just a bit of a light bulb moment, that even if I work as hard as I have been working, it’s not going to get me where he wants me to be, where what he wanted from me was to pretty much whip the team into what he saw as a successful team. But they want the people that wanted that. They just didn’t want that, they wanted stability, they wanted to come in and be able to do their job and not have to stay back or not have to think of other ways to bring in further deals.
Laura: I think it’s really interesting as well. Often people get promoted because they are really good individual achievers. So, it’s like, you’re great at your job, so you get promoted. But actually, being a leader and being a team manager is a very, very different skillset that not everybody wants. And I’ve had friends that, I think, probably similar to you and that they’re amazing at what they do. So, they get put into management and they’re like, ‘Oh, actually no. Do you know what? I just want it to be by myself. I loved my job before’. I think there’s a big skills gap there, and it’s that soft skills piece that nobody gives you training on. You just get promoted, and it’s like, ‘good luck’. Where, and I think, that’s where we could be rallying around people a little bit more and offering a bit more training. So, I think for anybody that’s now going through that transition, what advice would you give them?
Carlie: I think really it is just being brutally honest and don’t be the ping pong ball. I think the problem was that I wanted to keep everyone happy. I wanted to keep my manager or director happy, and then I wanted to keep my team happy. So, I felt like every meeting that I was going into, I was going in fighting for the opposing party. I felt like I was going down and hammering my team and saying, ‘We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that’. And then going back to my director saying, ‘They’re doing their best. What you’re asking is unrealistic’. You do that, I guess that is management. You have to be that middle person but setting realistic expectations and one thing that I really found helped with that is actually being really data driven, giving people the understanding that you have from the data.
And then the funniest thing was, everyone in recruitment hates KPIs. Everyone hates having this many calls or this target or whatever, being micromanaged. But my team ended up saying to me, after six months time, ‘Where’s the sales report? Where’s this, where’s that?’ The way that I approached it was, I took the data and I said to them, rather than say, ‘Oh, this is where you’ve done bad and this and this and this and whatever’. I said to them, ‘Let’s go back three months when you were doing amazing, what were you doing at that time? What was it that you achieved that?’
And it got them thinking and then we went back, and we went into the data and we went, ‘Okay, well, at that time you had 15 roles on and they were all in this space and they were all…’ You find a trend and then they get excited because you didn’t remind them that they needed to make target this week. You reminded them of a time that was really happy, and they were excited, and it really energises them, and it motivates them more and then really essentially, if you do emulate what you were doing back then, you should be able to emulate it again and actually achieve what you’re looking to achieve.
Steve: So, you’re the first person, I think, that’s talked about data, right? So far in all these people interviews, which is really interesting. And data has obviously become such a massive thing. Now you moved on from that organisation and you’ve been [inaudible] since. How much do you use data now? That sounds like it became a very data driven role, and do you still do that? You’re not managing anyone at the moment, so do you still do that for yourself? Do you still manage yourself with your own data and take yourself back to a happy place if you feel like you’re not perhaps where you need to be on that week or that given day, is that something that you’re still doing, or?
Carlie: So, it’s interesting that you ask that because it’s not something that I’m really doing, and I think it’s because I’ve really changed what I was doing before. Working in government, when you can understand how many roles you’re going to have coming in. Understand, especially when we’re an established team, understand what type of roles they’re going to be, understand what your fill rate has been previously, you can really drill down. Okay, so if I’ve got this many roles in, if my fill rate’s this, I’m going to make this many placements. Government is a very process driven recruitment process. I think you can really even drill down to how long the process is going to take and how many things are going to fall out and not fall out. I guess the hard thing about me coming from government, which I was in for five years, and then going back into the private sector, doing something that is quite different.
I haven’t taken the time yet to understand my process properly and understand where the data could help me. And so, I think that the easier thing about government was that if you’ve got a role in, you only got really one chance to fill it, you submitted with five other recruiters. If you didn’t hear back, you didn’t hear back. That was the end of that process, and you didn’t necessarily worry about it. Whereas now, if you don’t necessarily fill a role in the space that I’m working, you have another chance to rework it and send further candidates. So really, the data that I’d be looking at now is more about the length of time to fill. So, how long is it actually taking me to fill roles rather than looking at how many roles I’m getting in, and my fill rate, because technically if we’re working them exclusively or maybe with one other recruiter, the fill rate should be quite high and it’s not something that’s going to come into play as much.
Steve: Absolutely. It’s interesting, I think data can be used more in all people roles and I think people do overlook that.
Laura: Why do you think it’s overlooked?
Steve: I think it’s overlooked because I think the argument’s always, people are different. No two person are the same. How can you break it down into numbers? The way one person does one process and the way the other person does the process, even if it’s the same, it’s not going to be the same. Now I disagree. I think data can be used. I think it takes time to understand it and I think in an environment like Carlie was in with government, it’s easier because it’s so process driven, but even outside of that, yes, there’s huge variances, but ultimately in most things, there is a process, and it is the same. And it’s really a matter of having the time or someone taking the time or someone coming in and doing that to identify what that process is and be able to put measurables about it.
And that is a huge process in itself. And I think most people don’t see the value of it because they haven’t necessarily been in a role like Carlie has, so they don’t necessarily invest in the creation of that. So, I think that’s the main reason. What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned, Carlie? We’ve talked about you coming in private sector, then moving to government and then moving to management and then having a couple of roles since then, and then now back in private sector, that’s a huge amount of variance, which does make me laugh because you did say, ‘I don’t like change’. But tell me, what’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned throughout that period? Which is what, eight years or nine years? It’s a big question.
Carlie: I think, to not get overwhelmed. I think there are so many inconsistencies to recruitment. The product that we work with can lie. They can change their minds. They can… You do have to take it a little bit with a grain of salt because it is champagne and razorblades. But yeah, I think it’s not to get overwhelmed and not to think that one bad month is the end of the world because it’s rich of me to say that because I think things Steve hear is that every month, if I’m having a bad month, ‘Oh my God, I’ve lost it’.
And I think the biggest thing when, I think Steve thought that when we didn’t get on the government panel straight away, that I would, could have considered moving on from Nudge. But for me, it’s not about… And it’s always been in all my roles, it’s not about what you’re doing in a task, it’s about who you’re working with and who you’re doing it with. Really people can be taught skills. What you can’t teach is work ethic, drive, motivation. You can’t teach people to not snap at other people if that’s their natural mentality, I think just making sure that you’re in the right environment, because really what you do in your day to day could change. You could change. You could want to do something different in your day to day. But I think the people that you work with is probably the most important thing for me.
Laura: Definitely. And I think, we were saying earlier about common sense, it’s just one of those most underrated skills and I think it goes along that with work ethic. I think there’s so much to be said about that, and if you’re surrounded by those people, you know good things are going to happen because you all just got shared values and it makes such a difference.
Steve: I’ve got a question for you. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked you because I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone this and I don’t think… What do you think makes you have so much drive to be a hyper overachiever? Which you are, and it’s in-built in you, I think. And you see that in, not just your work, we see that in the way that you go about, for example, we have done the city to surf run on a number of occasions and if Carlie doesn’t win, there’s hell to be paid, right? Luckily, she has won every time. So, we haven’t actually seen that, but I think it’s a natural thing within you and everything that you do, you really do want to do it at your absolute best and then you still want to get better. What do you think makes you like that? Do you have any idea? Do you think it was something that happened to you at some stage? Do you think it was your parents? Do you think it’s the books you read? What, your environment you grew up in, what do you think created that?
Carlie: I think it was family. So, mum was a single mum. So, we came from very humble beginnings and there was a realisation at a young age that even if she wanted to give it to me, she couldn’t and you really value money then and you value things and when you get them, you look after them because they didn’t come easy. And I think you talk about the entitled generation and that’s because they’ve been given everything. I think, why would you drive to achieve things if you’ve been given them? And I think the competitiveness comes from being a younger sister. My brother is also a high achiever, and he is very driven as well, probably a little bit more driven by money than I am, even though the reason that I strive for money is that I see money as giving you freedom.
You have the freedom to be able to do what you want in life. Whereas Stan’s just a little bit more cutthroat than me, but growing up with an older brother, he was, mum used to say to me, ‘Well, you’re not going to win the race. He’s older and he’s a boy’, And I just couldn’t understand because I wanted to so bad. I couldn’t understand why physically I couldn’t keep up with him. But I think that that’s where it came from, and I think mum made it very clear to us when we were kids that you could be president, you could do anything as long as you were willing to work really hard for it. And so, both of us have always… And her, she had lots of little motto’s that she says, but one of the things is, if you’re going to do… If something’s worth doing, then do it properly. Don’t half-ass anything. So, I think it really comes from my childhood and where I grew up.
Steve: Well, it definitely had an impact. That’s for sure.
Laura: Going back to some of this stuff we were saying, what do you think has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned along the way, or what’s been the best piece of advice that you’ve had along the way?
Carlie: I think the best piece of advice is, well, definitely the worst advice that I’ve ever heard in my work life is, do whatever you need to do to make the sale, or tell them what they want to hear. And so, I guess on the flip side of that, the best advice that I have heard, some of the things that I’ve heard is that, make a friend not a sale. I never wanted to end up in sales. I thought that sales was tricking people into getting their money. And where I started off in sales before recruitment, Steve always loves that I… He says that I sold waste and I said, ‘No, I sold bins’.
Steve: I think waste sounds better.
Carlie: So, a lot of people don’t realise, but in the commercial space you have to pay for waste removal, and one of the things that I ended up falling into was not so much new sales. I had to do a certain amount of new sales, but it was all retention. So, if you’re with a waste company for a number of years, just like a phone company, and this is how I used to… The analogy that I used to try and get people back on side was that they don’t look after you, they don’t call you and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got this new deal’, or, ‘We’ve got this new phone that’s coming out, that’s going to save you this’, or whatever. You have to be vigilant following up on all your things to make sure that you are getting the best deal or a contract at the time.
And so, you’d have these people that have been loyal to this business for 10 years and they’d be paying $35 for a bin to be picked up. And we’re going out and trying to find new customers for $11 for the exact same bin. So, overcharging someone three times, me then going out to them and they’ve had a competitor of ours come in and say, ‘Oh, well, we’ll only charge you $11.” And then me having to go out and trying to save that customer. And I just had to be completely honest with them, and that was the only way that I could save the customer was, I 100% agree with you, what’s happened is completely unfair and we’re trying to rectify this now. And to the dismay of my employer, I started going through all of our clients and identifying these people because I said to them, we need to go out now because when I’m re-signing these people, rather than re-signing them for $11, I’m re-signing them for nine or something ridiculous where we possibly could be losing money.
But I had to start going through all of our customers and then going back to them and saying, ‘Okay, well, how about I’d go out and try and sign them for $15 right now?’ And then they’ll feel like they’re getting a deal and whatever else, but we’re not going to lose them, or I’m not going to go and have a fight with them down the track when they realise that they’ve been overcharged for such a long period of time. So, I think just the reason that I fell into sales was because I stopped seeing it as sales. And I started seeing it as communicating with people and trying to help people in what they want.
Steve: That’s a great story.
Laura: Really nice summary, too.
Steve: Tell me, we’ve touched on this with a few other people. So, and I know you’ve had one because I was there. You had a coach for a while. I can’t remember how long it was for, maybe six, eight months or something like that, was it about that time? Maybe a bit longer. What did you get out of that, that perhaps you didn’t get out of any, whether it be a manager or mentor or something else, what did you get out of that coaching? I know it came at quite a difficult time, so yeah. Just talk us a little bit about that.
Carlie: Yeah, for sure. And so, I think during the time there was a lot of turmoil in the business that I was in, and she was probably a saving grace. She probably wasn’t utilised as a coach as much as a therapist. I think, she was probably… She built up my confidence. She helped me realise that I am being a ping pong ball and that you can’t please everyone all the time. You need to sometimes take a step back and realise what ownership they have in it and to let them have the ownership, don’t go in and try and save them, just let them, you don’t have to force it down their throat, but just give them, I think I’m one of those people that silence makes me insecure. So, if someone’s silent for too long, I try to make them feel better or I try to break the silence.
But what she really did for me was give me that confidence and identify that it’s not my responsibility to make these people happy. It’s my responsibility to make them aware of what their job is supposed to be, support them during that and give them the tools and the means to do that, and then give them enough rope to let them succeed or fail. You can’t over-manage people to… At the end of the day, it’s just you doing the work. If you’re doing that. And then also on the flip side of that, she taught me how to present to the director and also say, ‘It’s okay. I don’t know the answer right now. Let me come back to you’. She said, ‘You want to try and keep them happy and you’re saying things on the spot because you’re thinking that’s what they want to hear and hopefully that’s right, and you’re going to end up coming up against real problems if you keep doing that, because so far it hasn’t been too bad, but it will just get worse and worse and worse’.
So, one of the things that I would say to people that do have a coach, is that a coach can only help you as much as you allow them. So, make sure that you’re going into a coaching session with goals in mind, with direction in mind, because I didn’t, I didn’t do that. And she still did a great job in that she really helped me in things that I needed help in at that time. But I don’t think I utilised her as a coach. So, I think if you have goals and you have things that you want to achieve, a coach can really help you put the steps in place to achieving them. But if you go in and you say, ‘oh, I don’t know. What do you think?’ Like, they’re not going to be able to help you really, but how are they going to do their job?
Laura: Yeah, I think that’s a great summary. What was the catalyst for you getting a coach in the first place?
Carlie: It was me becoming a manager. So, they felt a manager would be… A coach would be great for me to really learn some more management skills and how to manage the team properly.
Laura: So, it was something work suggested to you rather than you being like, ‘I need a coach?’.
Laura: That’s really interesting. We were actually having a conversation earlier, just we think coaches are really underutilised and a lot of that is I don’t think people realise what they do or why you need one. So, I think it’s pretty nice to hear that at least somebody’s been able to turn around and say, ‘Hey, you might benefit from that’.
Carlie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the main reason that I went into management was during the time that I was in that government team, we had a number of different managers and every single time they had a different way of operating, and they had a different… And a way of managing the team and the way that they felt the process was going to be best utilised. And so, for me, after the last manager that I had, I was working as the 2IC underneath him, and when he decided that he wanted to leave, I decided, ‘Oh, I don’t want to…’ I feel like I’ve got the process down now. I feel like I’m in the right spot. I don’t want someone else to come in and tell me now we’re flicking this completely over again and we’re going to do it a completely different way. So, I went to Mark and Steve and said, I did a presentation when they got back and I said I want to manage the team and poor them because it sounded like I really wanted to manage the team, but I just really didn’t want to be managed.
Steve: I remember that presentation. For someone who didn’t want to be a manager, she aggressively came out and said, give me the role. She’s a… Constant contradictions.
Laura: I quite like that, I know what I didn’t want. So, I went after something else.
Steve: Yeah. I have a question for you actually that might interest you. Do you think most people that work in talent, HR, recruitment, people industries, do you think they are naturally people pleasers? And do you think that’s a problem?
Carlie: No. I don’t think they’re people pleasers because I’ve met a fair bunch of HR people that they weren’t pleasing anyone. They were not pleasing us as the recruiter. They weren’t pleasing the manager that was essentially being a blocker. So, I think some HR people that go in for a bit of power, because there is a bit of power in human resources. Essentially, you’re managing compliance and OHNS and all the other things, all the ins and outs of people for a business. So, I guess there is a little bit of power in that. Or you get the flip side, and you get people that want to support people and they don’t want people being taken advantage of, and they don’t want things unfairly to happen in the workplace. So, they go into HR as well. So, I wouldn’t say there’s any typical person in HR. I think I’ve met quite a few different types.
Steve: Yeah. I’d agree. Someone asked me that question the other day. That’s why I thought I’d ask you.
Laura: Just looking at time. We’re going to wrap up with one last question. Who would you like to hear from, from the podcast? Whose career story would you like to hear about?
Carlie: Oh, that’s a good question. And the interesting thing is, I honestly, I’d love to hear all of them. I think it’s great to… I remember I went and watched Steve film one day and I said to him, ‘I can never come and watch you film again because I’ve done no work’. I was supposed to sit in the back room and do work and just greet people and stuff and just hearing people, and I think that’s why I love what Nudge do and the people that we work with now is that the start-up space, you hear this story, they’re so passionate and they’re so close to it. It’s still their story. So yeah, I’m keen to hear all of them.
Laura: Thank you so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.
Carlie: No problem. Thank you, guys.