Strivin & Thrivin Sponsored by The Nudge Group. Ep8. Nicolle Hann-Dunbavin

Strivin & Thrivin – Sponsored by The Nudge Group – Ep8. Nicolle Hann-Dunbavin


“Right now there’s not a lot of ad response. Somebody is tapping people on the shoulder through LinkedIn and a lot of them take a week to respond sometimes.”

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past year, you know that tech recruiting in Australia is becoming more and more of a struggle. 

In this episode of Strivin & Thrivin, we talk to Nicolle Hann-Dunbavin, who has over 20 years of experience in tech recruitment in Australia. She discusses how recruitment has changed over the years and the current challenges being faced by recruiters in the tech world. 

Talent acquisition is not only struggling with fewer candidates, but many employers are asking for too much. 

“They have a very, very long list of technical experience that they want these candidates to have. We’ll go through several rounds of candidates before they realize we can’t find someone with all of this experience.”

Nicolle explains how her role has evolved with technology. How turn around times have come down, but the role still centres around communication even if it has changed from phone calls to emails. Even after 20 years, she still has a smile on her face as she talks about the kick she gets out of finding someone their dream role. 

Tune into this episode to hear more of Nicolle’s insights.


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 Nicolle.

To get us started, could you tell us a little bit about your career background and your current role?

Nicolle: So, I’ve been in IT recruitment for over 20 years. I actually stop at 20 years and I’m not going any further than that. This is my third time working for Steve. I recently joined his new start-up Nudge. IT recruitment, I specialise in cloud and data science and pretty much anything tech.

Laura: What made you get into recruitment in the first place?

Nicolle: My father. So, he owned his own agency. He was dealing with engineers and drafts people at the time. He had his office in most States and ended up selling it to Chandler Macleod not too long ago. He told me to get a real job and that’s how I ended up in recruitment.

Steve: And can I just say? The day before I started my very first business, Nicolle’s dad sat down with me and had a chat and told me a story, and it wasn’t the best economic environment when I started my first business, but he sat down and he said, ‘My very first day’, I can’t remember where this office was, but he was on his own. And this is a long go. He goes, I sat down, opened the paper and it basically said to the session on the front page. So, he said, “Don’t worry about it.” And he’s always been someone I’ve spoken to about things over the years on and off. So very successful recruiter and a daughter who’s followed in his footsteps.

So Nic, talk a little bit about your career because you’ve worked… When we met, we were both working for a very large, well, it wasn’t that large then, but it was a national recruiter that has obviously become large that was ASX listed. Then worked for me as you mentioned a couple of times. But you’ve also worked for some big companies in between, multinationals and then some other slightly different companies. So just talk through maybe a quick overview of your first recruitment role to where you are now.

Nicolle: Okay. Well, I had a very good account manager when I first started with Candle, who is now Ignite. They were the largest at the time. We had the front page of the IT section in the Australian every week. That’s how we used to get our candidates, advertising in the newspaper. And we’d have to wait for their resumes to be mailed to us. So, we would collect the mail and read all the resumes and then we would fax the resumes off after we interviewed. So, the process took so much longer. That was my first role and I really enjoyed it.

I learned a lot and it was good to work for such a large organisation as Candle, as we got taught really good processes and a very good grounding on recruitment. We didn’t get thrown into the deep end. We were given a lot of training. And then I did a stint, just a contract for Cisco, which was really good fun. It was great working for our large IT organisation, very process heavy. And I really did prefer more of the recruitment. So moved back to agency recruitment and enjoying working mostly from home with Steve in his new start-up. So very pleased.

Laura: We’ve just been having a whole chat about work from home and working in the office and working out what the balance is going to be going forward and it’s been quite interesting.

Steve: This is the second time I’ve seen her in two years. No, she’s not that remote. Nic, talk about, I guess what you feel like you’ve learned along the way. You’ve worked in recruitment through a period of enormous change. As you mentioned, when you started, people were posting resumes, and the advertising in the paper, to now where people are applying. And sometimes not even applying, they’re just texting saying, “I’m interested about job.” We communicate with a lot of our candidates just purely over text, not even through email or job boards or even LinkedIn.

So, a huge amount has happened during that time. As a person who’s gone through that change… And I think change is now just accelerating. So, the next 20 plus, however many years that is, in our industry is going to have even more change than we had then. How have you managed to deal with that? How have you managed to upskill yourself, stay relevant, not let it overwhelm you? All those kinds of things. Talk a little bit about that because it has been a huge different industry during that time.

Nicolle: Yeah. So, I suppose when I first started, I would spend all day on the phone, and it really was an over-the-phone sales type role back then. So, all day, pretty much over the phone. Now it is really has moved towards mostly email. So, I guess I’m trying to write my sales pitch on the email. I’ve noticed that candidates aren’t interested in talking to you unless they can see what’s in it for me. So, I really try and understand the clients, what their benefits are and what’s so great about working for them because that’s what the candidates want to know.

So, it’s all about working out those things and then writing them in a way that the candidates might be interested. I do find most of the communication is text and email, and then it’s good to have a phone conversation. So, I’d do my interviews first with a phone conversation and then a video chat as well. But it is interesting that it has moved to mostly email and text communication. So, it is good to still get in front of the candidates by video and on the phone as well.

Steve: Do you think that that’s had a positive or negative impact? And I think we’ve spoken about this in the past, that if you go back to the days of putting an advert in the paper, waiting for people to put a resume through the post and then faxing it out and all those kinds of things to then job boards. So, where we suddenly had 500 people applying because it was so easy that a lot of your day was actually spent looking at useless people who had no relevant skills who applied for the hell of it. And that wasn’t a great use of time, to now where conversations are so much shorter and sweeter, and we’re not meeting candidates in person and setting that up. And so many changes.

If you actually look at the fundamentals of a recruiter and what they bill, that hasn’t actually changed. I mean, it’s gone up slightly with inflation because salaries have gone up and we work on percentages. But the actual output, even though it’s changed drastically in terms of how your day is spent, the end result in terms of amount of people we place, hasn’t changed that drastically. What are your thoughts on that? Because it’s still a topic that fascinates me.

Nicolle: Well, the turnaround is so much quicker. So, you can, I guess work a lot faster depending on your typing speed. It is the turnaround is much quicker. So, you could have a job briefing in the morning with a client. You could tap some people on the shoulder on LinkedIn in the afternoon, set up an interview straight away and have some candidates over that day. Whereas unless you were dealing in the contracting market back in the day, and you were just on the phone trying to see who was available immediately. Yeah. Things have turned around a lot quicker, although right now there’s not a lot of ad response. Somebody is tapping people on the shoulder through LinkedIn and a lot of them take sometimes a week to respond. So, it’s a bit up and down, I suppose.

Steve: Do you think that companies want different things now than they did five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago in the people they’re hiring? Do you think they’re looking for different things? If you think about all the roles you’ve placed, the roles have been technology roles, obviously. Even when you’re at Cisco, there were a lot of technology roles. Do you think that what companies were looking for back when you were at Candle is different to perhaps when you were at Cisco to obviously where we are now? Do you think they look for different things?

Nicolle: I think now with the way the technology is moving so quickly, they want definite unicorns. They have a very, very long list of technical experience that they want these candidates to have. And sometimes it’s really tough to find that, and we’ll go through several rounds of candidates before they realise, ‘Okay, well, we can’t find someone with all of this experience.’ We need to really focus on what the development sign is and what cloud they’ve got in-house and then work it out from there. Does that answer the question?

Steve: Yeah, kind of. I think so. What about HR people? There’s a lot of HR talent people that are watching this series. Do you think that they have changed? There’s two parts of this question, I guess. Do you think that their role within the organisation has changed a lot? And do you think that their expectations of recruiters has changed a lot over that period of time? Because you would have dealt with goodness knows, how many over the years?

Nicolle: Yeah. I don’t really tend to deal with many HR people. It is talent acquisition people. Some of them have got a very good understanding of the technology and I suppose some of them don’t. So, they act more as a front man person that just sends on the CV and then a hiring manager vets the technology experience from there.

Laura: Just going back to what you were saying about the unicorn piece. So, I had a piece of the day where a friend messaged me and said, ‘Hey, I’m looking for this marketing person’ and gave me a list of what they wanted and it was a ridiculous list. It was like, “We’d love them to be able to essentially do graphic design, know SEO in detail, be a great content writer, know strategy” and I was like, “Good luck, buddy.” That’s about four roles in one. And I’m sure with tech it’s exactly the same. I always use tech as an analogy. You don’t often expect someone in tech to do the same. So why do we expect it of marketing or whatever else? Do you think there’s anything we could be doing to better educate the market on that? So people don’t keep looking for unicorns and people that just genuinely don’t exist.

Nicolle: Just recently Steve’s written a brief to the market on this very thing where we need to work out exactly what technology you need and move quickly. Salaries have gone up. So, we are trying to educate the market in those ways. We have written a, I think it’s on Steve’s LinkedIn profile, a brief to the market about all of those very things. Especially right now when there’s so many jobs and not a lot of candidates and nobody’s wanting to move and everyone’s very comfortable. So, the clients do have to drop their expectations in regards to very long list of their wishlist and the salaries have all gone up. So that’s a pretty tough time at the moment.

Steve: You mentioned that you got into recruitment because of your dad, which is obvious, right? You’ve been in it for 20 plus years. What’s kept you in the industry? Can’t still be dad. You can’t still be saying, no, you can’t leave. So, what is it about the role and what has kept you doing this for such a long period of time? and you’re smiling, so, it looks like you’re still enjoying it.

Nicolle: I still really get a kick out of finding someone their dream role. It basically comes down to that. When you’ve got a client that’s thrilled with their new hire and the candidate that can’t wait to start the new role, that’s what or why I keep coming back. I suppose I still get a real kick out of doing that.

Laura: It’s really interesting. I think that’s what, second or third person that said that today.

Steve: Yeah. Three people said it very directly and the others have alluded to it. You’re the first person who didn’t say they fell into recruitment. In fact, you’re the only person who said they haven’t fallen into recruitment. Everybody else was like, “Oh, I was trying to do something else and then it just happened.” So, you’ve differentiated yourself right there. I think that we talked about this a little bit earlier. You’ve mentioned it a couple of times. Recruitment is still touted as a sales role.

I think back we started, both you and I, it was very much a sales role. I don’t think it’s as much of a sales role now in the way that it used to be. I think what we’re doing is of course we’re selling because every role is selling. We’re selling to the candidate and we’re selling to the client and we’re selling ourselves to both of them. And then we’re selling each to each other. But I think what we need to start doing in the industry, and I’ve not had this conversation with you before actually, is we need to start looking at ourselves as a service industry, because that is what we are doing. Now that service is potentially selling. But I don’t think we articulate well to the world, what it is that we do.

If you had a chance to say, the other end of this camera, rather than myself and Laura, say there were five people here who just thought that recruiters were purely just salespeople, and that was it and we really didn’t justify the fees that we charge, what would you say to them in terms of explaining what it is as a recruiter, particularly an experienced recruiter like yourself, that gets a real kick out of doing it. What would you say it is that you offer? What is that service that you offer? What is it that you’re doing that is so valuable to them?

Nicolle: Well, I think it always comes back to that trusted advisor. So, comes back to me and says, “I need market information.” I’ve had a decent discussion with her and said, “Look, all the salaries in the market have been pushed up.” She works in the Java and AWS space. That space is particularly nuts at the moment. Where I’m working, it’s the craziest. The salaries have all been pushed up. So, I said to her, “Look, you probably need to look at your team and all of your absolute legends, you need to bring them up to what market’s paying, because they’ll be getting smashed out there constantly on LinkedIn”. She’s got a couple of really super-duper females in her team. And I know all the larger organisations are really wanting the female leader in their teams as well.

So, I sat down with her and I said, “Now, we need to look at your salaries. We need to up them. And this is what the market’s paying.” So, she’s now gone with some information to bring all of her guys, who are really senior guys in line with the market so that they can… I mean, not only when they’re looking for new talent, but retain the really good talent that they have. Because I said to her, “It’s going to cost you so much if you lose them. Not only in all of those years of experience, but the agency fees and then the training.” So, we’re not all just about filling roles. We’re also helping our clients retain staff by providing that information.

Steve: Good answer.

Laura: Yeah. That’s a really great summary. I guess then going back, what advice would you give someone that’s just starting out their career in recruitment?

Nicolle: Something that always happens, which really, really bugs me is when people don’t show for interviews with the client. Everyone is busy. If they’re caught up with work, send a quick text. So, I would say things like that, don’t let them get under your skin because people will continue to do those types of things. And people have different personalities and different ways of dealing with everything.

So, I think we need a thick skin and understand that it’s not personal. People go missing and they’ll just ghost you for so long, and then they’ll reappear. So, I think all of those things that I think drive us, recruiters, nuts is the no shows or you’ve got a client, who’s had an interview with a candidate and all of a sudden they just decide to stop answering their calls. I think all of those little things just to roll with the punches, maybe.

Steve: It’s funny, we interviewed Carlie early this morning actually and she said a similar thing. She said, “You’ve really just got to take the personal side out of it and understand that you’re dealing with the complete cross section of the population. And a lot of them are nothing like you, so don’t expect them to behave like you and don’t get angry when they don’t.” And I think that’s very good advice.

Laura: That’s good life advice.

Steve: I think you’re probably right. In terms of your learnings over the years, is there anything that stood out other than that beautiful nugget you just gave us right then? Is there anything that stood out in terms of, it doesn’t have to be relevant, specific to recruitment. It could be relevant to your life that you may have applied to recruitment. But is there anything that you picked up on and learned, or that’s changed you? Probably the piece of advice that you received or may have just obtain that changed you in your core? Because people don’t generally change that much, but every so often you do. Something happens and it actually changes you fundamentally. And that’s a very difficult question that we didn’t tell you we’re going to ask. So, you’ve had no time to think about it. So, I’m going to keep dribbling on for a tiny bit longer to give you a few more seconds. Is there anything you can think of that maybe has done that? It doesn’t matter when or where.

Nicolle: I think you just have to be resilient and just… If things go wrong, and they often do when you’re dealing with different personalities, you just have to keep going and keep your chin up and keep looking for that unicorn. Or you just have to be resilient and just keep trying and stay positive.

Steve: That’s true.

Laura: Yeah. Okay. So, it’s usually the last question we ask. Who would you like to hear from on the podcast? Who’s career story would you like to hear?

Steve: It can be anybody.

Nicolle: Career story. Do you know who would be quite interesting and I think it was the owner of Candle back in the day, Jeff Moulds. I think growing in such a large IT organisation would be quite an interesting story to hear. He was also a lot of fun back in the day. So that would be an interesting one.


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