“Often there is that perception that you’re making the transition to an internal role because you’re not a great biller”
When Samantha Barnett made the transition from agency to in-house recruitment it was less common than it is today. However, even with the rise in recruiters switching roles, there is still the stigma that you are doing it because you are not a great biller.
In this week’s episode of Strivin & Thrivin, Samantha shares her story of transitioning careers. She explains how she overcame the obstacles and doubts in her mind and came to the clear decision that internal recruitment was the right path for her.
Not only did she transition to internal recruiting, but with her success at her new company MYOB, she was asked to manage the recruitment team for the company. This meant expanding beyond her specialty of tech recruitment and moving from peer to manager.
“I had great relationships with people on the team, but it was awkward. There’s no lying or trying to cover that. There were people in the team that I had been peers with for a couple of years and all of a sudden was sitting down with them, setting their goals with them, and they had to be more open with me.”
Tune in to this episode to learn how Samantha navigated the transitions. She shares stories about internal and external mentorship, her favourite podcasts, and finding inspiration in strange places.
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 Samantha Barnett.
To get us started, could you tell us a little bit about your career background and your current role?
Samantha: Yeah, so I started in a HR admin-type role when I was studying. I was studying psychology. When I finished studying, I went into practicing as a locum counsellor, specifically in teenage pregnancy and drug rehabilitation for young males and youth and I was about 24 years old and just felt a bit too young to be giving that sort of advice to people at that point but really still wanted to help people.
I ended up being introduced to someone that was in recruitment, and I also wanted to move cities at that time. I studied on the Gold Coast and wanted to move to either Melbourne or Sydney just to get as much as exposure as possible at that point in my career, so did fall into recruitment by way of introduction and specifically into tech recruitment. Absolutely fell in love with recruiting within tech. I think developers are very, very interesting, obviously highly intelligent, and it’s complex recruitment too. Fell into that and recruited within tech for quite some time in agency world and worked as part of an amazing agency and surrounded by great people as part of that learning journey.
Then after that, I did want to try something new after about six years in agency and had been having conversations with people in the market about going internal or client-side. I did a small stint in consulting and then ended up joining MYOB where I am today. Did join MYOB specifically in tech as they had a growth project within tech at that time, and it was a really exciting time to join. From there on, I then moved into looking after recruitment for the whole business, which I was a little bit hesitant to do at first but glad I did.
Steve: Very, very hesitant to do, if I remember rightly.
Samantha: I was. Yeah.
Steve: I want to ask about your… I didn’t know that about your counselling. How did I not know that about your counselling before recruitment? In fact, let’s touch on that. How do you think that shaped you in your formative employment years? That is pretty darn full-on.
Samantha: Yeah. How it shaped me as in how I do my role today and how I’ve evolved?
Steve: Yeah. Anything you do at the beginning of your career impacts how you are now, so I’m intrigued as to how. That’s such an extreme example of a first job. I’m interested to know how you feel that changed maybe the way you are compared to other people.
Samantha: Going back a step further, I think from my first job that I went into post-studying is I always grew up surrounded by people that were in roles where it was helping people. I grew up in that sort of environment. My mum is a nurse. My dad was an environmentalist. My brother’s a teacher and my sister was in recruitment. I’ve always been surrounded by people that have been in professions of supporting and helping people.
I think with counselling, that really put me on that pathway of seeing the benefits and the buzz that comes from supporting people in hard times. I think it helps with empathy. Then, if you think about when you’re a leader and being part of mentoring others, having a good level of empathy does help. I think that’s probably something that’s really come through in having that background and being surrounded by those people, which has been important to me and how I operate, is to have high empathy in anything that I do.
Steve: Interesting. Then, going from recruitment agency, and we’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, a lot of people who we’ve spoken to who are in talent roles now were in agency at some point. You talk about agency quite differently to how some of the others have, but I’m intrigued when you made that move, it’s a very different environment to what you experience in agency.
I know for a fact you were an extremely high-performing recruiter in agency, so that requires an incredible amount of pace and activity levels and so forth to then going and dealing with lots of different clients and really dealing with a thousand balls to then going internally into MYOB. I remember when you joined MYOB, it was going through massive growth at the same time, but the role was… It was different, wasn’t it? I’m interested to know how that was and how you dealt with that.
Samantha: Yeah, it is very different. I think going from agency to internal at that point when I did that, it wasn’t as frequent, whereas it is now in the market. I think we see more people being more open to internal roles. Often there is that perception that you’re doing that because you’re not a great biller, and that’s the reason why you’re going internal.
At that point in my career, it was quite hard to make that decision because not that I was too worried about how I was perceived but making sure that I was making the right decision at that time and the reason, or why I wanted to go internal is because I wanted to be exposed to be more about how business works, how those decisions are made and how they all connect together. I think you get one view from the agency side, and if you’re a great recruiter, you probably have those relationships where you learn a lot about the strategy, but you don’t get the full picture.
Being exposed to that was something that I really wanted to get involved in and also driving that talent strategy and being part of that driver in that, but it wasn’t an easy decision because I absolutely love agency recruitment and I value agency partners so much and great recruiters I value so much as well, but it was more for me just to get exposed, to be more than what I was getting in that role, so that’s the reason why I moved.
Steve: Then that role obviously grew into the reluctant leader role that you became, which I believe you flourished in very quickly, but you went from peer to manager. I know that a lot of actually may have changed over the time, and you’ve recruited a lot of a new team as well since that time because you’ve been in that role for a while now, but how did you find going from being a peer into a manager, and how did you deal with that because that’s quite a confronting thing?
I don’t know whether you would have had any training as a manager at that point. Maybe you had managed small recruiters in the agency, but not at the same level. Let’s talk a little bit about why you were reluctant, perhaps initially when it was first thrown at you. I know we talked a lot about it at the time, but let’s talk about that and then let’s talk about how that transition was and how you dealt with it because I think that’s something that a lot of people go through and a lot of people have no idea how to handle, so it’d be really good for people to hear.
Samantha: Yeah, good question. I was reluctant because I like to get stuck in, and I like to get things done. I think part of that journey as a leader is you’ve got to be okay with delegating and seeing teams take on that work and deliver it, and also being okay with not telling them to do it how you would do it and letting people learn themselves. We talk about individual contributor roles, and I love just taking a project, delivering in on it, and then carrying on. That’s why I was reluctant.
Also, I was always mentoring others, so I wasn’t reluctant to lead as such, and I had great relationships with people on the team, but it is awkward. There’s no lying or trying to cover that because there was people in the team that I had been peers with for a couple of years and all of a sudden was sitting down with them, setting their goals with them, and they had to be more open with me, but something that I am as a person I would say that helped with that. I’m a very transparent person. I’m very open. It wasn’t like I was going to be anything else in leading the team and I had such strong relationships with the team members so that transition was fine, but it is definitely awkward.
I think that you’ve just got to take it really slowly. If I was giving people advice, take it really slowly and having that relationship change and ease into it. I wouldn’t be setting your first one-to-one and going, “Okay, let’s discuss how we’re going to manage your performance.” That’s probably not going to work, but slow transition, and being able to say to them, there is a leader to enable them to do what they want to do, and maybe they hadn’t had the opportunity to have that conversation before, so it’s also an opportunity or putting it forward to them, you can do things differently and a different style might help them. Yeah, it’s just baby steps, and you build on that.
Steve: Did you have any mentors during that time or people that you leaned on to help get you through that?
Samantha: I made sure I did and because I was so vocal about, I’m not sure this is the role for me, but I’m willing to give it a go. Again, being very open how I felt about it, but also because the role went from supporting an area that I really knew, which was tech, and then working with sales leaders and marketing, etc, everything across the whole business where you’re meeting with leaders, which you don’t have the expertise of the talent market in.
I think that’s where it’s so important that you have a well-built team, and you’re supporting your team members to have those conversations with those leaders as well, and you’re not pretending that you’re something that you’re not, but I did make sure I had set up through that time to learn those parts of those businesses. Mentors within the business of those divisions to build, I suppose, that reputation or that cred that, “Hey, I’m really trying to learn your business.” Help me help you, mentality.
MYOB is an exceptionally supportive environment, so people are very willing to give you their time. It’s a very safe environment as well. There might be some environments out there where you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying, “Hey, I actually don’t know your space,” but I felt in that time at MYOB and today, of course, as well that you can be very open about where your skill is or where your knowledge is, and they’ll help you. I had mentors.
I’ve also always had a mentor externally and someone that’s not specifically in recruitment. I do that because I am surrounded by recruiters on a day to day. I listen to podcasts. I read. I’m part of meetups, et cetera, but I think it’s really important to diversify that thought around different obstacles that don’t just happen in recruitment, that you can then transfer into the recruitment world. I’ve always consciously made a decision to have an external mentor that’s not at MYOB and not in recruitment to challenge my thinking.
Laura: I got a couple of questions on that. How did you find your external mentor, I guess is one? Then the other one is just around, how would you advise someone to make the most out of those mentoring sessions? So, if someone’s given you a time. How do you prep for them? How do you make the most out of it?
Samantha: We always do pre-prep of what do we want to cover in the session and also what are the outcomes from the session going to be. I think what’s really important in that mentor-mentee relationship too, and I do this with people that I mentor is it’s not just about the person you’re mentoring. It’s also you as a mentor making sure you get something out of it. It’s absolutely a two-way street.
Not too different when we talk about recruitment processes and when someone comes in for an interview, it’s not just about them selling themselves to you, it’s the company is selling themselves back too, so there’s this two-way relationship. I’ve always made sure that if I’m mentoring someone that there’s value in it for me, and then that value ends up on both sides. I think that’s one of my tips. I would say if you have a relationship, a mentor relationship, to make sure there’s outcomes on both sides.
Steve: Cool. Now talk to me, you have a role that I think a lot of people want, and I don’t necessarily specifically mean MYOB, but I mean, although I’m sure there are plenty of people that do, but you are a talent leader in what is a fast-growing tech business, which is a very coveted space. You also joined that business when it was, I don’t know, what was it, probably about 1,200, 1,500 when you joined maybe, and it is growing.
Steve: 1,100. See, memory is still working there. How long ago was that? Was that five years, six years? I don’t even know.
Samantha: It was nearly six years ago.
Steve: Okay, cool. It’s grown exponentially since then. It’s been through drastic changes of being bought, being listed, being delisted, new CEOs. It’s gone from a marketing-led business to a product-led business. You’ve had to let people go. You’ve been through a lifetime of experiences during your time there.
Explain to people what it’s like because I think, as you know, we now recruit for start-ups and scale-ups, and a lot of people, and we talked about this earlier, want to work for those businesses, but they don’t understand what’s it like. What’s it like being a talent leader in a business that everything is accelerated, and everything is amped up, and you’ve been through the most of it, so explain what that’s like.
Samantha: It’s like being on your tippy toes all the time.
Steve: I’ve not heard that one before. I like that.
Samantha: There’s always something going on. That’s why I am still in this role today because we have been through so much in the time, and similar peer companies that have been through similar changes in the market as well with being bought and sold, listed, etc, like you just said, but you just get exposed to so much.
It is extremely diverse. If you ask the question of what ‘would your everyday look like?’ or routine, every day is different, and you have to be extremely adaptable to the needs at that time. Then, when you’re in talent as well, add onto the fact that you’re in a market that is exceptional at the moment in terms of what’s happening out there and to couple that with the changes that are happening in your business, so it is diverse.
It is exciting. There’s always something new to be exposed to. I don’t think anyone could come into a business like MYOB and say ‘I’ve done all of that before.’ I think anyone that joins the business will be exposed to something new, and that’s why I have been in the role for so long. There’s so much growth within your role, rather than just thinking of it about hierarchy and the moves in that way. You just get exposed to anything and everything, and you can be a part of it if you want to. It’s really an environment that if you are interested in something, you can pick up on it, and you can be backed by the exec team on delivering it and a team that’s very open to doing things in new and different ways.
And it’s fun. I should say, it’s fun because we have a laugh. Of course, things go wrong, and you go, ‘Ah shit, that was really not the greatest thing to do’, but we learn from it, and we carry on, and we usually laugh about it and go, ‘It’s cool.’ We can do things differently. That’s what I was saying before. It’s a really safe environment to operate in that way and that’s kind of what you want to drive innovation. But yeah, so no day is the same in this role. It is a really exciting role. I actually feel very blessed to be in the role that I’m in because it’s given me so, so much.
Steve: That’s cool. You made a very interesting little comment that you just slipped in there that came and went which I think we should talk about a little bit. Where you said you can be a part of it if you want to be. Do you think to be successful in that kind of environment, you have to want to be part of everything almost or do you think that to be successful in that role, you have to be able to pick and choose quite carefully what you want to be involved because there is so much going on because you get two very different types of people there?
Samantha: Yeah, I agree. I would lean on the latter. I think you’ve got to be really strategic in making sure that you’re concentrating on the right things. That you are picking the projects that have the highest impact. It can be very easy to focus on, even though they can be important, what we call the one-percenters that can have impact, but you’ve got to be choosy about what you should be focusing on. Otherwise, you can get a bit lost, and also you can become very, very overwhelmed.
We’ve seen people come into the business that can say ‘yes, yes, yes’, to everything, but then actually not deliver on anything because they’re not focused. They don’t know what the outcome should be, and they’re not having that impact. I think it’s more the latter, that you do need to be particular and make sure that there’s value in doing what you’re doing and, of course, always that there’s value for the customer at the end of the day.
Steve: Yeah. Interesting.
Laura: The other thing that you mentioned earlier, and I’m going to skip back to, is what you were saying about reading and podcasts and all the things you do to keep up to date. Have you got any key resources that you always recommend to people, or any favourite books?
Samantha: Good question. I am really open to listening to different things. As I said, making sure you’re getting exposed to, not just what you do. Not just if you’re a technical recruiter, that you’re not just speaking to your technical network. I have a big range. On the personal side, ‘Mamamia Out Loud’, one of my favourite podcasts that cover anything and everything. They’re very real. I love that.
On a professional side, there’s a real range of different podcasts that I listen to as well, depending on what I might be faced with at that time. My passion project at the moment is our EVP, which is your work matters, and really, we know that in a market like this, that you have to focus on your employment brand. I’m really listening to any podcast that relates to employment branding or your EVP.
I do read. Now, I am also a mum, so I should mention that I would love to be able to read and listen to more things, but I’m real. Just picking and choosing which projects you want to be able to deliver on. I know that it’s important for me to spend time with my family. I would hate for any listeners to think, “Gosh, she’s doing a role. She’s reading in her spare time, and how is she being a mum?” It’s okay if you don’t do all those things. I really want listeners to know that, but I do take the time when I can in a clever way.
If I drive to work, I’ll listen to a podcast instead of listening to the radio, or some days I just want peace and quiet, instead of a toddler that screams at me at home. But I have just re-read a book and I really recommend it to. You don’t need to be a leader as such, but it’s an oldie. I think it’s around 2015 if I remember right but ‘Legacy’, which is actually a book that the All Blacks wrote about their lessons from their team as a rugby union.
I grew up in South Africa. I’m a rugby fan, but it’s a really great read on how you want to live your life and how teams work together. They talk about rolling up your sleeves. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player on the field, you can still mop the change rooms out the back. I think that’s advice I would give to people in their careers as well is roll your sleeves up, especially in the beginning of your career, and get involved in anything you can to be exposed. There is no doubt, whatever you’re being involved in, that you’ll learn something from it. I think being not too precious in the beginning of your career to make sure that you can get involved in things.
Steve: I’ve read that book. Have you read that book?
Laura: No, but I’ve been recommended it a couple times.
Steve: I’ll get it to you. Awesome book.
Laura: Yeah. I think you’re right. I was actually talking to another start-up founder yesterday, talking about job titles and stuff. She was like, “Everyone keeps on at me about changing my job title to CEO,” because she’s just founder. She was like, “It’s bollocks. Sometimes I have to empty the bins and do the cleaning and clean the toilet or whatever else.” She’s like, “It really doesn’t matter.” She was like, “I’m just doing what I need to do to do my job.” I think that’s the thing is sometimes you just got to roll up your sleeves. It doesn’t matter what it is that you need to do, and usually the tasks you don’t want to do end up giving you the task that you do want to do in the end.
Samantha: Yeah, exactly. It also links too, I think a lot of people think from a remuneration point of view of what you want to focus on when you’re young in your career too, thinking about advice I was given and what’s put me off or has triggered thoughts through my careers.
A lot of people say, “Oh, just take it. It’s more money.” Well, it’s actually not about that at that point in your career. It’s about what experience can you get and that will grow you so much further and probably few years’ time earn you a lot more money than what you were being offered at that point because you do have that experience. I think a lot of people are blindsided even today by that rem conversation, which is just so disappointing that it still exists.
Of course, remuneration is important, and we’ve got families to feed, etc, but getting that experience is just so vital to building on your career. I’ve always also had the view of your best developer should be paid the same as your CTO. It doesn’t matter about your title. You should really be valuing the skills and experience that people have and bring to your organisation. Yeah. Titles are not for me.
Steve: You can have no title. Just nothing.
Samantha: No name.
Steve: Tell me, how are you going? and we touched on this just before we started recording, but how are you going? Obviously, you have a new building. How are you going getting people back into the office? I know that Melbourne’s been running behind Sydney because of the longer lockdown and when I was down there for the first time in a year and a bit, there’s still a different feel down there to what there has been up here in Sydney because we didn’t have the longer lockdown, but Sydney city now is buzzing. It’s as busy as it ever was. If anything, it almost feels busier, which I find quite bizarre.
How are you going as a business? I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to come back in the office five days a week because I don’t think we’ll ever go back to that, and I think that’s a good thing and I think that’s one of the few positives that we’ve had out of this, but what are you guys doing? and how are you communicating that? What are your personal feelings on it at the moment?
Samantha: Yeah, it’s such a hot topic. Our recommendation as our business is to aim for one day in the office together to drive that collaboration and connectedness that you have with team members. We still do see value in having face-to-face time, and we’re humans, so my personal view is that humans need personal contact. It’s a proven thing by years and years and years. Even if we have people that say it’s not important, it’s quite an inward view.
We got some really interesting data which really played on my mind for some time is what about those people that are new in their careers? If you think about your first year in your corporate role, you’re at home remotely and all those learnings that you get from having conversations in the hallway, or you just listening to someone else on the phone. I think about me training as a recruiter, how much I learned from sitting next to the biggest biller next to me, and how they close the deal. You’re losing all that knowledge sharing within a team so saying as let’s say, I’m a, I don’t know, senior developer, and I say, “Well, my preference is to work at home, and I’m very effective at home,” but what about everyone else around you and how you can share that great knowledge that you have and give back to the community?
My personal view is that we should be spending some time in the office. Now, it is complicated because we are in a situation of, we don’t have access to global talent. We have always recruited across the globe, and everyone is fighting for the same talent across Australia. We’ve got New Zealand as well, which is great for us. There’ll be that pool of talent that we just don’t have access to.
I don’t know. It’s really, really complex, but I think coming in one day a week is fair and reasonable, and we hope that people can see the value in doing that. Long-term, I think it’s going to be a slow burn. That’s interesting what you share with Sydney. I’d say Melbourne still does feel fairly quiet as a whole. Going into the CBD does feel quiet, but it is lifting. I can tell because I sit in peak hour traffic, which is amazing on the highway. It’s the worst, but I do it because I like spending time with people.
Steve, my personal view is that I think there is a need to be in the office, but I understand why you need to be open on it and I get the concept of remote working too, and that it works well. I think that you’ve just got to have a really hybrid approach and be really open on it.
Steve: Yeah, I agree. Personally, for me, I think it’s two to three if you can. I think that’s even better because it’s very hard to get the whole team in on the same day because they have so many other things going on, but it’s different week to week. I think everyone should be in at least once every week and more if they can and more if it works, and it depends on their roles as well, obviously, and the kind of things that they do, but that was my greatest fear when the remote working thing really took off, it was like, what about and particularly in recruitment, what about the transfer of knowledge?
There’s no course on recruitment, not one that’s very effective. You need to be around people. The transfer of knowledge happens like osmosis without anyone realising. It’s that high concentration to a low concentration. If someone knows what they’re doing, someone who’s learning, it’s so, so important. I think humans, from the day we’re born, we learn more of our parents. Our mannerisms are the same as our parents. The way we speak is the same because we just learn by being around people and I think humans learn best that way and I pity the world if we lose that, but I also believe that we don’t need to be in there five days anymore at all.
Laura: No, I’m with you. I’m with you. I can’t remember who it was, but the research was great, and it’s something like 56% of skills are transferred just from being around people. It was a huge amount.
Steve: That’s massive.
Laura: I think going back to it is also that graduate. If I think back to my first role, how much of being a graduate on your first job is actually just learning how to work in an office and learning to work with other people because you’ve probably gone to uni to learn marketing, whatever it is, and you’ve learnt all this theory, but now you’ve got to put it into practice and I can’t imagine having to do that sat at home behind a computer, never seeing anyone. I’m a big fan of the hybrid model, but I’m with you.
Steve: What’s the movie with the little robot where everyone becomes really fat and on chairs that hover about because they don’t go anymore? I can’t think of what it’s called, but you know the one.
Laura: Yeah, that one.
Steve: I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to be big and fat floating around on my chair. Wall-E. That’s what it’s called.
Samantha: The soft skills that we learn about being in person as well, I think about. It’s like any relationship that we have. Being able to pick up on those cues that people give you. You can’t get all those cues on screen. If I think about me with my team and the relationships I have with them, even if I know them really well, I pick up so much more when I’m in person with them on behaviours. There’s a huge gap there that you’re missing out on or opportunity I should say you’re missing out on by not having that face-to-face time.
Steve: Yeah. Body language doesn’t translate, does it? It doesn’t translate the same way over a screen as it does face-to-face, and I think I was reading the other day that also, and we’re totally unaware of this, but the smells and aromas other people create, not the bad ones that are really overpowering, but the ones that are far more subtle, you don’t get those as well. They also apparently give us very much signals the mood that person’s in, how they’re feeling, whether they’re feeling aggressive, angry, happy, all that sort of stuff.
You can’t get that over the screen. I can’t see your hands. For all I know, you could be knitting a jumper right now there, Sam. There’s all those sorts of things. You do get some of the cues, but a lot of the cues, the really, really, really subtle ones that make up the complete picture are not there. Then you get people making, it’s like making assumptions about what someone’s feeling.
It’s very much like an email. I talk to my staff a lot about this. An email can be read or is read in the mood that the person is in who’s reading it, not in the mood of the person who’s writing it. If you write it in a great mood, someone reads it in a bad mood, it will have completely different meaning to those two people. I think there’s an element of that in the whole remote and screen that we live in now as well.
Samantha: Yeah. So true.
Laura: Just looking at time, I’m going to ask you two more questions, and then we’ll let you go. If you had to give someone advice now that’s just starting out their career in HR or talent acquisition, what advice would you give them?
Samantha: Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. I think I mentioned before, don’t be precious. I think exposing yourself to as much as possible is really, really important, but also the relationships that you build. Your network of people is so, so important. The person that you’re sitting next to that is not doing a job that has anything to do with what you’re doing might be your leader in 10 years’ time, or might be the customer that you’re trying to get if you’re in sales, for example.
I think, don’t be so closed to the relationships you have. Get to know the people. Get to know the business and network as much as you can. I’d be out there at conferences, at meetups, whether it’s virtually or in person, and making sure that you’re connecting with the right people.
Laura: That’s awesome. I love that. Then last question. Who would you like to hear from on the podcast? Whose career story would you like to hear?
Samantha: Wow. That’s a great question. I’d say Steve Grace, but he can be a little bit boring sometimes.
Steve: You may have heard it a few times at about 10:00pm in a restaurant. I don’t know how many times.
Samantha: If you catch him at about 11 o’clock. Do you know who I love? She has created a very successful business, and I don’t mean to be a little bit millennial if I want to call it that.
Steve: I can’t wait to hear this now.
Samantha: But Zoe, Hamish and Zoe. You know Zoe?
Samantha: She’s got the go-to product. I think she was a beauty editor that’s obviously created her own business. She does have the backing of someone obviously with everything that she does, but she is fascinating with how she’s built a business and I think she has been authentic in how she’s done that as well.
Steve: Zoe’s a good one. We know very little about that lady really, but she has created an unbelievable business. I agree. That’d be an interesting one.
Laura: Thank you so much for today. I really appreciate it.
Samantha: No worries. Thanks guys.