Strivin & Thrivin Ep6. Cloe Stanbridge

Strivin & Thrivin Ep6. Cloe Stanbridge – Talent Acquisition Specialist

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How do you build trust within a business? Or more specifically, how do you build trust between Hiring Managers? Finding someone who understands the business needs beyond role requirements is important. This topic has always been an interesting conversation point, and we were really intrigued to cover it in our latest podcast with Cloe Stanbridge, Talent Acquisition Lead at The Lab17. 

Discussing the qualities of what makes a good Talent Acquisition lead and the empathy required to connect and understand people, Cloe highlights how hands-on a role like this is and how it varies from company to company. Now, working for a startup that oversees Talent Acquisition for other new startups, Cloe enlightens us on how the role and skills required vary from working in-house to agency hiring. 

“When I was in-agency, for some reason, I thought I had to know absolutely everything,” she tells us “and if I didn’t know everything, I had to pretend that I did.”

TheLab17 is a recruitment company specialising in tech startups and finding the best new talent to get projects off the ground successfully. The briefs aren’t always easy, as she tells us, what may start with a company the size of 10 people, she will then have a steep hiring period of “up to a hundred, [before] then moving to that next stage of their growth”.

Starting at a grassroots level, Cloe highlights how important it is to instil a company culture in new hires from the get-go to ensure everyone is aligned in those crucial early years and effectively marketing the brand through recruitment. 

Not only this but in those early stages of a company’s development, she stresses the importance of diversity and inclusion, and outlining each employee’s path of development to ensure everyone has space to grow within the company. It’s here we realise the ongoing strategy for talent retention and understand the task of making a startup appealing to potential recruits. 

Listen to the latest episode of Strivin & Thrivin to hear Cloe’s story, including everything from her career blunders to fantastic career advice and how she manages expectations. 

FULL TRANSCRIPT 

Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson. And today I’m joined by Cloe, Talent Acquisition Specialist.

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

Cloë: Yeah, of course. I work in the Talent space, and I’ve been in this space for about eight years. I started my career shortly after I moved to Sydney, I’m from Ireland originally, but I started in a recruitment agency for about four years as a tech recruiter and then I moved into an internal role with a company called Safety Culture back in 2017.

I had a phenomenal two years with them. They’re a tech start-up scale-up. They’re definitely a scale-up, at this stage, but when I joined, they were about 70 people and then in 2019. I actually moved over to Los Angeles. I spent the year over there working in a start-up in stealth mode. Then decided that I wanted to come back to Sydney.

I came back at the very start of 2020 and joined The Lab 17 just a couple of months before that, as I was making my way back. So now I’m over at The Lab 17, we offer a partnership solution for scaling tech companies who need help with talent, so our team mostly come from internal roles. We utilise that experience and all of our knowledge to help other start-ups who are going through similar types of challenges. So, we’re focused on hiring the right people, but then we also go deeper than that and support with processes, systems and or design anything that will help our companies get to that next level that they need from a talent perspective.

We work with a bunch of companies, both here and in the US, and yeah, it’s predominantly anywhere from the size of maybe 10 people up to a hundred and then moving to that next stage of their growth.

Laura: That’s amazing. I have lots of questions about that. So, I’m going to dive into that and then go back to the questions we actually said we would talk about, but I guess just in terms of the Safety Culture kind of journey, I think one of the big things that keep coming out when we’re talking to people is people want to hear more about that.

So how do you take something from 70 people to, you know, a huge scale-up and what does that journey look like? I’d love to hear just about, a bit about your experience there and I guess how it changed over those two years.

Cloë: Yeah, I had, an incredible experience. I felt like it was almost like a different company every six months.

Now, I’d been in-agency for four years, predominantly recruiting software engineers into the Australian market and then I met Nick Ingall, who was just moving there to be their Head of People and Culture at the time. So, when we got chatting and he’s like, it’s this small tech company they do auditing within the workplace, health and safety.

I was like, wow, that does not sound sexy at all. As he started explaining it in more detail. We both got really passionate and excited about it. So, when I started, I literally didn’t have a clue. Nick decided to take a two-week holiday for my first two weeks in the company. My first day, I was sat beside Simon, he’s also one of the Co-Founders of The Lab 17 and I was literally just absolutely clueless. So, I think in the first couple of weeks, I just got my head down apart from just talking to the Head of Engineering at the time and I was like, ‘So what am I here to hire?’ He’s like, ‘I need engineers’, ‘Front-end? back-end?’, he’s like, ‘Everyone, we’ve no engineers, we’ve got like a team of 10 engineers’. He’s like, ‘I want a hundred by the end of the year’, I was like, ‘Cool, cool, cool’. Like, that’s a bit of a mission, but like, let’s do it.

So, we grew our own team pretty quickly, which I think was absolutely vital to our success, having a talent team and a people function to support the people that we were bringing in. So, in the first six months, that’s what we focused on as well as building out the other teams in the organisation. One of the mistakes that we actually made was just hiring a lot of engineers without putting leaders in place first. So, we kind of approached that from a little bit backwards, but it ended up working out phenomenally well when we brought on some incredible leaders when we actually had a bit of a better brand and market anyway. It was really down to us having a solid team in place. In not taking any shortcuts.

We always refer back to that time as really building the rocketship as we were flying it. But we knew we had each other’s backs in the team. Anytime anyone had a problem, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s get in a room, let’s talk this through and let’s solve this together’, and then building up their respect and the trust of the hiring managers and the rest of the company was absolutely crucial in our success as well.

So, for me in my first year, I was hiring maybe one engineer a week, sometimes two and it was phenomenal because at that time, obviously pre COVID, we got to relocate people from all over the world. So, I absolutely love that and then we got to a certain level, where we had to bring on those leaders, so we really focused on building our brand in the market, which had started to get momentum.

We started to look at raising capital, again, going through a series C round of funding and so all of that just started getting bigger and bigger and it somehow started to get a little bit easier to attract the right talent because we had all these great processes in place. But yeah, it was an incredible two years.

Laura: It sounds it. One thing I just want to kind of pick up on there, and I feel like we could talk about that whole journey for about 45 minutes. But I think one thing, when you said about building trust with hiring managers, I think the trust piece comes out so often. It’s so important. It’s so many things.

So how, how do you do that? Or how did you do it?

Cloë: First and foremost, listen to them. I think I’m very fortunate because I naturally have a lot of empathy. So, when it came to hiring, and one thing I loved about moving from agency and into an internal role was I got to know the people I was working with really well.

I didn’t even think about this as I was doing it at the time, but it was just getting to know them as people shifting my mindset of client and agency from all of that experience that I had before and this is, you know, it was obviously still a professional relationship, but that didn’t mean we weren’t able to talk about things outside of work and just build that trust naturally.

So instead of, you know, communicating over Slack message say, do you want to go for a walk around the block? Let’s actually try to work this out together and then once we started hiring some good people for the team, that’s when they realized like, okay, you know, this team or Cloë knows what they’re doing.

It just started to build from there and from that, then we just started to have this really good foundation from our relationship, because we were able to build that trust. But then also trust that we would give each other feedback. So that transparency piece. So, if I were sharing a candidate that wasn’t right, they would be able to say, ‘Cloë, what are you doing? don’t waste my time’.

You know, let’s discuss this a little bit further. Or, if it was the right candidate, they’d be like, yes, absolutely more of that, so it was just having that initial relationship and being able to share that feedback really easily as well.

Laura: It feels like there’s so much in there just about being completely transparent and having the hard conversations.

Cloë: Yeah. Yeah, I think when I was in-agency, for some reason, I thought I had to know absolutely everything and if I didn’t know everything, I had to pretend that I did and I’ve actually, it took me a while to shake that mindset when I moved internal because in-agency you’re shielded because you’re not in the business.

I don’t know where I got this notion from either. I think it’s because I was so junior in my career and I had all this pressure to do well in a field that I really knew not much about, but then when I moved into an internal role, I was like, I’m human, they’re human. You know, I just need to be honest because I’ll definitely be caught out.

Laura: I think that there’s so much that we’re saying, and it’s come up as a bit of a recurring theme like that need earlier on in your career, just to like, feel like you need to have all the answers and you have to have your shit together all of the time and it takes you a really long time to realise that no one really has the answers and none of us have got it together.

We’re all just kind of making it up as we go along and doing the best that we can.

Cloë: Absolutely and that’s what Google’s for.

Laura: True. I guess the other one on the Safety Culture point before we kind of move on. You also said around building that brand and as the brand built, it kind of made life a little bit easier.

How did you go about that? Was it like a really deliberate employee branding exercise? Was it cause and effect of everything else that was going on in the business? How did that come about?

Cloë: It was a bit of both Nick Ingell who was Head of People and Culture. At the time, he had a phenomenal career prior to this and doing the exact same thing for other companies.

He had started his internal career in Spotify just as they were growing. So, he was able to see all of this firsthand. So, when he joined Safety Culture, he knew what needed to be done. So, one of the first people that we hired after talent into the people team was employee engagement and focusing on onboarding.

For us, we said, if we build the best possible onboarding program in the Australian market, people are going through this kind of boot camp for their first week. They’re fully immersed in the product, and we show them how important that is, how important our customers are as well, then this is going to start to create a little bit of noise in the market.

So, putting our people first was definitely our number one goal and making sure that we weren’t just hiring all of these people and not giving them any kind of growth or not hiring people without giving them any pathway as they join the organisation. So that was very deliberate.

We got pretty creative then in terms of branding and putting things on LinkedIn and getting jobs out there, and then as we kind of run through the next couple of years, within that we started to get more budget and the team started to build, and then we had more of a focus. But at the start, it was about just building the brand internally, getting people talking who were joining the company or anyone actually, who was interviewing with us, we had them, we made sure that we just gave a great candidate experience.

So, anyone who interviewed us, anyone who invested time with anyone in Safety Culture, whether that was a call with me or one of the others in the talent team, whether they got to the full end of the process and didn’t get the role, everyone got constructive feedback and we actually had a case where I had someone who got to the end, and they actually didn’t pass. I shared that feedback with them, and they said they were Software Engineer and they said, ‘Thank you so much, I’m actually learning so much through this process. I got to speak to some of the best software engineers in Australia, and they were able to critique my work and give me advice and now I know what I need to focus on and actually my brother is actually looking, can he actually interview with you as well?’.

I was like, this is, this is amazing. So, I think that was a real testament to the team and building our brand. We always say outside of marketing, your talent function is the next best thing in getting word out to market about your brand and building that.

Laura: Totally. I love that story as well. We probably need to do an entire episode just around the candidate experience, employee branding and everything else you just said.

Cloë: Yeah. I’m so passionate about that.

Laura: Okay then. So, at the end of those two years, though, you decided to go back right back to the beginning, early-stage start-up. What was kind of the decision around that? Or, you know, what kind of spurred you to do it?  

Cloë: Someone reached out to me from my network who was based here in Australia. Now that company was in stealth mode. So, I signed an NDA. So, I can’t speak too much about the company, but I’ll tell you more about my experience.

So, this person reached out to me, and they said, would you like to join this crazy start-up? It’s about to go gangbusters globally and I was like, wow, that sounds incredible. I’d also just gotten my Australian citizenship. So, what happened at a really serendipitous time, I’d almost say. But I ended up speaking to that company and all the tech recruitment was done over in Los Angeles.

That’s where they were building their engineering team and it was with a very famous CEO who built an incredible company already and I was like, wow, if I have the opportunity to work with him, I’ve got my Australian citizenship, if it doesn’t work out, I can come back. But it means I’m throwing myself into the deep end from a professional perspective, but 100% from a personal perspective.

I went over, they flew me over there to meet some of the team. I was like, wow, these are like-minded people. You know, working as a tech recruiter in Australia is incredible, but to be working with some of the greatest minds, where all of these ideologies and ideas come from, I was like, this is an opportunity that’s not going to come around too often. So, I just said, I’m going to do this, I didn’t have a lot of commitments here in Australia anyway, so I took the plunge. I was able to get my visa and then yeah, pack my bags, which I thought was going to be permanently and headed off to LA.

Laura: That’s amazing. I guess obviously you can’t talk about it, but in terms of kind of career, when you got over there, what did that look like? And then I guess what was the kind of decision to come back again?

Cloë: So, I thought I was going to be able to go over there and, and this is probably a big mistake on my behalf but great learning.

I thought I’d be able to go over there and slot into this company, as I had done previously with Safety Culture, and I completely forgot that I would have to build up all of these relationships again. I went in and at the time they were a similar stage to Safety Culture as I was leaving. Now, this company was growing like acquiring businesses all over the world, growing massively, super, super quickly.

It was growth that I would, I’ll never experience again and definitely wouldn’t have experienced. But I went over there and just thought I’ll be able to go in and share all my ideas and everyone’s going to listen to me. Now, of course, that wasn’t the case because they already had some processes in place, so that was a bit of a shock to me initially.

I was like, okay, I was owning Product Engineering and Design Recruitment for Safety Culture at the time. So, when I went over there, I was one of 10 tech recruiters hiring evergreen Software Engineers across the US and trying to get them to relocate to LA.

So, I was kind of put back in my box a little bit. I did start to make hires and started to build relationships over there, but then when it got to that stage, I was just looking at my life and all my friends were back here. All my family were back in Ireland. I just wanted to get back to a place where I had friends and I’m still able to do all the things that I love.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Los Angeles it’s an incredible place. But everywhere is so hard to get to, where I was living in theory should have been maybe a 10-minute drive to the beach, but it was really an hour and a half with LA traffic. So, I just wanted to get back to a place that was more accessible and easier to get around and have a better work-life balance.

Laura: Yeah, totally get that. I also know why you had to take that job because on paper, that sounds incredible.

Cloë: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.

Laura: So, I guess now, in terms of your current role, what does an average day look like?

Cloë: My day is predominantly made up of meetings and talking to people and that’s mostly three core groups.

The first one is my partners. So, the companies that we work with, my stakeholders can be the Founder or the Hiring Manager, or some of the interview panels. Helping them go through processes, get candidates through, all of that kind of good stuff. The second group of people are my candidates. So, I will take every single candidate through the entire process.

So, screening candidates, scheduling, making offers, and then the third part or the third group is my own team at The Lab 17. I’ve got my own direct reports where a team of about eight at the moment. So, we have regular meetings, we share ideas, we share candidates, etc. and then actually I’m also involved with bringing on new business.

So, just getting out to my network or, HR People and Culture Leaders or Recruiters, and just sharing what we do, because I think there’s a few companies now that are emerging in Australia with this partnership model, shifting away from RPO or shifting away from agency and bringing this internal lens into an organisation from a partnership model. So, there’s a lot of just explaining how we operate and how we work as well as us trying to work out how we explain how we do what we do as well.

Laura: I think that’s great. When I spoke to Simon the other day, he was saying that you guys are coming up to your two year birthday, so I’m sure so much has changed in that you think the first two years of any business you just kind of continually tweak and refine that messaging and especially with what’s happening in the market place.

Cloë: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. When Nick and Simon started the business, they made their first hire Claudia after a couple of months and then I joined at the end of that year and looking back at the business then to now, and having to go through a global pandemic in the midst of all that, it’s completely different.

And now we’re looking ahead for 2021 and we’re like, wow, this is going to be big. But just like any start-up at the start of every year, we’re going to be like, wow, this is going to be big. It was the same as when I was in Safety Culture, the CEO, Luke would say it every single year. He’s like, “I say this every year, but yeah, this is gonna to be big”. It’s very exciting.

Laura: I love that! I guess in terms of all your roles, it’s always been a start-up, there’s tons going on. There’s obviously so much going on in your current role. How do you stay on top of what’s happening in the industry, new topics, or just kind of skills development in general?

Cloë: I get a lot of the information from the companies that I work with. I get to work with some incredible Founders, incredible Leaders, Software Engineers, Product Managers and with our solution, we’re also embedded into all of their, software as well. So, they all share links to articles that are really kind of focused on their types of businesses, which are read by, The Lab 17.

We also share a lot of articles, and we have discussions about different topics and then outside of that, I subscribe to tech crunch on a US one called the ‘Morning Brew’, which is very witty, which I absolutely love. So, I don’t read a lot of these in detail every morning, but kind of read the highlights and then dive into things that I’m interested in.

I think most of all, it’s just talking to candidates, you know, what are they working on. They’ll share a new technology that might be emerging and that’s how I stay on top of it. But I know even if I were to take like three months off, so much would change because the tech industry is a very fast-growing beast. 

Laura: I subscribed to, ‘Morning Brew’ and I really liked their tone of voice and they’ve done some great stuff from a marketing point of view that I like to geek out about. But I’m with you, even this morning, somebody sent me another potential kind of competitor or someone that’s in a similar industry and I was like, ‘I’ve never heard of these’ and I felt like I’m kind of across it, but there’s so much happening all of the time and across the world. I just think sometimes it becomes a bit overwhelming, just trying to keep up with it all. But also exciting.

Cloë: Yes, definitely. If you were to read everything, that’d be half your day, if not your full day gone on and I’d get no recruiting done.

Laura: Okay, again, I guess going back to kind of career questions, what do you think would be the best and worst career advice you’ve had along the way?

Cloë: Briefly tell you the worst, cause it’s really, really bad. Not a topic we’re going to dive into, but the worst piece of advice I received was early on in my career when one of the Managing Directors said, “You’re a woman, you should use that to your advantage”.

Laura: Yeah. Okay. We’ll leave that there.

Cloë: So, the best piece of advice I received, and this is from Nick Ingell, who is one of the founders of The Lab 17 is dress for the job you want, not the job that you’re in. Now that’s a metaphor, but always having your sights on the role, sorry on the next role that you want in your career.

So, when there is an opportunity that presents for a promotion, your leader can already see you in that role. So not just doing things that are expected of you in the role that you’re doing now, but always looking to see what you can do to make sure that you’re always progressing.

Laura: I like that and it kind of leads on to one of the other questions that we had was around like, how do you set really realistic expectations for yourself, or kind of manage that side of things?

Cloë: It’s quite difficult in our career because., when we partner with a new company, they’re like, well, how many hires are you going to make? For us, we don’t charge per hire, we work on a monthly basis in terms of fees, because we want to ensure that it’s not just a bum on the seats. We’re helping, that’s 100% what we do. We hire the right people, but we’re doing so much more. So, in terms of holding, in terms of setting realistic expectations for myself, I just break it down.

So if I’m starting a new partnership, we get their priority roles that they want to hire and looking back kind of on my history and how many hires that I used to make, I’ve mapped that back and then map that into weekly goals that am I document share with my stakeholder, my partner, and then make sure that we catch up on a regular basis to ensure that we’re hitting off on quantities that we need to do.

Laura: That’s great. I love that. Could you talk to us a little bit about kind of career mistakes that you’ve made along the way, or kind of big moments of life lessons or those pivotal moments where you’ve got to get that light bulb and you’re like, ‘Okay’.

Cloë: Yeah. I’ll tell you about a failure of mine. This is very typical in recruitment, and I think that if you are in the talent space, you tend to have a type of personality. That personality type involves having a lack of attention to detail because there’s so many moving parts all the time, and you’re trying to stay on top of so many candidates.

I just started with The Lab 17 and I was working with a new partner, and we started to build a great relationship. We were making hire’s, and everything was going really smoothly. We were looking to hire an engineering lead for them, and we had two candidates who were moving to a task stage.

So, the hiring manager had said, “Yeah, here’s the task. Send this to the candidate’s book in some time where they can present back”. “Perfect. Yeah, I’ll do that”. With my lack of attention to detail, I sent documents to these two candidates without looking at it myself and then a couple of days later, the hiring manager just pings me on Slack.

We were in different countries at the time. He’s like, “Cloë, you didn’t send them a full document. Like you just sent them the first bit that says for the candidate, and you didn’t send them the second piece that has ‘For the interview panel’, Right!?”

I went and I looked, so the first part was for the candidate, this is what we would like you to do. The second part was for the hiring team, this is what we’re going to assess on, and I realised what I’d done, and I just went back to my manager, said, ‘I am so sorry, hands up. This is completely my fault. This is what I’ve done’.

I said, “Look, I’ll let the second candidate know”, because they hadn’t gone through to that part and I tried to rectify that. So that was a big learning for me. It’s just slowing down. Like there are enough hours in the day to do what you need to do. Don’t skip over the really important things like that.

Laura: I think we’ve all been there. All right, we’ll ask one last question. Who would you like to hear more from, from an HR and talent acquisition space? So, who would you like to have here on the podcast?

Cloë: There are so many incredible people in Australia, but I think there’s some great companies in Australia that are doing some really great work. Atlassian for one, because they’ve such a large team and they’re global and, you know, they’re, they’re definitely known as, having a great culture over there as well. So, I think some of the folks from there and sharing the way that they work, because they’re doing it on a scale that not many of us are doing. A lot of the start-ups here could learn from them as well. Obviously, they were a start-up at one point, but also getting some people from around the world, like a lot of what we do, and you know, how we learn is from the US and the companies over there. So maybe getting a couple of people from over that side of the world who can share similar stories.

Laura: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for this morning.

Cloë: Great, have a great day!

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