Strivin & Thrivin Ep5. Pavi Iyer

Strivin & Thrivin Ep5. Pavi Iyer – Talent Acquisition Leader


This week on the Strivin & Thrivin podcast we broach some difficult topics a number of us have faced from imposter syndrome to knowing your worth. Speaking with Pavi Iyer, Talent Acquisition Leader at CyberCX, the cybersecurity company, we address the workplace issues HR professionals continue to face, and how we tackle them in our own way. We have previously discussed how to overcome imposter syndrome on our Strivin blog, but on this podcast, we get a fresh perspective on it and discuss how, collectively, we need to normalise difficult conversations and give employees a space to open up and offload. 

Throughout our conversation, Pavi enlightens us on how she identified, addressed and tackled these hurdles in her career as we reflect on some pivotal moments that got her to where she is now. 

As a young girl she thought she had her career mapped out and always envisioned she would be in a laboratory. 

“I was always a chemistry, physics type of girl. You know, and that’s all I knew.” she says, “I wanted to be making discoveries and mixing chemicals”

Going from a medical chemistry student into a corporate business and finally HR, Pavi describes the overhaul she’s given her career over the years to find her calling in HR.

“I love every aspect of it, you know, speaking to people, which I never used to do before. I was very much an introverted type of person…so it’s a big shift coming from, working in a lab by yourself for eight hours a day, into a role where you’re on the phone or in front of somebody interviewing them all the time.”

After more than 10 years, Pavi is a true advocate for her profession and we go on to  discuss the highs of the job that make everyday feel like a welcome challenge. 

“I think what I love most is being able to positively impact someone’s life” 

However, while people can fall into jobs they love and have a natural aptitude for it, every career move is a learning curve. While some people lean heavily on trying to absorb as much information around them through industry textbooks, webinars, podcasts and so on, Pavi believes the best knowledge and learnings comes through doing.

Learn[ing] on the job has been the biggest, the biggest thing for me” she says, “learning off other people”. She goes on to share how a failure to do so impacts your work and hinders career progression, in a really succinct and poignant way. 

Like most people in HR, a big part of the role is tackling sensitive barriers in the workplace and encouraging employees to open up more, have those slightly awkward conversations and normalise them, something Pavi struggled with herself initially and looks to champion today. 

One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is: know your worth, and ask for what you are worth.”

Listen to Pavi’s podcast on Strivin & Thrivin now for some reassuring career insight, particularly if you do find yourself struggling with imposter syndrome or lack of confidence. 


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

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

Pavi: Career background – So, it’s been a roller coaster of a journey. I did start off my career in HR and, actually before that, I was studying Medicinal Chemistry. Then, during that time, you know, all of our R&D roles were rolling offshore, it was being sent to different countries. So, I actually moved away from Medicinal Chemistry, ended up in business, which I knew nothing about. At that point in time, I was always a chemistry, physics type of girl, you know, and that’s all I knew.

So, it was a very big change to have to start, doing Accounting and Commercial law and Marketing. I was like, what is this? This is all new language to me. I don’t understand any of this, you know, I was more of the practical, like, if you mix this and this, this is what you get. This is, you know, it’s very defined terms. So, it was a big challenge for me to move from that into, business.

Then I started, my intern roles in HR- I loved it. I started working in HR initially fell into talent acquisition and I took to those roles like a duck to water, and I loved it. I loved every aspect of it, like speaking to people, which I never used to do before. I was very much an introverted type of person. If you ask anybody at school, they’re like ‘Oh, you didn’t talk much. We didn’t even know that you went to this school because you were so quiet’.

So, it’s a big shift coming from, you know, working in a lab by yourself for eight hours a day into a role where you’re on the phone or in front of somebody interviewing them all the time. But I loved it and I decided this was it. This is the type of role that I want to do.

So for the last 10 years or so, I’ve been in TA , been in different teams, you know, Greenfields teams, big teams, small teams. Across different industries and, yeah, I started a new role two days ago, which is in Cyber CX.

Laura: Don’t fancy going back to a lab anytime soon, then?

Pavi: No, not now, not after, after all of this, no.

Laura: That’s quite a change. So, I guess like growing up, it was always you thought you were going to go down like the chemistry kind of lab route rather than anything. That’s really interesting.

Pavi: Yeah, I think it was growing up it was always, ‘Oh, I’m going to work as a scientist and this is what I want to be’. I wanted to be making discoveries and mixing chemicals and, you know, that’s pretty much all it was and I had an uncle who was also in a similar field, so he would be talking about these amazing research things that he was doing and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that. That’s what I want to do’.

It was never, ‘Oh, I want to be in recruitment. I want to be in TA’, that hadn’t even crossed my mind at all.

Laura: Yeah, it’s mad. I always think, when we talk about kids and kind of what you do at school like there are a number of roles out there that I just don’t think, or I definitely didn’t know anything about any of them growing up.

Like when I was 14/ 15, if anyone had said about Recruitment or TA, or like, what’s that? What happens there?

Pavi: Was it back then? It was just sort of, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just HR’, everything gets bundled under the one generic HR title.

Laura: Yeah. And just I guess the understanding of those roles. So, I guess like looking at today and what you’re doing, what is it that you love so much around the whole talent acquisition space?

Pavi: I think what I love most is being able to positively impact someone’s life, that satisfaction of, Hey, you’ve spoken to this person, you’ve brought them into a company and you know, there you are the face of the company, it’s not just- and I think a lot of people misconstrue what Recruitment or Talent Acquisition is.  It’s not just hiring somebody. You are the face of the company. You’re doing different, you’re putting on different hats, you’re doing recruitment, you’re selling the role. You are, you know, a stakeholder managing your hiring managers on the inside the business aspect.

But also, when you look at it from the candidate experience side of things, it is very much you, don’t realise how much you’ve impacted somebody, on a personal note until you give them that offer. And it’s just this amazing, like, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much’ and, it’s that pure, I think joy and satisfaction in having affected somebody’s life in a positive way, as well. And it’s not just the people that you hire, but the other people that you’ve talked to along the way that probably aren’t successful for the role it’s, you know, doing that coaching aspect of it as well.

Like, ‘Hey, you’re not successful for this role, but is this what you want to do? Or I can connect you with somebody else in my network?’ It’s the helping people aspect is what I really found my purpose or the satisfaction that I personally get out of this role.

Laura: I love that because I think we all know the right job and getting the right person in the right role can be completely life-changing for somebody.

If you’re happy at work, that happiness just flows into absolutely everything else. A bit like you were saying, at school people didn’t kind of know who you were, but you found this role and you have this great voice and it’s completely changed things in that perspective as well.

Pavi: Definitely.

Laura: What does an average working day look like?

Pavi: Oh, it depends actually. An average day it could, like I said, there are so many different hats that you wear along the way, it is maybe looking at what processes you might put on a process improvement hat and look at, if this isn’t running efficiently, what can we do better?

How can we improve our team’s efficiencies and then, there’s so much variety in a day, you know, the next minute you might be dealing with difficult stakeholders so you have to put on your, ‘Ok lets calm down, lets talk to these people, lets negotiate’. There could be another negotiating hat or dealing with external vendors.

It’s, you know, screening candidates, speaking to candidates. So, you put on your coaching hat. You know, what is it about this role that appeals to you? Or is this the right role for you? There’s all these hats that you kind of swap and change throughout the day, even on a daily basis, we’re not talking over a week, even in a day, you’ve probably swapped maybe six or seven hats.

I love that ambiguity and the variety that it brings. It’s not the same thing and there is that small piece where you have to go through CV’s and you have to filter out CVs and screen them and things like that. But that’s part of any role. There is that aspect of admin or the things that you have to do on a daily basis, but I think this role definitely has lots of ambiguity and it’s just think on your feet, whatever is thrown at you. You could plan your day, but then somebody will come in and go ‘Oh, this isn’t working there’s X, Y, Z happened, or this candidate has pulled out, what do we do?’. And then it’s back into problem-solving mode.

Laura: Saying that last week, talking to Michael and just saying, you start on a Monday or whatever with this great list of your to-dos and you were thinking you’re so organised for the weekend by Wednesday, you realise that 26 of those priorities have changed and there are 15 new ones and your like, ‘Okay’.

Pavi: Just jump straight in.

Laura: Yeah.

Pavi: How can we deal with the new ones that have popped up?

Laura: I guess, with all the different hats and all the skills that you’re obviously using on a daily basis, how would you kind of keep up to date with the newest trends or skill development?

Pavi: I think the biggest thing that I have found useful is leaning on my industry peers. So, I think in the last few years I’ve made some really good friends within the industry and, you know, I’ve been part of organisations, such as Talent Table that Andrea Kirby runs and that’s been great because of the networking aspect and being able to speak to other people that are doing the same role, having the same issues, and you don’t realize everyone’s going through the same thing until you speak to them and go, ‘Hey, I’m actually stuck with X, Y, Z”, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we dealt with that, last week and this is how we dealt with I”’. So, learning from them, learning from other people and being able to learn on the job has been the biggest, biggest thing for me.

Other things that I use, you know, obviously reading books, podcasts, and I find that anything external to the company, because sometimes when you are in an internal role, you get absorbed into everything that happens in the company and forget that there’s a whole world of information out there. So, I try and keep one foot in what’s happening within our networks in our industries, what’s new and what tools other people are using. So, trying to keep on top of that through my network has been the most valuable, I think for me,

Laura: Are there any books or podcasts recommendations at the moment?

Pavi: I’m actually asking for recommendations from my network, but there have been some great ones. I think the one that I’m really keen on reading now is Rebecca Horton’s, ‘Impact’. So, how do you manage that leadership aspect? But also, being able to do the operational things, how do you find yourself moving away from that?

You know, I think in a lot of businesses, it’s very much either you’re doing the work or you’re C-suite, there’s no in-between when you’re in those in-between leadership roles and I’m really keen on reading that and I think it will, it will speak to a lot of things that we’re going through on a daily basis and how you step out of that zone and think about how you get enveloped into the business as a whole, rather than just your role and your team. Trying to get out there into the business, I think.

Laura: I think it sounds like I need to check that out too. The one I’ve just got on my bedside table at the moment to read over the weekend is ‘Redefining HR’, Lars Schmidt, because I’ve seen some good reviews of that. So, I’ll report back to you if you should be adding that to your list.

Just going back to your career, have you got any big lessons learned or mistakes that you could share?

Pavi: I think the biggest lessons that I’ve learnt along the way… look, I haven’t had mentors per se, but obviously, I’ve had some really great and not so great managers, but you learn how to do things and what not to do.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to be able to look to the team as a support as well and being able to learn from them. It’s not just, you know, stepping into leadership roles. It’s not just telling people what to do, obviously we’ve come a long way in that space, but also being a female within this space, there’s a lot of movement around D&I and how do we get equality within the workplace? How do we actually ask for things that we’re not used to, or we’re not comfortable with?

I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned, is to know your worth and ask for what you are worth. That’s been a very difficult thing for me to learn along the way. I’ve always been the say yes to everything and just do all of this work, but not be valued as you should for it. I think that’s one of the things that I speak to candidates about, even when I’m screening them or talking to them on the phone, especially if they’re very strong females.

When I’m speaking to them, if I feel like they’re underselling themselves, I will tell them that as well, because there was no one there when I was moving through those, those stages to tell me, “Hey, you’re actually underselling yourself. You should be asking for more or that for the amount of work that you’re doing, you should be valued a lot more than this”, and that’s one of the biggest things that I had to learn on my own, the hard way, which I try and help, you know, other women out as well as we go along.

Laura: I love that. I feel like it’s one of these reoccurring themes that you hear a lot from people is actually working out way too late in your career, that it should be a bit of a two-way value exchange.

What do they bring? I think there’s so much around that just like you say, understanding your worth and being brave enough to ask for it.

Pavi: Knowing that you can be brave. I think that’s the biggest thing, knowing that you can be brave about it and being able to ask for it because a lot of people still are, even though we are talking about. For example, International Women’s Day, there was a lot of chatter about being able to empower women. There is also the flip side of it, a lot of women don’t feel empowered to be able to ask for it, or they don’t feel brave enough that they can ask for it and not be knocked back.

It’s just more, if I questioned this person, they might actually not give me the job. It’s that underlying fear that maybe if I ask for it, I might not get this job and I can’t risk doing that.

Laura: Okay, this is a big question, but what do you think we could be doing to help with that on a bigger scale, because it’s amazing that when you get to have these conversations, you can tell people, but, do you think there’s more that we could all be doing that we can spread that message kind of wider, faster?

Pavi: I think it’s being more vocal about it or hearing more voices that have been through that and I know definitely, within my own friend’s network, we speak about it all the time. I think one of my biggest things this year, or goals, is to be able to speak more about that aspect of it and the challenges or the journeys that I’ve gone through personally.

I think hearing personal stories out in the open. I’ve not been a person that speaks about those things before, I’ve not been comfortable in the public eye or being vocal about things. That was one of the things that I really wanted to do last year, and this year was push myself to get out there and at least write about it and or speak about it on things like this, you know, being able to get voices out there because I think people don’t realize that this is a shared dilemma. A lot of women go through this, coming back from mat leave, I struggled to find permanent work, it was always, you know, we have a contract on, do you want to come on as a contract? And then you just get snowballed into these contract-after-contract type of roles.

It’s hard to find that place and on the back of my mind, it was, ‘Oh, should I take this role or should I wait for something better? Can I actually wait for something better? Can I wait, I’ve got this offer. Should I take it now and just keep going with it?’, and I think it’s speaking about those experiences that is going to make it a bit more prominent, like a lot of issues that you see now in the world. It’s because people are speaking out about it. People are making it vocal. People are bringing it to light. I think that’s making it easier for other women, especially to say, ‘Oh right, look, I’ve been through the same thing, and this is how they dealt with it’ maybe I should try that too. And having that courage to try.

Laura: I think it has a really good point. I guess if we all just start talking about it, it starts to normalise it doesn’t it? It doesn’t make it feel like it’s just you and it doesn’t feel as scary.

Pavi: Yeah, and it’s not just you fighting your individual battle. It is a lot of us going through the same thing.

Laura: I’ve done a few of these now and you know what, every, pretty much every woman that I’ve spoken to has sent me a message before telling me how nervous they are and how kind of anxious they are, and I’ve not had that from any of the guys.

I guess it’s only when you’ve just said that, I guess as the penny dropped. Just even things like that and also for a few people, it’s the first time anyone’s asked them and they’re like, ‘Oh, have I got anything to say?’ I’m like, “Well, you’ve been in TA for 10 years, so I imagine you’ve got something to say? Also, I’ve had a glass of wine or been out with you or whatever and I feel like you’ve got quite a lot to say, actually”.

Pavi: I think that’s the biggest thing is kind of looking at yourself or self-sabotaging I’ve had one of my friends tell me, and they’re like, ‘I think you have imposter syndrome at some points because you undersell yourself’.

You’ve got lots to say, but when I actually sit and think about it, you know, if somebody says, ‘Oh, hey, we want you to come and do a presentation’. I’m like, actually have nothing to say. I’m not going to get on stage. I cannot compete with all these people that speak on stage that, I’ve had public speaking fear since I was young as well, so it was never anything on my plate to do, which was why I was like, look, I’ll start small. Let’s do the podcasts or the webinars or things that I don’t have to be in front of hundreds of people because that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

I think it is definitely one of those things, I find in that leadership space, women in leadership struggle with either you’re very outspoken and you’re seen as aggressive or that you don’t speak out and they’re like, ‘Oh, well she has nothing to say, she has nothing to contribute’. You kind of fall into that bucket of like, “Oh actually, maybe I don’t have anything to say about it”.

When you sit down and think about it, ‘Actually no, I’ve learned all of these things. I know things about TA I know things about tools I can speak to it’, but I probably wouldn’t be able to speak to it if, you know, if I’m standing in front of an audience, and I think that’s the biggest thing is like not falling into that impostor syndrome aspect. It’s, it is an uphill battle for me as well.

Laura: Yeah, I think the imposter syndrome, I always say it’s a little bit of a roller coaster. You have certain days where I couldn’t tell you what I’m good at and then other days where you feel like you can take on the world, like, ‘Come at me’.

It really does depend on what day of the week it is and kind of what else is going on in the world. With public speaking, I’m with you, like the idea of standing on a stage, it makes me feel physically sick thinking about it. How did you kind of, was it just like, like you say, just start doing podcasts, webinars and you just force yourself into it or kind of any tips on how you’ve handled it.

Pavi: Yeah, I’m still not at that stage where I can stand in front of people. That’s not, like I said, I don’t think that’s going to happen this year, at least, but it is small steps along the way. It is something that I’ve been morbidly afraid of since I was younger. So doing presentations or speeches at school, I was always like, Oh my God, just quickly read through this because I can feel my face getting hot. I would feel sick thinking about it.

But I think the smaller steps, like doing these podcasts or speaking to somebody one-on-one and having it taped, I’m like, okay, this is easier because that’s, we’re starting small. There’s not, you know, 50 or 60 people in front of me that I have to speak to about it, but they’re, I know they will come a time when I will need to take that next step and just push outside of my comfort zone.

I just don’t know when that is. I know there are a few people that are very close to me that are like, okay, we’re going to get you to do it this year. We’re going to get you to get prepared because, by the end of this year, we will get you in front of a few people. So, that support has been great, and I really appreciate it.

I think it will come at a time when somebody will just push me and go, you’re doing this. Get on stage, you’re doing it now.

Laura: I like that, that kind of friendly shove in the right direction. I think you’re right. Maybe it’s just one of those things that we have to kind of, it’s just practice and maybe doing like 10 of these and 20 webinars and something else would just one day be like, do you know what group of 30 people isn’t too bad?

Going back to your point that you were saying about good and bad managers, what would you say is kind of the best and worst career advice that you’ve had along the way?

Pavi: The worst is probably just take anything that’s remotely interesting. Even if they pay, really. Less like it was, it was always around, you know, just take it. It doesn’t matter if you need to drop $30k just take it because you’ll not get anything better. I think earlier on in my career, I was like, “Oh actually, maybe I might not get something better than this”. I think that was probably the worst advice I could have taken and at that point, I didn’t know any better. I was like, “Oh, this person’s older than me, they know”. Surprisingly, it was a woman manager as well, and in hindsight, I think about it and I would never have told anybody that was younger than me to do that, and I don’t moving forward. I have definitely learnt not to do that.

The best advice I, not even best advice, I think one of the best managers that I’ve had, he was amazing. He was pretty much, you know, I know you can do this, this is what I want you to do, just go out there and do it. It was him having full trust in me saying, go out there, I need X, Y, Z, fixed. I just need you to go out there. I know you can do it. I just come back to me with solutions, come back to me with a plan and we’ll roll it out. So, it was having that confidence. It was having that trust. A large part of it was him not telling me what to do. When I sat down to think about it, I was like, “Oh, actually I can do this”. I had a lot of worries. Then I was like, “Ah, are you sure? Can I ask you again, questions?” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, ask me any questions that you want, but I know you can do it”. I know that this is why I brought you on, I had briefly worked with him in another company before, and I ended up working at three companies for him since then.

So, I think that definitely boosted confidence in myself that I could do that role.

Laura: I think it’s amazing. Just knowing that someone’s got your back to that extent, whether it goes badly or whether it goes well, just someone that’s just like, yep, ‘We’ve got this!’.

Pavi: Yeah, and the fact that he was willing to take that upon himself as well. So, you know, if it did go badly, he was like, “Look, I’ve got your back. I have full faith in you. I will support you, whatever happens”.

Laura: That’s amazing. Okay. Just looking at the time, one last question, who else from the HR and Talent Acquisition space would you want to hear more from, or that we should go out and ask to be on a podcast in the future?

Pavi: I think you might’ve brought a couple of them on already, so I know Michael Delaney, have you spoken to him? He’s in my close group that I was talking about before because we all met last year when we all became unemployed and we sort of coached each other, built each other up, so definitely him. Joe McCatty, Rebecca Powell, Sandra Lim, we became close through, I think all the adversity and crap that we went through last year as a group.

That’s been really great, but definitely, I would, yeah, I would say those five have definitely been there and done it, we’ve all shared experiences. We’ve all pushed ourselves outside of our own comfort zones as well, so outside of work, those are the people that I rely on for advice, or just tell me to shut up and just do it because they know I can do it. They’ve been my strongest support, I think.

Laura: I was talking to Michael last week and he said something similar about a whole group of people, through Jobs for Australia. It feels like, despite it being such a shitty situation, something like that to come out of it is pretty amazing.

Pavi: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve taken away from that is, apart from helping people through for Jobs for Australia, we actually walked away personally and emotionally stronger as well, because we built those really strong relationships.

Laura: Wow. That’s incredible. Thank you so much for this morning. I really enjoyed it, and I hope I’m going to see you on the stage sometime soon.

Pavi: We’ll see. Thank you so much.

Laura: Thank -you. Have a great day and well speak to you soon.

Pavi: Bye.

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