Strivin & Thrivin E14. Caitlin Fairchild

Strivin & Thrivin Ep14. Caitlin Fairchild – Head of Global Talent Acquisition @ Xplor

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“I think talent is so crucial to get right because that’s the start of the employee experience.” 

This week on Strivin & Thrivin we chat to Caitline Fairchild, Head of Global Talent Acquisition at Xplor, the startup company providing software, payments, and commerce-enabling solutions for brand success. 

Caitlin is recruitment through and through, having started down her career path ten years ago upon her move from the States to Down Under straight out of university. She’s stuck with it ever since, becoming more impassioned with it as time went on.  

Caitlin started in a fairly narrow recruitment role, but joining a startup during the early stages, she quickly broadened her skillset and added more strings to her bow, moving into the wider ‘people’ function at a pace.

“I don’t think I’ll ever fully detach from talent, I always just want talent to be a huge part of what I do,” she tells us. 

In a fascinating turn, Caitlin explains how she’s naturally an introverted person and how her training and development in the workplace has helped her leverage the strengths of being an introvert and succeed in a naturally extroverted industry. We take a deeper dive into the qualities of introvert and extroverts within the recruitment and HR space and how each lends itself to great outcomes. 

Now working in technology recruitment, Caitlin explains why it’s such an in-demand sector of late and what the qualities of a good tech recruiter are. The industry has become a community for software engineers and development professionals and having an understanding of it is invaluable as a recruiter. Caitlin highlights the importance of having a firm understanding of the industry you’re operating in, the people who are passionate about it and the skills necessary to successfully recruit the right talent. 

Caitlin’s career has proven to be linear and rewarding in a short space of time. It’s interesting to hear her reflect so fondly on the last ten years an her successes. 

To hear more about Caitlin’s experience, from setting up the Melbourne Recruitment Meetup to network with like-minded individuals, to her aspirations as a young girl, listen to the latest episode of Strivin and Thrivin now! 

FULL TRANSCRIPT 

Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson. And today I’m lucky enough to have Andrea Kirby as my wonderful co-host. Today we’re thrilled to be joined by Caitlin Fairchild.

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

Caitlin: Sure. My entire career has been in recruitment, ever since I came to Australia. I’m originally American, if you can’t tell from the accent. I came over here about 10 years ago. And, started off in agency land like many of us do, and then eventually moved into internal roles in tech and I’ve been loving that ever since.

I currently work for a place called Xplor, and I joined them at a fairly early stage in their start-up journey. And, started off really focusing on recruitment there, building out the teams, and then expanded, and expanded, and expanded my role to include more of the wider ‘people’ responsibilities. So, we built out some L&D, we’ve gotten some really great employee experience components to what we provide, and benefits, the list goes on into what we built on over the years. Now, currently my title is Director of People, which sounds very fancy, but basically, I look after all people-related things, including recruitment and HR here.

Xplor is a software business, but we create software for childcare centers to operate, and engage with parents, and make their children’s education better.

Andrea: I’ve used Xplor.

Laura: Have you?

Andrea: Yes, I have. So, what’s interesting for me, Caitlin, is that I’m an HR person who chose to specialise in Talent Acquisition. You’re a Talent Acquisition person who is now moving into the wider people space, which we’re seeing more and more.

What are you enjoying about the extra bits that have been added on to your TA career?

Caitlin: I think what I like about the wider scope now is being able to be a part of the full employee experience. I think talent is so crucial to get right because that’s the start of the employee experience, but being able to build out onboarding programs, and then how do we develop our people further. It’s really rewarding to see people join us and get really excited when they start, and then see them develop and flourish here, and being a part of that whole experience for them. Making that a great experience is really awesome.

Andrea: So, you’ve studied commerce and science at Boston University. One of my favourite cities, I have to say. Remind me when we meet up to tell you about my one night in Boston, which is not for public consumption.

Caitlin: An Irish pub, possibly?

Andrea: It’s a very famous bar, I believe. So, you’ve had this study in this, and then you moved into Talent Acquisition. Was this a conscious choice, to choose to go into recruitment?

Caitlin: I came here as a young ex-pat, as many of us do. I thought I’d be here for a year, and much to my parent’s disappointment I’m still here 10 years later. But what happened was recruitment was a job that I could get at that point, in agency, and could try it out. I didn’t really know what I was walking into, to be honest. I thought, “Oh, this sounds cool. You get to work with lots of different people and talk to different companies and help them out”.

But then, really once I got into it and discovered all the different parts of recruitment, I really fell in love with it. I love that you get to help people in their careers, you get to know lots of different companies and how they work and be exposed to all the different ways that people do things in their organisations.

But then also, the profession is always evolving, and you have to be so creative and resilient, and always changing yourself in how you approach problems. That kept me really interested. I felt like you can never be a perfect recruiter because there’s no such thing. You’re always having to learn something new.

Andrea: Yes.

Caitlin: And, I guess that’s why I’m still so passionate about it. I don’t think I’ll ever fully detach from Talent. I always just want Talent to be a huge part of what I do.

Andrea: Yeah, and I agree with you as well. I loved the people bit, but there’s something very special about the talent bit that we really get involved in the business. Because the other thing that fascinated me about your career journey was that you’re an instructor at General Assembly, as well. What did you take out of that and learn from that?

Caitlin: Oh, I loved doing that. I think part of the wider ‘people’ responsibilities I’ve taken on is doing training, and trying to help upskill our team and provide them all with the ways of learning here at Xplor, and, doing that on the side at General Assembly was really cool to learn how to engage with people, and get them excited and see the, ‘aha’, moments that they have.

The courses that I taught are all around introversion as well, because I’m actually super, super introverted. Which people always find really weird, because I’m in recruitment, HR, which you think is more of an extrovert type of profession. But, what I’ve learned from being an introvert in a very extroverted industry I’ve been able to then take and try and teach others how to handle that type of situation, too. And, to be confident as an introvert, and that introverts have their own strengths and how to leverage those as well.

That’s been a really great experience. It’s my side passion, I think. I love recruitment, but I also love talking about diversity in lots and lots of different ways, and introversion is one of those.

Andrea: Caitlin, I think all of a sudden I’ve got you ready to go for a Talentpalooza speaking slot in October.

Caitlin: Wow.

Andrea: So, you’ve just volunteered for that, we’ll talk more. One of the things that I admire so much about that is I am obviously an extrovert that is off the scale. We were joking about how I’ll come to the Melbourne Recruitment Meetup tonight, and I will flit around the room and say something little to everybody. And, that I had said to you that I’ve never actually stopped and spoken to you, so I was really looking forward to today.

Do you think one of the skills of introversion is that you probably do take that time, more time, to get to know people? Because I think extroverts are probably a little more interested in themselves, speaking from experience.

Caitlin: Yeah. I think introverts do well in those smaller groups or one-on-one situations because you can focus in, get a little bit deeper in the conversation, and try and get to know someone more one-on-one, really. Which is why I think introverts do well and can do well in recruitment, because a lot of it’s interviewing, and understanding and really getting to know all the bits and pieces of what makes up that person, and their motivations and taking that time to really listen. Not that extroverts can’t, but the default place that introverts are in is that listening more than talking.

Andrea: Yeah, and actually, I can see particularly in an internal talent role, where you don’t have the sales component of agency, that it would be massive. And probably, when I’ve been interviewing, I’ve probably gone after people with more personality and not… I struggle with introverts. Maybe I should love them because they listen to me so much, but I do struggle with an introverted personality because I love a quick joke and a move.

Caitlin: Yeah. When we’ve been recruiting here, sales is a really good example of often times, hiring managers will say, “We want that really outgoing, gregarious type of personality”, but if you want a consultative sales approach and team, you need to make sure people can listen, too. We’ve found that having practical components to our interview process has helped even the playing field for candidates who might not be that big, boisterous personality but they can do the work really well.

So, they can showcase what they do within an interview by bringing some sort of work, or showcasing what they can do with the demo, things like that. Because yeah, it’s constantly testing your bias around how someone might present specifically in an interview versus what do we actually need in the role.

Andrea: Yes.

Caitlin: It can be very different.

Andrea: Yeah, exactly. So, you came over here, I’m guessing for a bit of a holiday. What made you stay?

Caitlin: Oh, I love Australia. It’s weird, my whole adult life has been here. I moved here right after uni. So, it’s strange, because I haven’t actually worked in a real job or a professional job in the US. But, I love the Australians’ view on life, it’s just so relaxed here. But I’ve loved exploring Australia, it’s such a beautiful place. It’s definitely home for me now.

Andrea: Aw, terrific. Good. Well, we’re happy to have you. So, tech recruiting. At the moment, we cannot find enough tech recruiters for the amount of jobs that are out there, the market is going berserk. I take a lot of calls from companies looking for tech recruiters. What makes it so special to be a tech recruiter?

Caitlin: Oh, that’s a really good question. I think interviewing software engineers can sometimes be quite different than interviewing other types of roles. There’s sometimes a bit of finesse that you need to take with engineers. I really understand what it is they do, to be credible on the phone with them and really gain their trust and your understanding of what their profession does, but what the environment is in your organisation that they actually would want to know about and what they care about. Engaging with tech is, I think, the harder part of a tech recruiter role, as opposed to a commercial recruiter.

Andrea: Well, they get multiple approaches, don’t they? Particularly at the moment, as we’ve covered with other people. We’re at zero if not minus migration growth, we’re not able to bring the people in currently.

Caitlin: You have to be very creative in how you engage and also how you get your employment brand out there in front of them. I always give this example, but I think ZenDesk here in Melbourne has done an amazing job over the years of getting known by the engineering community.

It was a brilliant move. I remember it years ago when I worked there, and they had committed to hosting lots of meetups. They got every engineer in the door and aware of who they were. Everyone would say, “Oh yeah, ZenDesk. That’s where the meetups are”. That’s great, because then everyone knew who they were and that made it so much easier to approach engineers. I mean, not everyone can do that same approach now, but they did it really, really well.

So, you have to think outside the box, to how do you tap into that community, and it’s so much a longer play as well. You want to be the first, or at least in the group of companies that an engineer thinks of when they actually are ready to move and they contact you, as opposed to just hoping that you catch them at the right time. I think it’s that longer term, almost view it as warming them up from a marketing approach.

Andrea: Yes.

Caitlin: That has to happen constantly behind the scenes as well, otherwise you’re never really going to get some traction.

Laura: I think you’re right, though, the key point is that long-term view. You can’t just do something once and expect it to happen. I’m sure ZenDesk built that up over years and years, and it probably did pay off and looked like they were spending a lot of money for very little return to begin with. But they were just consistent and knew that, if they continued to add value, it would come good.

Caitlin: Yeah, exactly. You have to think of well, what’s the tech stack we’re working in, what’s the communities, how do we build a long-term strategy as opposed to how do we just fill this role right now.

Andrea: So, let’s take a little step back into your childhood, then. So, you were at school and you were dreaming about your future. Was a science degree and a career as a recruiter the thing you wanted to be when you grew up?

Caitlin: This is such an embarrassing thing that I wanted to be. I dead set, I wanted to be the President of the United States when I was growing up.

Andrea: Fantastic!

Laura: You can still do that, there’s still time.

Caitlin: Yeah. I don’t know what that says about me, but it definitely says that my parents were really good at encouraging me to do whatever I wanted. I had in my head that I would be the first female President, that would be my mark on history.

But, when I actually went to uni, at first, I enrolled in International Relations, to try and end up somewhere in that world. But obviously, I didn’t, but I always wanted to help people and make a difference. So, I think back, that was the driving force as a child, of why I wanted to do that. I think I still ended up being able to make an impact through recruitment, in helping people’s careers and giving them opportunities to improve their own lives. It can come full circle.

Andrea: Talking about making an impact, you joined together with Matt Woodard and Stefan, whose surname escapes me at the moment, he works with you.

Caitlin: Welack.

Andrea: Welack, that’s right. The three of you created the Melbourne Recruitment Meetup. I was at one of the very first ones, on a hot day in squeaky leather pants, I remember. I won the, ‘Tweet of the day award’. Talk us through how that came about, what you were trying to achieve. And, it’s a special meetup. So, what makes it special?

Caitlin: Yeah. It seems so long ago. I think it’s many years, now, that Matt and I connected and said, “You know, we should really try and expand this idea of recruitment meetups into Melbourne”, because funny enough, him and I had both knew and had worked with Troy Hammond, who had started the recruitment meetup idea in Wellington, originally. We were like, “Well, let’s try and get this off the ground in Melbourne”. Matt and I were both new to Melbourne, so we thought, “Well hey, it would be a good way for us to at least meet some people and make friends”, as a selfish view of it.

But we really loved the idea of creating somewhere that recruiters of all kinds and anyone in the industry could come together and share knowledge, trying to remove those barriers between all types of recruiters. So internal, agency, vendors, anyone who cares about recruitment. Yeah, come to our meetups because we want you to be there, we want you to learn along with us. And, instead of competing against each other and holding knowledge in, we all could benefit and lift the whole industry together by sharing, and actually giving each other the support to make all of our roles in all of our companies, all of us as a profession better.

Stefan’s joined us as well, as an organiser and we do regular meetups with different topics that we think are topical. I think the best part though, is the networking I would say.

Andrea: Yes.

Caitlin: You bring together a bunch of recruiters, they can’t stop talking. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to literally try and kick people out of venues at the end of the night.

Andrea: It usually goes on somewhere else as well.

Caitlin: Oh yeah, we always have to go to a bar afterwards nearby, to keep it going. But I think it’s been wonderful to see friendships made, and people find out about roles and get new roles from the group, and just how much it has become a community over the years now. It’s been amazing.

Andrea: What’s interesting to me Caitlin, is that Sydney’s had a good one for a while and it’s died off. I’ve put Matt in touch with some people in Brisbane that are keen to get one going and I think Perth still has theirs going. It may be a little quieter. What do you think it is about the fabulous city of Melbourne that makes it so special? Because we’ve got Laura sitting here, who’s a Sydney sider.

Laura: My first Melbourne Recruitment Meetup tonight. Thanks for having me.

Caitlin: Very exciting. We’re blessed that we’ll see you soon. I’m not sure what it is that’s different, but I think we’ve always tried to be consistent. So, people always know, “Oh, we can go to the meetup and see so-and-so”. But we’ve always tried to switch up the topics a lot as well, and bring in speakers from outside the industry as well. I think some of the really memorable presentations have been from people who aren’t necessarily recruiters but who can provide insight into some of the things that we want to learn more about or improve on.

Andrea: Yeah.

Caitlin: I think about the D&I one that we did last year.

Andrea: It was excellent.

Caitlin: Where we had a… Yeah, it was great. We heard different stories of how organisations we could partner with, but also from a D&I consultancy and hearing their research and what they’ve done. It wasn’t necessarily specific to recruitment, but it was something that we could take away. A different perspective I think is important.

That’s probably, I guess, how you could describe the whole community as well, is we want to hear the different perspectives and get out of your bubble of your own business that you’re working in, to hear how other people are approaching things.

Andrea: Yeah. It’ll be too late by the time this gets released, but tonight we’re talking about wellbeing. I was really proud to introduce the speaker to you. I think that’s what’s so lovely about this Melbourne group is, how much we work together as well. So, Jo V from ATC and I just did a video recently, and there’s something about all of us coming together to make our industry better.

Caitlin: I think why, we all deeply care about what we do, and being able to come together with like-minded people who care in the same way, it’s just really lovely to be a part of.

Andrea: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah. For anyone listening, where can they go to find out more information?

Caitlin: Yeah. We have our meetup group on meetup.com, it’s called the Melbourne Recruitment Meetup, so easy to remember, and, you can join there. We try and do one once a quarter with a topic, but then we have also introduced social meetups to try and keep people connected in between, and that are just super casual so we can just catch up and stay in touch with other members of the group.

Andrea: So, you work in tech recruitment, obviously, and you’ve had this amazingly good career. Not necessarily doing what you set out to do at the beginning, falling into. But, what advice would you give the young people of today, in terms of coming and starting their career?

Caitlin: I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned that I always keep top of mind is keeping a growth mindset about things, seeing challenges as a learning opportunity, and being okay with being bad at something. Because you always have to start as a beginner, whenever you start something new.

I’ve gone through that so much in the past couple years, moving into this wider people role. It’s a lot of times this is the first time I’m doing it, first time I’m learning this, and it’s just super hard at first. And sometimes, you feel like you really suck. But, everyone feels that and just keeping at it, and persevering and having that resilience to keep learning and trying, that’s how you grow.

Andrea: Yeah.

Caitlin: So, not feeling bad about not knowing. Secret – none of us really know what we’re doing. But that’s why I think that growth mindset and thinking about how can I always improve, and no one’s perfect, it’s a shift that has made all the difference for me.

Andrea: It’s funny, Laura, we’ve done a few of these podcasts and what’s fascinating when we talk to the TA people, we’ve all fallen into our jobs. And, we’ve all talked about not knowing growth mindsets and just doing it, and finding a way through. Maybe we need to do some kind of study on our industry around that behaviour and what that means, and why it makes TA so special.

Laura: But I think it’s one of the reasons we started the podcast, but it also ties into what you said earlier. I think when you go through school you think that you have to have this career path mapped out and you need to know what you’re going to do, and I think it’s so important for people to realise that most of us have just fallen into it and we’ve worked out as we’ve gone along. And none of us have really got it together, and none of us really know the answers, but we’ve worked out this far, we’ll keep working it out. I think that’s definitely something I wish I knew when I was at uni or when I first graduated.

Andrea: Yes.

Caitlin: Yeah, exactly.

Andrea: The other thing I was going to say is obviously the tech industry is, to a certain extent, fairly male dominated. And for a period of time, and I hope it’s changing, Software Engineers tended to be blokes. Certainly, a lot of the cultures you would look at in the tech field tend to be quite bloke-y, with the table tennis tables and the old stuff we knew.

I guess as a female in that area, and certainly now influencing culture and employee experience and things, what are some of the things that you’re learning? And – how are you trying to make those changes?

Caitlin: That’s a great question. I think by being in the position I’m in now, trying to influence wider our culture and what we stand for, the importance of representation has really become clear to me. Even with myself as the example of, in our senior leadership team there’s five of us, I am the only female at the moment. Also, I’m also the voice of the employees because of my role, I’m conscious I always try and bring the other perspective to the table. It’s so important to have that other perspective at the table, and to really ask the questions, get opinions, being able to get feedback, and real, honest feedback from the team, is really important as well.

We’ve worked really hard on being really open and transparent at all levels. Our CEO does an amazing job, to his credit. He really sets the tone of if something’s not right, or you think we can improve it, tell us because that’s how we can improve, and then we can actually really know how people are feeling. I think that openness and transparency, honesty, being able to let people feel safe to raise things is really key in any culture. I think we’ve done a good job of showing what our culture is like externally, so that people are interested in coming in no matter who they are. We talk about diversity here as diversity is all kinds of things, not just gender alone. It might be your background where you’re from, the different education that you have, so many different ways diversity can come in play on your team.

Andrea: There’s the talking now of the differences between introverts and extroverts, and why you need both on your team. Yes. So, the work that people like Emma Jones does with Project F, and Girls Who Code, and all the other things that have been built up for this industry to get more females interested. Do you think it’s making a difference, or have we still got a way to go?

Caitlin: That’s a really good question. I mean, I think there’s always room to improve, but I think it’s become more understood that we need to improve. We’re recognising that there needs to be action is a necessary first step. I think companies are much more actually interested and want to do something, as opposed to, “Oh yeah. Yeah, we will”. But no, what’s the actual action that we’re going to do?

And, candidates are demanding to know as well. So, in a way, it’s also becoming an expectation that you have a diversity inclusion program, you can talk to what you’re doing, you can talk about the improvements you’ve made and the results. I think the candidates are actually making a difference by demanding that and expecting that of companies. There’s a bit of a turn there, from what I can tell.

Andrea: What’s next for you, then? Director of People at Google?

Caitlin: Oh, gosh. Well, do you know what’s pretty funny, I can tell you this now. I’m actually going to be moving into working on the global recruitment programs here at Xplor.

Andrea: Fantastic!

Caitlin: We’ve become part of a larger group, which is now also called Xplor. It is a little bit confusing if you’ve known of us in the Melbourne start-up scene before. We’re now part of a company around 2000 people.

Laura: Oh, wow.

Caitlin: And, so I get to work really closely actually with our colleague experience team on how we improve diversity here, so it is very topical those questions you’re asking me. And, really build out that first part of the colleague experience globally for us.

Laura: That’s incredible.

Caitlin: That’s my exciting news.

Andrea: I absolutely love the fact that it’s called colleague experience, rather than employee experience and things, that’s just gorgeous.

Laura: Yeah.

Caitlin: It’s pretty cool, what we’ve got planned.

Andrea: I’m going to start using it.

Laura: It’s just been stolen, sorry.

Andrea: It’s just been stolen. That’s it, I’m doing it.  So then, I’m assuming managing a team of people has been a new thing for you as well. What’s been your biggest learning about being a leader?

Caitlin: I’ve learned so much, especially this past year, looking after a much larger team. Our company has grown so much, so quickly.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is just taking the time to actually listen. We can get so caught up in what are we doing, what are we delivering, are we on track. But actually, taking the time to really hear what the team is feeling and what they’re experiencing, and how I can make their lives easier, what I can do to help and really be focused on enabling them day-to-day.

Andrea: Good.

Laura: That’s great advice. We’re going to ask you one more question then wrap up, unless anybody’s got anything else they want to say or ask?

Okay. Last question we’re asking everybody is when we go out and start interviewing more people, is there anyone else that you’d particularly like to hear from on the podcast?

Caitlin: I’d love to hear what the VCs are doing in talent right now.

Laura: Oh, good one.

Caitlin: Yeah. I’ve seen them hiring more in the talent space, and I’d been keen to hear what they are going to be offering their portfolio companies and how they think the challenges in talent are for their start-ups.

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