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Welcome to episode 212 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of a discussion with Leah White, detailing her early career and the transition from engineering student to recruiter, getting laid off and finding work at a culinary institute, the value of internship programs, and how through it all she was constantly redefining success.
Original Recording Date: 01-24-2023
Topics – Meet Leah White, The Discipline of Sourcing, Defining Life Success, The Identity Crisis and a Mindset Shift, Becoming Part of the Institute, Internships, Seeking Flexibility
3:27 – Meet Leah White
- Leah White is a sourcing recruiter for Veeam and as of this recording has been with the company a little over a year. She works on roles across the US and Canada identified as needing additional recruitment support.
- Leah lives right outside of Houston, Texas and works remotely. She is married with 3 children (a 15-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 5-year-old).
- And for the record, John and Leah are not related.
4:28 – The Discipline of Sourcing
- Leah says people understand the term recruiter in our industry much more so than sourcer. A sourcer is someone who is going to seek out passive talent.
- As a recruiter you’re generally working with candidates who have applied for a job at a company. But a sourcer is going to seek out prospects that could fit a specific role you need to fill.
- This may involve attending events, networking, spending time on LinkedIn, asking for referrals…but you’re really sourcing talent for a role that needs to be filled.
- It depends on the role as to whether sourcing is needed. If there is a role that is going to be a role hired in mass volume that people generally are going to express interest in on a continuous basis, usually sourcing would not be needed for this. If you’re looking for a niche role, a higher level role, or if an open role isn’t attracting the quality of candidates you would like to see…you might need additional recruitment / sourcing.
- In Leah’s situation, she is often times sourcing for diversity. Maybe there hasn’t been enough gender diversity come in for a role in the candidate pool.
- "It’s really you’re seeking a specific need. That’s when you’re going to pull in sourcing for additional help." – Leah White
- Nick had really only heard the term sourcing in the context of needing someone on the legal team to help with a specific request.
- Sourcers are not used across every organization because it’s an additional expense. Likely you would see sourcing on teams within larger organizations that have the budget for it or a specific need for it. Leah says you aren’t necessarily going to see sourcing at every organization across the industry.
7:14 – Defining Life Success
- Leah had a pre-determined set of honorable ventures to target when she was in school like engineering, medicine, or law.
- Leah began at the University of Oklahoma and was recruited there through a minority STEM recruitment program. Her focus was chemical engineering with a minor in pre-med "just in case."
- She even did an internship at Exxon.
- Leah had a friend (Miranda) who worked for the athletic housing department at the university. Miranda got Leah a job as a desk assistant, and she later would transfer to be a resident advisor.
- The job was a lot of student management – checking to see if people were safe, adhering to the curfew, and in many ways almost acting as a bodyguard.
- Leah really became more of an advisor to female underclassmen who were student athletes. This was really her first time working with students.
- Then life happened. Leah met her husband at the university. He played basketball, and when he graduated, he wanted to play overseas.
- Leah and her husband moved to France and spent some time in Germany.
- This wasn’t really something Leah had on her list of life plans.
- While overseas Leah tried to figure out what she could do with her education. She found engineering wasn’t really an option there, but she was able to obtain a psychology minor during this time.
- After the time overseas, Leah and her husband relocated to Louisiana (his former home).
- She decided to enroll at LSU (Louisiana State University). It was too tough to transfer credits from previous education there and would have taken much more time, so Leah went back to her list and chose to study in the medicine field (a kinesiology degree). She thought maybe sports medicine made sense.
- Leah really enjoyed her work in this discipline. Her husband had started coaching a club team, and Leah found herself once again working with students.
- Leah acted more as a mentor to younger students. She handled the business end of things while her husband did the coaching.
- Life happened again. Leah had her first child, and at this point her life plan no longer made sense. She would not be able to do years in a medical program and take care of children.
- Leah’s husband had to travel for his job, and she felt one parent needed to be home with the children.
- Leah had to redefine what success would look like for her and her family in such a way that she would not miss out on non-negotiables like time with the kids (being at their school programs, games, etc.).
- Leah started to look at opportunities that she could pursue even if her family relocated.
- After researching, Leah got her first exposure to real recruitment at the University of Phoenix.
- She initially enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Phoenix. But she really enjoyed recruitment and was recruiting students, attending career fairs, and working on curriculum development. The focus was on adult students who were looking for a new career (i.e. their first career did not work out).
- Leah could identify with the students because she too had some twists and turns that changed what she had planned to do originally.
- Leah was advising students on career and encouraged them to think about the careers that would fit within their desired lifestyle. She was truly an advocate for the students and felt very fulfilled seeing the students she had helped eventually graduate.
- Nick likes the way Leah continually defined success professionally but also personally, thinking of it more as life success. And she kept iterating on that.
13:32 – The Identity Crisis and a Mindset Shift
- Did Leah get training when entering recruitment, and did her previous experience actually make her qualified to do it?
- Certainly Leah received some training when she went into recruitment, but what made her successful was more about earning trust than getting someone to believe in a product or service.
- When someone enrolled, Leah genuinely believed they did so because of their trust in her and because of the research she had done with that person. She was an advocate for that person.
- In the case of some students it was not the best fit or the right time for them.
- Leah feels like she still served in an advisory capacity and leveraged her previous experience as a resident advisor to help.
- John says when he abandoned his first college major it was pretty traumatic. It should not have been in retrospect, but he sees it now through the wisdom of distance. Leah had multiple changes to navigate in her studies yet still was able to define success on a personal level.
- Leah says it really wasn’t an easy thing. She had to rely on her faith. To that point she was someone who had been successful at everything she had done as a student.
- She was picked as most likely to succeed and had a bunch of plans that just didn’t work out.
- Leah was the only freshman from University of Oklahoma to land an internship at Exxon and felt she was really achieving some great things.
- Moving from one path to another for Leah was about evaluating what was more important. Her husband was pursuing a career in playing professional basketball that really had a shelf life and couldn’t really ask him to wait on her.
- "But I knew there were other things that I could be successful at, and that was a compromise we had to make as a family." – Leah White
- Leah had a little bit of an identity crisis as many people do in these types of situations. But it was a clear decision, especially when they had children because the one thing she was not going to sacrifice was time with them.
- It wasn’t going to be a situation where her husband was playing overseas / in another state and someone would have to come take care of the children. She didn’t want to tell her kids she wouldn’t be there for a recital or to help with homework. It was a clear decision.
- "I had to just really have a different mindset in what success would look like for my family because it would no longer be just my personal success." – Leah White
- Did Leah have some advance warning of the likelihood of travel for her husband’s career as they approached getting married?
- Leah’s husband played basketball for the University of Oklahoma and pretty much knew he would continue pursuing it as a career.
- Even now Leah’s husband coaches at the D1 level for the University of Houston and since the early days has been something requiring a lot of travel.
- Leah tells us we need to not just look at how we identify with things as an individual. Telling yourself you have not achieved what you wanted to achieve can even create problems with your family.
- Having this perspective as early as possible really sets you up for long term success.
- When you plan your career at a young age, career advisors don’t often talk to you about your relationships.
- "When you are choosing your career pathway you are choosing one that is going to compliment your lifestyle…not just what’s a part of that sequence of courses you’re going to complete." – Leah White
- John says when he was in school he didn’t need to / did not think about the ramifications of being in a relationship with an upper classman (who graduates and may not necessarily stick close to campus afterward). This is a complication.
- Nick thinks the mindset Leah had is what made her so successful in recruitment of students. It seems like she has internalized this process so much that it was imparted to the students she worked with as well.
- Leah believes it is important to be as transparent as possible. These are huge decisions (taking a new job, investing in a career, etc.).
- It’s important to have the real conversations about additional consideration points (i.e. obstacles to doing something, whether it will be long or short term, etc.). It’s only fair to visit these topics.
- Even in her job today, Leah encourages people to ask as many questions as possible during the hiring process.
- Ask to speak tot someone who would be working on your team to get a real perspective.
- You should ask enough so that when you walk into a new role there are no regrets and no mismatches in what you expect it to be and what it actually is (as close to what you expect as possible at least).
- Nick suggests we likely do not ask enough questions in job interviews to try and figure out what the land mines might be.
22:06 – Becoming Part of the Institute
- John wonders if the experience of self-evaluation and defining success carried over into roles beyond the job at University of Phoenix.
- Leah really enjoyed her job there and joked that the only thing truly missing was a meal plan. Her husband would often times talk about the good food he was having.
- A family friend really became a mentor of Leah’s. She really taught Leah the basics of external recruiting principles.
- Leah got an MBA and a HR graduate certificate from University of Phoenix, but there were facets of recruitment she had not yet explored.
- Leah was able to do some contract work with this family friend (some HR stuff), and she also had some small stints with various agencies for some supplemental income.
- As part of this experience, Leah was exposed to a variety of tools, strategies, goals, and platforms. This was very helpful to her. It was not anything to provide longevity, but it was some good exposure.
- At one point the University of Phoenix decided to close the campus where Leah worked, wanting to close their brick and mortar locations and focus on the bread and butter of online courses.
- Despite the unfortunate closing of the office where Leah had been working, she had leadership who were looking out for those who were impacted by this decision.
- There are leaders who still text Leah happy birthday to this day.
- One specific leader referred Leah to a personal friend at the Louisiana Culinary Institute who was looking for support in admissions.
- In a way the opportunity at the Louisiana Culinary Institute was that meal plan Leah had been talking about. She would get to taste things that students made and eat wonderful food.
- The opportunity expanded Leah’s knowledge quite a bit. It was a private institution where everyone would wear many hats. Leah served as the admissions director, internship director, and career development coordinator at different points during her time at the institute.
- Leah gained experience in sourcing partnerships and nurturing those she brought to the school (and even spearheaded a partnership with Disney). In addition to this, Leah partnered with different employers (like restaurants) and brought in different clients. She taught psychology classes (using her minor from school), small business development, and even HR courses.
- The institute had added a business track to prepare students for opening their own restaurant, for example.
- Leah was able to use the thing she had learned from other hats she had worn at different places in her past and really enjoyed the experiences.
- She was on that other end of recruitment working with adult students who were often career changers, some had families, and most wanted to become chefs / business owners / be somewhere in the culinary field, etc.
- Leah does not believe she would have been able to do all these things if she had been part of a larger organization.
- Leah is thankful for the people who believed in her abilities to make a difference there. She was given the freedom to go and try things (not all of which worked) that expanded her skillset.
- Leah didn’t specifically ask for the freedom and latitude she was given at the culinary institute during the interview process. Remember Leah had been laid off from the University of Phoenix previous to this role, and she was open to just about anything.
- Many of the opportunities given to Leah at this employer were provided after some gaps / specific needs were identified and she raised her hand to give it a try. Other times certain things were asked of her.
- As Leah demonstrated success in one area her scope would broaden, allowing her to shift from one area to another.
- She might then be part of the hiring process to replace the area in which she was working and move on to a different area.
- "It really was a progression over time where I moved from one department to another where I grew it and then moved to a different path in the organization." – Leah White
- Nick says this was a chance to really learn the business, its processes, and how they connect.
- As a recruiter now, could Leah have identified someone who would have been well suited to have the same success she did at the culinary institute (i.e. someone who fit a job description but that the company was looking to grow into certain areas)?
- Leah says this happens often with lower level roles (i.e. junior level). You are often gauging potential.
- "The point is that you’re wanting to invest in someone you’re hiring, so do I see that you have the potential for growth?" – Leah White
- Much of this is scouted during a conversation and maybe asking questions like
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What is your ideal role?
- What are your interests?
- You’re trying to gauge whether this is someone who is really going to work on their personal growth within the organization.
- When Leah speaks with people she is looking for adaptability, passion, purpose, and a willingness to grow skillsets.
29:49 – Internships
- There are multiple reasons companies see value in internships.
- If you are taking an emerging professional and putting them in an internship opportunity, you are able to gauge whether that person is going to be a quality future hire.
- There is normally a predetermined time frame of 3-6 months with the goal in many situations to at the end being to take that person on full time. But if you have not seen what you were hoping to get out of the time with that person (as an employer), you can end the relationship.
- This works both ways. The person taking part in an internship may decide the experience was not what they expected it to be or that the company is not a place where they would one day want to work.
- The internship is like dating and then deciding if you really want to marry the person. During the internship you really get a feel for whether you want to move forward.
- The internships at Louisiana Culinary Institute were developed with the idea of growing a partnership.
- It was also to help students get a feel for how to seek a job. Despite being a great student, the person may have no idea how to go about doing that (to move on past school).
- An established internship program really provides guidance for students in this way and putting them in a better position to land a full time job.
- You also have to consider career changers. If you are looking at someone’s resume and all experience is in a different area than the job for which they are applying really wants. If that person had spent time in an internship they are able to show proof of experience with possible backing recommendation letters.
- Nick mentions the connotation of internship is usually associated with someone new to the workforce, and he hadn’t thought about it from the standpoint of the career changer. Maybe in some cases you might refer to it as an apprenticeship?
- John says it is much more common in the culinary world to do an internship, and it doesn’t make sense to graduate with a culinary degree with no professional kitchen experience. But this is likely true for almost any job and degree.
- Leah says this is more prevalent in some industries than others. She had a great time during her engineering internship, for example. Likely one would not have engineering experience without participating in some kind of internship.
- Some places have co-op agreements where you would take a semester of school and then a semester working. One could have 2 years of experience working at an organization by the end of this and would be coming in at a higher job level and higher pay. But it’s also about whether you are ok with lengthening the time period you are in school.
- John says the last time he thought about this was when he was a senior in high school. He didn’t think about how joining a company with the degree and some experience there compared to a degree and no experience might set someone up to be ahead of the game in total earnings down the road.
- Leah says in the IT world we often see this with boot camps. Someone who wants to change careers may invest in a 6 month boot camp, for example. The investment someone made in a coding boot camp is looked upon quite differently (in a positive light) than someone who took a class or two on the side or was self-taught. There are often partnerships with boot camps for recruitment.
- Nick says it would make sense that recruiters who need to fill job roles would want to partner with programs bringing people into an industry in this way (i.e. building talent pipelines).
- Leah says it speaks volumes when a company has someone came from a boot camp succeed within that company. Some companies have a very strong brand, but having someone be successful (in Leah’s mind) is the picture perfect role model of what works for your organization.
- And the more people who end up successful coming out of the program, the more confidence is placed in the program itself.
- John asks if there were programs to be a YouTube food influencer during Leah’s time at the culinary institute.
- Nope – they did not have any programs like that at the time.
- Students did (as part of the curriculum) practice being recorded cooking. They might be featured at an event or news segment.
- Being recorded was something many students avoided. They loved being in the kitchen as a solo act, but being recorded meant they had to focus on how they looked, whether they were following sanitary guidelines, etc. This kind of thing was very important for many of the pathways people wanted to go down.
- We’ve found in the tech industry the more you can present your work in public (even if pre-recorded), it raises your profile and can act as proof of work.
38:13 – Seeking Flexibility
After the Louisiana Culinary Institute, Leah transitioned to Accenture.
This was another life pivot. Leah’s husband had been coaching in Louisiana and got his dream opportunity at the time to coach at University of Houston for his former coach. This required relocation to Houston.
- The same family friend mentioned before (a mentor) stepped in to help, suggesting Leah look at Accenture for remote recruitment.
- This sounded perfect for Leah since her family had a tendency to relocate fairly frequently. Something she could take with her would work way better.
- After speaking with the Accenture recruiting team there were two opportunities available – general recruiting and sourcing.
- Leah loves sourcing because you’re a little bit of a matchmaker, and it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. You’re seeking amazing candidates, bringing opportunities to them, and the person has the choice to pursue it or not.
- Leah felt like in a sourcing role you are going out and helping others, and that is what she really liked about it.
Leah was at Accenture for about 4 years and was able to work on a number of projects such as diversity projects and was able to really use a lot of the technical foundation learned at The University of Phoenix.
- She had worked on IT program recruitment previously and was now at Accenture sourcing IT professionals, which became a sweet spot for her.
- Leah loves IT folks and feels they are straight to the point and transparent about what they are looking for in a job. She really enjoyed this about technical sourcing.
- Leah says Accenture has a great culture. It’s a massive organization with many facets where there was never a dull day. She might be sourcing a life sciences role, a SAP professional, and a Workday professional on consecutive days (for example).
- This was a fun opportunity in which Leah was able to meet so many people and grow in her work.
- The only piece missing for Leah when she was there was that she was still a contractor, which was the way it worked for that portion of the HR division.
- Leah had done a great job while there and received good feedback and reviews while there, but the structure was really all contractors and did not change.
- Leah was comfortable there because of the people she worked with.
Does a broad range of roles to source actually make it more difficult on the sourcer?
- It depends on personal preference. Leah had co-workers who would specialize in a single area, and it was where they preferred to remain (i.e. becoming a subject matter expert in a specific area or particular platform).
- Leah raised her hand to be a little bit of a floater because she enjoyed being able to try something new. It’s also a little job stability because Leah was up for going into these different areas and understanding those parts of the business. Accenture is a huge organization.
- If someone like Leah is learning roles on the life sciences side, on the business side, and then on the tech side…she is getting a better understanding of how the organization works and is able to better direct candidates.
- It’s very common to reach out to a candidate about a specific role and then once you get to know the person, you may come to the realization that there may be better for the candidate within your organization. And you keep looking and perhaps bring another opportunity to that candidate.
- If you’re open to learning more about your organization (as Leah did), you are able to be a greater asset to your organization and provide more value in what you do.
- Nick says this speaks to the generalist / specialist divide for technologists and the struggles in moving back and forth toward each end of the spectrum. We have seen many organizations that do not value hyperspecialists and prefer more generalists while other companies may prefer more specialists.
John suggests seeking flexibility seems to be a pattern for Leah since he has had to flex in the past and not depend on any one thing.
Early on in her career Leah was more structured and later found it did not really work for her situation.
Leah believes she has fully embraced the flexibility, and this also keeps things interesting. She loves to participate in different projects, being able to raise her hand and get plugged in to help in various areas.
This helps Leah learn more about the organization, the industry, and trends. She believes we have to continue to grow instead of saying "this is what I am gong to do" and "this is what I am always going to do."
As we have seen from the last few years it’s very important to be flexible and adapt in order to be successful.
Mentioned in the outro
- Success for Leah was a byproduct of defining the non-negotiables like family time, etc.
- John has been through an identity crisis as well after going to school to become an electrical engineer and then figured out he needed to do something else (which had to be figured out).
- Sometimes we assume as men that our spouse / partner is going to relocate and follow us if needed for work. That is not always the case. Listen to John share the story about a friend of his who needed to relocate to the opposite coast of the US support his wife.
- Continuing to hone and sharpen your skills can make you more marketable if you were to experience a layoff.
- We should have asked if it would be a good tactic to reach out to sourcing personnel at companies if one was looking for jobs!
- Remember that focus on flexibility. Perhaps if you’re listening that is something you would like to highlight in a job search.
Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.
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