Fireside chat with William Tincup & Laura Mazzullo of East Side Staffing
Laura is the type of person that you need to talk with every two weeks or so. She’s knowledgeable, humble, sarcastically funny, and she makes our industry more interesting. We live in a world that celebrates vanilla and insincerity, and she’s neither.
She’s also very New York City and an extrovert, so COVID is killing her vibe, as Kendrick Lamar would say. I’m proud to know her, and I’m glad we sat down to talk shop.
A bit more about Laura.
Laura Mazzullo is the founder and owner of East Side Staffing. A boutique recruitment firm focused on the placement of experienced HR professionals. For the last 15 years, Laura has developed a successful career in recruitment and brings an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for building relationships.
She is committed to and passionate about the talent acquisition space and is always looking for new ways to innovate and best support her HR network. Laura combines her recruitment expertise with a consultative approach to offer a personalized service for both candidates and clients. Connect with Laura on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
I usually don’t suggest folks to follow on social media because the cynic in me believes (strongly) that our heroes are destined to let us down. That said, I’ll make the exception with Laura, you should absolutely follow her musings via the socials.
She’s good, and you’ll actually learn something from her (and her friends).
Okay, let’s get to the interview.
Q1: Work-related, what’s keeping you up at night these days?
The fact that we talk so much about Executives not valuing HR and not appreciating them, giving them a ‘seat at the table’ (buzzword alert, I know…), and yet I worry that HR pros actually aren’t trained well enough on how to be influential and have that Executive Presence (eek, another one..)
But, truly–I’ve seen insecurity in HR professionals that worries me. They need to see their self-worth, their value, their expertise. It starts there.
Then, I think it becomes a lot easier to influence, push-back, get tech approved, get budgets approved, get buy-in for major investments around people and culture. I realize we may be putting ‘blame’ on external factors, but the internal struggles may be louder than we think. We just maybe haven’t been listening.
Q2: What’s your short term (>3 years) vision for East Side Staffing?
My vision has and always has been to be there for HR professionals, who are often underserved. Most Recruiters’ avoid’ HR ‘like the plague’ (We’ve both heard this before, I’m sure.) for reasons that we can discuss further another time.
And, I’ve always felt: Who is there for the HR community?
I believe all professionals, including HR Leaders, need help with hiring. Hiring is a skill. All skills need to be refined, honed, trained upon, and improved. Think of professional athletes. They have coaches, trainers, mentors, consultants. And yet, HR pros often are left to fend for things alone.
The vision for East Side Staffing is to continue to encourage and empower HR leaders to learn how to hire better for their own teams. I believe HR has a responsibility to lead from the front and set an example for the rest of the business.
I’m here to help make that happen.
Q3: What’s your long-term (<3 years) vision for East Side Staffing?
I am starting to get more involved in things outside of classic ‘placement’ or ‘search’ by teaching webinars on how to transform an HR Job-Search and HR Hiring Process. And, doing more consulting work for clients: teaching them how to improve their hiring process as opposed to doing it for them.
I think there will be an evolution in my service in offering to do more consulting and training. I’m open to ideas and want HR professionals to know we can be creative and problem-solve as a team. Another area for improvement for HR professionals is asking for help and not seeing that as a weakness. Historically, they have felt they should ‘know-it-all’ or that it looked weak to ask for outside partnership.
I think that’s an old-school mindset that is finally starting to dissipate. The workforce is evolving too quickly to stay in a stubborn “I got this without any help” mindset.
My favorite clients are the ones who say, “We are doing a decent job at hiring and candidate care, but know we have a lot to learn. As the Head of HR, I know I certainly don’t know everything about how to improve. Can you teach us and help lead us to new levels so we can be the best hiring team out there?”
I once had a client thank me for ‘shepherding’ them through a tough process, and that was the greatest compliment to me. I come from a family of educators and have only recently realized how that’s really one of my favorite parts of HR hiring: getting hiring managers to this lightbulb moment of new education.
Q4: You’ll know East Side Staffing has reached its full potential when?
Every company knows I’m the best and most qualified person to call specifically for HR/People hiring needs. 🙂 And when they feel grateful that I helped them see something in themselves they hadn’t seen before that transformed their hiring and/or job-searching efforts.
Q5: What advice do you give leaders regarding evaluating staffing firms?
Review your company values. Ensure you are hiring a recruitment firm whose values align with yours. I hear so often, “Ugh, we hate this recruiter, but we always call him,” and when I ask why they choose him, I often hear “Oh, good point. I forget it’s a choice. I don’t know. It’s how we’ve always done it.”
Start with remembering this is a conscious choice. Remember that who you choose has a (big) impact on the: candidate experience, your employer brand, and that this person represents you! There has to be a strong value alignment, and frankly, a certain level of rapport and chemistry.
Working with an external recruiter is truly a partnership that requires vulnerability and trust. You have to feel strongly this is someone you want on this journey with you. Hiring today isn’t about ‘seeing a bunch of resumes and choosing someone” It’s a complex process that can be fun again when you have the right team!
Q6. Why do Internal Recruiters feel like they should just do it themselves?
I always think of athletes, who are happy to hire external consultants, coaches, trainers in order to help them hone their skills. Even the most elite athletes gain more external help as they get better, not less. Same with psychologists: they are required to see them themselves as part of their professional development.
We have to remove the feeling of defeat internal TA pros feel when they have to go outside. I believe it comes from a place of insecurity and lack of self-worth, which is something that needs to be improved across the HR/Talent community. Your worthiness isn’t dependent on when you need to hire external help.
My favorite clients are the ones who happily recognize they need support, and don’t hesitate to ask for it. They’re also the same people who have an easier time getting buy-in from their CEOs to even use a search firm; they see the value, they have no shame around it, and they understand that they will learn something from me which will, in turn, help their own professional development.
Q7. What is the benefit for a company to hire a specialized expert instead of a generalist recruiter?
Firstly, think of the candidate experience. Candidates need to feel safe, heard, valued, and understood. Who is better to offer them that than someone who completely gets what they do and who they are? HR professionals can be emotionally guarded due to the nature of their job, and it is harder for them to build intimacy quickly when the conversation revolves around them (they’re great at it when doing it for others).
They feel safer with me, knowing I’ve been recruiting solely in their space for the last 13 years than they would with someone who ‘dabbles’ in HR recruitment from time to time. For the client experience, they also know they are hiring someone with a deep network in the space. (sourcing) An understanding of a strong hiring process (candidate journey). And, an ability to consult on best practices. (overcoming biases, salary negotiation, job description rewrite, behavioral interview guides, etc.)
A generalist recruiter often is working on 20+ requisitions, which don’t allow for these deep dives in process improvement. A specialist will guide you through the process in a way that is educational and transformational so you can use what you’ve learned on the next search.
Q8. Why does value alignment matter in who they choose externally?
I often say it’s not just candidate experience that matters in a search. There are two other people involved: the recruiter and the hiring manager. All 3 of these people want a positive experience.
Recruiting should be fun! It becomes fun when there is alignment. When everyone is getting along well and enjoying the journey, this comes from defining values. I work with hiring managers to identify their core competencies/values required for the role, and I work with candidates to define their goals/values required for this next opportunity. I do the same for me.
East Side Staffing values curiosity, humility, and kindness. This means I need to choose candidates and hiring managers who are willing to embrace being curious, humble, and kind throughout the journey. This means I need to say NO to those who demonstrate being close-minded, arrogant, or nasty in our first interaction (some would be surprised to know this happens more often than not!)
When the hiring manager and external recruiter agree on a hiring philosophy, values are aligned, and there is a desire to enter the search as partners: it’s such a seamless process for all involved. And, the job does get filled faster! When we see hiring processes stalled for months, there is often misalignment based on egos, total value misalignment, lack of participation, or interest from parties involved, disengagement …it’s a disaster.
I also remind clients that choosing external recruiters is just that: a choice. It should be made thoughtfully, strategically, and based on logic. The external recruiter becomes an ambassador of your employer brand and your first point of contact with potential candidates. There is enormous responsibility attached to that.
I am often shocked when a hiring manager says to me, “We use an awful recruiter. We’ve used him for years. We call him because, well, we always do. But, candidates don’t like his approach’.
Q9. When a new prospect comes to you, what is their deciding factor in choosing you?
I often use a Ferrari analogy, because it feels like there are two types of shoppers who enter a Ferrari showroom. One sees the value, they recognize the craftsmanship that went into the making of the car, and they see its performance, its beauty, its reputation, its legacy. And there are others that walk in, look at the price—gasp in disbelief, and walk out.
I’m not sure it’s so different in recruitment. You get what you pay for. There are either hiring managers who see external recruiters solely as a cost and expense, an amount of money they don’t want to spend. Or, they see the money spent as an investment in the development of their internal hiring process, the quality of incoming hires, the ROI of using external support.
But, this is harder to come by in HR because so many are not skilled in influencing their leadership on the ‘why’ behind spending money. It’s hard to quantify in HR (easier, for example, when making a Sales hire. Yes, we pay this fee but look at the amount of money this new Sales Leader will bring in in the first year…)
This is why there’s an art and a science to recruitment. It’s not all so easy to measure/quantity. Some of it comes down to: are your internal recruiters burning out?
Do they need some help?
Are the hiring processes antiquated?
Do they need some modernization?
Is there an issue with Diversity Hiring?
Would it be useful to have someone train you on how to conduct structured interviewing?
Are we doing a poor job of employer branding, would it be helpful to have an external recruiter show us some ideas?
It’s a partnership. And when you are in a partnership, you ask questions. Seek answers. You WANT the help. But, it’s not walking into a Ferrari dealership and yelling, “Jeez! This is expensive!”
Q10: What would an Internal Recruiter learn from hiring an external recruiter to help them?
I often think of a student in a classroom. There are some who sit there thinking, “I know this already. I’m going to zone out and wait for the bell to ring and get on with my day,” and there are some who show up bright-eyed, pencil in hand, ready to soak up knowledge.
Personally, I believe we are always learning. So, the start of any hiring process is an opportunity for us all to learn (including me as the external recruiter. I’ve been in this for 17 years and come from an excited and eager place of curiosity at the start of every search).
So, first, it starts with the mindset. An internal recruiter has to have passion enough for their craft to actually want to hone it. Then, the opportunities to learn are endless. We work together on how to improve every aspect of candidate experience and the hiring journey.
Things like: improving the job description to ensure it reads reflective of the company culture and values, creating a structured interview guide based on core competencies that we define together, coach interviewers on behavioral interviews and scorecards, create a safe environment to call out biases as we experience them (hint: we all do), work on offer negotiation and candidate rejection… I mean, it’s endless.
Hiring is a skill. All skills need to be honed. I’m often perplexed by this notion that ‘we know it all.’
To me, it’s a very short-sighted and arrogant view. Imagine saying to Michael Jordan, “Oh, you were so good at basketball. Why did you ever hire external coaches or trainers? You could have trained them!”
They learn from each other. There’s power in that. This is often forgotten in recruitment. External and Internal need to stop competing and learn from each other instead. It should be seen as a privilege and an exciting learning opportunity to hire external partnerships.