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Hireology COO Julie Brinkman, on why a leader should be vulnerable

…being vulnerable helps break down barriers and shows your authentic side. When other people can see you as a human and not just their boss, it alleviates tension and enhances motivation. I had the pleasure to interview Julie Brinkman, the Chief Operating Officer of Hireology. Julie is responsible for the company’s new and recurring revenue, […]


…being vulnerable helps break down barriers and shows your authentic side. When other people can see you as a human and not just their boss, it alleviates tension and enhances motivation.


I had the pleasure to interview Julie Brinkman, the Chief Operating Officer of Hireology. Julie is responsible for the company’s new and recurring revenue, product engineering, and internal operations. In her role, Julie leads the teams responsible for attracting new customers, delighting current customers with award winning support, and creating innovative solutions that help Hireology customers build great teams.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career as a consultant at Deloitte where I was focused on developing and enhancing value-added relationships with our Fortune 500 clients. Although I enjoyed the work, my long-term goal was always to become partner one day. After nine years at the company and many opportunities later, I took an honest look at my career path and decided to make a change. On a whim, I Googled “best places to work in Chicago” and the search turned up an opportunity at Groupon. With a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire to work in a fast-paced environment, Groupon was the perfect fit for me and became my home for the next three years. From my position at Groupon, I moved to my current company, Hireology, which provides an integrated hiring and talent management platform. I was hired as a Vice President of Customer Success and since joining the team in 2015, have gained additional responsibilities that have led me to my current position as Chief Operating Officer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Because Hireology is a young, vibrant, emerging brand, each and every day is interesting. Our team has taken this company from a startup to a multi-million dollar organization and in the process, we are all learning something new every day. Growing a company from scratch has created an environment that is similar to a ‘business school case study’, where we are all developing strategies for success together. Hireology is six times larger than it was when I started with the company in 2015 and when I look back, I can feel the progress we have made. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on in my career with Hireology, I was tasked with creating the budget for the coming year. Although I have a background in finance, I quickly realized that I was going to need outside assistance. A board member came into town to work with me on the project, it became very clear to me that I should have done more research. Not only did I feel unprepared for the meeting but I didn’t understand half of what this gentleman was saying to me. I was embarrassed and learned very quickly that you should always do your homework — and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know the answer to something. On a more personal note, our company has annual offsite events and at one event I decided to participate in a round of karaoke. After I finished belting out Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone”, a colleague yelled at me to ‘drop the mic.’ Let’s just say that it was not only embarrassing but expensive — the DJ was not happy with me! We only bring fake microphones with us to our parties now.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What sets Hireology apart from other companies is our set of five core values. These values were created by our CEO, Adam Robinson, and we live and breathe them every single day. These values include:

  • Pathological Optimism
  • Own the Result
  • Eager to Improve
  • Create WOW Moments
  • No Assholes

Most other companies I’ve seen have values that are merely words on the website or a poster in the breakroom. The commitment at Hireology to stick to these values is truly unmatched as we hire by them, fire by them and weave them into nearly everything we do at Hireology. They define who we are as a company and create a culture that is uniquely Hireology- a place people look forward to working at and growing with every day.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The employment environment is so unique right now with a record-breaking 3.9% unemployment rate — it is becoming harder and harder to find and hire good people. We are working day in and day out to help small businesses reshape their employment brand and culture and that in and of itself is very exciting. We have the unique opportunity at Hireology to help support small business owners across the U.S. and place good people in the right jobs. Our software placed nearly 100,000 people in a new position over the course of the last year.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

As women, we have the tendency to apologize for having high expectations in the workplace — we say “I am sorry for asking for this” or “I am sorry for making you work harder.” We need to embrace our high standards and not apologize for them. I would encourage all women to be unapologetic about your drive for excellence.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

There is an analogy about the constructing of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower here in Chicago that I think portrays exactly the way I perceive managing a large team. When the architects were beginning to think about how to build the massively tall tower in downtown Chicago, one man pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He tapped the open package against his hand and the cigarettes began to fall out. One cigarette fell out further, surrounded and supported by the rest of the cigarettes in the pack. This inspired the idea that the tower could not be built without the support and structure around it. The same goes for managing a team. I can’t possibly manage my people without my core team surrounding me — Vice Presidents, my chief of staff, etc. The only true way a structure and a leader can really grow is by having strong structures around them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom. My parents split up when I was really young and at the time, my mom was working for my dad’s small business. When they decided to go their separate ways, my mom knew she would have to find another employment path. She chose to go back to school and pursue a Bachelor of Science degree and eventually went on to law school where she graduated number one in her class — while single handedly raising three young children. After she graduated, she got a high-profile job at the biggest law firm in Detroit and went on to have an incredibly successful career. Growing up, I was sometimes frustrated that I didn’t have what other kids had — a lot of money, my parents at every sporting event or school activity — but when I look back on my childhood, I am incredibly proud of what my mom achieved. She taught me the art of grit — to just put your head down and get to where you need to go. She instilled in me the desire to always strive for financial and intellectual independence. Without her example of fortitude, I would not be where I am today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My husband and I have two young children, ages 7 and 5 years old. When I am not working, I spend my time raising my kids to be the best people they can possibly be and helping them to find their space in the world. I believe that raising strong, independent and caring children has a ripple effect on our society. In addition to raising my kids, my job is helping small business owners build a good team of employees and when people love where they work and small businesses thrive, good things happen.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be curious — if something doesn’t make sense to you, it likely doesn’t make sense to others. Have the curiosity to open up a line of questioning to gain a greater understanding of the world around you.
  2. Be authentic — every human being has limitations and abilities. We don’t have to be best friends with everyone but being vulnerable helps break down barriers and shows your authentic side. When other people can see you as a human and not just their boss, it alleviates tension and enhances motivation.
  3. Do what you say you’re going to do –This is credibility 101. It builds trust.
  4. Do what is right — there is no way to build a rule or process that is going to guarantee that everything turns out the way you want it to but by embodying a moral compass and doing what is right, others will follow your lead.
  5. Don’t let them see you sweat — things aren’t always going to go according to plan but the important thing is the way that these challenges are communicated. Managing your stress and staying calm while still stressing urgency is a great way to overcome any challenge.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There have been many circumstances in my life that have made me value the art of self-healing. If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, I would encourage everyone to take up practices that encourage emotional health — yoga, acupuncture and massage to name a few. When people take care of themselves and are emotionally and mentally healthy, it creates an environment of strength.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That we go on, the world always goes on, breaking us with its changes until our form, exhausted, runs true.”

This quote is something that has truly shaped my life. Through all of the challenges I’ve faced in my personal and professional life, I’ve learned that it has helped to shape me into who I am today. It has also opened my eyes to start truly caring for who I am, and to starting new practices like yoga and acupuncture to celebrate myself and keep myself running in my best form.

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