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How Companies Identify Talent with Emma Brudner of Lola & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Lola.com Human Resources Hiring Strategies

There’s so much inequality in our society, and if businesses stepped up and each did their part, we could make a lot of progress.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Emma Brudner.

Emma Brudner is the Director of People Operations at Lola.com. She also spent nearly five years at HubSpot managing the company’s blog. Emma is fascinated with people and is constantly thinking about how to make work more loving.

Thank you for doing this! Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

1. Be deliberate in crafting the role. When any new job is created at Lola, before there’s even a job description, we have what we call a “Search Kickoff Meeting” with recruiting and the hiring manager. In that meeting, we have a template doc that we go through and ask hiring managers to define their have-to-haves, nice to haves, automatic disqualifiers, what’s coachable and what’s not, among other things. Things always change as the search progresses, but we’ve found it to be really helpful in promoting the manager to reflect on what they’re looking for — and that way, we can source and evaluate for it more easily.

2. Designate a culture interviewer. When evaluating culture is everyone’s job, it’s no one’s job — not to mention that “culture fit” means something different to different people. We have a representative from People Operations act as the designated culture interviewer for every single onsite we conduct, which ensures we give equal weight to culture fit as we do to role fit. We also determine culture fit through the lens of Lola’s core values, which makes evaluation less subjective. Instead of, “Is this person a culture fit,” our scorecard asks, “Does this person live Lola’s three values?” — and, we use behavioral interviewing questions to make that determination.

3. Put good karma out into the world. This is the opposite of time-saving … but I answer every single LinkedIn message and email I get. I have a few templated responses for common notes (“thank you, not interested”), but I believe that any help you give will pay dividends in word of mouth. For example, I’ve had coffee chats with several folks who weren’t a great fit for any open roles — but sent their friends or coworkers my way. I got reached out to last week by a software engineer I had lunch with nearly a year ago saying that the timing was better and since he enjoyed our conversation, he wanted to be considered for the team. This obviously only works at a certain size of the company, but I have to say it’s been a differentiating factor.

4. Go beyond LinkedIn. We use LinkedIn for sourcing (a lot) but we also host and attend events and use tools that surface qualified candidates from non-traditional backgrounds. In addition, we make sure that we advertise every single role internally — and if anyone is interested in pursuing the role, we set up a conversation with the hiring manager. This is another reason crafting the role deliberately is really important — instead of getting hung up on specific past experiences, we can evaluate based on competencies.

5. Be different. My boss, Stacey Scott, is really fond of saying, “What’s the Lola way of doing X?” This has pushed me to think creatively about our culture and recruiting approach and brainstorm ways that we can stand out from the crowd. A story comes to mind about values refresh we did last summer. Our Service team calls themselves the Wombats (a story for another day!). One of our company values had been “Customer Core” — meaning that we take care of our customers like we would our friends or family — but it sounded like every other company’s customer language. We were brainstorming and our director of marketing said, “I wish we could name the value after the Wombats since they do such a wonderful job with our customers.” Wait a minute … what about Wombattitude?! Because this value is a little off the beaten path, it helps candidates self-select in — or out. And the people who it does resonate with are excited about it — we get a lot of comments about Wombattitude on recruiting phone screens.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

We’ve seen an uptick in inbound applications over the past year; however, we’re still a heavy sourcing shop. My first tip is to put your copywriting hat on when you’re crafting outreach messages. The worst thing you can do is to sound like a “typical recruiter” — anything that will help you stand out is a good thing. I’ve written all sorts of offbeat messages; sometimes they resonate with a candidate and sometimes they don’t. But I have gotten a lot of responses from people commenting on the atypical messaging — even if they’re not interested — and to me, that’s mission accomplished.

Second, be authentic. The messages that I send are really different than the messages other folks in People Operations or hiring managers to send. That’s a good thing! People can sense when you’re talking in your own voice instead of a stilted “company line” approach.

Lastly, invest in employer branding. It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is — you need to think about employer branding so that when candidates research you or are scrolling LinkedIn they find content that captures their attention and helps them understand if they’re a fit at your company or not. I see people starting in employer branding often feeling drowned in opportunity — there are so many things they could do that they’re not sure what they should do. My advice: Just do something! I’m a writer by trade so I started an employer brand blog (the Wicked Loving blog), write a column on company culture for Inc., and pitch articles regularly to other outlets. It could be a podcast, a video series, a differentiating social media presence — but just start somewhere.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would like to see company investments in sustainability and corporate social responsibility significantly expand and become the norm instead of the exception (this is an area where keeping up with the Joneses would be a great thing!). There’s so much inequality in our society, and if businesses stepped up and each did their part, we could make a lot of progress.

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

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” I was raised to understand the value of hard work, and I give 110% in everything I do — a big task or small, glamorous or mundane. The other meaning of this to me has to do with the moral connotation of the word “good.” I believe in living with integrity and I refuse to compromise my principles.

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Can I cheat and list a few? I’m a huge fan of Work Rules by Laslzo Bock and Radical Candor by Kim Scott — I would have so many questions for them I would have to remind myself to let them eat their lunch! Aubrey Blanche is essentially the reason I have Twitter and has taught me so much about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Finally — and this one probably doesn’t need explanation — Dolly Parton. During her last tour, I saw her twice in three days. She is a model of gratitude, empathy, humor, authenticity, and paying it forward — and I’ve kept a picture of her at my desk for the past 10 years.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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