If we all did one thing to make the world a better place every day, the results would be astonishing.
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 Laura Small.
Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Laura has worked in the L.A. HR scene for over 15 years, having started her career on the business side of advertising, marketing, and entertainment. She’s currently leading the HR charge at RPA, , employing over 750 people in six offices nationwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
I took a very circuitous path to HR Management, including starting my career as a preschool teacher (which, you might argue, is the perfect foundation for working in HR management!). I’ve also worked in materials management and project management, in the gaming, entertainment, and advertising industries. I have been practicing HR, primarily in advertising agencies, since 2005.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
To paraphrase an old saying on aging, HR ain’t for sissies! I’ve definitely had some dramatic moments as an HR leader. Every employee is on their own personal and professional journey, and HR, of course, ends up being on the receiving end of some interesting and very personal information. Some of my favorite stories include workplace displays of affection, a monkey as an emotional support animal, and bedbug-sniffing dogs!
Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. 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 — We like people who are curious about the world beyond our walls. A member of my team is a semi-professional Olympic weightlifter, and I love the stamina and resilience that helps her bring to the work.
2 — Beware of culture fit. If we only hire “people we’d like to get a beer with,” then we lose out on the opportunity to see things differently and hire people who ask interesting questions. I once hired a woman because she wrote about her love for Hello Kitty on her resume, and her quirky worldview was a welcome addition to our staff.
3 — Continuous learning is one of our key tenets as an organization, so I’m always looking for people with a passion for development. If someone asks me about our training program or tuition reimbursement, I know they will bring the right approach to the work.
4 — A generation ago, managers sometimes shied away from considering candidates who had moved around a lot, and the term “job hopper” got thrown around quite a bit. Personally, I like to see someone with some variety on their resume — I know it means they are adaptable and aren’t afraid of a challenge. I once offered a job to someone who had been on tour with Cirque de Soleil — she, unfortunately, turned me down, but I feel that she would have brought such great energy and flexibility (pun intended) to the work.
5 — The candidates that we want are not actively looking for jobs, so for me, it’s really about paying attention to industry trends, and doing some old-fashioned detective work to find out where the top contributors may be. In one instance, I tracked down someone who had recently given a speech at an event for professionals working in a very specific aspect of our business and ended up offering her a job running a team. So it took some legwork, but the end result was well worth it.
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?
1 — We consider our employees, past and present, to be walking endorsements of the agency, and we encourage them to talk about their experiences and why this could be the right place for someone they know or may meet.
2 — I like to say that we have over 750 subject-matter experts on a multitude of topics in this building, and I love it when they share their expertise on panels and in talks and articles. Smart people like to work with smart people, and they tend to get the attention of the candidates we hope to attract.
3 — We focus on what we do best, which is building long-term partnerships with brands, and treating one another with respect. If your values align with ours, then you’ll find RPA to be a place where you can be yourself and feel safe doing it.
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 used to work for a company that encouraged employees to “Do One Thing” — pick just one thing that they can do to improve the world. It could be as simple as bringing your reusable grocery bags when you go to the store or donating time or money to a worthwhile cause. If we all did one thing to make the world a better place every day, the results would be astonishing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love quotes, so it’s almost impossible to pick just one, but if I had to right this minute, it would be from John Wooden, the great UCLA coach and leader, who is quoted as saying “Make today your masterpiece.” I really try to remember to stay in the present and do the most good I can today.
We are 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?
Oh, so many! Melinda Gates comes immediately to mind — she’s smart and fearless, and I so admire her accomplishments. I’d be fascinated to hear how she and Bill built the foundation, and how they have managed to balance business, philanthropy, and family. I find her incredibly inspiring.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!