It can be hard to force yourself off the sideline. Life is more comfortable there.
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 Michelle Keefe.
Michelle Keefe, the CEO of MomUp. Michelle leads MomUp on its quest to connect organizations with the amazing resource of mothers. Prior to MomUp, Michelle successfully ran and sold her first business, Misha K. She holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Harvard University. When she can, she tries to sneak in teaching a yoga class and she recently spent 6 weeks in New Zealand living in a camper van with her husband and 3 kids.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
Like many people, my career path was definitely not a linear one. I stepped in and out and then dipped my toes back in here and there as I started and sold a business in my twenties, and then chose to primarily stay home with my kids when they were small. After a few years at home with kids and assisting my husband with his startup, I was ready to go back to work full-time. And as part of that process, I had conversations with many inspiring women around me, all of them with intense levels of talent and skill who had opted out of the workforce for one reason or another. Most expressed a strong desire to get back to work, but for companies that truly understood high-level talent and a need for work/life balance.
With the experience that both my husband and I had in start-ups, we knew that finding superior talent was a challenge. We learned to think outside the box when growing outside the box fast and on a tight budget, and had developed the philosophy that an employee did not mean someone necessarily in the office 40 hours a week. In fact, advisors, contractors and part-time team members are valuable assets to any team.
It was with this theory that I started MomUp. I realized that companies could benefit from bringing in experts when they need them and get access to the best talent. And, I recognized, if we connected these companies with high-performing working women, we could also bring more gender diversity to their team and women in leadership roles.
I knew I could make a tremendous impact for the businesses — while helping women retain their career paths during motherhood when many get derailed. Of course, this was before the pandemic. We are seeing this issue play out at an even larger scale now with COVID and 800K+ women exiting the workforce in September alone.
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?
We started MomUp in the fall of 2019 and six months later, COVID hit. Our initial momentum came to a screeching halt: our talent pool dried up as women focused on dealing with sudden changes to their childcare schedules, and widespread hiring freezes stopped our pipeline.
We were fortunate that in those initial six months we had made incredible progress and our network had grown rapidly. We quickly pivoted. With the rapid decline in hiring, we refocused those initial few months of quarantine to provide assistance to the women in our network.
MomUp hosted a two-month long speaker series and provided free access to extensive resources and experts so that people could start to think about what their next steps might be. We wanted to really feel like support for people during this challenging time. We were all feeling the pain, the overwhelming pressures of remote school, remote work, and so many other uncertainties. By offering a place for people to come and find help, we could build that relationship and give them space for reflection and an opportunity to make progress.
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?
Our goal is to bring the best talent to our clients. We want to understand not only if this candidate has the best skillset and experience but also how will they benefit the organization’s culture. Hiring is one of the biggest challenges when leading a company. There are so many variables with finding and retaining the best team.
There are a few specific areas we focus on:
Vet the Candidate. Relationship building is the foundation of recruiting and we value this with both the candidates and the companies. One of the advantages of working with MomUp is the trust and transparency that exists between us and the candidate and that really helps us assess what they need out of an opportunity and if they are the right person for a certain role. Women join our network knowing that we want to create the best match and there’s a real sense of trust between us, so we understand their skills, their experience, their restrictions, and their goals at a deep level.
Assess the Company. Due to our unique value proposition of connecting working moms to jobs, we understand that culture fit is of utmost importance, and so we do as much research on the company as we do on the candidate. We want to learn the brand, the team, and the goals. This results in a much better connection on both sides. Our aim is to make connections without wasting anyone’s time.
Understand the Company Vision. Knowing the long term strategy is important to determine who is the best fit. Needs can change on a daily basis so it’s important to have a vision that you can use as a guide for hiring decisions. There are short term solutions that correspond with the long term vision, such as bringing someone on as an advisor and then slowly transitioning them into a full-time role as you grow.
Advise the Hiring Manager. Our specialty is helping smaller companies and start-ups acquiring the best talent. For many hiring managers, time constraints are a major obstacle in the hiring process and an area that we focus on alleviating. By asking the right questions, we can help determine the biggest needs and requirements in a candidate.
Keep the Funnel Full. Prioritize relationships with candidates and build a pipeline of superior talent. When someone wants to hire, they typically want that person yesterday. A hiring urgency can often lead to a hiring mistake and undoing those mistakes can take a long time. In order to make the process happen with alacrity, build candidate relationships, get them excited, and keep them engaged. It can take time to cultivate and maintain these relationships but when you need someone asap, you have resources in place that will allow you to hire faster and with greater confidence.
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?
First, mission-based organizations have an advantage right now because companies want to feel good about the process they use and candidates want to work with people they trust. We are moving beyond the idea of just getting the job done, the role filled, and moving on. The hiring process is too long and costly to make mistakes, and both candidates and the companies we work with appreciate our mission-based approach to finding the right fit.
Secondly, social media is another huge opportunity. We have an engaged following on all the platforms. We are taking a more modern approach to how we attract the best talent; fostering these relationships on social media is a way to differentiate from other recruiters.
Finally, our mission provides opportunities to partner with great organizations, such as Fairygodboss, that value diversity in the workplace. They have an expansive reach as well as a trusted network of women.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The US is the only highly developed economy that does not mandate paid family leave. We will never achieve gender parity until we catch up to other nations on how we support parents. The current pandemic has shed light on the systemic issue of parents, particularly mothers, facing more obstacles at work. As we navigate these challenges it’s critical to change to how we value families. Paid leave is not only important for the health of a family but it also increases the participation of women in the workforce resulting in a stronger economy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Brene Brown definitely inspires me. When I need a kick in the ass I listen to one of her talks.
It can be hard to force yourself off the sideline. Life is more comfortable there. Failure is scary. Public opinion feels so important. Once I let go of worrying about what people will think if I fail or being concerned about looking foolish, everything changed for me.
Of course, there are moments of feeling like an imposter but here’s the thing I have learned: everyone feels that way at times and everyone is too busy worrying about their own stuff to spend time thinking badly about you. Better to get out there and live the life you want.
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?
Ha! Probably Brene Brown. I would love that brilliant Texan to share her wisdom with me as we shared some Mexican food. I imagine there would be some great laughs.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today!