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How Companies Identify Talent with Natalie Morgan of CareerPlug & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

CareerPlug Human Resources Hiring Strategies

The only thing you can truly plan on is change.

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 Natalie Morgan.

In her current role as the Director of HR, Natalie works to ensure CareerPlug puts its People First. From helping the company grow with the right people in place, to facilitating professional and leadership development programs, and ensuring CareerPlug operates in alignment with its core values, Natalie is committed to growing the company to be one of the best places to work in Austin. In her non-HR life, Natalie enjoys writing, running, bookstores, collecting Monopoly games, and all things Harry Potter.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I fell into HR by accident. After pursuing writing and publishing in college, I worked in sales and marketing for CareerPlug — a small start-up at the time. I wore many hats as we continued to grow and realized — to my surprise and enjoyment — that I was acting as HR well before we formalized the role. When I reflect back on growing up as a camp counselor and then working as a Resident Assistant throughout school, HR felt like a natural next step for me. The common thread has been serving others and building community.

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?

As an avid Harry Potter fan, I actually used to inadvertently derail interviews when a candidate happened to mention they liked Harry Potter! (It happened more often than you’d think). I had to learn to enjoy whatever rapport building took place in interviews without letting it distract the conversation or bring any biases into the hiring process.

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?

Know who you’re looking for. This sounds painfully obvious but taking the time to outline who you actually need for the role is often overlooked. The challenge is to go beyond listing out job responsibilities you’d find on the public job posting. At CareerPlug, we do something called an Ideal Candidate Profile before we start any hiring process that identifies not only the skills, but the talents and behaviors a candidate should ideally have to be successful. For example, we may want a support representative to have previous experience in phone support, but we also want someone who is coachable and able to easily build rapport in order to diffuse escalated situations. There is no perfect candidate. The right hire might not check all the boxes. But it will help you (and your team — don’t do this exercise in a bubble!) clarify what’s most important and what’s non-negotiable.

Show who you are. Attract people who will be a good fit at your company by being yourself — highlight everything that’s exciting, but don’t hide the dirty laundry. Some people will look at your challenges as an exciting problem to solve and others as a reason to cut ties a few months in. No matter how great it is to work for you, you won’t be the best place to work for everyone. That is why it’s important to be upfront about who you truly are. One thing we do in our hiring process is to share our company’s Vivid Vision with candidates before they come in for an interview. This document shares our future goals and the kind of company we aspire to be. We see candidates come in excited to talk about this vision and how they could play a part, but with others, it doesn’t resonate and they move on to pursue other positions.

Candidate experience matters. In today’s market, candidate experience is playing a bigger role than ever, but that’s not why employers should be paying attention to how they’re treating candidates. Candidate experience matters because people matter. Let’s set aside the benefits to your employment brand and remember that hiring can be a headache for both hiring managers and job seekers. It is within our power to make the process a little easier and a little more human by treating candidates like the people they are beyond the resume. Much of the time candidate experience is small courtesies, like sending a rejection rather than never responding to an application or phone screening a candidate before asking them to take an hour-long assessment. I share a video that outlines our hiring process with all candidates (it’s public on our careers page) so they can know what to expect from the beginning.

Ask about adversity. My favorite interview question to ask (besides “what’s the last book you read?”) is “Tell me about a time you failed.” It became my favorite after an interview with a leadership candidate. We asked the question, and, after pausing for a moment, they answered: “I can’t think of a time. I’ve never failed.” This alone eliminated them from the hiring process. Either they were lying or lacking in self-awareness — both hiring red flags. What I like to see in candidate answers is an acknowledgment of past mistakes, how they handled the situation, and what they learned from it. This shows me that they are someone who can reflect and grow.

Include the team. We always include peers or direct reports of a potential new employee in the hiring process. They may not be the ultimate decision makers, but we weigh their voices heavily and have passed on candidates we might have hired if not for the team members’ perspective. We all have blind spots, so we’ve built a culture around challenging a hiring manager as they make their decision to ensure they’ve evaluated what’s most important and feel confident in their decision.

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?

Referrals. Talented people hang out with other talented people — leverage your current team to get the word out for your open positions. Having a formal referral program goes a long way. We offer $500 to a referring employee if we make the hire!

Niche Sites. Explore more specialized job sites or groups that make it easier to show off your brand and values and connect with candidates searching for your particular role. We found success recently by posting on Women Who Code’s job site and hired a female senior software engineer who might not have found us if we didn’t put out that message. We welcome female engineers and are actively seeking them out.

Employment Brand. Your employment brand exists whether you make an effort or not, so it’s important to intentionally build your employment brand as a reflection of your culture. Share your values, your vision, and real photos and testimonials of your team on your careers page and social media. Ask your employees to write an honest review of your company on Glassdoor. Bottom line: Don’t keep your employment brand a secret!

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

Last year we brought a group into our office to talk about sustainability and how we can make a positive impact on the environment. The presentation started out with a viewing of Greta Thunberg’s Ted Talk on climate change. From then on signs popped up around our breakroom in the vein of “What would Greta do?” and inspired us to continue implementing sustainable work practices (like bringing in composting, limiting individually packaged snacks, and encouraging at least one work from the home day a week). My movement is already in progress: Listen to Greta.

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

Have a plan, then deviate.

Another way to say this: The only thing you can truly plan on is change. This has helped me keep goals in perspective, especially at a growing software company that needs to pivot and innovate in order to bring our best. HR is ultimately about connecting and supporting people . . . and people don’t always follow the plan! Staying flexible and being able to adapt has kept me grounded through any situation.

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?

Megan Rapinoe from the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. I have mountains of respect and admiration for her advocacy for equal pay and LGBTQ+ rights.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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