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How Companies Identify Talent with Steph Barlow of Iversoft & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Steph Barlow Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Everything from Coronavirus forcing companies to reevaluate their remote work policies, to the #MeToo and women’s rights movements. HR needs to be aware of what is happening in the world and be ready to adapt to these trends.

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 Steph Barlow.

Steph Barlow is the Director of People & Culture at Iversoft. Steph volunteers with Hire Immigrants Ottawa as a coach and advocate for supporting international talent and has been a motivational speaker for the uOGlobal program. Whether or not she’s actively recruiting, she loves hearing from talent from around the globe and staying engaged with her community.

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

Going into HR was not a part of my original plan. In fact, my educational background is in Classical Archaeology. After finishing my Masters, I was lined up to start my Ph.D. This next step made me stop and really think about my life — was this what I actually wanted to do? After a lot of soul searching, I realized that being an academic wasn’t the right path for me. So, after years of education, I was back to square one in the job market.

Fortunately for me, I had worked at different technology companies during my undergrad. I started back up doing everything from hiring, market research, competitive analysis, event planning, operations consulting — you name it, I did it. But I still had that looming question many young people face out of school — what did I actually like doing? Finally, a lightbulb went off, and I realized that what I liked doing was studying people. At its core, archaeology and history are the studies of how and why people did things in the past. What changes influenced the growth of civilization, how did cultural structures affect social interactions, and so on. I wanted to continue to pursue this study but in the present tense — which brought me to my now my career — HR. Now I get to apply those archaeological concepts to organizational culture. I focused my consulting efforts on HR, found a mentor and eventually ended up at Iversoft, where I’ve gotten to see the amazing things HR can do in an organization.

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?

How I got my current role wasn’t through what most would consider “conventional means.” I started off consulting and took on Iversoft as a client, helping them twice a week with HR processes. After a couple of weeks, I realized that at the rate they were growing, having someone in two days a week wasn’t going to cut it. I then went to the co-founders and pitched myself as a full-time employee, and they went for it!

The lesson I learned is that sometimes to get what you want in life, you have to ask for it. We often hear of the importance of networking and personal elevator pitches when looking for a job, and I am living proof that these tactics work. This level of confidence can be a considerable challenge for people just getting started in their careers, and especially women who already have a habit of selling themselves short.

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. Train your interviewers. There is an assumption that interviewing is a natural skill that anyone can do, but it’s definitely not. Just as we would train someone for any new task, we want to ensure that we prepare staff when entering an interview. They must know what the company’s hiring process is, their role in the discussion, how to prepare (including developing questions, how to budget time, how to review resumes, etc.), how to take meaningful notes, and how to provide effective feedback. The other thing that interviewers need to take into consideration is how to conduct a legally compliant interview. They must know what appropriate and inappropriate questioning is. Most importantly, by training your interviewers, you are setting them up to successfully identify top talent and ensure they are effectively selling your company to your potential hires.

2. Be aware of your unconscious bias. As humans with different backgrounds, we approach all situations with our own cultural frame of reference. This is portrayed through non-verbal behaviors, communication styles, language ability and common sayings. As we interact with other people outside of our culture, we form opinions — both positive and negative — that is directly affected by our unconscious bias. By being aware that you have these biases and assessing your interview process with this in mind, you may start to see a pattern of disqualifying top candidates without intending to. For example, look at your interview process and identify any potential barriers that could exist for an underrepresented group. Review your job requirements, including accreditation criteria, to ensure it is actually a requirement, and then provide your applicants with information about your workplace norms and general workplace expectations to help them properly frame their answers. A good place to start is with your interview questions. Each question should have an answer as to why you are asking it, what do you want to hear, what would an underrepresented group answer, and what are some new alternatives to the question that might get a better response. Your goal is to find the best person for the job. Don’t let any unnecessary hard criteria that aren’t a function of the job (i.e. eye contact, handshakes, etc.) prevent you from finding a top candidate.

3. Set up your interview questions so that the interviewee can exemplify their ability to handle the core responsibilities of the role and avoid “trick” questions. For example, ask situational and behavioral questions that surround handling situations that are common to the position. This method allows the interviewer to get a look into their knowledge on the tasks they should perform, and the interviewee has the opportunity to use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to answer.

4. Don’t just use questions, use tests. To ensure you are hiring the top talent and not just the top talkers, you should bring in some sort of interview test to check their skills. For example, every developer at Iversoft has taken a programming test before starting. The test is done at home and has a flexible timeline, as we understand that applicants tend to have jobs and other obligations. It also isn’t meant to be overly difficult — instead, it asks them to perform simple tasks that are core requirements of the position. This way, we can see their base capabilities, as well as their ability to interpret a simple task and deliver against a set of instructions.

5. Ensure your interview is a two-way conversation. An applicant should be able to interview you as much as you are interviewing them. At Iversoft, we like to ensure each interviewee has ample opportunity to ask us questions about the organization, get a tour of the space and have followed up contact details. At the end of the day, a top candidate that is best suited for the job needs to be able to see themselves in your organization and live your company values and culture. If your company doesn’t fit them, they aren’t your top candidate.

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. One thing I always like to remind people is that the best talent in the industry probably already has a job and isn’t looking, so you need to make sure you are actively searching. You need to leverage all of the tools available to you, including events and, more importantly, social media. I love LinkedIn’s recruiting tools. They allow you to search across the entirety of LinkedIn for people that match your job title, location, skills, and industry filters. HR needs to be seeking out potential applicants to keep their funnel topped up, so any way to improve and grow your network is critical.

2. On a similar note — ensuring your company has a solid brand. Once you have engaged a potential hire, they will probably Google you! When they end up on your website — does it have information about your company, cool projects, benefits, and perks? Does your social media reflect your culture? How is your rating on review sites? All of these are critical when engaging the best talent. You need to sell them on why your company is better than going anywhere else.

3. Finally, you need to be looking beyond your city for talent. We have many talented employees that were educated and worked outside of Canada that we’ve met through different immigrant services, such as Hire Immigrants Ottawa. Employees with different cultures and experiences can have challenges breaking into the workplace in a new country. If you are ignoring this rich talent source, you are missing out on a top candidate that could bring a fresh new perspective to your organization.

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 will say this over and over again until I am blue in the face — we need more support for diversity and inclusion and the organizations that support it, especially in a highly competitive labor market. Take one component of D&I — skilled immigrant workers. The Ottawa Board of Trade released its 2019 report that 49% of businesses say they plan to recruit new employees in the following 12 months and that 44% of businesses reported that access to skilled workers has worsened in the last year. Here in Ottawa, immigrants reflect approximately a quarter of the total population and are typically highly educated — with 20% having graduate degrees. And yet only 54% of businesses report hiring immigrants. Companies are complaining about the talent crisis without looking at the full picture of what is available.

HR professionals are going to struggle to find top talent without engaging D&I organizations such as Hire Immigrants Ottawa, EARN and WCT. Every city across Canada has their own organizations that receive funding from different government bodies to help support employers. Use them!

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

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” — Walt Disney

I think one of the best traits you can have in life is curiosity. My life has been a road of trying new things, meeting new people and seeing what opportunities I could grab onto. I don’t think I’m anywhere close to the end of my path, so I hope to continue to be curious until the day I die.

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?

I’m currently a little obsessed with Molly Graham. She has worked in Operations & People at companies like Facebook, Google, and Quip. She is now starting her own company, supporting founders with Chief People and Chief Financial Officer roles as they grow. My obsession is rooted in her metaphor “Give Away your Legos,” which I came across recently in an article called “Give Away Your Legos and Other Commandments for Scaling Start-ups.” Her explanation of scaling teams, and the fear that comes with giving away parts of your role as they scale, really impacted me. I’ve been talking about it non-stop since, and HIGHLY recommend you check her out if you are looking to (or even have previously in the past) scaled a team.

Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!

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