“You have to begin with an end in mind.”
I run my company Good People HR specializing in recruitment and executive search.
From an early age, I had the drive to work and achieve. Possibly this stemmed from the fact that my parents arrived here from the Philippines when I was five and had to work hard to give me and my siblings a better life.
So I always saw our lives in Australia as an opportunity to work that could not be wasted. In school, I would make friendship bracelets and then sell them for a dollar a piece. The second I turned 14, I went out and got a job in a fruit shop.
Even then, it was obvious I was a people person. I loved chatting to the customers in the shop, trying to brighten up their day with a smile and kind words.
My interest in people and business led to a HR and Marketing degree at Monash University. Throughout my uni years, I worked at McDonald’s. I started as a crew member, but quickly worked my way up to a management position.
After uni, I left McDonald’s to look for a job in recruitment. But even with my great track record at Macca’s, and all the fantastic transferable skills I acquired there, I struggled finding a job. In pre-GFC 2007 it was a tough job market and I found myself pigeon-holed as the ‘hospitality girl’ who didn’t have enough corporate experience to land an office job.
Looking for, and finally finding my first recruitment job, taught me the importance of networking and the old adage of who you know, rather than what you know.
I landed a job as a receptionist at a company called Black and White, through a friend of a friend who already worked there.
When I started working at the reception, my ability to interact with people and make them feel welcome was noticed by clients passing through and over the phone and it was looped back to my manager, without my knowledge. Funnily enough, these customer service skills came from my Macca’s training!
Then, by pure luck, our little company got bought out by a 1.1 billion dollar business called Integrated, a labour hire company specializing in temporary placements. I saw an opportunity to advance.
I applied for an internal promotion. Initially I was offered the Business Development Manager role, but I turned it down. In my role as a receptionist, I was able to get a good insight into the company and saw that the BDMs had the most stress put on them: if you weren’t making sales, you would get the flick.
Instead, I applied for a newly created role of a permanent recruitment consultant, and got it. It was less sales driven and more people orientated, which suited me perfectly.
Unlike with temporary placements, where the focus is on quickly filling short term roles, with permanent, I had to work much harder to understand both the clients’ and the candidates’ psychologies to ensure a lasting and functional fit. It was great early training for me.
Over the next few years, I built the permanent recruiting department almost from scratch.
Certainly, going out to get business was daunting at the start. But the sales aspect was made much easier by a strong team behind me, as well as an established brand and reputation. All I had to do was approach existing clients and offer them our new service – permanent placements.
The hard bit was delivering on my promises. To achieve a strike rate of 96% success in placements, I basically pretended I was the HR manager of my clients’ company. I took the extra time to research their culture and goals and looked for a candidate that I would be happy to work with myself.
Aside from traditional advertising avenues, I would cast my net as far and as wide and as deep as possible, seeking candidates out through referrals, as well business and personal networks.
I looked everywhere – I’d be at a BBQ, asking people if they knew someone or might be interested themselves. I talked to people at cafes, supermarkets – I was always looking for new connections.
Throughout my 5 years at Integrated, I routinely worked a 50-60hour week, which is standard if you want to succeed in recruitment. The company expects you to be present 9-5, however many candidates can only come early in the morning or after work, so often you’re doing 12 hour days.
Or there is a 5am induction on the client’s site – tough luck, you have to be there! Often I’d come to the office on Saturdays to catch up on my admin.
Whilst I found professional success early, I struggled with the office politics at Integrated. I’m sure most large corporates have politics, but as a young person without much life experience, I didn’t know how to navigate these. You don’t get taught how to fight political battles at uni!
I tended to take a lot of things personally and sometimes struggled with how to express my emotions. In the end, I found a win-win solution: I transferred to our Footscray branch.
My task was to build the permanent division there the same way I did at the Dandenong South branch.
Over the next year, I did just that, growing the permanent recruitment department from almost non-existent to $200K annual revenue. Compared to the three years it took to build a $400k business at Dandenong South priot to that, it was a great effort.
After a year or so, I was asked to do the same at the Integrated CBD branch.
It was then that I started thinking: ‘Well, I’ve built up a business almost from scratch three times now. Perhaps I can do this on my own.’
In my experience, a lot of people emotionally clock out once they realize they won’t stay at a company or a job. I was definitely one of those people. I started seeking opportunities, trawling career and commercial websites, going to networking events with the thought ‘What’s my next move?’
Ideally, I wanted to buy into an existing business, that would give me a salary and a share, along with ability to grow the team myself. It didn’t even have to be recruitment: I went to Salsa’s inductions, looked at a Boost Juice franchise.
I nearly bought a training company called Leadership Management Australia, who offered fantastic management courses. It was at one of their courses that I met my fiancé, actually!
In the end, I bought into a partnership agreement with a recruitment company called Prentice Partners.
The structure offered me a chance to try things out without having to go all in, but that also meant that I had no salary – it was fully commission based.
For my partner fees, I got the Prentice Partners brand and reputation, admin support and a database of leads. This allowed me to build my own portfolio of clients that I worked well with.
My plan was to do that for 2-3 years, to really ensure I was on the right track before going off on my own.
The first year was a massive learning curve. At Integrated, I didn’t have to do things like manage my P&L statements, lodge BASes, do bookkeeping or legal, so it was all new to me.
Despite stuffing up (a lot!), and having to learn so many new skills, I still achieved a revenue of $160K in that first year. This success gave me a huge confidence boost and I decided to fast track my goals.
While still at Prentice, I spent a few months setting up my company, Good People HR – registering it, creating the business and marketing plan. By the time I left Prentice Partners, I felt I was ready to hit the ground running.
My next move was to hire a junior consultant. I was on a mission, thinking I would grow really fast.
To be honest, I didn’t anticipate how radical the change would be, going off on my own. I didn’t really understand what a start up looks and feels like.
I used my profits from Prentice for the initial business setup costs, however I didn’t take any further loans. I made sure I financed my company growth through sales. So as we grew, I was able to upgrade to a better office, more equipment, etc.
However, at the start, I didn’t have the skills to chase payments from clients, which caused cashflow issues. That first year was great, but very hard at the same time.
My new recruit, although great at the start, didn’t end up working out.
I think we both felt we outgrew each other, and I was disappointed when we parted ways after I spent more than a year training her. However, this was a lesson for me also, and now the team I work with is fantastic.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt in business is that you have to begin with an end in mind. My end goal was to work as part of a team. I find that the company is not about me. I might create and build it, but after that it must take on a life of its own; there must be a detachment between it and myself. If there isn’t, there will be problems!
We are a generalist recruiter. We have pharmaceutical clients, logistics, finance and IT.
However when I go out looking for new business, I don’t focus on the industry: I am more interested in the leadership, their culture and vision.
From the start, I tried to find clients who have future technologies and evolution in mind, as I truly believe the jobs we’re hiring for today will not exist in 10 years.
One of the ways I did this was setting up networking events to which I invited respected and innovative business speakers such as Guy Russo (CEO of Kmart and Target) and William Confalonieri (CDO of Deakin), in the hope of attracting like minded people.
The first step of any assignment is getting the meeting with the client.
This can happen through a referral, a networking event or even a cold call. You need to be persistent and disciplined, continue to follow up and show up no matter what. You also need to develop in yourself the courage to call and ask – for a meeting, for the job.
Showing up to the meeting, I would have already researched the client’s company and the potential role, I am very informed and ready. That makes the sales process much easier.
Once I am hired, I go back to the office and develop a sourcing strategy, with Angela, my current Senior Consultant. Again, the net is cast far and wide for potential recruits.
Every week, to do my usual 10-12 interviews, I need to screen through thousands of CVs. You literally speed read through the summary spreadsheet. That’s a fact of life.
Anyone telling you otherwise isn’t telling the truth! You learn to prioritize candidates quickly.
Then we book the interviews, either for myself and Angela, or for one of our contractors. I have 8-10 contractors that regularly work with us, from very experienced generalist HR managers to highly specialized professionals who can interview for the more technical professions.
That’s our business differentiator. I saw a need for this structure through being asked to hire engineers or CEOs, and finding myself in these frustrating situations where I was a bit out of my depth.
I literally got told, “Kristine, you don’t even know the answer to that question”. And I said, “Yes, thank you for that feedback, you are right”.
I didn’t get upset, I just came up with this solution. I can’t know everything, so I bring in specialists that can help me.
Once I have the shortlist, I send it to the client. They all have different recruitment policies, from the bigger companies like ANZ or Marsh, to the smaller SMBs. I make sure I am familiar with them all and abide to their requirements – whether they need a formal report on each candidate or just a summary email.
After the placement is made, I will follow up regularly, both candidate and clients, to make sure it’s been a good fit.
I know I’ve done my job when I see candidates who stay 5+ years, get promoted and progress within the company – that’s the rewarding part of my job!
If you’re not in control of your emotions, recruiting can be a roller-coaster. You can’t always control the outcome and the clients can get frustrated because they can’t, either. Someone can change their mind, not show up to an interview, not even text to cancel. It happens regularly.
One of my biggest career lessons is that nothing is personal in business.
It may seem that way, but it’s not. We don’t really know what happens in people’s private life and in most cases, their behaviour is not a reflection on you.
In my youth, I used to take things to heart. I had a lot of negative self-talk going on, things like ‘Dumb, dumb, you should’ve done better, Kristine’. These days, I understand there are things outside of my control, and I give myself the permission to stuff up – I know it’s not personal and part of life.
I’m excited for the future. In the last 10 years, there have been so many changes in recruitment technologically, and I think this pace of change will only increase.
We might have computer databases that can go and follow your digital footprint and collect so much data on you, that they basically become you! You won’t need to come to the interview, the machine will know what you will say anyway! Our jobs might not exist as they are now.
Which is why I want to align myself with interesting clients who are focused on innovation both in technology and thought, who lead by that example. And I hope that that’s where I can lead my company going forward.