Adele Leah

Finch Street_high res-2 Adele Leah

All photos courtesy of Adele Leah


“I believe having the right career is part of your overall well being.”

I work as a recruitment consultant for the creative industry, managing the Melbourne office of a company called Become.

I grew up in Manchester, UK. I was always into arts in school, but my teachers and family didn’t really understand it, so it was difficult to see a career path early on. My dad, who was an accountant, seeing that I wasn’t academic, suggested I should learn how to type. ‘If you can type fast, you can always be a secretary’, he told me.

After school I studied art and design, because I liked it and because my friends were doing it. I then spent a year in Spain doing promotional work, which was actually a good experience in building my sales skills and confidence.

Adele Leah at work

Back in UK, I did a Higher Diploma in Business Administration, thinking it might help with getting a proper job. That lead to a job as an assistant PA in a PR firm. I thought PR would be amazing, I had these glamorous visions of it.

The reality was getting tea and sandwiches for my boss and occasionally typing up a memo.

One particularly bad day, I was walking down Oxford St in London, and saw a company called Office Angels. In the UK, recruitment companies are like shopfronts, with all the listings in the window. I walked in, and basically said, ‘I hate my job, I need a new one’.

I still remember this lovely girl Christine, and she asked me what I’ve done already. We went through my work experiences, and it all boiled down to the fact that I liked dealing with people. She told me about recruitment, which seemed like a good fit.

I started with a receptionist job in one of the Office Angels branches, and within 12 months, worked my way up to temp consultant.

After that, I worked another 12 months in another recruitment company that also specialized in hiring accountancy-type roles.


Whilst I loved parts of it, I wasn’t so passionate about the finance industry. I also realized how cut-throat recruitment could be. There was a lot pressure to make sales, you had colleagues pinching your deals, a lot of office politics.

I got a bit discouraged and left. I went to a Rec-2-Rec agency, basically a recruiter that hires recruiters. I explained my situation, and once they realized my creative background, they matched me to a creative recruitment company called Creative Recruitment.

I didn’t even know such places existed!

The company and the people I worked with were brilliant, I am still in touch with some of them today. For two and a half years I had a ball working in that space.

After a while though, I got an inch to try something else. Looking back, it’s almost as if I’ve fallen into the right job, but too soon – the grass seemed greener elsewhere.  I went back to Manchester, and went through a whole series of jobs over the next few years.

I did telesales, which was horrid, and I worked for the government helping non-profits business find employment for the long term unemployed. It all culminated with a flashy job in a large credit insurance corporation as a Business Development manager.

I did that because I saw a lot of my friends working corporate jobs, wearing posh suits, sitting in fancy offices and driving company cars. And I thought, ‘that’s what I want’.

So I bluffed my way into just such a job.


In the end, I hated it. It just wasn’t me, I hated wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. For all the ridiculous salary and the perks, I wasn’t happy because I didn’t like the work.

My family, some of who had lived in Australia before, suggested I go and travel.

So aged thirty, I sold my house, packed up and came to Australia on a working holiday visa.

The plan was to travel around for a while, but it turned out I wasn’t a great traveler. I had three backpacks after three months! I realized I needed to settle.

It’s funny, we dream of having this carefree life of complete freedom, but for me, it’s actually having that routine and a sense of purpose that makes me content.

I chose Sydney as my base. I tried to get some temp work, but found it hard as I was over-qualified for simple admin work.

So I really took stock of my career, and asked myself, what have I done that I really loved? And it was recruiting for the creative industry.

I couldn’t find a job doing that in Sydney straight away, so I worked for a Rec-to-Rec agency for the first eight months, all the while keeping my eye out for the right opportunity.

Adele Leah at work2

When Become first came to establish themselves in Australia, they randomly called my company to help with finding recruiters. I went to meet with Sam, who was here to set up the Sydney office, and it turned out we had a heap of shared connections in the UK, so I was offered my dream job!

Sam and I worked to set up the Sydney office from scratch.

We focused specifically on design, advertising and digital professions. There were only three of us initially, doing everything: seeing clients, placing ads, interviewing candidates.

Eventually, the Sydney office got established and the next step was to open a Melbourne office. I put my hand up to go and set it up. Because I had such a great time doing it in Sydney with Sam, I was really excited to repeat the process in Melbourne.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that, mainly because for a long time, I struggled to find the right people to work with. It ended up being a very rough and lonely process.

Melbourne was a tough market to break into.

It was much more cliquey than Sydney, a bit of a boys club and very locally-focused. And here I was, a new girl, not from Melbourne, not even from Sydney, trying to establish this business that wasn’t even Australian!


There was much resistance. There were times when I’d walk out of a client meeting, and sit in my car with my bottom lip quivering, thinking ‘I can’t do this…’

Or I’d be sitting in my serviced office, on my own, having had breakfast lunch and dinner at my desk, just completely overwhelmed.

But though that first year was horrid, I did do it. It was mainly due to having that internal drive, a need to achieve a goal that I set myself. Not for the company or anyone else, but for myself. That’s essentially my recipe for success, being driven by my own internal goals.

Eventually, once I got the right people on board, the situation improved and things got easier. After twelve months, we started getting some regular clients, some good feedback and referrals. Five years on, we are now well established in this marketplace and once again I am loving what I do.

Initially, I had to do a lot of cold calling. Now, after ten years in the business, I have a lot of contacts, get a lot of referrals.

But you still need to put in the effort to bring the work in.

When you call people, it’s not necessary calling and saying ‘are you looking for people’. The advantage in working for an industry I love is that I am passionate about it and am genuinely interested to keep up with it. I read the industry press, take note of the work I see on TV, in shop windows or restaurants, and I appreciate it.


Like the other day I went to a restaurant and loved the fitout and branding. I asked them who did it, and then called the agency next day – not so much looking for business, but just to tell them I loved what they’ve done there.

When you’re passionate about the work, it’s just something that you want to do naturally; it’s not forced or sales-y, and people appreciate that.

A lot of my job is getting on the phone and talking to people. If you don’t like talking to people, recruitment is not for you. Full stop. Not over email, not text message. You need to pick up the phone, you need to get face to face and talk to people.

When looking for creatives, it’s different to other jobs in that you also have to look at their folio.

It’s not a case of one designer fits all: you must consider the aesthetic of their folio against the studio’s aesthetic, make sure it’s a fit.

We can get up to 200 CVs per advertised job. That’s a lot to go through! I know it sounds harsh, but we don’t work with 80% of people who apply. Aside from the folio, the CV and the introduction email are vital, that’s your first impression. Considering we view CVs from an elimination point of view, if even the smallest thing isn’t right, it is rejected.

I try to interview around 10 people a week. In the interview, you have to really get to know the candidate to ascertain not just their experience, but whether they are a match personality-wise.


Sometimes, you might have the perfect candidate for a job, but you get them in front of the client, and if the chemistry is not there – it’s not on. So the right personality plays a huge part.

I don’t try to influence clients, to force candidates on them. In my experience, there’s no point trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

That’s why I really try to find out what the candidate wants in the long term. I try to get past the  emotional job seeker, who’s just trying to get out of a hated job, as often they’re making a rash decision and won’t last anyway.

Recruitment is not rocket science, but it’s fast paced, there’s a lot of juggling. I’ve had friends who were excellent salespeople fail in recruitment because they couldn’t keep up the pace. You have to be persistent, patient and be able to retain a lot of information.

Remember, of the 200 CVs we get for one job, we’ll interview 10-20 people, and none might be right for the job. Or you might get an offer, and the candidate will change their mind after you’ve worked with them for three months!

You have to keep going, keep that ball up in the air, along with new assignments, new candidates.

At any one time, you might have 10 jobs on the go, 5-10 candidates per job, plus more CVs and enquiries coming in. You have to remember names, job descriptions client briefs.

My favourite part is when I have people who I may have placed a few years ago, who have grown in their job, and maybe now they’re coming to me to recruit for their team.  I love being a part of a great success story.

Much of what I love about recruitment has to do with the people I work with, a lot of whom become your personal friends – that’s a definite benefit of the job.

These days, I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people discover the right career for them, not just find them a job, like I did when I was younger and was more focused on closing deals.

I still enjoy making the deal, but only if it’s the right deal – that’s something that’s changed throughout the years.

Around three years ago, I went and did a course in NLP, to really help me get an understanding of what makes us who we are. I realized more and more I was interested in what makes people tick, how they choose what to do with their lives, and how I can help them more efficiently with that.

I went on to do a coaching diploma, to give myself that further push.

Then I set up my career coaching business, Finch St, that I now run on the side to complement the work I do at Become.

The work I do can be anything from addressing those 80% of CVs that get rejected, just showing people what makes a good CV. Or I will help people with interview preparation, or setting up their brand on social media.

I also work with more complex issues, like finding clarity in clients’ career direction, putting together a career plan, various strategies to keep growing and progressing.

I believe having the right career is part of your overall well being.

If you’re doing something you hate, working with people you don’t like, that affects your health. You need to not only be body fit, you need to be career fit.

Another project I started with my friend who is an ex-recruiter, is called Career Navigators, which is more focused on career-changers and helping people figure out their career direction.

The extra projects might eat into my social life, but I’m doing them because this is something I’m really passionate about and I love doing.

Whilst the choices I made led me to where I am know, looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve re-assessed much earlier what it was that made me tick, and not spent so long in a job I hated.

And that’s what drives me today – sharing that experience and helping others to find the right career fit, channel their passions into work.

Your hobby doesn’t need to be separate to your job; how nice would it be to never need a holiday from your job because you love it so much! I hope I can play a part in helping people realize that dream.