Joining us today on Talk Talent To Me is lead recruiter at Auth0, Lisa Semerdijan. Lisa, herself, was a career changer; moving from the advertising world to that of recruitment and career coaching. We discuss what it is that causes people to change careers and what to consider should you be looking to make a change. Lisa shares what she finds compelling about career changers and why she considers them to be wise hiring choices.
[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent To Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontlines of modern recruitment.
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[00:00:52] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz Talk Talent To Me.
[00:00:59] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent To Me is Lead Recruiter over at Auth0, now a part of the Okta family, I’ll have you all know, Lisa Semerdjian. Lisa, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
[00:01:10] LS: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:12] RS: I’m so pleased to have you on the show. How are you? How’s your week going? Talk to me. Tell me everything.
[00:01:17] LS: It’s been going great. This is the start of Thanksgiving week here in the US. My work gave us a week off, so I’ve had a chance to do things like this and catch up with other kind of projects on the side.
[00:01:30] RS: Can we talk about your side projects? I’ll jump right into the hard-leaning questions.
[00:01:39] LS: They’re not that exciting. They’re holiday-related.
[00:01:42] RS: Is it like, “Maybe I’ll get a peloton”?
[00:01:44] LS: No, no. Maybe I’ll go to the gym though.
[00:01:48] RS: Good, good. Yeah. Well, I love that you have this whole week off, a chance to sort of reset. Maybe we’ll get into the side hustles, but let’s earn the insight. Let’s do that later in the conversation once we’ve got to know you a little bit, Lisa. For the folks at home, before we dive in here, would you mind telling us a little bit about your background and kind of how you wound up in your current role?
[00:02:06] LS: Yeah, absolutely. So today, I’m in Seattle area as a lead recruiter, as you mentioned, at Auth0. That’s part of now Okta. But prior to all this, I’m actually originally from Canada. So I had a whole other career, prior to joining the recruiting field. I took advertising in school, got into advertising on the client services side for around seven years or so. So after working in advertising for a little over seven years, I decided I needed a change. I wanted to do something in recruitment because I was gravitating towards that and I had some friends who helped guide me in that direction. So I got into staffing and eventually worked my way into a startup internally and absolutely loved working as an internal partner.
So then over the years, it’s been I think over nine years now that I’ve been working internally for various places. I’ve worked for really small shops to pretty large corporations like Amazon and Starbucks. I think I’m at my really best kind of sweet spot today where I am in the organization that I work for. So that’s kind of how I got to where I am.
[00:03:10] RS: Gotcha. How did you decide on Auth0, when it was time to make the move to your current role? What went into your thought process there?
[00:03:17] LS: Well, COVID happened. So it forced me into it, which was really great, now that I think about it, not the COVID part. But obviously, I was laid off for about six months out of the year when COVID hit. Nobody needed recruiters, and I didn’t think I was going to land anything, and I was given an opportunity to work on a contract basis at Auth0 at the time. I absolutely loved everyone I interviewed with and the managers I worked with and the time that I started. I didn’t think much of it, but it ended up being a really great opportunity and really great team. It snowballed into becoming full-time pretty quickly after that, and that’s my amazing story as to how I joined Auth0.
[00:03:54] RS: Yeah, and now here you are.
[00:03:56] LS: Here I am.
[00:03:57] RS: What’s kind of keeping you busy at Auth0? What sort of roles are you working on? I’d love to just know what kind of keeps you up at night from a talent perspective anyway?
[00:04:04] LS: Oh, gosh. Yeah, types of things we work on. So Auth0 and Okta, they’ve been competitors prior to — so it all makes sense, obviously, as far as the acquisition that’s happened. So we’re all in sort of the cybersecurity, identity, authentication space. Part of what keeps me here, not just obviously the team, but the work itself, the product, the service, everything we’re offering. It’s not going anywhere. There’s a need for it now more than ever, and I’m excited to be part of something that I feel really good about. It helps me sleep at night, knowing what we’re doing is a good thing. So it’s really exciting to kind of see where the company will go next.
As far as roles, it kind of ranges. I’m technically under their customer success side of their business, so I hire for everything from solutions engineers to technical account managers, architects, you name it. What customer success for us will mean is anyone who’s customer-facing at some point in their job.
[00:04:57] RS: Got it. Was your involvement in the interview process, are you like designing it? Are you still hopping into screen folks? How in the weeds are you?
[00:05:04] LS: Very much so. So for us, it’s pretty much a start to finish. We will go out and find people if we don’t have a lot of inbound kind of applicants coming in, which is typically the case with a lot of my roles. But, yeah, so everything from sourcing, interviewing, moving along the process, as well as right through to offers and so forth. I will say it’s more of being an advisor to the business, which I really enjoy. I get a chance to work really closely with all my business partners and just as much as my internal team.
[00:05:34] RS: Gotcha. You mentioned to me before we started recording that you particularly enjoy speaking with career changers. Is that because you yourself were a career changer? Or is there something particular about that kind of individual that you find compelling?
[00:05:49] LS: I would say one of the reasons I really like career changers is because it says a lot about how they approach things. It’s really easy to just collect a pay-check, cruise through your job, and just have a job that you’re not necessarily thrilled about or you don’t enjoy anymore. A lot of these people, they have to be resilient. They have to be hard working. They have to push through adversity and go back every time someone says no to them. So I think those traits are really important and ones that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The second reason is because it’s important for there to be balanced teams. We don’t want to go off this perfect checklist of what the hiring manager may be looking for from a requirement standpoint for the job. Because at the end of the day, there’s some really great fresh perspective that could be brought into the role by someone who hasn’t done exactly what you were looking for, so long as they meet most of the basic requirements. So really just looking at the teams that you’re building, and having that kind of balanced group is really important to have as well.
[00:06:48] RS: Yeah, I can see why you would say these individuals have a certain kind of grit. It makes sense. It’s one thing to change jobs within your same field, and some people take even a long time to do that, to leave a bad job that in retrospect they should have left a long time ago. But to suggest to yourself, “Okay, it’s not just the company I work at now. It’s not just my current boss. Like my function, the thing I spend my time working on is bad,” that was really hard because you have to reckon and kind of with your unhappiness. You also have to basically walk away from however much time you spent generating that skill set, right?
Like in your example when you left the ad world, you had built up some expertise, right? So it’s like, “I’m going to kind of start from scratch.” Obviously, you’re not starting from zero because you brought some of those skills with you. But in terms of the resume and in terms of the seniority that you can punch at, like level you can punch at, you do have to go back on that. So I’m just really interested because I know you do some career coaching on the side too.
What does that look like for folks in their own job hunt, if they’re going to wind up being career changers? Is this just like a values-based reflection people are making? What are the circumstances under which people who said, “You know what? I need to really rescale and get back out there.”?
[00:08:04] LS: Yeah. I mean, there’s tons of ways to start this process. There’s a number of ways that you can look at, whether you are either over your entire field and your entire career. But I think the simple couple of steps to take is just to ask yourself some questions. I think writing some things down is really important as you go. It’s really easy to forget some of the stuff that takes place in the year that you just had.
So for example, I would ask myself things that, am I on autopilot doing the same things over and over again. There’s no new challenges coming my way. They say one of the best ways to know is to see if you are at your max when it comes to the job that you’re doing. So in other words, if you haven’t had any new challenges no matter how many times you’ve asked, if you haven’t been able to tackle anything different and you could pretty much do it in your sleep, that’s definitely a pretty good indicator. As well looking at how your conversations are going internally. Are you having regular conversations with your manager? Has that fallen off completely? When you do have them, are you speaking about things that matter? Are you talking about your career? What are they telling you when you speak to them?
I’ve been in these situations. I’m sure many people have, where after a while you’re just cruising through those conversations. You’re not really talking about a whole lot and gets to a point where you just feel like it’s Groundhog Day, and nothing’s changing. They keep telling you you’re going to go to this next role and you’re not. So these are pretty big clues for you to make sure that you write down and know. As well, of course, the bigger picture too would be management and leadership in the company. Is the business doing okay? Are you ignoring that sales are down, or has it been down for a long time? Is there murmurs and talks and things going on in the leadership? Has a lot of people left? This is all not to say to jump ship every time a little – I don’t know.
[00:09:49] RS: They take away a day of catered lunch. Yeah.
[00:09:52] LS: Yeah. No, not that. But certainly pay attention. Don’t be passive. Make some notes. Write some things down. But take your time with it too because the grass isn’t always greener. Now, all of those questions are great. However, they don’t necessarily mean that this is how you decide to change your career altogether. But you do have to do the legwork to see, Is it the job? Is it the field? Is it the company? What is it coming down to with the answers you’re writing down for yourself? So there is some work to be done, but it’s important work. If you’ve felt that way for a long time, it’s good to be grounded, to take some notes, and see how you reflect on them.
[00:10:26] RS: Yeah. I’m just realizing as you were walking through that answer that what we’re doing is we’re giving people the skills to decide that they should leave the field of talent acquisition, and thus stop listening to this podcast.
[00:10:39] LS: No, no. Not what I’m going for.
[00:10:44] RS: Choosing a different field is a bigger confrontation you have to make with your personality and wants I think out of your lifetime career. But in terms of your job, I don’t know. Like it’s so important to reflect on all those things you rattled off, particularly the “am I being challenged” part because mastery makes you feel skilled and valuable, but it also breeds complacency. Like if you’re so good at one task, you maybe aren’t going to spend time being critical on other ways you can improve. So then you will just, of course, coast because like, “I’m already good at this.” So you stop reading the industry newsletters and you stop paying attention. In my case, I still like Google’s SEO Algorithm Ranking things. I don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore. I used to live and breathe it. It’s just a great sign you should shake things up, right?
[00:11:29] LS: Absolutely. It’s not always a bad thing, right? I mean, there’s the career changing aspect. That’s a huge aspect, obviously. You shouldn’t take that lightly. But when it comes to changing your position from this company to another, the role could still be a little bit different in another company, and that’s already equally exciting. That can kind of fall within the career changing mindset as well, right? I mean, you might have very strong skill sets, doing what you’re doing but maybe you’ve just been missing this other piece that you know others are doing, you know that is out there, you know that you could take on, and you’re excited by that.
So that is not an entire career change, but it is certainly a different position where you are excited to utilize your skills and grow the rest of them. But those are really great points because another aspect to all of this is staying at a company. This is what I mean by it’s not negative, staying at a company for far too long. Some of those people have been at companies for nine, 10 plus years. There are all sorts of research on this that say exactly what you just said. You become complacent. Unless you are going out of your way to read books, to listen to podcasts, to pick up things along the way, whether it’s courses and lessons in general to be up to date, you are not injecting anything fresh into that position and into that team. So it is important to just overall look at it as a positive. Again, I’m not saying one, two years jump ship. I mean, when the time feels right, it’s not necessarily negative.
[00:12:57] RS: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I want to – Not to belabor the complacency point, but I think it’s so important to be critical about the areas in which you are deficient, as you get better in your career. Because when you look at like professional athletes, for example, they don’t get better by playing the game, by being in a game time scenario. They’re like watching tape. They’re like, “Oh, my weak hand is not good in these scenarios.” They’re being very critical. It’s the same thing with like —I’ve been playing a lot of chess, trying to get better at playing chess. I’m at the point where I will not get better from just playing opponents across the board. There’s all this technique that has to happen outside of that game time arena scenario to improve.
I think it’s the same thing in your career. You, Lisa, like you’re on interviews, and you are designing processes. How much better will you get at that just by doing it every day, like as a standard process of fulfilling your base function versus like being really critical about how to get better? So you reach this point where just fulfilling the task does not make you better. So I think just in everything in your life, it’s important to be critical about that.
[00:13:55] LS: I definitely agree.
[00:13:56] RS: I wanted to ask you just more about the career coaching stuff because I think it’s such an important thing that talent professionals can offer to people in their life they care about, right? If there’s anything I think that’s usually how it starts. It’s like your friends are looking for career advice. Was that how it was for you? It’s like you have this insider valuable knowledge. When did you decide to kind of take this as like more of a side hustle thing as opposed to just I’ll let my friends pick my brain?
[00:14:20] LS: Well, that’s how it started. Friends were picking my brain. I didn’t know why. I thought everyone had this skill set. It was just common knowledge or something. But, well, a couple of things happened. I was trying to relocate to Seattle from Toronto where I’m from, and I was taking some consulting jobs to keep some income coming in as I figured things out. But it also opened up some free time for me to finally do it. I think I’ve always sort of second guessed myself in terms of coaching, coming across as, “Oh, you need to take a course or be accredited somewhere.” I didn’t want to be an authentic about it.
But what I did realize is the couple of folks that I was speaking to and trying to help out even before I got into this as an actual paid service, if you will, was that there were so much information out there that was either incorrect or just really smart people that weren’t utilizing their skill sets correctly or applying them in ways that could get them a job. My very first client was someone who had been looking for two years, and he was so smart. So, so smart and had everything that you would look for, but his resume was atrocious. We talked through it. We helped through every step of the conversation from how to make his resume stand out, right through to how to interview. He landed something fairly quickly after, and he’s had such a great career since, and those are really rewarding things for me.
There’s parts of my job as a recruiter where you can’t always give super detailed feedback to everyone you speak to. A, you don’t have the time and B, it’s just not part of my job to be that explicit to what we’re saying to how much guidance we can give. It’s important to me to be able to help people. I like that feeling to be able to say, yes, you gave me a little bit of money to do this, but that’s just to cover my time. However, in the long run, you were able to get out of this place where you were stuck, and that really was such a rewarding aspect.
[00:16:17] RS: When you say there’s a lot of bad information out there, do you mean people have just never been schooled in the way to put their best foot forward? Or do you mean on Business Insider blogs? Why are people so ill-equipped for this task?
[00:16:32] LS: Well, no one likes writing a resume, including myself.
[00:16:34] RS: Or reading one for that matter.
[00:16:36] LS: Or reading one. Well, yeah, exactly. But I just don’t think anyone likes doing the work, and it’s no fault of anyone. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It just sucks. I think we haven’t moved away from doing resumes. For better or for worse, we need to have something that presents ourselves, and maybe that will change in the future. There’s all sorts of different things people are looking at. But until then, we have to apply a certain way and we have to have this sort of way to present ourselves.
So when I say bad information or maybe what I mean is a lot of information that could go against one another sometimes. It’s just like anything else. When there’s too many options out there, it can get really confusing. You might read one blog that says one thing. You might read a book that says something different. You might see something on LinkedIn that goes against the three things you read before. So I think simplicity is the way to go and certainly getting a coach when you feel really stuck. I’m not saying it’s for everyone. Of course, it’s a great investment, if you just want to learn a few things and apply it to yourself.
My intent is always to work with people where I give you the tips and strategies and things that work. Then hopefully, you don’t have to keep coming back to someone. You can just utilize that as you update your resume in the future or you have other interviews and things like that. But it’s just to fine-tune the messaging and to also share what we go through. As we are internal people who work with these hiring managers, we know the types of things they look for. So that’s kind of where that value came from, from my actual real-life experience to be able to tell people. I know you have well intent, but maybe your four-page resume is not going to get in front of the right person. Or details sometimes needs to be tightened up in a short and concise way. Things like that. Just different examples that might help them guide them along.
[00:18:26] RS: Is it mostly focusing on the process of getting hired and navigating the interview cycle? Or do you also help individuals reflect on more aspirational longer-term career goals and work-type values?
[00:18:41] LS: It depends on the person. I certainly have had folks who aren’t stuck in that sense, I guess. Maybe someone who’s been working for a long time hasn’t interviewed in a really long time. Let’s say someone hasn’t interviewed in five or six years. Sometimes, they’ll come to me and say, “I don’t even know what they ask anymore. It’s just been so long that I’ve interviewed.” Just being out of it and not knowing where to start. Some people don’t know how to use LinkedIn very well, and that’s okay. I live in it. It’s my job. It’s not everyone else’s job to utilize this platform on a day-to-day basis.
There’s a number of different reasons, I suppose, that people might be feeling stuck, and it will just entirely depend on the individual. So if someone is looking to do a whole aspirational, “Where do I go from here? How can I take these skills and apply them there?”, we can have that conversation as well. It just depends. It depends what they’re looking for.
[00:19:35] RS: Yeah. I feel, especially if you were talking to recruiters, for example, they would probably – Because they’ve been in your position, like they would know how to tune up the resume. They would know what to expect in the interview process. But when it comes time to be like, “Okay, where should I even look? Like, what kind of companies should I go out there and apply to versus just responding to the messages I find in my LinkedIn?” Being critical about what you want next.
I kind of have that problem. You’re going to end up charging me for this session because I’m comfortable in my ability to navigate an interview process, for example. But what do I really want to be when I grow up? How am I going to feel, self-actualized? These are more nuanced, nebulous things that, I think, with COVID and with the realization that like you really could be laid off without any warning, it’s not always going to be a booming economy, you only get one life. I think people – I’m seeing at least in my circles people being a little bit more deliberate. It’s not just about like, “Yeah. Well, it’s a good pay check for now,” and blah, blah.
[00:20:35] LS: Right. No, that’s a really good point.
[00:20:37] RS: How would you coach people to reflect on that kind of mental journey?
[00:20:41] LS: Well, we are in probably the most interesting market that I think anyone’s ever seen, regardless of how long someone’s been in talent acquisition. So you are totally right. People are very selective, and they should be. So a lot of what we’re doing – I know, that’s not what you’re asking right now. But just from a talent acquisition standpoint, a lot of what we’re doing from recruitment standpoint has to change, and has to adapt, and has to no longer just be you tell me as a candidate, which should never be this. But it no longer is just about the candidates trying to sell themselves to you. It should have always been this way, but even more so now than ever, I think it’s really important that we just always are in tune with what’s going on out there. What’s going on with the market? What’s happening with this person?
Like you said, there’s so much that’s changed with COVID and this whole notion of bringing a whole self to work, really being able to take into consideration all the things that make up this person’s decision into why they’re going to choose your job over somebody else’s, for example. Do you have remote option? If that’s not an option, that’s definitely off the table for a good chunk of people today. So whether that’s because of their family situation, or just what they want, or if their commute is too far, we have to keep all these things in mind and tailor to them and just be mindful, just as much as they’re being considerate of these decisions when they’re trying to select a job.
When people are in the candidate position, when they’re looking and they’re well-employed, they don’t have any urgent reasons to leave, but maybe it’s time, for whatever reason, it’s time for them, and they’re looking at those options. There’s tons of options today, which is a really great position to be in. I think some of the things kind of go back to what I was saying earlier, that grounding aspect of what you’re looking for. If you’ve done some work around your current situation, if you’ve written down some notes where you’ve said to yourself, “Okay, well, this keeps coming up for me. I don’t like this and I want more of something else that really is important to me that I’m lacking in my current position and this company can’t provide it for one reason or another.” Making a note of the things that really stand out in your priority list.
From there, I mean, there’s tons of information on the Internet nowadays, right? So you can definitely do some, and you should do some work on looking up the companies, seeing what kind of feedback you’re seeing from folks who are willing to share, whether it’s Glassdoor or other websites. Obviously, take those things with a grain of salt. But it’s still important to see what’s going on out there. It’s also important to look at the news. To look at literally hit ‘news’ on Google when you type in the company name and see what kind of information is coming up. Are they laying people off? Are they moving into something that excites you? A space? A product? A service? Are they fully becoming 100% remote? And maybe that’s something that’s attractive to you? There’re so many things that only you know make up your list. But by doing some of that initial research, you’re able to hopefully make as sound of a decision as you can.
[00:23:39] RS: Yeah, yeah, it makes sense. I think it brings up an interesting point in terms of doing your own research on a company, of course. The notion of the back-channel reference I think has been pretty well put to bed for the recruiting side, which is that you should not do it because it’s not like relying on your own process. If you’ve done it long enough, you’ve probably seen examples where it outs the candidate in their job search, which is good for nobody. So probably you shouldn’t do this as a recruiter.
As a candidate, though, have you ever back-channeled a company? Have you ever been like, “Let me find someone who no longer works there and did work there and see if I can get them to spill the beans?”
[00:24:17] LS: Absolutely. Is that not allowed?
[00:24:20] RS: No. It is. But it’s just like it goes back to the bad information out there. It’s like I don’t think people realize that you can and should do this.
[00:24:27] LS: Well, this is where it falls into the referral side of things, right? I mean, we appreciate referrals at a company because someone can say, “Hey, I just left that company. I just worked with that person. They are exactly what you’re looking for. If you value my opinion, you should definitely speak to them.” So there’s a lot of value in that when you’re working for the company. So why shouldn’t the same apply here, right?
So, yeah, most definitely. I think that’s the original thought behind LinkedIn is to see what connections you have somewhere. As recruiters, we have a lot of people we add. So maybe our network isn’t always 100% in sense of knowing someone personally, but I certainly would utilize my contacts. If I’m considering a conversation somewhere and I know that somebody in my world works there or has worked there recently.
Recent is also another factor. If someone worked there 10 years ago, it’s not going to make that much of a difference, I think, in your opinion, or what you’re going to take away from that. But if someone’s worked there in the last few years, definitely worth having a conversation. Learning the ins and outs in terms of what their experience was like, what they might say. If they’re not in your field, maybe they can direct you to someone on that field.
One thing that I like to do, for instance, especially nowadays, with the candidate market being so hot, is when I’m talking to folks that I’ve reached out to myself, I often tell them, “Hey, I know I’m the one who reached out to you. You might not even be looking for a role.” So we’ll have our conversation, get to know each other. If they decide to move on, go to the next round with us. But maybe they’re still a little on the fence. They still need a bit more convincing.
So I like to offer up a conversation that is outside of the interview process to say, “If there’s someone you want to talk to, whether that’s the head of the department for this particular role, or it’s a person you’re going to likely work with, maybe someone in sales. Whatever may be important to you, it’s always nice to be able to make that request. You should be able to do that as a candidate. I offer it up because, number one, this market is crazy. Number two, I’m the one who reached out to this person. So, I have to do a little bit of convincing for them to see the value in what we’re doing here. For us to convince them that maybe it could be cool if you joined us. So there are some things that could be done and things that you as a candidate could even consider asking for if you feel comfortable asking for that just to kind of have like a 10-15 minute informational sort of thing.
[00:26:46] RS: Yep. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s just a good reminder that when you are doing outbound sourcing, you just need to keep that top of mind. Like they were minding their own business. Like you came onto their radar, and you need to work extra hard. I’ve had that happen, where I’ve been reached out to and then engage. Then now all of a sudden, they’re going hot and cold. I’m like, “What are we doing here?” Like, “Well, you could just left me alone. I didn’t need to do this with you.” So just I think a general best practice reminder, yeah.
[00:27:10] LS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just as important for the rest of the process to go that way. It’s one thing if you as a recruiter are doing all the right things, but it’s really important to make sure that everyone else that speaks to them. that doesn’t mean they all have to jump through hoops and oversell somebody, but just have that hat on. Remember that these people are probably happy where they are. You’re asking them to quit their job and come work for you. So what’s in it for them? That hat has to stay on the entire time. Otherwise, if you start to maybe somehow drill them on some things or just have a different lens on it. It doesn’t mean you don’t evaluate them as you evaluate everybody else. But it’s still important to keep that kind of candid experience in mind throughout the process.
[00:27:55] RS: Yep, yep. Couldn’t agree more. Well, Lisa, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. So I think, at this juncture, I would just say thank you so much for being a part of the show and for being here. I’ve loved chatting with you and getting to know you today. So thanks for doing this.
[00:28:08] LS: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed being here.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:28:13] RS: Talk Talent To me is brought to you by Hired. Hired empowers connections by matching the world’s most innovative companies with ambitious tech and sales candidates. With Hired, candidates and companies have visibility into salary offers, competing opportunities, and job details. Hired’s unique offering includes customized assessments and salary bias alerts to help remove unconscious bias when hiring. By combining technology and human touch, our goal is to provide transparency in the recruiting process and to empower each of our partners to employ their potential and keep their talent pipeline full. To learn more about how we can help you find your next great hire, head to hired.com/tt2m.