Matt Hughes: Executive Director at Hunt Club

Matt HughesExecutive Director at Hunt Club

Founding pod member Matt Hughes returns to discuss his dynamic role at Hunt Club–a new breed of recruiting agency. We cover how to alter your approach to meet the expectations of an increasingly savvy, in-demand, and remote-centric workforce.

Episode Transcript





[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent To Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines with modern recruitment.


[00:00:12] SPEAKER 1: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life. We want to understand how they make decisions. Are they willing to take risks? And what it looks like when they fail.


[00:00:22] RS: No holds barred, completely off-the-cuff interviews, with directors of recruitment, VPS of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.


[00:00:29] SPEAKER 2: Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.


[00:00:39] SPEAKER 3: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career. You are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.


[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: Today, on Talk Talent To Me, an extra special edition. I have multiple guests. First up, guest host, known to the show well, friend of the show, recent guest of the show, founding member of the show, Head of Talent over at Hunt Club, Matt Hughes, your daddy Hughes. Matt, welcome back to the podcast. How are you?


[00:01:19] MH: What’s up, Bobby? Always happy to be here. It wasn’t that long ago, we were talking just a month ago on the same pod, same place.


[00:01:25] RS: I know I’m so glad to have you back. I just wanted to have another voice on the show to keep some more dynamic audio in the mix. I figured the listenership is probably weary of hearing my voice half the time, so it will be my voice less than a third of the time, hopefully, on this show. Thank you, Matt, for being here again. You’re going to help me interview today’s guest, who I’m really excited about. Joining us today as well as Matt is the Global Head of TA for Whip Media, Simone Press. Simone, welcome to the show. How are you today?


[00:01:54] SP: Hello, hello, hello. I am good. Thank you so much to both of you for having me.


[00:01:59] RS: I’m so pleased you’re here. It sounds like you had a really hectic day, but you’re just dealing with it, managing it and you’re getting in a podcast. So quite a day for you, huh?


[00:02:06] SP: I know. I looked at my calendar this morning and was like, “Wow! This is pretty much something that I need to be very excited about.”


[00:02:13] RS: I’m so glad you kept us. So many questions I want to ask you. Firstly though, Matt brought you to my attention. He was like, Simone is an amazing professional. You have to have her on the show.” Matt, just in the interest of shamelessly flattering Simone here at the top of the show, would you tell me what it was about Simone where you were like, “You know what, Simone’s a badass, we got to have her on the podcast”?


[00:02:33] MH: Yeah. Simone, and I just kind of met through the small talent and HR community at large, but we just kind of hit it off right away, I think.


[00:02:42] SP: We did.


[00:02:42] MH: Simone has a lot of really interesting and kind of data-informed perspectives on how the market is shifting, particularly around the pandemic, which I think is so interesting, and kind of this evolving topic that I love talking about. She’s also just really fun to talk to, so it seems like somebody that was perfect for your show, Bobby.


[00:02:55] SP: I appreciate that. To be entertaining is essentially like the number one focus. Number two, I’m trying to be a good recruiter. But number one, I’m entertaining and charming, which evidently worked in this case, right?


[00:03:06] RS: That would be on every office sign, is like, fill your roles but also bring the ruckus.


[00:03:11] SP: I know, exactly. The buck stops here or not really.


[00:03:15] RS: Well, I agree with you, Matt. I think Simone’s an awesome fit for the show. I’m so glad she’s here with us today. Simone, just at the top of the show, just to set some context for the folks at home. Would you mind walking us through your background a little bit and then of how you wound up at Whip Media.


[00:03:29 SP: Absolutely. It’s really funny because I think most of the folks that are listening in will know that recruiters don’t start their career thinking coming out of college, assuming that they’re going to become a career recruiter. That’s oftentimes the number one piece of feedback that I hear when either talking to colleagues or trying to hire a recruiter myself. It’s like, “Oh! I just kind of fell into this.” Unfortunately, to my chagrin, it’s not a particularly interesting story in that sense. I didn’t come out of college thinking, “Oh! I’m going to do this as a recruiting professional.” But over the last 15 to 20 years in terms of a career, it’s been fantastic. I’ve learned so much.


I started my career off, interestingly enough, and this pivots really well to what we do day to day, but as literally an entertainment writer for The Boston Herald which was based in Boston. I graduated college there. My job in that job was literally asking celebrities questions as they came through Boston for various press junkets. I think that was like the first moment in time where I was like, “Oh! I really like talking to people. I really like getting all the dirty little deets, and I really like to figure out what inspires them and what kind of moves them forward in their own life.”


Then, over time, I ended up in different sorts of worlds. I went from print media to television, where I helped at ABC and CBS News do on-air tiring. Think of the new host of GMA or the Early Show, that was sort of my focus area, helping to enable that process. Ended up moving into digital media. I was over at the Huffington Post for a number of years post-acquisition. They had just been acquired by AOL. It’s a really pivotal time for the product and for the company. I helped hire hundreds of people into a wide variety of different editorial roles. Then I ended up working at a company called Elite Daily, which was focused on millennial content. I’m sure everyone’s seen an Instagram post or two from them. It’s a great opportunity.


Ended up in LA, a couple months/a year later, and I was brought over to Amazon, specifically Amazon Studios to help them build the foundational team there. That was a fantastic opportunity. I learned so much about process and being really data-driven. Then moved into a role in another country, very shortly after that, right, which was exciting. I ended up going to Auckland, New Zealand, it was a whole personal side little saga that came with that, which was really exciting, because I ended up with a husband. Long story short. But I ended up moving to New Zealand. I led TA for a really cool ed-tech startup there called Crimson Education. Moved back to the US two years later, ended up consulting, which is really interesting, because I think that’s another point that we’ll discuss probably later in the call.


Consulting is the new kind of hot thing that a lot of people are thinking about, just in terms of work-life balance, flexibility. Ended up consulting, so I consulted for a number of different companies in the LA area. I’m now currently in a full-time role as head of TA for Whip Media. Whip Media is a really interesting product, got a lot of powerful technology that really helps drive business behind some of the most – like, I mean, literally the biggest entertainment companies in the world. We have a soft platform and a consumer product as well. It’s been particularly interesting to work there. Have kind of worked through the pandemic, which has been, as I think, has already been pointed out thus far, has been a really interesting time to work, because in recruiting right now, through this period, it’s been really interesting to understand what the motivating factors are for people. 


Luckily, at Whip Media, we did not experience layoffs, which was just a saving grace and it was a great opportunity for me to build out hundreds of people. We hired about 100 people over the last year. It’s been a really interesting experience at a really pivotal time in both our culture and history, I would argue.


[00:07:12] RS: There’s a ton of different roads we could go down there, Simone. Really quickly, though, I’m interested. Can I ask you about the press junket thing? Because it’s such an interesting thing where celebrities have to answer questions for 60 reporters in a row, right? It’ll be like, “Oh! You have to answer it for Entertainment Weekly, and People Magazine but then also like IMDbPro and BuzzFeed.” But you said, you love getting like the dirty details. Did you ever have any really good questions from a celebrity where they’re like, “Oh! Actually, you made this fun, this hard thing I have to do talking to 60 outlets”?


[00:07:44] SP: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I interviewed a number of different people. I had some really good moments with, if I remember correctly, with Tom Hanks, when he was in a press junket for a movie that he was sort of selling or really kind of promoting. 


Then, I think the best answer to a question in one moment that stands out is Sam Ronson, was a DJ, who at the time I believe was dating Lindsay Lohan. I was at a bar, and I think it was a bars/bar/club in Boston, and essentially just like got pushed in a position where I had an opportunity to ask her a question. I remember being like, I Googled her quite a bit before and I was like, “Oh! What are some interesting things that she probably experienced?” Somewhere it popped up that she’d had a bat mitzvah.


I was like, “Oh! I’m just going to ask Sam Ronson, this somewhat famous DJ/the girlfriend at the moment of Lindsay Lohan about her coming of age in the Jewish tradition.” She gave me a great answer, and she was extremely touched that I was even asking about that. It helped build a rapport, which I would argue is really similar to what we experience as recruiters, right? 


Because, a big cornerstone of our job as recruiters is to build a rapport, build a connection between a candidate, have them obviously take our company and our company’s mission seriously, and then get them to be interested in whatever we’re selling them, which of course sometimes a life shift, right? It’s a new job. It’s a completely new reality. It’s a new move sometimes, relocation for their family. It’s trying to build those connections and use whatever information we can find out about someone, or collect, or listen for through that process. 


[00:09:19] RS: Yes. I’m sure Sam Ronson hadn’t thought, let alone been asked about her bat mitzvah probably since it happened 15 or plus years. Well done you on mining her life for something to connect over.


[00:09:32] SP: Absolutely. I did that. That was me.


[00:09:34] RS: Amazing. Well, I want to get into the current state of affairs in recruiting someone, because I know you have lots of opinions about this. Right now is just a crazy time, both as a recruiter and as a candidate, perhaps as a recruiter candidate as well. What you’re seeing out there is, you have this great resignation, which I keep being assured as a real thing, and people are not putting up with mediocre jobs, even let alone bad jobs, and are going out., they’re coming back with five, six offers. Are you experiencing that out there? Are folks coming to you? Matt, please jump in as well? Are people having like five, six offers? Is it more than normal?


[00:10:13] SP: Yeah. I mean, first of all, to your initial point about whether, I guess raising whether the great resignation is real, I mean, it is right. Like basically, every month from April to August 2021, at least 2.5 percent of the American workforce quit their jobs, right? In August alone, more than 4.2 million people handed in their two weeks. 2021 quit levels are about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than they were in the record-setting year 2019. In that year, 42. 1 million Americans quit a job, right? 


We’re looking at something that economists are pointing to, HR leaders are pointing to, like this is a very real thing. I think the very difficult part of this particular issue is, where is this stemming from, right? That’s like a big part of it, for sure. Because you mentioned, I mean, even yourself, like there, people are in bad jobs. First thing they want to do is quit. Why is that the first thing that they’re doing? What are ways that we can do things better? Right? That’s one level of thinking about it.


I mean, in terms of offers and candidates out there, the candidates that are left on the market who are still actively looking for opportunities,150 percent, I mean, I think we had a VP candidate who ultimately turned down our roles. He had 12 offers/


[00:11:30] RS: That’s too many for one person, like I would feel stressed. After like three, I’d be like, “What am I doing?” If you have more than three, then I feel like you probably don’t know what you even want, right?


[00:11:40] SP: Yeah, absolutely.


[00:11:43] RS: Matt, has that been your experience?


[00:11:45] MH: That’s definitely been my experience. I mean, you know, I work in a little bit of a different fashion than Simone because I’m on the agency search side of things. The clients that I work with really run the gamut, but it really does seem like a lot of my job ends up being consulting candidates and reminding candidates, why they started their job search, what really matters to them. Bobby, I know you and I have had this conversation so many times on almost every pod. That feels like a core responsibility of mine, is how can I remind you of the things that actually drive you and motivate you every day. So when you’re evaluating six to 12 offers, it’s really easy to keep that front and center. 


Simone, I’d be actually really curious to hear because I’ve been in your seat as well as the head of talent. When you’re coaching your recruiters through these sorts of situations, what sorts of tactics are you deploying or coaching are you doing to help them navigate that process with their candidates at the end?


[00:12:30] SP: Well, I think the key thing to think about is motivation, right? This is like a tenet of any good recruiter is to listen, listen, listen. You’re supposed to be really listening to candidates, understanding what they’re looking for, understanding what their motivations are. People have a wide variety of motivations and it’s an incredibly diverse slate, right? People could be shifting jobs because of work-life balance. They could be shifting jobs because of flexibility. They also could be shifting jobs for just compensation. I mean, some people are super motivated by money and we have to recognize that as not – and not like sort of think that that’s not something that’s real or something that that’s a superficial reason, like some people want money, it’s okay.


There are elements also where people might be really looking for benefits that are great. They might be a big fan of traveling and wanted to have a limited PTO. I think the biggest thing that I’ve told my recruiters historically to do is to really focus in on, what do these candidates want. Let’s listen to them, let’s figure out a way to get them where they want to be if ultimately, they’re a finalist that the team wants to hire, and then walk it back a little bit and basically cater everything that we’re telling them about the opportunity through the prism of what they’re looking for. 


If someone’s looking for work-life balance, you know what, we’re a remote first organization right now. That’s probably going to stick around for a while. There are opportunities for you to connect with your boss, and for us to even – I’ve done this before for hiring managers and candidates, finalists in particular. Let’s get you guys on the phone to discuss the role and really do a deep dive.


Sometimes I will have a candidate talk to someone else on the team who reports into that person, so that they can get a sense on – are these going to be like 10:00 PM or 11:00 in the night Slack messages that people are going to have to wade through, right? It’s about really listening, it’s about catering whatever you have to offer to those candidates through what they’re really looking for. Get the motivations and then basically build out why this opportunity or that opportunity is best for them and what we can offer to kind of help them augment.


[00:14:24] MH: One thing that I think is a really interesting balancing act is, a lot of the work that I did when I was an internal head of talent versus on the agency side was also informing my interview teams of what matters to those candidates as well. So that we can kind of strategically infuse those into the interview process and all those interactions. But it’s a challenging balance in the sense that you also don’t want to oversell an opportunity to somebody and paint something that’s not an authentic picture of what that role actually is. I don’t know if I’ve really figured out how to crack that code, honestly, but I’d be curious to hear how you’re talking to your hiring managers as well about these candidate motivations.


[00:14:56] SP: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s about flexibility. It’s the idea that we’re listening and the idea that, if anything. Sometimes I don’t even give them the full story that I’ve heard, right? Because you want multiple people. It’s a checks and balances system. You want multiple people through the hiring process to have those conversations and validate it. Because, you know, there’s some professional interviewers out there who literally get on the phone with the first person, tell them, have a scripted answer for those kinds of questions, and then continue to repeat those through the process.


The key thing for us is to not only be open to hiring the very best, and obviously trying to get people interested in how we can better their lives or get them to the next point in their career and help them essentially fulfill those motivations. But the other thing to remember is that we’re also doing an important job of making sure that there’s quality through the process, right? If you’re doing that, you want checks and balances, multiple people to be part of the process. You want that hiring team to be inclusive, to be diverse, and also to be very prescriptive in terms of what the opportunity is, and ask those tough questions, right? I don’t think it sometimes serves my role well, when I’m giving them all the information. If anything, I say, “Can you dig into this thing?” or this element that they mentioned to me. I won’t necessarily give them the full story, because I think it’s important for us to have multiple touchpoints.


I think the candidates appreciate that, especially the real ones who aren’t professional interviewers, right? Like the people who are actually motivated by something, about the company that intrigues them, or the product. Those people are going to react really positively when every single touchpoint in an interview or hiring process asks them the same engaging question. Like, “What are you motivated??” It’s not starting off the interview with like, “Hey! Tell me about yourself? And what are you here for today?” It’s starting out with, “What motivates you? What’s the thing that you’re most proud of in terms of some of your achievements in the past? Talk me through a particularly difficult situation. What did that look like for you and why was it difficult?” Let’s get a better understanding of what is motivating people at that granular level.


[00:16:50] RS: Can we go back to this VP who had 12 offers, because it’s not easy to get an offer, even if you are really well qualified. You have to jump through a bunch of hoops, you meet with a bunch of people on the team. An interview process times 12, you’re looking at 40 to 60 meetings on your calendar in a three-to-six-week window. That’s insane. How could you do that, and also have a job or also do anything else with your time? 


Side point. What I really want to know is, at what point do you want to stay competitive for a candidate who has all these other offers? And at what point do you say, “Hey! It sounds like you’re still narrowing down your search. If we’re in your top three, let me know. But I’m not going to go head-to-head with 11 other companies for you”?


[00:17:33] SP: Yeah. I mean, those are both really relevant points. The first point I would make with regards to what you’re saying is, don’t forget that the easiest jobs to get are the ones that are really senior, right? Because, first of all, there’s less candidates at that level, who can actually do that job, who have the experience and the skill set necessary. There’s also an element of comfort level. They’re really good interviewers, because they’ve been doing this for 20, 30 years. The other point is that they have a crazy, crazy network. The reality is, like this person with 12 offers, they might have just reached out to a couple people, and then people heard through the grapevine that they were looking and suddenly they had five offers they didn’t even have to do an interview. They did a lunch, right? Like there is an element of that to the interview process, which we should remember, right? Like it’s really easy to get senior jobs. It’s harder to get mid-level jobs because mid-level people have less opportunity. There are fewer mid-level jobs sometimes.


Then on top of it, people are expected to jump through hoops, sometimes doing 6 to 8 interviews, which by the way, I have a really solid feeling that that is going to disappear soon. Because like that a good chunk of the population not being interested in doing that. Like it’s not sustainable. It’s not scalable for a lot of these tech companies. And like burnout is a thing, and if you’re feeling burnout by your interview process, then, Jesus, time to move on and interview for another company. I think people are really feeling that right now.


[00:18:51] RS: Can I jump in with the 6 – 8 interviews going away? Can we also expect the take-home assignment to get away, like unpaid labor? Now that I’ve been an independent – no, I’ve had my own business. I like bill hourly. If a company wanted me like, “Hey! We’re going to do this presentation” or “We want you to do this presentation.” It takes me six to eight hours, “You better pay me for those six to eight hours.” Do you think that will come about too or are we going to have to expect candidates to jump through that hoop?


[00:19:16] SP: I love what you’re saying there. I think that that’s a totally legitimate perspective. The one thing that I love about assessments, is because we are also in a time where we’re trying to really mitigate bias, right? That is a huge element of this. We are trying to be focused on skills. We are trying to be really dedicated to understanding what the day to day of the role is, and understanding how well candidates are going to do that job. I think sometimes, an assessment is a great product, process point, that essentially can mitigate that bias, right? Because we’re not focusing in on where they went to college. We’re not focusing in on what community they grew up in, or what their socioeconomic status or their race or their – any of those things. We’re really focused on ultimately what their output is, right?


That is on some level a democratizing tool, which I would argue, isn’t necessarily going to go away. I think we can be smarter about the way that we do those assessments and smarter about what we ask from candidates, right? We might want to ask them a couple of thought-provoking, problem-solving questions to get a sense on how they would react to something as opposed to asking them to put together – Uber does this, a crazy PowerPoint, or asking someone to come up with basically a design. A lot of the tech in the industrial sector, like think SpaceX, and like Relativity, and all those big companies there. They’re asking people to come on as junior level to mid-level engineers and literally put together massive amounts of information and data into, how they would do this, or create a design. 


That stuff we’re probably going to see potentially less of. Although, I would argue, again, it’s going to be slightly different in some of those very specific types of roles and industries that are super nuanced. But I like the idea of an assessment. What do you think, Matt?


[00:20:52] MH: Yeah/ I tend to agree with you. I mean, it’s funny, because I’m constantly advising my clients to shorten their process, like, “Hey! If you want to win talent, there are startups that literally will spend five days interviewing somebody with their 10 employees that they have, and they’ll sweep them up like it’s nobody’s business.” But at the same time, I agree with you to your point earlier, there are professional interviewers that are so scripted, so rehearsed, they can come in and completely nail the interview and say exactly what they know that hiring manager wants to say. Or maybe they prep with a recruiter that really wants them to be set up for success, and they’re getting that insight. I think an assessment is the way to kind of remove that bias. 


I also think there’s something to be said about the level of the role that you ask to do a presentation, right? If you’re going to ask me to do a 90-day plan, maybe you reserve that for like the VPS, or the senior directors or people that are really driving strategy to the company versus somebody who you’re just trying to get free work from to your point, Rob.


[00:21:38] RS: I did cut you off there, Simone. You were about to go into, at what juncture it makes sense to stay competitive for a candidate who has a lot of offers.


[00:21:47] SP: Well, I always had one of the big cornerstone, and sort of my tenet is listening to people, right? You don’t just have to listen to them and wait for a question that you ask and for them to answer specifically what you want. You want to get the other cues, right? Like if you got an email from someone, and these are actual day-to-day things that happened, or it happened for me. If you ask someone, “Hey! How did things go in the interview?” They use that opportunity as a way or segue to say, “Oh! Well, it was great. But you know, I’ve interviewed like with 10 other companies this week.” You know there’s a certain level of, almost like a lack of interest or an ambivalence about a certain role. If you send out an email saying, “Hey!” Because I think the biggest thing to win this game, by the way, in terms of talent is communication and recruiter follow-up through. That is the number one pet peeve.


Recruiters are usually the ones that experience that the most. I mean, I personally have been part of so many processes where they’ve just ghosted me, right? Like I’m sorry, you guys, we’re in a middle of a great resignation. People can’t find talent. You better teach your recruiters how to do better, and your recruiters better have SLAs and like actual specific moments in time where they know they have to reach out to a candidate. If there are four candidates in play, do not ignore three candidates and just give one candidate an update. Let them all know where they’re at. People don’t like that. This is like dating, but worse, because it actually affects your compensation and your whole life, right? Like dating and being ghosted, personally, like whatever, like screw that dude or screw that girl. But for an employer at a big company to say, “Hey! I’m sorry. You’re not even worth my time.” Not only will you never invest in time again to interviewing at that company. But you will also tell others, and you will also probably write that experience down on Glassdoor, right?


That’s the number one thing that I think employers need to be aware of. And this has happened at the biggest tech companies. I’m not, I mean, it’s a personal issue that I have. I think that like – and that’s something that I teach every single recruiter that I’ve ever worked with to do, because follow-through is where you’re going to win. Like keeping people on the same page, but in that follow-through, sometimes when you are reaching out and trying to gauge like how they’re feeling about an opportunity, that’s when you can feel out really easily, how passionate they are about an opportunity again. “Hey! We’re going to debrief. We’re going to talk to – we’ll circle back with you early next week.” Then you get a response saying, “Oh! I have a ton of other opportunities that I’m really considering right now. Like could you hurry up your process.”


You know that that’s fine, like they’re totally welcome to say that, and that’s a totally legitimate point. But also, like, clearly, our opportunity is not the number one if they’re responding in that way. There’s certain tiny little hints that you can get as a recruiter, as an HR professional, as anyone, a hiring manager. I think the other thing to kind of touch base on is personalization, like I talked through a lot about follow-through and the importance of that. The fact that recruiters should never go as candidates, which happens every single day in America. It’s like, every time you hear a bell ring, somebody has written a shitty Glassdoor review, because like some idiot recruiter somewhere didn’t do their job, and never circle back and never clicked the two buttons that they need to click in their ATS to send a rejection note at the very least, right?


But the really important piece to that is just keeping on track and having hiring managers sometimes reach out. If you’re really passionate about having a candidate join a team, you reach out yourself. Don’t leave it on the recruiter. That’s not the recruiter’s job all the time. Take a personal stance and do something yourself for once sometimes. That will help the team and really also create a value at, like just – a value prop to the candidate. They know that they’re important enough that not only the recruiter is reaching out, but the hiring manager is too. This is like a long term – this is what is going to look like when you join our company, right?


[00:25:26] RS: You do hear that recruiting is like dating. This is the first time I’ve heard recruiting is like dating but worse. Maybe we have our episode title there. 


[00:25:36] SP: I got to be on that episode.


[00:25:38] RS: This is like the, you can’t afford to ghost, you can’t afford to not have this high level of communication. The 6 to 8 person interview is maybe going away. There are all these different trends where it feels like it’s more of a candidate’s market. Is it because of a mere economic reality where there’s lots of people hiring, so they have lots of options, so people are more likely to quit, they’re more risk-averse because they know they can get another job? Or would you say that the fundamental offering of a full-time job is changing, people have different expectations and it’s not merely an economic influence?


[00:26:12] SP: I can certainly speak to it. I’d be curious to hear Matt’s perspective on this from an agency perspective, because obviously, his external experience is a little bit different than mine. I am happy though. I have like three or four points that I can think of immediately for this. But I’d love Matt to go first because I’m curious to hear his answer.


[00:26:27] MH: Yeah. I mean, I actually kind of take it in a different direction and start to think about just how the freelance economy is scaling, and how much that influences people being really comfortable quitting their jobs. Because they know that there is just so much opportunity to partner with a company that is struggling to hire talent fast enough, and they’re willing to hire a consultant in lieu of actually having somebody full-time. I can’t tell you the number of people that I’ve reached out to for a job, and they’re like, “I’d be crazy to take a full-time job. I’m out in Bali, I’m working like four hours a day, I have a very flexible schedule, and I’m not tied down to one company.” Then they can wait for that right thing to come along, that next unicorn opportunity. I think that’s pretty interesting.


But in general, yeah, I do think that there is a really big economic shift that is causing people to just see these high salaries, because companies also, quite frankly, are having to increase their compensation bands as well, just to keep up and stay competitive in the market. Candidates catch word of that. They’re like, “Well, if I can go get 40,000 extra without really even moving into a new level at a new company, why would I stick around here?” I think there’s a couple of different factors, but I’m certainly experiencing it on this side as well.


[00:27:28] SP: Yeah. I would argue that inflation is driving this a little bit. I mean, we are literally in such a bizarre political moment in America. Where obviously we had this massive politicization of everything and divide, and now we’re facing record-high inflation. I think I read somewhere that inflation is up more than 5 percent as of like – this is the most recent number from the department of – I think it was just the economy. It wasn’t Department of Labor. That’s an incredible moment, because things are getting more costly. Gas, milk, wheat, lumber. That means that people are going to look for that increase in salary, right? To your point, there’s going to be that.


I think the other element, and this is the difficult part also, discussing this industry-specific, because there is a huge percentage of the US population that we’re not talking about right now. We’re not talking about the nonexempt, right? We’re talking about – well, like that whole group of mass scale, whether it’s like people who work at big box stores, or people who are in the retail in general, or people who are doing mechanical engineering, or like manufacturing. That is a very different world than what we’re talking about here and the idea of working from Bali, with your like $3,000 laptop. I think that it depends.


I mean, obviously, you and I both exist in that world a little bit. But I do think it’s important to shout out the fact that, it’s industry-specific. You see a large number of people, even in some of these areas where, I think that I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that talked about this labor shortage, essentially and is this something that’s going to happen for the next couple of years? Is this something that we’re saddled with? I think, of 52 economists that they surveyed, 22 predicted that participation would never return to its pre-pandemic level. That’s pretty crazy. 


If you think about it, I think everyone’s way of working – I mean, we’ve got this massive shortage now when it comes to childcare, which means that for some families, they might have had like a part-time job, where they are making $30,000 to $60,000 a year. Families in other parts of the country that are not considered sort of expensive places to live. They might say, “Childcare is impossible and just insanely expensive. I’m going to quit my job.” 


This is a big motivating factor that we’re thinking about, you have to really compartmentalize things. You have to think about, what are some of these inspirational moments in time where people are doing – like why are they doing this? It’s not just – they can get $60 000 somewhere else, or they want to travel to Bali and do their work there. Like it can be so many different things. 


I think burnout is another thing. Burnout is a weird one. It’s sort of like this occupational phenomenon, but we’ve seen a lot of tech companies like Bumble, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, they closed for a week to give people time. I know Fidelity Investments is piloting a program in which some employees work 30 hours a week. You’ve got like other companies that are really thinking outside the box. I believe, I’m trying to remember which company, I was on a webinar recently with a ton of different execs. One of those companies basically said that they were getting rid of the equity cliff, right? I think it was Reddit actually. Reddit’s literally getting rid of the equity cliff. That means that the one-year equity cliff at 25 percent isn’t going to be in existence anymore. You’re going to start earning equity on day one.


I think it’s a such an interesting cross-section, because it’s really industry-specific. It really depends on sort of the wealth of those people who are choosing to make those decisions. You see some people who are a little bit more in a situation of privilege where they can take off a year and live off of savings. You’ve got people that can’t, that are saying it’s so expensive to send my kid to daycare or get a babysitter that I’m literally going to quit my job and we are going to live at penny-pinch for a while, because this is not salvageable. It’s a really interesting moment when you begin to step back and look holistically.


[00:31:05] RS: Reddit removing the equity cliff is really interesting, because what that says to me is that standard, which was you have this four-year vesting schedule, one-year cliff. Four years is a reasonable amount of time to expect an employee works here and contributes enough to deserve that huge piece of equity. Now, they’re saying like, one year is not even a reasonable time, right? Like if you work here 10 months, you deserve 10 months’ worth of equity. I wonder if that is just reflective of a shifting timeline of how long it’s reasonable to expect someone to stay there. 


Also, with these mental health weeks, and the shorter work weeks, I think it’s great. But the burnout of it is interesting, because it’s on the one hand, you had this narrative that, look, one of the hardest jobs I ever had was, I was standing up all day, like retail is a really hard job, you’re on your feet, you’re dealing with unruly people. Any kind of manual labor is really hard, and you get less money and less flexibility than you do having a tech job, right? Being able to work in Bali with your $3,000 computer, for example. But if this job is so easy, and so cushy, why all this burnout? What do you think’s happening, Simone? 


[00:32:10] SP: Well, it’s interesting. I think the other thing to think about here is unemployment, right? Like unemployment for a good portion of this whole time that we’ve been locked down and sort of have our behaviors sort of restricted somewhat, because of the pandemic, you do see quite a few people who were in some of those labor, or hospitality and retail sectors essentially making the executive decision where, I was going to make enough money kind of doing this. Like when I sit at home on the couch, like I might just – if there’s a layoff, I’m just going to continue to do this and not actually – 


That was a really interesting argument for a while, until they started actually cutting off employment benefits in different places. And you’ve actually seen no change, which has been the most interesting part of it, right? There’s a federal benefit and then there was a state benefit. A good portion of some of the states decided to, “We’re going to end this extra unemployment that we were giving out, let’s see if it changed the market and it doesn’t change the market. Which I mean, again, we’re still early, right? It could change the market in two months. People might have saved enough from their unemployment checks to be able to have two more months of freedom before they actually jumped back into a job. But yeah, it’s really, really, really interesting. 


I think, what is it about burnout?It’s something that’s – it’s really difficult because it’s intangible. It’s not like – it’s actually the root of a lot of physical ailments, right? If you’re really stressed out, and you’re exhausted, and you’re working so much, you don’t sleep well. Then, you don’t sleep well, you get sick more often and your immunity is down.


[00:33:34] RS: You don’t have time to cook yourself a healthy dinner, so you order takeout. It’s just cascading problems.


[00:33:38] SP: Absolutely, you order takeout and then you gain weight. And then you’re not finding 25 to 30 minutes to take a long walk, even if – that’s the cheapest form of exercise, right? To take a nice long walk. I think we are at this really interesting turning point. I don’t know what the answer is. I know a number of companies are taking this moment of time to really think through what can they do. This whole notion of a 30-hour work week is really interesting. The idea that people should just be working four days and highly spend their time prioritizing. I think that the benefits thing is another thing that we can think of. I believe the company is waste management, across the board. They’re paying for people’s education, so employees’ education. Then, I think over the next year, they’re actually going to open it up to employees’ family members, right? It’s this incentivization, like, how do we get people to stick with something, first of all.


Then the second question is, once they’re willing to stick with it, how do we make it palatable for them, right? That’s a really difficult thing. That’s hard to kind of measure and also hard to ascertain. For example, we are currently remote at Whip. We have opened it up to people who do feel any inclination to come into the office. They get free lunch, right? For that, for a lot of people, that’s like not only giving them a moment of community because they can spend time in an office with other people and have some social interaction and also avoid working from their kitchen, the 10,000th day. But they also have an opportunity to kind of get a free lunch. Small things like that, you can add to that baseline.


Then, of course, I think the idea of just forcing people to take time off. Another one is, Arianna Huffington is a big fan of Thrive, right? She’s got that whole app, and the idea that we should all be really focused on making sure that we’re meaningful and living with being really mindful in the moment. And the idea that I think that there’s a rule at the company, I think, where you don’t answer emails after a certain time a night, like that’s kind of nice. Is that actually something that people do? I don’t know. But it’s a nice idea, right? Thinking about what you can offer and what’s easy and sort of almost cost-effective, like what’s free. What can we do that’s free on day one to make this culture better?


[00:35:41] MH: I was going to say really quickly too. I think there’s also something to be said about this shift to work from home, I feel like it is almost also something that increases the burnout, because you don’t have that separation. If you’re rolling out of bed, and immediately looking at your email, you can look up and then it’s noon, before you know it, and you’ve worked all day. You haven’t had breakfast, and then you at the end of the day, just don’t have that separation, right? 


I know that everybody has their own personal preferences, right? I’m one of those people who I’m more productive in the office, because it’s my focus time to focus on this, and then I can have my life outside of work. That’s been my personal experience. I’m also hearing that a lot from people that work in employee insights, and deploy these massive global surveys. Do you prefer to work from home? Are you more productive at home? You are seeing a trend of people that are just like, “I think this is actually influencing my burnout.”


[00:36:28] SP: Yeah. It’s interesting, because the other thing is, as an employee, I’m someone who actually enjoys working from home quite a bit. I’ve always been the type of employee where I almost prefer sending an email at 10 o’clock at night, because I’m in the moment, I’m thinking about whatever that is. I will also be the kind of employee that, I will not sign on like at 8:00 AM. I’m going to sign on at 12:00 today. It’s really about people having a little bit of personal accountability here for once and saying, “You know what/ I’m going to do this for me, building time into their own schedule to ensure that burnout doesn’t occur. Thinking through ways that they can effectively own their lives, right? Because that’s a big thing. 


I think that sometimes – like for people who are working from home, it’s the distance, right? It’s like being able to wake up, not have to commute anywhere. Sometimes that means more family time at home, like there’s a lot of benefits to working from home. But I think it’s important, because you’re right, burnout is a thing. It’s important for you to build that distance and ensure that you’re not killing yourself.


[00:37:27] RS: Yeah. I think, perhaps it’s up to people, leaders, and recruiters for their part to encourage people to reflect on that themselves too. What do you need to do to avoid burnout? I like the enforced minimum PTO, right? Companies will say like, “We have no vacation policy.” Then you start asking employees, “Well, how many days did you take last year?” “Like, I don’t know. Like five, six.” Usually what that means is like, no one takes vacation, and also, we don’t have to pay you for your accumulated time off when you leave. I like the idea of like, “Oh, no!” You have to – if it gets to be mid-November, and you have all your days left, it’s like, see in the New Year. You mentioned that there are some things you can do that are free that encourage people to perhaps protect people from burnout. Enforcing PTO is one. What are some other examples of things people can do? 


[00:38:14] SP: I mean, just telling your employee, like if you have somebody who’s been really working hard. The onus is on the managers, and the onus is on also the exec team, generally speaking, to say, “You know what. We’re going to turn our four-day weekend into a five-day weekend, because you guys have like done a great job.” Or like what some of these other companies, like LinkedIn have done, where, “Here, take an extra week off, like we’re mandating everyone takes this time off.” Or having an email policy where you’re like, “People are not expected to respond to emails after 8:00 PM” or whatever time it is. So it depends. I think that those certainly need to be specific to a certain type of role too, because oftentimes, a lot of these rules are focused on mid-level and senior, when you got a ton of young people that are feeling super burnout and those are the future, right?


You want to create an equitable scenario where everyone’s feeling the benefits of some of those free. But like, other things, even the opportunity for teams to connect and have an emotional circle that they can just get in a safe space and just talk about what’s really been bothering them. A lot of those mentorship programs that we see where they buddy up employees with each other, new employees or even existing employees. Camaraderie and that sort of companionship is really important and can help people not only stay longer in a role, but give them that shoulder to cry on if they’re having a real pain.


[00:39:32] RS: Matt, do you have any burning questions for Simone before we tie a bow on this episode?


[00:39:38] MH: I mean, I could talk to you for so long, Simone. I think something that’s really interesting right now is, is you’re seeing so much venture capital into tech. I know we’re talking about this shift holistically. But as you’re seeing so much venture capital pumped into tech right now, there’s obviously a lot of roles being opened up as well at a really high volume at some of these companies. One thing that I find really challenging is, a) setting expectations with your clients, whether you’re in internal or external, as to when this is actually going to be filled. What are the trends that we’re seeing, to where if you’re hiring a VP of operations, this is when you can expect this person to be in seat, this is the volume you can expect to see? But also, there’s something around the prioritization of that, as well. It’s not realistic to say, “Okay. We need to open up 100 roles in the next 12 months.” That you’re going to get all 100 of those in the next 12 months. So how do you kind of educate your stakeholders internally, so they know what to expect and they can kind of get their head around a better prioritization system?


[00:40:28] SP: Absolutely. I mean, I think there’s an expectation – like I think previously, you’d think, “Okay. We open 100 percent of roles. We might miss the roles by 10 percent to 20 percent. If you have 100 roles in a year, we might hire 80 in a normal economy.” You prioritize the most important roles. You think about what the business is up to, where it is in its growth stage, and then you begin to think about what the value prop is to candidates. That’s what you would usually do year over year. That changes year over year, because like, one year, for a consumer or enterprise product, you might have a customer success vision that’s really important to kind of effectively create. Then another year, you might have a marketing thing when you’re looking to drum up sales, and then marketing followed by sales, right? It’s a year-to-year,it changes. 


In this economy right now, 40 percent to 50 percent. Expect that you’re not going to get 100 people. You’re going to get closer to 50 or 60 if you’re lucky. You better figure out your value prop, you better come to the table organized, you better think through where the growth is over the next 12 to 16 months. 


You should also really educate your team on the benefits. Execs should sit together and think about why would I, as a mid-level or senior employee come to work at your company. What is it about us that’s really game-changing and how can we realistically, I mean, in view of what Reddit has done, for example, what other small things that we can do to impact, right? Because the expectation here is that compensation isn’t number one.


Can we do spot bonuses, paying for lunch? So many different things that you can do? But you really need to think about how can you incentivize people to be interested in opportunities right now, because it is incredibly difficult to hire. People are incredibly flaky. They ghost you these days, that’s a really big struggle. I think if you’re internal, that is your job as a recruiting or HR exec to really figure out what is it that we do that people will want to do? And how are we different than what’s out there? The market’s saturated. VC is like investing in everything, dumb idea, smart ideas, brilliant ideas, like they’re throwing money at everything right now, like, right? What is it about our company and what we’re doing that’s really game-changing? And how, beyond just telling people that they’re going to have a great impact, right, which is the usual thing? How can we think about that?


The other thing that we need to think about is location. That is number one. Like as Apple, and as Facebook, and as some of these large tech companies are going a little old school, which is interesting to say the least, in mandating employees to come back to the offices. That is, and there was a New York Times article backing what I’m saying up right now. Basically, that is exactly where we’re at with some of these smaller startups. Maybe that little bit of ability to one-up the big tech companies, like the FANGs out there, is really through the idea of not mandating them to come back, and giving them that work-life balance and giving them that flexibility. Because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to hire an engineer out of Amazon. It’s certainly not going to be money.


[00:43:17] MH: That does so much for diversity too. I have this conversation a lot also, right? There are all of these little untapped pockets all over the world where historically, tech companies have not been able to hire because they’ve been tied to their HQ, the locations that they actually have built out. If you can go to a market say, I don’t know, Cleveland, Ohio, maybe a bad example. But there’s all of these little subsets within the US particularly, where we have this diverse talent that has not had access to this opportunity before. So that’s a lot of what I do on my side, too, is hey, if your whole company has been remote to the pandemic, don’t feel like you have to go back to the office just because we can see a light at the end of this tunnel. If you really want to win the talent game, you really want to build a diverse org. This is something that you should consider a strategic lever.


[00:43:57] SP: Yeah. The other thing is, that this is actually a moment in time where people are looking at opportunities to move to other places. There was another article in the Wall Street Journal recently that was talking about the fact that people basically are getting incentives from small-town America, places like not Cleveland necessarily, but places small towns in Ohio, small towns in Pennsylvania. There’s a whole website now devoted to the idea of, if you’re living in New York City, and you’re burnt out and you want to live somewhere, you know, some small town like Augusta, Maine is going to give you $20 000 over two years to live there. That will recoup your taxes, your real estate taxes those two years.


Not only are companies thinking about the remote piece, but we already know that people are thinking about that, because they’re incentivized by the idea of getting a free house, which is what one small town in Pennsylvania is doing. Like, it’s really thinking outside the box and being able to match people. And understand the market, and understand some of the real-life issues that people are having and what they want to escape to.


[00:44:52] RS: Well, y’all, I feel like we could keep going for another hour and a half, but we are creeping up on a perhaps well past optimal podcast length here. This is a fascinating conversation. I’m so pleased that we had you on, Simone. Thank you for being here and for sharing all of your wisdom and experience with us. This has been a blast learning from you today.


[00:45:09] SP: Thank you. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to talk shop.


[00:45:12] RS: We’d have you back on anytime. And all of you out there in podcast land, thank you for tuning in one more time. Simone Press has been Simone Press. Matt Hughes has been Matt Hughes. And I’ve been Rob Stevenson. You’ve all been wonderful recruiters. Have a spectacular week and happy hunting.




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