Today we’re diving into the prioritization of chasing happiness with the Global Head of Talent Acquisition over at Shutterstock, Valerie Vadala. Hear about Valerie’s career journey from law school to her current position, why introverts make the best recruiters, and the importance of finding a job that fits your personality!
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.
[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off-the-cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.
[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
[0:00:39.7] MALE: 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.
[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:00:59.6] RS: Joining us today on Talk Talent to Me is, the global head to talent acquisition over at Shutterstock, Valerie Vadala. Valerie, I’m so pleased you’re here, how are you today?
[0:01:09.1] VV: I am good Rob. I’m really happy to be here, very excited.
[0:01:13.5] RS: you are broadcasting in from New York, right?
[0:01:15.8] VV: I’m in Brooklyn right now in my house with really bad lighting but that’s okay because it’s a podcast.
[0:01:21.0] RS: Yeah, no one will ever know, now they’re just going to assume that you’re in a grave-y dungeon somewhere. How is Brooklyn, how is New York, how is the east coast shaping up, are you mostly working form home, what’s the state of things?
[0:01:35.1] VV: Yeah, at Shutterstock, we had optional. We haven’t officially returned to work, our office is the Empire State Building and we keep bumping the date that we’ll have a return to work, at which point, it will be hybrid, for most people, anyway. We were optionally allowed to go in, you have to fill out all these forms and everything else but – I had been going in once or twice a week, just because I am in a small apartment in Brooklyn and I’m kind of sick of it after two years and so I was happy to go into the office. But after Omicron happened, we had a little bit of an outbreak so it’s been shut down, I think we’re reopening this week actually.
[0:02:07.9] RS: When you reopen, when you go back to the hybrid model, do people want to be back in the office? I’m sure you’ve done surveys, I’m sure you figured out what the hopes are, I’m curious what the breakdown is? Is it like executives want people in the office five days a week, most people want two to there, what’s sort of the expectation and hope for folks?
[0:02:23.9] VV: I think it’s really a blend. I haven’t met any executives that are like, real face time me that really want people in the office all the time. I certainly think that we do have some people, some managers that prefer to have a little bit of that face-to-face interaction. There may be people who choose to be fully remote and if their job can get done that way, that’s fine and we’ll allow it but I think that most people are more interested in a hybrid model because it is nice to interact. I mean, I’ve really missed it a lot. It’s funny, I’m what I call a closet introvert, in a way, like a lot of this pandemic stuff didn’t hit me like it hit a lot of other people.
I do feel like there’s something to going into an office and being a part of that, that’s very important. I was super excited, so I started at Shutterstock in May and prior to that, I had worked at Wells Fargo for a year without ever having gone into an office and so the connection I felt just for having this office and these people that I was seeing face to face and spending time with made a big difference for me. I think a lot of people feel that way.
[0:03:25.4] RS: What do you mean by closet introvert?
[0:03:28.6] VV: I mean that I’m an introvert and nobody believes me.
[0:03:33.7] RS: I’m that way too.
[0:03:34.7] VV: When I was a kid, I was really shy, like painfully shy. Is there something wrong if you’re shy, you know? At some point, I don’t remember what it was, I was like, “God, it sucks to feel this open wound vulnerability all the time.” You kind of fake it and the next thing you know, people don’t’ think that you are but it is who I am.
When you actually go the definition of introvert, which is, how are you energized and what sucks energy from you? For me, the energy is when I’m by myself. If I’m at a party, I might have a blast but then I’m like, “I just want to go home.” Yeah, I’m an introvert, we make really good recruiters actually.
[0:04:11.4] RS: Yeah, I think that’s really important because people misunderstand extroversion versus introversion as like, extroversion is outgoing, introversion is contemplative and an internal journey, which is not the case, right? It’s again, like you said, where you get energy.
I’m the same way, I identify as introverted and people are like, “Really? The guy with the microphone who is wearing a cheetah print? Come on.” No, I get my energy from hiding in my little podcast heat lab and reading things and playing video games and being alone, and that’s the time I really need. And then I can go out to a party and have fun and tell jokes and whatever. The closet introvert, there are dozens of us, right?
[0:04:47.7] VV: Yes, exactly, we could have a club, it kind of ticks my husband off because being a recruiter, you’re interacting all the time and so I do – after dinner and everything, I’ll just want to go to my phone or whatever, I just wanted to – he can’t stand it, it’s like, “Talk to me.” I’m like, “Please, not right now, I’ve had enough today”
[0:05:08.9] RS: Yeah, I totally get that. I want to learn more about you and kind of your journey, would you mind just saying some context by walking us through your own journey a little bit and kind of how you wound up at Shutterstock?
[0:05:20.8] VV: Absolutely, happy to. I’ve been a recruiter pretty much my whole career and what happened was, I went to law school. It’s funny because when I was at law school, I was like, this was a mistake but I stayed in it because I was like, not a quitter and plus, student loans so I just do it and I’m like, if I pass the bar, I’ll give it a year. I passed the bar and I gave it a year. I was deeply miserable. I had what I call the 60 minutes blues which was back in the day, Sunday night, 60 minutes, you hear that tick, tick, tick… and you’re like, that just so depressed me.
I read a book called Do What You Are, which I recommended to so many people. It’s still around, still being published and it’s essentially the Myers Briggs. Which was funny because we were talking about introversion but it’s the Myers Briggs test and then it kind aligns you with role, with jobs that would match you.
Really interesting thing, I always remember the introduction, it said, write your name with your dominant hand and then write it with your non-dominant hand, you can do it with both and accomplish it but the non-dominant hand, slower, sloppier, the end results aren’t so good.
That’s what it’s like to be in a job that doesn’t fit your personality is like writing with your non-dominant hand. I finished the book and I really very vividly remember this and I’m going to age myself when I say this but it said, it actually says as an example. It said, “You’d make a terrible lawyer, I’m like, yes, I am a terrible lawyer.”
[0:06:45.8] RS: Correct, yes.
[0:06:47.9] VV: It said, you’d be a really good recruiter and I open – it was a paper, this is how I’m dating myself, it was a newspaper, right? The ads, there was this little tiny ad for legal staffing and I was like, “Well, I have legal experience, why not?” I started recruiting and right away, I was like, “This is the easiest job in the world” and then over the years, I met so many crappy recruiters, I’m like, “It’s not easy, I’m just good at it.” That’s how I ended up in recruiting.
I started out in temp staffing. If anybody is looking to break into recruiting, it’s a great way to do it because the learning curve is very steep and very brave. You start to assess personality a lot, it’s a very important piece of it if somebody’s going to fit. Even if a short-term assignment, it matters. I started out in temp staffing and then I moved to contingency staffing, I ended up running that office. And then I went to retain search, I worked [inaudible 00:07:39] and then I went inhouse at Lehman Brothers, we all know how that ended.
I stayed in financial services recruiting for a lot of my career. I started leading teams, actually, I started at – besides running the offices for accounts but I led teams at Lehman and then moved to Experion. I’ve been essentially an in-house recruiter for most of my career now and I loved it. I ended up at Shutterstock in May.
What had happened was, I was at a company for five years called OppenheimerFunds as an asset manager and I loved that job, it was great. I was running the New York office recruiting and it was awesome and we got acquired and they kept me but I didn’t really like –
Acquisitions are so strange, it’s almost like, “I didn’t interview to work here, I would not work here.” I was looking in and the pandemic hit and I’m like, “Well okay, that’s it, that’s done.” But Wells Fargo called me and I was just, “All right, let me give it a try.” So I was there for a year. I oversaw their executive recruiting – there were three of us, we were overseeing these teams.
We did CEO level down, four levels down. Wells Fargo is enormous, 250,000 people. It was the volume was quite high and I led a team of 10 and I made some amazing connections there. It’s weird, I was there a year, I never even had a security program because I never went into an office but I still have friends from there. I don’t know if it was the pandemic or just was like, really good souls at Wells Fargo that everybody connected with but I met some of the best people that I ever have in my career, I still text and I’m still friends with.
The problem was, it was very bureaucratic, very, very bureaucratic and that’s not my jam, I’m not good at that stuff at all and it makes me really crazy. I knew it wasn’t for me long-term and then Shutterstock called me and I really liked the head of HR who I report to, Tara Birmingham and she was kind of turning it around, Shutterstock is very much a company that is transforming. And I don’t like corporate jargon but their business is really transforming.
She was building an HR team. I always say, if I hadn’t been – I don’t know what Do What You Are would say about this, however, if I hadn’t been a recruiter, I always think I would have been a Don Draper type. I am like an uber consumer. I buy way too much stuff. I kind of know how to speak to people, like, how to market things.
What Shutterstock does is we help creators create, we essentially are a platform of content marketplace. We used to just be stock photos but now, that’s what the transformation piece is, we’re doing film, we’re doing 3D, we have music. We really kind of built a platform where an ad agency or marketing organization could come in and make a whole commercial.
We have studios, we have everything, they can do everything soup to nuts right on our platform. We’re in the middle of this transformation which is really interesting to me, that’s how I ended up there.
[0:10:34.4] RS: I’m curious how your approach to weighing your next career move has changed over the years because now you’re in this more – your global head, right? You have the title and also, you have the experience to kind of write your ticket a little bit, right? I’m sure you could have rustled up a lot of offers regardless of economic happenstances.
[0:10:55.4] VV: I would say, I’m not really sure but thank you.
[0:10:57.3] RS: I’m sure, anyway, you are at a position where you are – could rustle up a lot of offers, you are going to be running whatever team you end up taking. How has your approach to choosing the role shifted as you’ve moved through individual contributorship into management and now into more of the executive tier?
[0:11:16.5] VV: Well, I kind of became a manager by accident. I actually – it’s very funny because when I think of myself, I think I lack ambition, I’m not – I remember when I was at [inaudible 00:11:26], I was talking to an HR business partner and he was like, “Listen, if you want a real career in HR, you have to be an HR VP for a while.” I was so surprised because I thought of HR VPs at that time as my peers. I thought, I’m an SME, they’re an SME, we work together but he was right, they’re not really – they’re not my peers.
I have a dotted line to HR VPs, you know? He was right that if I wanted to be head of HR someday, I’d have to be an HR business partner. I was like, “I don’t want to do that, I don’t like conflict, I would not want to do that.” And plus I’m like a big gossip, I’d be like, if somebody walked out my office, I’d be like, “Come in, I got some deets for you.” It would be a horrible job for me.
I’m not like this super ambitious person but it just ended up happening that each role that came to me was a little bit bigger. In terms of what I think about, I really try to think about, when I was leaving OppenheimerFunds, I had a tag line that I created because I had little Don Dray for me and I said, “I’m chasing happy.” Because I was happy, I was like, “I want to be happy again.” Really, what I look for more than the opportunity is, can I be happy here? That’s really – happiness for me is really about, am I able to contribute in a way that people appreciate me and am I working with people I like or mostly, not everybody but mostly, I’m working with people that I enjoy and who enjoy me.
[0:12:50.1] RS: I love that as a true north, right? It’s less about just okay, more responsibility, more money, more everything up the ladder, et cetera. I’m sure the kind of appointment be like, those things will happen if you pursue, if you prioritize yourself and pursue the things you enjoy doing and you’re good at, right?
[0:13:10.6] VV: Yeah, I do. I think that work, I’m still trying to crack the happy code for work and that’s why this whole great resignation thing is fascinating to me because we clearly haven’t cracked it yet, right? What is it really, I mean, there are places that are offering such amazing things and yet, people are still leaving them.
You wonder what it really is and for me, it’s really, “How do I feel every day going in?” When I was in OppenheimerFunds, I remember, I go on vacation, you go back, I’d go in with my bag of chocolate from Italy or whatever that I’m bringing to the team and it was okay to go back.
I remember that there were people there, it sounds like it was nirvana, it just worked for me, right? I typically go on five and they’d be like, “TGIF, right?” I’d be like, “Yeah, I guess.” It’s nice to work somewhere that it’s just not a drag, you know? I think that that is so important and it seems like – it seems kind of lame to say that, right? I wish I had something deeper and more data-focused to say.
Just to really enjoy the work you do, to feel appreciated and to feel like you want to please these people is huge.
[0:14:14.2] RS: The TGI Friday thing, I tend to agree with you, the kind of points what you had said earlier, the 60-minute blues or often called the Sunday scary. For me, if you get the Sunday scary, does that mean you hate your job? At the end of your weekend, you’re feeling that anxiety, then something’s wrong, right? You should change something.
[0:14:32.1] VV: It’s soul-sucking, something is sucking your soul, absolutely, yeah, you got to listen to it.
[0:14:37.3] RS: I do wonder, there are so many different motivations that lead people to take a job or keep a job, pursue a job. I wonder how much fulfillment is one of them across the board? Is it okay to just be like, “Listen, you got to get a good job, a secure job that pays you and then you can clock out at 5:00 and then you can go about your life and you can do the things that you would do if you didn’t have to work” right?
Now you can afford that, now you can truly have the work-life balance that I had this separate, at 5:00, 5:01 hits, “You don’t know me, I don’t know you, I go home and I do my thing. Work is just a thing I have to do,” versus, “Okay, I want to have enough fulfillment of my work where that’s not just it, I am getting some joy out of it, it’s not just a paycheck, I do enjoy the people I work with.”
I do wonder, for me, that’s always got to be the case, it’s so much of my life, it’s a third of my life that I’m spending. It’s too much time for me to make a concession, right? Be like, “I hate this but I’m just going to do it.” There’s privilege in that, right? Because not everyone has the opportunity to choose their exact job. Are those people in the first example, are they necessarily wrong? Are they less happy?
[0:15:50.9] VV: I ask myself that question often, I honestly do because I even see the people that I worked with at OppenheimerFunds that are still with the acquiring company. And I know that in the beginning, up until I left a year later, they’re also, “Yeah, I know, it’s not OppenheimerFunds.” Whatever, you know?”
They’re still there and you know, meanwhile, I kind of went through the fires, really struggled while I was at Wells Fargo and again, no shade on Wells Fargo, just like not my jam and it didn’t work for me. I thought, “These people that just kind of sit tight, maybe they get something, right?” You know what I think that’s like? I think that’s like being in a “meh” marriage. Like, “Meh, you know, whatever.”
Which sometimes marriage is, and then has good and bad and up and down, and all those things, but like I just think, I don’t know, I’m not a settler, I wish I was sometimes because I do think it’s easier and I don’t really love – I don’t have a gypsy soul, I like to make connections and so, it’s hard to move roles but chasing happy, I want to be happy in my job, I do.
[0:16:48.4] RS: I do think that’s human nature is to chase happy or chase something, right? It’s not to be sedentary and although, I don’t know, I mean, I have a friend who, he didn’t go to college with me but he was friends with my college friends, he went straight from high school to working for a ford factor in his home town.
He works at this factory and then he’s done every day by three PM and then he gets to grill bratwurst and drink four Bud lights on his driveway and watch the Black Hawks play hockey. For me, I would go nuts. Then, I had to be like, “Okay, why? He seems happy, right? He seems like he had to have everything he wants.”
I can’t judge it but it just seems to me that if you want that kind of role then don’t take a high octane job I guess. If that’s the speed of life you want then I would never judge or take it away from you but then you kind of have to point it in a direction, there has to be a certain kind of output that’s maybe not all of the expectations and growth endemic to being attacked.
[0:17:49.9] VV: He’s happy, watches Black Hawks. There is something very zen about people who are like that and this is another way of, how much do you look inward and think about, fret about things you probably shouldn’t have to fret about and everything else. Some of us are harder on ourselves than others and expect more out of life than others.
I think that the ones that don’t are the lucky ones. I think that that would be a nice way to live but I don’t either. I came from Delaware and I never even – growing up was like, “Get me out of this one-horse town,” I always thought I’d end up there but then I didn’t. And now I’m like, “Oh my god, I would have been such a different person and not in a good way.”
[0:18:24.8] RS: Yeah, it’s funny, you had to call it Delaware one-horse town because the state quarter is one horse.
[0:18:31.1] VV: Is it really? That’s so funny, I didn’t even know that.
[0:18:34.2] RS: Yeah, I remember that because it was like the first state quarter because Delaware obviously, first state.
[0:18:39.5] VV: Yes, I know that and you know, one-horse town where the president of the United States was a senator, just saying but yeah.
[0:18:47.7] RS: Again, it’s like, choose what you need to be fulfilled and then I just think people need to be really reflective of what role that our career plays to their identity, is really what it comes down, right? If you get a lot of your identity from work, then it’s really important that your work allows you to interact with certain people who you really love and allows you to express yourself and be creative and be fulfilled and achieve mastery and display master and all those things.
If you are like – there’s this audio meme going around on Instagram and TikTok, that’s like, “What’s your dream job? I don’t have a dream job, I simply do not dream of labor.”
[0:19:25.4] VV: I like that, yeah.
[0:19:26.4] RS: It’s very clever but it’s like then, if you’re that kind of person, then great, then you just need to know that about yourself and just figure out where your identity comes from because the alternative is like being on a path like you, Valerie, a lot of different sorts of demanding jobs. Then, waking up at a certain time, being like – why did I spend all my life doing this?
[0:19:44.9] VV: Right, I actually really related to that meme because honestly, I’m not one of those people who is like, if I won the lotto, I’d still be doing this. I could find stuff to do with my time that have nothing to do with work. I mean, I work because I have to work but that’s why I’m chasing happy. I work because I have to work, let me do something that A, I’m good at and B, that I like, that I enjoy, you know? That’s important.
[0:20:09.3] RS: Yeah, it makes all the sense in the world.
[0:20:11.1] VV: I mean, I think being a recruiter is like the coolest job. I not-so-secretly think it’s the most important job in all of HR because we find the talent, we find the people, we build the company. If we do it right, I tend to – maybe most recruiters do this, I don’t know. I look at it from the candidate’s perspective as much as ours.
If I think somebody’s not going to be happy in a job, even if they’re totally qualified, I got to see them every day, right? Theoretically, you could send me an email and say, “You sold me a bill of goods, lady.” I really want to make sure they’re going to flourish. I look at it from both perspectives. Indeed, one gave me a shirt, it was humongous. I wore it as a nightgown, not that I ever wear it anyway but it says, “I help people get jobs.” And I love that because that’s what I do, I help people get jobs, how cool is that? It’s like the best job.
[0:21:01.8] RS: Yeah and I always think about that whenever – this happens constantly and people being like, “Oh can you believe the recruiter sent me this message? It is not even relevant to me what I want.” And granted, that recruiter could do better but also that reminds me there’s this great Simpsons episode where someone’s trying to steal Mr. Smithers away from Mr. Burns and he’s like, “Can a guy walk down the street without being offered a job?” And that’s the worst crime a recruiter ever had, was trying to give you a means to provide for your loved ones and yourself.
[0:21:33.7] VV: Exactly. I always tell people that. I say talk to recruiters even if you’re happy, I always talk to them because first of all, it’s going to just make that connection but for me, I’m a connector, right? I’m like, “Maybe I know something that can help out with them” and I’ve done it many times and it’s magical to be able to connect people, so usually I just talk them through this.
[0:21:54.4] RS: Absolutely. Can we talk a little bit about Shutterstock and what’s occupying you right now? What’s kind of top of mind for you?
[0:22:00.2] VV: Oh my god, so my big project right now is, we don’t really have an employer value proposition and we really don’t have an employment brand. Shutterstock has been around for quite some time, almost 20 years. I mean, it’s been public I think since 2012 or something. It’s been public for a while as well, it’s not that big like 1,100 people, very global, very successful but most people know it as this e-commerce site, stock [inaudible 0:22:24.5] site.
That still is a very, very big part of our business, however about two years ago, it went from being founder-led to, we got a CEO, Stan Pavlovsky, who kind of grew up in digital marketing and came from Meredith, and he had this vision of creating this content marketplace. And so through product development and acquisitions, we’ve kind of built this whole enterprise piece and that’s where the transformation is because all of a sudden, even your audience is different and we’ve got this SaaS model.
I mean, we have like this platform solution that like Google and meta use and things along those lines like we’re just doing much more sophisticated work. It means like they’ve got the whole company has changed. You know, there is good and bad that comes with that like a lot of people that have been there a while, don’t necessarily like it or maybe don’t have the right skillsets that we need and a lot of the new people have all these ideas.
Stan is always like, “I never want to hear that’s how we always we did it. Let’s do things differently.” You know, we’re going through this whole thing and it’s like, “What is our personality?” and when I came in, I was like, “What is our brand? It almost feels like a startup to me.” Now, granted, I’ve been with some pretty fardy organizations before I came here so to come to some place that it felt very startup-y – even though, you know, it’s a teenager.
What I realized is we need to – I think that especially through this great resignation and through the pandemic, people who did not have a strong brand, employment brand, they are calling the back foot because there was nothing to hold onto. When you’re trying to woo but you are trying to keep people and you are trying to woo people, right? Both of those things are so important.
If you don’t feel an allegiance with the place that you work, you’re going to leave if somebody, like Smithers, if somebody offers you another job –
[0:24:06.6] RS: You’re a mercenary, yeah.
[0:24:09.8] VV: Yeah, you’re going to be much more vulnerable to that. That like [inaudible 0:24:13.2] and if you don’t have a good value proposition, Google is always going to be able to offer you more. They just are, you know? I mean, we’ve lost engineers whose base is $60,000 higher. It’s insane right now, you know?
You have to make it about that piece that matters to me. You have to like coming in here every day, you have to like the people you work with. You have to have a laugh now and then. Whatever it is that feeds your soul instead of sucks your soul, it has to be part of your brand. So we’re working with a brand, like an employment brand company that kind of build on that and how to message it. You know, how to get that word out.
[0:24:51.7] RS: Yeah, you know, it’s a really common question that as a candidate you will face in an interview, which is, “Why should we hire you?” It’s just sort of like, “Okay, sum up” like at the end of the conversation, sum up why you’re relevant and why you think you’d be good at this job, blah-blah-blah. Fine, no one ever asks “Why should I work here?” It’s just assumed, right?
It’s assumed that because you are there interviewing it’s like you want this job, you want this offer, you want to be a part of this, prove that you’re good enough, right?
[0:25:18.9] VV: I totally agree.
[0:25:20.1] RS: But it’s always been a two-way street but I think more so now than ever. Is that part of arming people with an employer brand? Rather than just like, “Oh, let’s redo the website, let’s have a deck.” They have something to say to folks like, there is a reason why you’re signing up.
[0:25:35.0] VV: Absolutely and I do think that that’s a lot of – that’s one of the things I’ve for years, hugely passionate about candidate experience especially after [inaudible 0:25:44.9] I was interviewing a lot and so I got to sit on the other end of the desk, which sucks but it was also just such a valuable experience for me. That took so much away from me. You got to imagine that the candidate, any candidate is coming in theoretically with their arms crossed.
Like, “Okay, tell me why?” Like you said, “Why should I work here?” and we need to respect that. I have this thing I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet and I really have this – I want to do it. When I was interviewing, the thing that I could not stand was, you go through the whole interview process, leave a thank you note, thank you emails. I actually wanted to write this LinkedIn pole, kind of shouts and murmurs. It is going to be called passive-aggressive thank you emails because it’s like what –
[0:26:23.0] RS: Oh, I need to see it.
[0:26:25.2] VV: It’s so painful, you’re sitting there trying to remember something relevant that you could bring up in the email blah-blah and you’re exhausted, and now you’re like, “Ugh” and I’m like, “You know what? It should be the other way around. They should be sending candidates thank you emails” you know? They give you their time, they open the kimono.
[0:26:42.3] RS: They were getting paid for that conversation, you weren’t.
[0:26:44.6] VV: Yes, exactly. Why are we not thanking candidates for giving us the time to come in and sit? It still chaps my heart, there are so many hiring managers that, they’ll have an awesome candidate and they’ll be like, “Well, they didn’t send a thank you note.” I’m like, “That’s your litmus test? No.”
[0:27:01.6] RS: Are people really making decisions based on that?
[0:27:03.8] VV: Not at Shutterstock, that hasn’t happened. I don’t know that anybody has the luxury of doing that anymore but in financial services, absolutely. Plenty of hiring managers were like, “They must not really be into it” I’m like, “So what?” It’s like dating, that’s kind of hot.”
[0:27:17.8] RS: I haven’t done that much interviewing, not to brag.
[0:27:22.2] VV: Lucky man.
[0:27:23.0] RS: Yeah but I always thought that. It’s like look, no one’s making their decision based on a thank you note, right? It’s a nice touch but does it actually help you stand out? I don’t think it does and it’s just a waste of your time, right? At most, a quick email being like, “Hey, enjoyed the meeting with you. I think I’d be a good fit. Keep me posted on the process.” That’s I think the most thank you note you should ever write, right?
It’s just like remind them you exist and then move on, right? But a handwritten whatever for a job? No.
[0:27:50.9] VV: My word was emails because handwritten first of all, my handwriting is horrible but second of all, I’m sorry to say but it’s like people just don’t do that anymore. That’s something from the past, right? My word was emails up until this job, I was still doing it. I would probably always still do it because I know that there are enough hiring managers where it matters. I think that you’re right, it’s rare that it matters, like it’s going to get you the job but it could not get you the job.
What I have started to do is make them, like you said, kind of like – when people with their wedding gifts and they say, “Thank you so much for coming. It was great seeing you.” That’s kind of what I do now. It’s a check the box exercise but I’m telling you, sometimes it matters.
[0:28:34.8] RS: Okay, interesting.
[0:28:37.0] VV: By the way, anybody who hears this don’t send me one. I’m good. I don’t want it.
[0:28:41.8] RS: Having said that, if I see a thank you card, I will flip my shit. The employee value prop, like it makes all the sense in the world that you really do need to stand out and distinguish yourself especially when your competition can just drop outrageous comp on the table. I’m curious on just how you – you mentioned you hired the employee branding company, what are some other things you’ve done to sort of figure out who Shutterstock is, who you are, and what is the unique reason to work there? I’m sure part of it is your own journey.
[0:29:10.8] VV: People talk about a company’s mission, right? For me, like I said, because I’m creative, I like this idea that we help creators create. I mean, that is truly what we do and so you should like the mission of a company. I mean, I once interviewed for a job that I did not get but it was really cool. It was like a vertical farming company. I thought that was such a cool thing like a really different and full mission, I would have gotten excited about that.
I think that that’s when something you can sell to people is that, what we do and how we’re transforming, we’re transforming how people make creative content and that’s cool, right? Appeal to what their end product is if you can.
[0:29:52.2] RS: Right and in your case though, it’s like, what is our EVP? Well, you choose to work there, right? That’s a good starting point, there is something about this company that you picked. Was that part of it for you just like reflecting on, “Okay, why did I choose this?” Let’s start there.
[0:30:08.9] VV: See, I was a little different because I was hired during the pandemic and for me, what mattered to me, it won’t necessarily matter to everyone but I guess so in a way. To be fair, yes, I guess because for me it was like, “Do I like who will be managing me?” And then I met with a lot of HR leadership, so I met with who would be my colleagues, right? My peers and I really gelled with them and that was very important.
Because like I said, it sounds simplistic but for me going into an office and enjoying my colleagues, the people I sit next to really matters a lot and I like them. Yeah, in a way that messaging I think is important. I do think it’s a hard thing that most people care about that sort of thing but sometimes I think they don’t. They get so caught up in the, “Free food. All of the food is bought to our table” and you know, I understand.
I especially understand that siren song of like healthcare, really good healthcare and stuff like that, but there is more to it. You have to go in every day and you have to feel like you’re valued. You have to feel like you’re contributing and you have to feel like you’re really like most of the people you work with. And yeah, I guess those were the things that I was kind of balancing.
I think that those are the things that I kind of I’m hoping would come out in our brand messaging.
[0:31:24.8] RS: How do you turn that into something then that is practical and used, right? Because I fear there is this tendency for things like, an employer branding, employer rebrand, to be this prodigy you work very hard on, are very thoughtful on, you pay an external agency a ton of money to help you out. Maybe you have a new careers page, some new content. But then it is just like, interviews don’t really change.
It is not being articulated, it just kind of like stays on the shelf. How do you turn it into something that is actually impactful for hiring because that’s the whole reason to do it, right?
[0:31:56.5] VV: Yeah, I think the way that you do it, and this is one of the things I liked about the agency was, they don’t just do it for the external message, it’s for the internal message too. You want your employees to feel that brand too and so that they are – it makes them more loyal. It also makes them more likely to refer people based on that, which is also a very helpful thing but I remember at OppenheimerFunds that a comment people would make a lot when they came out of a slate of interviews is they’d say, “Yeah, everybody was pretty much giving me the same message” but they didn’t say it like blah-blah-blah.
It was like, “We understood our strategy and we were all talking.” Whereas sometimes, you go into interviews, I mean not you Rob because you didn’t had interviewed much, [inaudible 0:32:39.0] you didn’t have that many interviews. One person say one thing about the vision, another person says another thing about this review, like what has this done so far, right? You really want the message to be straight.
Everybody is kind of looking at the same direction and so I think that that’s part of what you have to do with an EVP, is to make sure that the people internally feel it. They know it and they feel it. They’re like, “Yeah, that is what it’s like to work here.” So the message stays true and it stays real. I do think that there is a viral nature with that, right? Where people are like, “Oh, it’s really cool to work at Shutterstock. They do all this neat stuff, they’re very innovative” you know, whatever it is but you want it to be internal. You need to plant that DNA, I think is the difference.
[0:33:20.8] RS: Let’s assume the best case outcome of having revisited the employer value prop and rebranded the employer brand, et cetera. You are honed in on what is unique about Shutterstock, why it’s a great place to work and yet, you still have those situations whereas software engineer just gets 60k dropped on top.
How do you maintain a competitive edge? If you’re in an interview and you know the person is also talking to these places that you can’t compete with on comp, do you just say, “Hey, thanks for coming out. I know you’re not going to choose us.” How do you still make them believe this would still be better for you, even though you would make this outrageous salary you’d make somewhere else?
[0:33:57.6] VV: The truth is, if it’s like a difference of let’s say $10,000, I would fight for the person and talk about the opportunity and the career path. There is so many ways you can talk people into staying but if it’s crazy, crazy money, it’s like you might say, if you know that they’re going into the pit of despair, you might want to say, “You buy that, you pay with your soul, good luck.” But sometimes, this is like, okay, they win, you know?
I mean sadly, that’s just the case when it comes to that. We get a paycheck for a reason. If it’s a lot of money that you can’t compete with, I don’t waste time.
[0:34:27.5] RS: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think to be wasting your time to just suggest that you could maintain a competitive edge unless you had some knowledge or the culture out there is really, really bad. Are you sure you want to get into that? Even then it’s like, “All right well, look, go find out for yourself. You’d be stupid not to take that” right? That’s a 30% raise. It’s like, congratulations, right? Enjoy your time, let us know if this doesn’t work out.
[0:34:50.3] VV: As I said, I really do always look at it from both sides. I’m not selfish about that way. I’m like, “Let me make sure that this is going to work for you.” If going the other direction is a better option for them, then I wish them well. I do it with my teams too. If somebody gets an offer that is just ridiculous or a bigger opportunity for them to grow, I’m always like, “That’s good” and it’s good stuff.
[0:35:12.9] RS: Yeah, you did right by them because now they went out and got a higher paying job like they’ve moved on.
[0:35:18.5] VV: Fly, fly away little batman.
[0:35:21.9] RS: Well Valerie, we’re creeping up or perhaps well past optimal podcast length here but it’s just because I’m having so much fun talking to you. Before I let you go, I want to quote your own LinkedIn to you, is that okay?
[0:35:32.2] VV: Oh, sure. Not about lollipops?
[0:35:34.6] RS: Yeah, not the lollipop one. I was doing my due diligence, as it were, as is my job to mine people’s social media for things I can ask them about.
[0:35:45.2] VV: Thank god, I haven’t started making TikToks yet because I really want to,
by the way for that, thank god. That would have been ugly.
[0:35:50.3] RS: Soon but you posted on LinkedIn just being very open about your college GPA, right? 2.975.
[0:35:59.4] VV: Yes.
[0:36:00.3] RS: I was just pleased to see it because you are someone who has had tremendous success, right? I was also not a very good student. I don’t think my GPA was 2.975. I think it was below that but things worked out for me okay too. And so, one, I guess I don’t think we probably have many students listening to this who are stressing about their low GPA and whether that means they’ll ever get a job.
I guess my question is, if you look at examples saying like yourself, who, subpar GPA but still an exceptionally talented effective professional, something like me, really bad GPA, still managed to contribute in meaningful ways and get the job done, does that mean we should stop caring about GPA when we’re hiring people out of college? The counterpoint is like, “Well, what else do they have to prove that they have ever accomplished something?”
It is like the only indicator of their ability to deliver but, in cases like you and I, it clearly wasn’t the indicator of being able to deliver. How do you reflect on that? Should we weigh GPA at all?
[0:36:59.8] VV: I stopped paying attention to it a long time ago. Thankfully when I was at Lehman Brothers, it wasn’t even just GPA of the school to their big school’s nod, right? Credit Swiss, investment banks they cared about that and I railed against it. I railed against it for a couple of reasons, the one being like my own experience and being like, “I’m bright. This is not a reflection of how smart somebody is.”
Also, you know, there is rate inflation now. That’s crazy. I was telling my daughters, I was like, “When I was in school, it started at three six. I was like, “That person was really smart, wow.” And now, that’s kind of like almost table stakes, right? To me, it doesn’t mean that much. I can’t imagine people thinking that it matters that much and also, I think that what I would advise people who didn’t excel at school for whatever reason, you really want to kind of show up to your job interviews, find as many extracurricular things as you can.
By that I mean like work things, like whether it’s interning, if you can afford to or attempting anything to show that you’re productive. Because I think that what’s more important, is that you’re efficient and that you are productive and that you are a hard worker and that you can work with people, you’re collaborative. Those things, like when you think about competencies, GPA kind of maybe matters on some stem work, right?
It probably matters in scientific or some techy stuff, things like that but anywhere else, that really doesn’t matter and I don’t think it’s a measure of your intellect. It is just a measure of maybe you took the wrong major, which I did. I was a business major, which is a bachelor of science and that was a lot of math and I am terrible at math, you know? There are so many things that go into having a bad GPA.
Some people just don’t like school and I didn’t like school. I went on to law school, which is so stupid. I didn’t like school, why did I do that? I don’t know. Yes, I think that I would love to see it go away and I think to an extent, it has. I don’t think that people pay that much attention anymore. Now, I could – I am a little far. I’m a little distanced from it because I don’t do too much junior level hiring myself but I know that my teams have not paid attention to it for quite some time. Go ahead, anybody listening, slack off. Have that beer on Thursday at two. It will be okay.
[0:39:04.6] RS: Yeah, it will be fine. It will all work out. The temp thing is such a hack that no one knows. I got a temp job when I was laid off in my first tuck job and I just was like dead broke and I was like, “I need to do something or else I will be homeless.” It was great, I got placed almost immediately. It was like data entry, the only real skill was computer literacy. I made 20 bucks an hour, which was good money in 2011 or 2012.
The thing was then, that was like a paragraph from my resume. It’s like, “Hey, guess what? I showed up on time.” I do the task they ask, I had a reference.
[0:39:37.8] VV: Reference, exactly, and sometimes, it turns into a real job. Sometimes you’re like, you know, it’s your entryway into a company and then some manager is like, “He’s cool. Why don’t we just hire him?” So yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that nowadays, I don’t know if they call it temping anymore, right? It’s like freelancing or whatever, it’s the gig economy, that’s what people do but I totally recommend doing that, absolutely.
When I was in law school between first and second year, I didn’t get an internship and so I just temped at a little securities company and it looked really good. I was seriously literally filing in the little – but it didn’t matter because I was working in the securities company. You know, it’s good stuff.
[0:40:11.7] RS: I wish I knew about that as a college-aged individual. But anyway Valerie, this has been such a delight getting to know you and chatting with you today. I’ve really loved learning from you. Thank you for being yourself and for sharing all of your experience.
[0:40:24.1] VV: It was so much fun. My first podcast, I really had a great time.
[0:40:28.1] RS: Really? You’re a natural.
[0:40:29.6] VV: Yes, thank you. I highly recommend Rob, five stars.
[0:40:35.3] RS: Thank you so much Valerie. This has been such a blast.
[0:40:37.4] VV: Awesome, great. Thanks a lot Rob.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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