Role Models: Nicole Locklair, Talent Acquisition Lead at LearnVest

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Today’s Role Model is Nicole Locklair. Nicole began her career as a project manager who coordinated teams of creatives. Through her own first-hand experience, she came to understand the skills and traits that made a great designer. This knowledge helped her pivot into recruiting and work her way up to manager roles. Today, Nicole is the Talent Acquisition Lead, Design, at LearnVesta fintech startup that was acquired by the Fortune 100 financial firm Northwestern Mutual.

How long have you been in this role?

I’ve been in this role at my current company for about 4 months, but I’ve worked in creative recruiting for about 7 years now.

What attracted you to this role?

I’ve always loved working with designers and creatives, and spent my career in advertising and agency life. While I would definitely recommend trying the agency thing if you’re interested, it was starting to feel like Groundhog Day to me: Pitch, win, hire a bunch of people, lose a client, lay people off, repeat. In an agency, you’re selling someone else’s product. You can market the car or the phone or the service, but you didn’t create it. I was looking to go in-house at a place where I could feel more invested in the long-term growth and strategy of the company.

In my current role, I’m the first design recruiter in a company of over 15,000 people, so there’s a wealth of opportunity to build the design team and also advocate and educate on the importance of designers as decision makers in executive roles.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

A typical day involves recruiting! That includes phone screens, outreach to passive candidates who might be interested in my roles, hosting interviews, creating offers, writing job descriptions, and talking to hiring managers and candidates. Since I hire mostly designers and creatives, I get to be in on all the design meetings as well as ones that are HR oriented. Since this is a large company, I’ll be on calls a few times a week with 20-30 participants; sometimes the topic has little to do with my day-to-day.

My favorite meetings are design reviews. In reviews, I get to see some of the work we’re creating, which helps me when I’m talking to candidates about what we do. Lunch really depends on what else is going on that day, and I’ve definitely had my share of sad desk lunches!

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

I use more people skills rather than technical skills in my role. You need to understand what kind of technical skills candidates need for certain roles, but not necessarily how to do it yourself.

In terms of technology, there are a variety of different ATS (applicant tracking systems), but LinkedIn is a go-to, along with design sites like Working Not Working, Dribbble, and a variety of design and tech blogs.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I have the most fun in my role when I am looking at portfolios and talking to the creatives behind the work. I love hearing the story of why someone made a design decision or how they inspired a team to come up with a particular solution.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

The biggest challenges so far revolve around the fact that the company isn’t inherently creative or design-oriented. Coming from the design industry, where the creative team is at least half the office, it’s eye-opening to talk to people who have no idea what the difference between UX and visual design is.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

My role is all about collaboration. I never make a decision in a bubble. I’m constantly working with hiring managers and multiple HR people, including immigration lawyers, relocation specialists, the comp department, coordinators, the onboarding team, business partners, and learning and development.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I took this job to learn about a new industry and how the client business works. I’d like to move towards a role where I can influence overall hiring strategy informed by my experience in design.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

I think the best skill anyone can have regardless of industry or position is empathy. In my particular role, that means empathy for hiring managers and all the demands on their time, and empathy for candidates who genuinely want the job.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

Most people think recruiters are outgoing and can easily strike up a conversation with anyone, but not me! I dread networking events, and I’m really more of a “stay at home with a good book” type person. So my career path has forced me to figure out how to navigate all types and sizes of meet ups, conferences, and job fairs. I try to keep in mind that since everyone presumably signed up to be there, I have at least one thing in common with everyone. It also helps to have at least one colleague to be your wing woman, and a drink never hurts!

In your role, what metrics define success?

“Time to fill” is a metric recruiters are often measured against, but I think that’s a bit misguided. In general, I think metrics that pertain to people need to be considered carefully. Of course, everyone wants to fill a role as quickly as possible, but I’d rather find the right person for a role than a person right now. With unemployment at a record low, companies need to start focusing on employee retention, and I hope that recruiter metrics start to include things like how long a hire stays at a company and their impact on the business.

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