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Interview with a Manager: Essential Lessons in Management and Recruitment

Tracy Watson has over 20 years in management and over 25 years’ experience in recruitment. She is a former Voluntary Council Member of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) and Director of Business Support at Kennedy Reid. I sat down with Tracy to dig into her wealth of experience as a manager, the lessons she's learned and whether she'd ever watch Love Island as a team bonding activity. 

How did you get into recruitment?

Like most people, I fell into recruitment. I was doing temp work for Drake International and they were looking for a temp Consultant for their Business Support team. They contacted me and asked me whether I'd be interested in interviewing for that role, which I did. I was successful in getting that role. I was not quite 21 at the time, and since I'd be the youngest potential consultant, they started me as a Temp Business Support Consultant on a temp basis to see how I'd go. [Before then] I'd had some experience in retail sales, hospitality and office admin.

What was recruiting like when you started versus now? What's changed and what's stayed the same?

This is going to make me sound old. In my first recruiting job, I sat on a desk and we had a separate incoming landline for clients to call for their orders. We used to have to pick up each other's phones. We did have a recruitment management system but most of it was run manually so we had to write on a cardboard client file - the temps that worked there, what the jobs were, the rates.

"We would courier resumes to companies because there was no email. There was far more paper, it was manually intensive. We would run print ads - in the Sydney Morning Herald or the Tele. It meant the ads had to be done and in by Thursday 5 o'clock or there'd be no ads for those jobs."

And you would be manually taking ad responses on Monday morning when the phones would go crazy because everyone saw the ad in the weekend's paper. There was no Seek, no job boards, but referrals have stayed the same.

You've recruited for finance jobs, early education roles, and now business support jobs. What's attracted you to the industries you've recruited in?

The first roles I recruited for were in Business support for the temp roles. At Drake, I was a Temp Business Consultant, then I was Team Leader at Drake for 3 years; I had five years with them overall. From there I followed someone who I worked with across to banking and finance in a consulting role. That was my first exposure to the [banking and finance] industry. Two years in I became General manager for Banking and Finance in that business.

Then, I started my first business with two partners where we recruited in banking, finance and insurance. After we sold that business to a publicly listed firm, I started Early Learning Placements with one of those previously mentioned partners. Early Learning Placements was to do something completely different; it was early childhood, it was a total career change. We were off the back of the GFC, so we wanted to do something recession-proof.

The transition across was fairly seamless since the recruitment process, in all industries I've worked with, is very similar. But it is about understanding terminology and a few key areas that are important in those sectors. Early Childhood has had a lot of press and publicity. Lots of information was accessible to us, and it was fairly easy to pick up after talking to clients and asking for advice.

What were you like as a first-time manager?

I felt that I was ready for the role and I was confident. I'd proved myself as a good Temp Consultant, however that doesn't necessarily mean you can manage people. Drake provided lots of training, mentoring and support. I felt that they trained and equipped me well to go into that role. They provided general leadership training, people management training, a lot of internal training and national courses. So, you might travel interstate for some courses. I also did Train the Trainer which is a 6-week in-depth course about coaching, mentoring and training other people.

Can you tell me, how do you manage a team of recruiters?

Like any industry, different things make all people tick. For some recruiters, they might want to go into sales and get a good commission. Someone else might be all about placing a candidate with a difficult client. Others might make it about the number of candidates they're able to place because they can help someone with their livelihoods and career. It's just understanding who's motivated by what and what are the key things you can do to help that person to succeed.

"The key motivation for consultants is to help people and change their livelihood and career and the extra incentive is the financial gains that are open to consultants. As a manager, we need to balance both of those things, but the number one thing is helping a candidate get a role."

You've had a long career as a Manager, can you tell me what are the most important lessons you've learnt whilst being a Manager?

First and foremost - making sure you are consistent and consistently fair so that doesn't change based on who you're talking to. Always listen to your team, and understand what's happening in the team, as well as what's happening in each person's individual space. Provide positive but constructive feedback.

"Remain consistent and consistently fair"

How do you foster a good relationship with your team? How do you motivate your team?

By being interested in what they're doing and learning a bit about them.

[It's at this point I interject] By watching the latest episode of Love Island?

No. They're on their own [laughs]. Again, remain consistent and fair in your management style. Help them succeed in their career. You can do this by knowing which goals they're trying to achieve - for example, going on holiday, saving for a house - remind them of the goals and be clear and communicative about how they're tracking towards those.

What's one important lesson you'd like to tell first-time managers?

Make the time to get to learn and understand your team. I think it's a bit of a saying that everyone is different, and people are motivated and learn through different ways, but it's actually about understanding and adapting your management style to people's individual preference. There's still structures and standards that remain the same, but tailor your management style to that individual.

I'd like to read this quote from Simon Sinek to you.

"Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the senior-most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is."

 What's your definition of good leadership?

Good leadership is having the ability to teach, inspire and motivate your team and those around you to succeed in whatever aspect they're trying to succeed. As a leader, a good way of doing that is also thinking you can learn from your team as much as you can from those people you report into as well.  Leadership is guiding, mentoring and using views from the team as well as superiors. Management means managing people beneath you and is more dictatorial. That's the key difference between the two.

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