EP12: Needlefinder Recruiting - Why Diversity Hiring Matters for Culture (with Emi Dawson)

Welcome to All-In Recruitment. A thought-provoking, insightful series of podcasts. This series discusses diversity hiring in 2022 as the world is currently in a post-pandemic era by looking at the right ways and wrong ways to go about this as well as placing emphasis on the importance recruitment tools and technologies can have in assisting and enhancing a recruiters recruitment game.


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Emi Dawson: building a career in recruitment

Lydia: Good Morning, Emi. Thank you for joining us on this podcast. 

Emi: Thank you so much for having me, Lydia. I’m excited to be here. 

Lydia: So Emi, you run your own recruitment agency, and now you specialize in technology recruitment. So, walk us through your journey into recruitment and why this is an industry that matters to you.

Emi: Needlefinder Recruiting is brand new, and my journey has been about six and a half years long. I first started out in federal staffing, which was really interesting. 

I actually started in it because my career advisor in college told me that I might really enjoy recruiting, so I took an internship that turned into a four-and-a-half-year-long stint with Homeland Security, specifically citizenship and immigration service. 

I really liked it but I felt that I needed to go see what the private sector was about. I then moved into cybersecurity, recruiting at a small managed services provider. I was really interested in the technical aspect of it. I had previously been dealing with immigration lawyers and other things at Homeland Security. Then when I moved into security and software engineering, I found that I really thrived in that. I really enjoyed talking to those types of folks, so I realized that’s where I need to be. 

But more than that, I really like the idea of working with a bunch of different partners, so the next move was into the agency space. I then moved to a technical agency before starting Needlefinder Recruiting, and that’s where I am today.

I really like finding that missing puzzle piece that the organization is looking for. I get to talk to all sorts of different hiring managers who get to tell me what they need and how I can fix their problems. I’m really passionate about that. 

I also see a lot of ways in which I can help our industry because there are a lot of unknowns about recruiting. People don’t fully understand what agency recruiters do, and I love transparency. I think it’s just an exciting time to be a recruiter and be able to talk about what we do and how we help both candidates and employers. That’s why I’m really passionate about recruiting. 

The field of recruitment: trends and observations over the years

Lydia: As you said, you’ve spent a number of years hiring specialists in technology. So, what might be some of the observations you’ve made in the past couple of years in this field?

Emi: I think one thing that really hits home to me is that everyone’s looking for tech talent, and there’s not enough talent. I think a big issue is that employers aren’t willing to invest in mentoring and developing entry-level candidates. That’s extremely important, especially when we talk about diversity and inclusion. 

You’re building your pipelines to build people up, which means possibly looking at the internal candidates that you might already have within your company or looking at how to partner with different organizations that do work with different individuals and help them build their careers up. There are a lot of ways to do it, but I think investing in junior talent is really important.

Let’s talk about diversity

Lydia: I like what you said about building a talent pipeline. That’s really important, especially when it comes to diversity in the technological space. So, how are companies looking toward diversifying talent in the tech teams?

Emi: When companies are trying to look towards ways of diversifying tech talent, there are a lot of ways that folks are doing this. There’s the right way and sometimes the wrong way. I think the right way is to find different groups that you can partner with, whether that be black in cybersecurity or different historically black universities that have really great cybersecurity programs. 

There are really great opportunities to build partnerships. I also think that folks shouldn’t be scared of sponsoring visas. There are ways that visas are almost always approved, and there are ways that are a bit more challenging. But, if you take some time and research those avenues, there might be ways to get more diversity which could really help your organization. Try to look into it even though it might not always be the easiest way, but a lot of times, it’s worth it for your overall culture. 

Lydia: For recruiters, the intent for diversity beings probably at ensuring you’ve got the right role and almost most importantly, crafting job descriptions that speak to everyone. So what elements should recruiters consider when they strategize around attracting a diverse talent pool?

Emi: When you’re crafting a job description, the wording is really important. You should write it and ask someone else in your organization to read it, maybe someone who doesn’t look and sound like you. You can get their perspective on how things look and feel. One easy mistake is you include gender instead of saying “this person will,” but instead, you say “he will,” which obviously will be a huge issue. 

Also, you should consider if this position requires a degree you included in there or could someone perhaps substitute experience instead of a degree. All job descriptions have to have the EEO statement somewhere on them. 

“You should also consider writing a statement on what diversity means to your organization, how you value it, how you prioritize it, and why because that’s really going to show candidates that you are taking the extra step.” 

Recruiting for diversity? Here’s what you should know

Lydia: Those are great points, Emi. Thanks for sharing. Some companies have been known to go out of their way to handle talent who are underrepresented in their workforce. So, what might be some tips for recruiters when it comes to interviewing for diversity?

Emi: When interviewing for diversity, I think you go at it as you would with any other interview. You want to make sure that you’re polite. When I get into a conversation with anyone, I want to make sure that I ask them, “how do you pronounce your name?” so I make sure that I’m not saying it wrong. Before the interview, you can quickly Google that name and just look up the pronunciation on Youtube. There’s every name out there that you can find.  

You can then go in, hopefully having an idea. The first thing I say is “hey,” and then say the pronunciation I think it is and ask, “Did I pronounce it right? If I didn’t, then I’m really sorry about that.” No one’s jumped down my throat about it when I’ve approached it that way. You want to be careful with that stuff. 

I also try to not say pronouns until someone confirms their pronoun with me, or I will always ask and say, “Hey, I just want to make sure I’m getting your pronouns right. Is it she/her?” That’s fine to do, and it’s best if we make these things less uncomfortable than they already are. 

"We just want to make everyone feel included, and we’re trying our best to make people always feel included.” 

Lydia: So, what are some actionable steps that leaders and hiring managers can take to ensure there is diversity and inclusion in the workplace? 

Emi: Some actionable steps would be well if we go back to what we were talking about before. You really need to make sure that the interview process is not excluding anyone because not everyone performs the same way in an interview, not everyone has English as a first language, and not everyone comes from the same place. 

There’s neurodiversity where certain people interview in better ways than others, and you also have to consider the role - does that role really require a few hours of conversation, or is the role coding and summarizing via email? 

If that’s the role, then should we really be doing interviews 1-on-1 to get there? That’s probably not the best way to get that job, so we kind of have to think about what are the roles in the job and how we can measure that, so that way, when we’re looking at the workforce, we’re not excluding anyone. 

"Hiring is so important to make sure that the workplace is inclusive.” 

Diversity in the Tech Sector

Lydia: The technology sector is where you’re very comfortable with, and you’ve been exposed to quite a bit. So, how much progress do you think the technology sector has made in terms of diversity? 

Emi: I think the technology sector has made a lot of improvements. There’s been a lot that has come out. I can think of a couple of things, especially in cybersecurity, where there have been conferences for instances that were inclusive towards women, things were said and more of these things are being talked about. 

And because things are being talked about, it doesn’t mean that they’re happening now and they weren’t happening before. It actually means that we are just kind of uncovering things that we were previously not even speaking about. 

I would say we’ve made a lot of progress forward. You might hear certain things like “things moving in the wrong direction.’’But I would say it’s the opposite, actually. I think when we’re talking about things more, we’re moving in the right direction and calling things out that shouldn’t have been happening in the first place. 

Lydia: So, you’re saying there’s a far greater rate of acknowledgment to what’s been done in the past, and there are some actions that have been taken to counter these things happening in the workplace. 

A positive candidate experience: how to achieve this

Lydia: So, we speak and read a lot about talent and attracting diverse talent. But let’s talk about talent retention. What role can a recruiter play to ensure that a positive candidate experience becomes a fulfilling and authentic employee experience? 

Emi: I think first impressions are the most important in making sure that the person is feeling good. You might think that this person has accepted the job, which means that they’re going to have a long and happy career with us. But that’s not how employees are thinking anymore. 

They might just be thinking that they need this job right now, they need this pay bump right now, so they’ll stay a year or maybe even six months, and then they’ll find another job because this brand has already kind of rubbed them the wrong way. So, you shouldn’t take them accepting a job as them agreeing to have a career with you. 

You still have to earn their trust in being a good employer, and that starts with the interview process, which is making sure that you respect their time and you don’t schedule seven interviews if you can do the process in two. Make sure that you include this in the candidate process. There are instances where what if you schedule a whole day of a long interview and the person, because of their religion, needs to pray at certain times so they can’t devote a whole day to back-to-back interviews, then you need to engage with them if that’s what your process looks like. 

Try to include them in everything so that it doesn’t feel like a dictator type of relationship when we can kind of have open communication because then that will be so much better. 

Employer brand: attracting and retaining diverse candidates

Lydia: What, in your opinion, might be the role of the employer brand in attracting and keeping diverse candidates?

Emi: I think this is kind of a complicated question because it really depends on what we’re talking about. If we’re talking about visuals such as who our company is or even podcasts, you want to make sure that not everyone in these podcasts or pictures all looks a certain way. Because if everyone in the picture is white and male, then you will feel like you don’t necessarily belong. 

That’s obviously not the intent or hopefully not the intent, but you have to think about that. Now, the wrong thing here would be to section off your employees that look a certain way and tell them that we need you for a photo is the wrong way to go. Instead, you should try to get a diverse group of employees and ask them if they would want to be included. 

Maybe some of them will, and maybe some of them won’t. Maybe you could give them gift cards if they want to be included but definitely don’t make anyone feel forced to be included because it should be 100% voluntary. Where maybe you just send out an email saying, “who wants to be included?” Try to get as many people involved as possible because if you’re messaging over and over again and it ends up being only a couple of people, then that’s not going to necessarily feel like your brand. 

Lydia: An employer’s branding is something that comes authentically from your culture, isn’t it? I suppose what you’re talking about is the communication of what is already inside an organization when you attract and nurture a diverse workforce. 

I suppose what you’re saying is also that you should let it happen organically and that your employer's brand for a diverse workforce should become part of the DNA of the company.

Emi: Exactly. It shouldn’t be manufactured. You don’t want to show a picture where everyone’s having fun and playing lawn games where you’ve only called them out to play the games for this picture. 

You don’t want to do that because that would be very fake, and it would come off as looking fake. Everyone would know that they had just rounded up a few people and told them to play games while their pictures were being taken. You want an environment where you’re playing games, and you casually say to them, “hey, are we good with taking a picture of this for social media?” And if they are, then great because it’s not forced. Hopefully, content can happen naturally. 

Navigating the Pandemic

Lydia: Jumping onto the pandemic, we are in the post-pandemic now, but the past couple of years have been quite challenging for everyone, and in some ways, it’s been called the great equalizer because it’s affected everybody in the same way but what are some of your experiences professionally in navigating this period? 

Emi: I would say it has affected everyone. We all went through really tough times, but also, it didn’t. For me personally, I didn’t have anyone pass away in my life from COVID, but some employees did have really close people who passed away. 

So, it’s something you have to think about because they might still be dealing with the trauma of those deaths, and also, even more than that, women in minority communities were more affected by pay cuts and lay-offs than other people so they might have more distrust of employers now. 

“It happened to everyone, but it affected everyone differently based on your social economic status, where you come from, and all of these different things.”

So, you have to also think about it in that way because there were so many layoffs and pay cuts across the board that it did cause some distrust and anxiety. If you were someone that furloughed employees and brought them back, then that is obviously going to affect your employee morale, and it’s probably going to take a long time to recover from that as a brand.

Recruitment tools and technologies: the impacts

Lydia: We spoke a lot about challenges, and there are plenty of tools out there in the market, such as ours at Manatal. What kind of impact do you think these technologies and tools will have or already have on recruitment? 

Emi: Sometimes, some folks will say things like, “is recruiting going to go away?” Because there’s this idea that anything can be automated. A task that can be automated will start to phase out, and I do agree that the tasks that will be automated will slowly start to phase out, but the thing about recruiting is the important part which is talking to people and not so much the automation.  

Tools like Manatal can allow me to take all the 20 resumes I got today, email them, and suddenly they’re all in my system. That’s super easy, and it might not sound like a big deal to someone else in regards to downloading 20 resumes everyday and then putting them each into their job slot. But for a recruiter, that’s a lot of work and time, which can then be used on having a couple more phone calls with potential candidates. That’s the right direction. Recruiting is all about trying to maximize your time, talking and engaging with your candidates or, in my case, my clients and my employers, and trying to make sure that I understand what they need and get the right candidates on the phone. 

“I think automation is so important in recruiting, and we’re only going to see more of it in my opinion, but it doesn’t mean that the candidate experience is going to be lessened.” 

Your ticket into recruitment: things to learn and know

Lydia: You have vast experience, six years and more in the recruitment space.  So, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in recruitment now? 

Emi: I think the thing that’s been interesting about my background is that I have had very diverse experiences. I’ve worked in federal staffing, private staffing, and I’ve worked in agency staffing. Now, obviously I have my own recruitment agency. I’ve done a little recruiting from almost all sides.  

But I’m definitely still missing a lot of sides because there are different ways to recruit and different industries. I think what’s so great about recruiting and if you are just starting out is that if you are in one role right now and say, “hey, I don’t really like the way this is done here,” or “I don’t like this” you can try to pinpoint what it is exactly that you don’t like about that and try talking to recruiters from other industries to see how things are going from there and do they have that pain point that you don’t like. 

Is there also anyway for you to transition using these skills that you’re using now? I think recruiting is such a diverse and wonderful field. I would encourage anyone that wants to get into recruiting to reach out to recruiters like myself and have a casual informative view of the field because I think a lot of people don’t understand how great recruiting is and how important it is. 

Connecting with Emi Dawson

Lydia: If they want to reach out, where can they find you, Emi?

Emi: You can find me on LinkedIn - Emi Dawson, or you can go to my website www.needlefinderrecruiting.com. There are also links to our social media there, and as I said, we are new. So, we’re only a month new at this point, and we’re still working on our social media and branding. If you have any tips for me, feel free to reach out and help me with that because being a business owner is completely new to me. It’s going well so far, but I could really use all the help I can get. 

Lydia: Thank you very much for your time today, Emi. And congratulations on setting up your own agency. I wish you all the best. 

We’ve been in conversation with Emi Dawson, a technology recruiter and new entrepreneur who has just founded her recruitment agency called Needlefinder Recruiting, based in the U.S.

Stay tuned for more weekly episodes from All-In Recruitment.

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