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Interview

Winning Talent in a Competitive Market, with Lauren Stiebing, Founder/CEO of LS International

Everyone in ecommerce and digital knows that the competition for experienced talent is intense. Lauren Stiebing, Founder and CEO of LS International, specializes in recruitment for consumer goods companies and retailers. She brings her wealth of experience in what it takes to find and win a candidate, best practices that can apply across categories. Special note: Listen to the end, for details on how to download a quick reference guide from Lauren and the DSI on questions to ask yourself as you are recruiting digital talent.

Transcript:

Peter Crosby:
Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf, where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age.

Peter Crosby:
Hey everyone, Peter Crosby here from the Digital Shelf Institute. Everyone in eCommerce and digital knows that the competition for experienced talent is intense. Lauren Stiebing, founder, and CEO of LS International, specializes in recruitment for consumer goods companies and retailers. In this conversation with me and Lauren Livak, double Lauren alert. She brings her wealth of experience in what it takes to find and win a candidate, best practices that can apply across categories. Special note, listen to the end for details on how to download a quick reference guide on questions to ask yourself as you are recruiting your digital talent.

Peter Crosby:
So Lauren, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. And I should be clear that when I talk about Lauren on this particular podcast recording, it is not my co-host. It is Lauren Stiebing. I will call my co-host. Hey you, or what's your name. But Lauren, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.

Lauren Stiebing:
Thank you for having me.

Peter Crosby:
Your people are the core of eCommerce, as much as it's digital, the skills and the talent and the heart required to work in the fast paced world of eCommerce and digital, finding those people and retaining them is a really, really big thing on the mind of our listeners. And so, with all of your experience in this, I'd love to just get a read on what you're seeing in the digital and eCommerce talent space right now, and is it different around the world?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah, I mean, I would say from my experience over the past couple of years, but even I would say, over the past five years, I think every six months there are new skill sets and new roles being created. And I think that because of COVID that has even accelerated even more. So I think that you really need to... I would say as a recruiter, as a headhunter, you really need to take a very good briefing of each role because titles can be different, levels can be different, everything that has to do with the actual job itself. Titles don't really matter when it comes to digital because they make up new titles all the time. There are new tools coming up all the time. So I definitely think that the pace of new roles being created has increased tremendously over the past couple of years, and continues to increase.

Peter Crosby:
And so in this current moment, The Great Resignation or whatever you want to call it, but certainly there's a lot of job shifting happening out there. And I was wondering, how are you seeing companies adjust to the growing number of employees that want to work remotely? Are you seeing a call back to offices or are companies putting their foot down? If anyone's watching Twitter at all, sort of like Elon Musk saying "Anyone that wants to work here will have to work in an office for at least 40 hours a week." What are you seeing in the markets that you're serving?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. I mean, definitely I think with all roles generally, inside and outside of digital, the demand for flexibility is there. And I would say for digital roles even more. I think it's very tough. And we have had clients over the past couple of years that have had roles in digital shelf or even directors of eCommerce or DTC roles that they've said, we really want that person to be in the location, whatever that location is. And it's extremely difficult in that, in that case, if you really want to have them there, you need to decide how much are you going to pay to get them there. You can get people there, but then compensation becomes much, much more important. You're not going to get them there in the office for the same amount of money as you would to let them work flexibly. So there is a trade off there that we've seen that candidates... If they are going to come to the office, then they expect even more benefits than they normally would.

Lauren Livak:
And Lauren, to that point, you're working with a lot of brands and a lot of organizations that are trying to source that talent, and trying to build those teams, what are you seeing or what are you sharing with them, that they need to think about or how they need to approach this?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah, so I think the most important piece when it comes to any job, but even more importantly in digital is the story that you're going to tell them. So where are you on your digital transformation? Where are you on the journey? And really attract them with the story and what you're trying to build, why is digital important to your organization? Even more, what is the job that needs to be done? So yeah, I would say the overall objectives of the job, what is the mission of the job? And yeah, really being, I would say overall transparent with candidates. So really thinking about being honest with them, where you are on the journey, if you're at the very beginning, then just let them know that. But yeah, I think overall it's really defining and being able to story tell where you are on the journey, what you're trying to do and what impact they can make on the organization.

Lauren Livak:
And spell out your acronyms. Right, Lauren? Don't use internal company acronyms that nobody understands. I remember we chatted about that a bit.

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's the thing with all of these new jobs being created, reorganizations. I know it's easy to continuously create acronyms, but yeah, it's very difficult for people to understand them. So I think the more explanation that you can give without assuming that candidates, even if they are digital experts, assuming that they know, the better. Just because they're digital experts doesn't mean that they know all of the ins and outs of your organization.

Lauren Livak:
And I want to call out two things that you shared that really stuck out with me. The first one being roles are changing every six months. You're seeing new roles, new titles come up. The second one being, making sure that you're defining the job that needs to be done. And the reason why I'm calling those two things out is when organizations are thinking about building their eCommerce orgs or figuring out what their structure looks like. When I kind of recall our work on the Digital Shelf Playbook, those are two key themes that we talk about when thinking about building your organization.

Lauren Livak:
So just tying those things together in terms of making sure you're thinking about that when you're structuring your org, when you're thinking about what roles you need, and then make sure that correlates to being able to recruit the right talent in the right place. I think those are really critical. Instead of starting with, I need a director, what is the job that needs to be done? And are you seeing people do that Lauren? Kind of approaching it that way instead?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. And I think as well, sharing with the candidates that this job will change in six months, maybe it has the same title, but the day to day responsibilities will change. And I think that the most attractive candidates today are the ones that can deal with ambiguity. So I think it's all part of that storytelling and letting them know that along the way. I think candidates that are going to thrive in that environment, they like the ambiguity and they want things to change in six months anyway. So I think it's more the senior leadership that needs to understand that and be okay with that and share that. Whereas, in the past you would do the same job, exactly the same job sometimes for five years, which that just isn't the case in digital.

Peter Crosby:
It's certainly not. You talk about the storytelling of the recruiting process. Have you seen the storytelling, the ways people approach that storytelling change? It's no longer... Has it evolved to make a more, either interactive or engaging journey for the candidate?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. And there are various different ways. Everyone knows that using video is a very interesting way to engage with your customers, but also with candidates. I think recording videos, doing video job descriptions, explaining your story live, let's say in a video, is very, very powerful, instead of just using the job description or using, let's say... I know that every company has a typical kind of company information that they put on all the job descriptions and everyone can see that it's very generic. So I think it is very important for the hiring manager themselves to take time at the beginning of the search and what is the story they want to tell for their team, not just the company's story, but for their team, because that's going to be the most powerful way to attract great candidates.

Peter Crosby:
And from minute one, working in this market, I've always found the people that are doing these jobs, that are leading these organizations are personally inspiring, because they're super passionate about what they're doing. Usually very excited about it and really want great people around them. And so I love the idea that the human element gets introduced early in the process. So because ultimately we're not going to work for companies, we're going to work with other human beings. Companies are just the shell for the people and their culture that comes together because of how the people come together. So expressing that... Personally, I just love that idea. I wish I'd done it with my last search.

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. And I think also the piece on the vulnerability of leaders is important when it comes to digital. There are some leaders that are maybe heads of commercial, that have eCommerce or digital roles reporting into them. And they don't really know about digital. Maybe there's been a reorganization and they feel out of their depth. There's nothing wrong with saying there, "Hey, I need you on my team. You're going to be the expert and we're going to build this together." I think that's also important for leaders to admit and be open and transparent and not feel bad that they don't know everything about digital, even if they're running the digital department.

Peter Crosby:
So when we flip the script here and come at it from the candidate's point of view. The job board on the DSI website is the most visited page on the site. And so it's clear that there's something going on out there. So what are they looking for in these roles, and how should they approach that journey?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. So I think that from the candidate's perspective, of course, they're looking for what impact that they can make on the team, the organization. I think definitely around sustainability, definitely on diversity, if they're passionate about diversity. Let's say the bigger cause is very important for them. And I think overall it's a learning and development opportunity. So are they going to be able to continuously develop themselves, whether it be from a digital perspective, from a leadership perspective? What kind of opportunities can that company offer? And I know that is one of the challenges that a lot of companies are facing because they're learning as they're going.

Lauren Stiebing:
So it's really difficult for them to even see what the next role is and how. It's not that easy to have a clear career path for certain roles or certain even parts of the organization at this stage. So I think you really need to understand during the interview process, what really motivates that person? Is it your company's mission? Is it learning in digital? Are there any outside courses that you could offer them? Is it a senior leader? Can they have a mentor? So I think it has to do around, really understanding holistically what candidates are looking for. But I would definitely say the mission, the purpose of the organization, the brands. Do they identify with the brands and the values? And I think overall learning opportunities.

Lauren Livak:
And would you say Lauren, that if you get feedback from a candidate about something that the organization or the leaders are willing to take that and shift the roles, or do you find that people are thinking more traditionally about hiring these roles, and they need to change the way they're thinking just because they're different and digital is a totally different world?

Lauren Stiebing:
No, I definitely think that the companies generally are on board. I think it has to do with speed. So a lot of that comes down to, let's say more traditional roles. You may not need as much development as quickly. So I would say in digital, they want smaller pieces of information... I would say it all the time. So all the time they want to be developing, every week they want to be developing, all the time. And I think in the past it was more of a kind of year to two year, to three year developmental plan. And I think that's the biggest shift, that not only in digital, but I would say generally employers are dealing with, is this kind of rapid development of individuals. And I think that they are trying, but it's not that easy to change a legacy organization that was used to creating yearly or five year or 10 year plans, to now creating monthly training plans.

Lauren Livak:
Yeah. And Amazon and Target and Walmart change their requirements every week sometimes. So it needs to be a constant level of education. So Lauren, let's talk about years of experience. I'm really interested to get your opinion on this. So when we talk about eCommerce, it's a new space, right? It hasn't been around for as long as let's say brick and mortar. When you're looking at hiring for these roles, what do you consider in terms of years of experience? If someone is saying 10 years of experience, are you seeing that someone who has maybe five can still do the role?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. I mean, I definitely think that for me, I don't usually look at the years of experience to be honest. So if a job description has years of experience, I usually never pay attention to that. And I just ask them, "What do you need this person to do?" And then of course, I'll have an idea from my experience that okay, they will have between 10 and 12, or 10 and 15, or there's nobody that has 10 and years of experience in this specific thing, because it just doesn't exist. So of course for me, I never start with the years of experience. And I think that is quite traditional in a way. It's like, no, they need to have eight years. And I usually, during the briefing of the job, try to get them to be a bit more flexible there. But I think that is changing.

Lauren Stiebing:
It's very rare now that someone is, like a hiring manager, so rigid on those years of experience. And what you'll see is that whenever you put years of experience on the job description, if it says 15 and someone has 16, well, then they think they're too senior. And if they have 14, then they think they're not senior enough. So it gives you such a very small window. And even if it says "15 plus or five plus," some people won't actually apply. So I think it's much more important for employers to focus on the responsibilities and you can put, let's say different... I think it's difficult because of course you still use those years as a marker, but I think you can do it without putting the years of experience overall.

Lauren Livak:
And it goes back to what's the job that needs to be done, right? What are you trying to fill? Does that person have the expertise to be able to do that? And when we were talking before Lauren, you shared something that I really loved. When people say they need a director, you often say, "Why do you need a director?" And can you talk about how you go through those conversations with companies?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. So I think from a director's perspective, I think a lot of it is going to look okay, if you need a director... Usually a director sometimes is going to have a director title, and they're not even going to have a team. So one side is going to be the leadership responsibilities or not, but usually if they don't have a team and they're a solo contributor, it's because they're going to have a lot of stakeholder management in their job. So if they need to be working with vice presidents or senior directors or general managers all around the world, you're not going to put a junior manager, an associate manager in that role. So I think when it comes to a director, I would then go into the leadership responsibilities, whether it be direct leadership responsibilities or indirect, to try to understand why that role is a director. And that's why sometimes you can see very inflated titles, which at the end is just a way to attract and retain talent, but it doesn't really have anything to do with their responsibility.

Lauren Livak:
And so these are all interesting... Oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Peter.

Peter Crosby:
No, you go ahead.

Lauren Livak:
I was just going to say, I think these are interesting nuggets, as organizations are thinking about building out their structures, because a lot of people ask me the question, like "How many directors should I have? What should it be? Who should report to whom?" And that's not the question that you should be asking. It should be, look at the maturity of your organization, understand the roles that you need the jobs that need to get done, figure out which roles you can hire and what your priority is, which one you should hire first, so that you can hire the rest of your organization to be successful and to Lauren's point, making sure that the job descriptions attract the people that you're looking for, instead of detracting them because of the years of experience or other things. Would you agree with that statement, Lauren?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. Yeah, I do. And I think that it's more about if you have the jobs that need to get done, what is the reporting line and why? And then you can decide how many directors you need or can they report into another director, et cetera. So, well director, vice president, but I think it's more about the reporting lines and the responsibility than the title.

Peter Crosby:
And Lauren, when... Increasingly eCommerce roles, particularly at the levels where you're executing day to day are complex and require a lot of learned skills. Are you finding that companies are including some sort of quiz or presentation or exam? How are they sort of figuring out beyond the fact that they may have done this job at other companies, that they're comp... Thinking about how a software company hires engineers, there's always a pretty complex process of proving how you think about the work. Does that happen yet in eCommerce?

Lauren Stiebing:
Not that often. I know there are a couple types of exams out there, assessments out there, but they're not very widely used. I know that usually what they'll do is... I would say for the first eCommerce expert, that's probably when they need it the most, they don't usually use it. They just go off of references and off of us, the head hunter and trust us normally. But usually then once they have their first expert in the company, then that person will always be involved in the interview one way or another. So they really rely on that person that's the expert, to then test the knowledge of the other hires or as well.

Lauren Stiebing:
I mean, I think even from my own self, there are ways that you can ask about certain challenges, to certain situations, that can give you insight to if they've actually faced those challenges, similar challenges that you've heard about or similar challenges that you've seen and how they would solve them. I think it's also a way to figure out if they really understand or not, but it depends on how technical it is. For an engineer, there's too many challenges to ask them about, to figure out all of their knowledge. So I think, is it a CRM? Is it email marketing? Is it performance marketing and how technical is it? Depends on how in depth you would need to go, but not many companies are doing any types of assessments.

Peter Crosby:
Interesting. So when brands turn to you or start their journey to attract talent, where should they be looking? Particularly in these times where you mentioned earlier that diversity can be very important to a candidate coming in, and certainly diversity is important. There are studies that have proven that a more diverse company is a more successful company. And I'm wondering, how are you seeing where the sources of talent can come from without giving away your secret sauce?

Lauren Stiebing:
Of course, no, no, no. I mean, I think that there are, let's say, some more traditional ways to go about it, which if you think about going to conferences, conferences specifically in digital, are easy ways to find talent. And that's a very, let's say traditional thing to do in terms of networks or conferences where you can go and hear speakers. I mean, if you look at any kind of digital shell for an eCommerce conference, you're going to have the experts as speakers. It's for me, a quite easy way to tap into talent. I think of course, posting on job boards. But I would say job board posting is very, very tough these days. The prices on LinkedIn are skyrocketing. We don't actually post jobs. We're just headhunters, but I know that it's very difficult because you need to pay a lot more money to get your job seen.

Lauren Stiebing:
And there's so many jobs that people aren't actually even looking for a job. So you really need a more direct approach. So I would say, definitely look into your network. Social media is super important. If you know people in other companies, people you've worked with, ask them to share your job on social media. I think that's very important if someone sees someone that they know, and they've shared a job, they're going to be much more interested to apply for that job, seeing someone vouching for that job than it is just a regular LinkedIn job posting. And I think then, hiring specialists like ourselves or other agencies who actually understand where those talents are, or of course you can have your own internal talent team as well, that specializes in digital. I think that overall when it comes to digital, you really need to think outside of the box.

Lauren Stiebing:
So I would say specifically in FMCG. A lot of times they're just looking at competitors and trying to get people from competitors. But I think there are a lot of other great places to get candidates, but you need to do the pre-work to figure out where they are, which is why you need a specialist agency or a specialist recruitment team to be able to do that work. But I think there are ways to find new candidates besides just posting jobs, because I really don't think job posting is working that well for most companies these days, just because of the high volume of jobs available. And let's say the lack of talent in the market.

Peter Crosby:
And do you find... I know that you do work in multiple global markets. Do you find any distinct differences between the job markets in the US or countries in EMEA or what are you seeing out there? How many differences are there?

Lauren Stiebing:
I mean, I think that there are definitely hubs of talent. So I think that is something to think about, especially if you... We work internationally, so if there's a market, let's say Austria that lacks talent, smaller markets, then you can go to the UK or to France or to the US, and try to get talent to bring them into that market. I think that the dynamics of the market change, but there are definitely hubs where you find more relevant talent that you can tap into. And I think that it's very important for companies to try to get as flexible on their international relocation policies as possible because of the lack of talent in the market. If they can bring someone from another market, that's always great. I mean, people still want international experiences and I know that people want to work from home, but candidates still want to move abroad and work internationally, especially younger people and more at the early stages of their career. So I think it is something to consider bringing people from other markets if you can.

Lauren Livak:
And Lauren, are you seeing more universities have digital and eCommerce education programs that you can partner with or talk to, at least get talent from, from university, even if it's an entry level role to help them grow?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. I haven't myself looked into that, that much because we're usually recruiting more senior roles, but I definitely think they probably are. I mean, for sure companies, if my clients ask me that they need to have junior talent, I always tell them, "Okay, we'll put together a strategy to attract candidates to the university campus." I mean, that's the easiest thing. Well, easy in quotations, not that easy, I know. But the easiest thing to do is if you can go to those college fairs, at the right colleges and get the right people, it's a great talent pipeline that companies can build. And I think, yeah that will be more important as all of these new jobs are created. But yeah, there isn't one right answer. There's many different options that you can take.

Peter Crosby:
And Lauren to close out, I'd love to return to the idea of diversity in hiring. How are you seeing that playing out in the markets, in the categories that you're working in?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah, I mean, I think that there are definitely diverse candidates in the market. And as I said, for us, since we work globally, we can tap into the middle east, into Africa, into Eastern Europe, Western Europe. So I would say that the benefit is we can go into different markets, tap into different markets and bring diversity into certain teams, into regional teams, and into global teams. So I definitely think they are out there. Of course there's still work to be done, but I think it's just about setting that in your mind and really going for it. But they definitely exist both from a gender diversity as well as through to all age diversity, sex, race, et cetera.

Peter Crosby:
That's great to hear. We certainly know it takes being intentional and it does take extra effort. Sometimes it even takes a little longer. And so much of it is an education process. I know inside organizations to figure out because if one just goes on one's own LinkedIn and uses your network, there's going to be a bias there that is hard to get around unless you're really sort of spreading your search out wider, right?

Lauren Stiebing:
Yeah. And I think that's people that... I would say that the easiest way to attract talent is to go to a few people that you've worked with in the past, ask them the best people you know, and I know that's a very efficient thing to do and you usually get a very good candidate, but I don't think that's the best for diversity because most people are in quite a small circle at the end of the day. Even if they think it's very large, it's usually quite small.

Peter Crosby:
Right now, the only people I know in this podcast are named Lauren. That's just...

Lauren Livak:
The best name.

Peter Crosby:
The best thing, actually, everyone should hire Laurens. Well, Lauren Stiebing and Lauren Livak. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and bringing your expertise in what is one of the most dynamic hiring environments that we've seen in a while, and heading into a time of economic un... It's not dull is essentially what I'm saying. So we really appreciate you bringing your point of view and your best practices to our audience. Thank you so much.

Lauren Stiebing:
Thank you for having me.

Lauren Livak:
Thank you, Lauren.

Peter Crosby:
Thanks again to Lauren Stiebing for doubling our Lauren power on the podcast. As I mentioned in the intro, the two Laurens collaborated on a quick tips one pager on the questions to ask yourself as you are recruiting your digital talent. Go to the resources tab of digitalshelfinstitute.org to put this knowledge to work.