Jo Weech

Founder, Exemplary Consultants

1. Did you have a favourite teacher at school? Who was that person and what did they teach you?

Mr. Springer, Grade 5. Back then, I do not think that ADD was a thing. I was excelling at my exams, and was bored. One day, I asked to be excused and went to the first grade corridor. Saw a teacher who appeared to need help, so I volunteered to help the students with the assignment. Word got out and other first grade teachers asked for my help. Mr. Springer arranged with the principal to allow me to take an hour a day to go to help out. One day, our class received a “science kit”. I helped to unpack it, and got an idea whilst examining the contents. Gathered up  broken crayons, used them to color some string, melted the other crayons, inserted the string, put the container outside in the cold, and voila! Made a candle. Mr. Springer arranged for me to do a demonstration for all the students, and encouraged others to brainstorm ideas that were not listed in the handbook of experiments. He saw me as an “outside the box” person. He appreciated what that could mean for my classmates and eventually my community. Because he believed in me, he dared me to believe in myself, and be unapologetic that I would not ever be cookie cutter, and that was okay.

“Because he believed in me, he dared me to believe in myself”

2. If you could write a brief note to your 13 year old self, what advice would you impart in it?

Hello, Jo! What do you know? You will get tired of hearing that, but I already digress! There are a few things that you should keep in mind. You know those racist comments about being Japanese/Oriental/Asian whilst in America, and the rare but distinctive anger and shunning you got in Japan for being American? These things are going to continue for the rest of your life, but it will take on various forms, including unconscious biases. Your pain will not be your shame, it will be your gain, and you will leverage it to ensure that others do not feel the same. You will, as the Prophet Micah admonishes, “…do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d.” Be brave and continue to advocate for the misunderstood, address ignorance, and #DoGoodBeKind to others, especially to those who may not seem deserving, but are in need of it the most. Half a century from now, your country will need you to take a stand and demonstrate what it means to be “antiracist”. Not just give lip service as an ally. You can help change perspectives, one person, one community group at a time. You will not be leading marches down the streets where you live, but you will challenge the “not racist” people you know to stop just “being”, and start “doing”, converting them to be “antiracist”. I cannot tell you what this outcome will be (I am not psychic, after all!) but I can tell you to fight the good fight. With your mind, words, and non-violent deeds, Perseverance means “cheerful, hopeful endurance.”  Whenever you are tempted to give up, keep going. That is when your influence will be needed the most.

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

Imposter Syndrome: the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. -Google definition  In my professional presentations, I show a slide of over 100 Twitter handles of people I have been influenced by or have learned from. I freely admit that I do not have an original idea to share. Here is the thing. I won a prestigious HRLA Leadership Excellence award in 2016 that was vetted by a panel of esteemed judges, which included professors who taught graduate classes in HR. I attended the $250/plate awards dinner without having prepared an acceptance speech. My mind was racing when they announced me as the winner of my category. I was aware of was how surely there were others more deserving than me. The following year, I was notified that out of 1000+ recruiters in a group in which I was an active participant, I  had been awarded the Gary Cluff Award for Recruiting Excellence. I asked Gary about what criteria applied to me. He stated that I consistently “give back” to my community, help everyone who needs it, and continually work to hone my skills. I share these examples because women more than others feel that they are not worthy of the accolades they are given. I surely feel this each and every day. I never rest my laurels on past achievements, and keep working to better myself. I also find myself seeking to lift others up from it, especially women and pretty much everyone in a protected class. #DoGoodBeKind

4. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?

There are a myriad of books, blogs, podcasts, webinars, conferences, and retreats in the category of “self-help” that I think can be counterproductive if embraced in a vacuum. That is the concept of “finding yourself” by looking within. Michael Jackson sings, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.” This is a GREAT start. What do you see? Here is the thing. We tend to look at ourselves with rosy tinted glasses. We do not see our imperfections, or, if we do, give ourselves excuses like: “Nobody’s perfect.” We’re all only human.” “I’m working on it.” (Are you really? Are you making progress with lasting changes that are perceptible to others, or just becoming more and more “aware”?)  Understanding your strengths and shortcomings must be contextual, and you can gain insight into how you are affecting others with the input of others. (Duh!) Those you live with, work with, those who you report to, those who report to you. Your community members. Without humility and an HONEST DESIRE to fully understand how your decisions, behaviors, attitudes, etc. affect others, you will be limited if not unable to affect lasting changes. It takes strength to hear someone else’s truth about you. (Are you only going to people who are your raving fans?)  Instead of finding ways to discredit a person’s feedback (focusing on THEIR flaws), consider if there is any merit in what they are saying. This requires being brutally honest with yourself, and not reacting from all of those defense mechanisms you have put in place to protect yourself from hurtful truths. Once you identify what needs to change, you must make a plan. What you will “stop doing” and what you will “start doing”. Keep honing the plan to optimize progress. Accountability is essential because you might think you got this, but your perspective is only what you think, and not what others see!

“It takes strength to hear someone else’s truth about you”

6. What personality trait has got you in the most trouble? What kind of trouble does it get you in?

I always look for ways to find solutions to problems. When I DO give what someone believes to be great advice, or come up with ideas for projects that others hadn’t thought of, or managed to get a stubborn stain out of something when others have failed, I do a happy hamster dance. Those who know me well simply rejoice with me, because they are just happy that I can acknowledge to myself when I do something well. Where it gets me into trouble is when people who do not know me well assume I am bragging or patting myself on the back. So, in the last year, I have worked on erecting filters to ensure that I keep my excitement about doing something right to myself. Sometimes, when I am passionate about certain things, it can translate to others as my thinking of myself as a SME in that thing. So, I am working on learning how to just “curb my enthusiasm”.

7. What is your untrainable superpower?

My ability to chameleon in “most” circumstances. I can adapt to my surroundings, as I have had to work in a myriad of different environments with so many different types of people. I wish I could train this to be 100% effective, every time. The problem is that there are certain things I cannot/won’t compromise on, like drinking to excess. I would like an invisibility cloak to throw onto those choices, or leverage the chameleon to appear to be the same as the others. Or, when I am expected to simply agree with a potentially derailing decision where sounding a warning isn’t welcomed. Wish I could simply use a time-turner to just get me to the moment after that, or, leverage the chameleon to appear to be submissive to the decision, whilst buying time to find solutions for what could be harmful outcomes.

8. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

No, my political beliefs as well as my spiritual beliefs have been evolving over the past decade or so. The impetus behind changing my political beliefs is that I saw people drawing a line in the sand, embracing all of the ideology of a particular party. I saw that incredibly unacceptable behaviors were universal to all political persuasions, with name-calling, mocking people for not being in agreement or publicly shaming them for not adhering to the popular opinions, regardless of the topic. I became disenchanted with all political parties and do not believe that there is only “one” way that is right. There is both good and bad on all sides. That being said, I have never felt as impotent as I do today, feeling that no matter what logic I try to leverage when discussing certain topics, it will only serve to inflame rather than to educate. “Disappointed” is an understatement right now, given all of the tragical things being said and done during this pandemic, during these riotous times. Leadership first and foremost must inspire and empower change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The trouble is that too many things have been “broke” for far too long, and it takes more than being “woke” to fix them. Activism can take many forms. Keep calm and carry on requires a calm reaction to an outrageous set of circumstances, but we cannot “carry on”. We must change ourselves first and foremost, and then seek to help others to change. Change comes from within, and this is where we need to start. Now.

9. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What did you learn from the experience?

I have always felt like an outsider in any group in which I have participated. Never the cool kid (to this day!) The interesting thing in high school is that despite being in a variety of groups, I was never defined by those affiliations. I befriended people who were very diverse from me. This has carried on to this day in that I tend to look for people hanging out on the fringe. From the high school cafeterias and now to industry conferences, I usually try to find people sitting alone at lunch, or looking lost. I love looking for “first timers” in any setting. Inclusion is vital for every person! I appoint myself to be like the unofficial “welcome wagon” and do my best to help give an inclusive experience. (I realize this makes me look like the ultimate dork, but I am okay with that.)

10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

A new queen bed with a gel topper for my guest room. Even though it has never been my intention to settle back here in the DC area, I now have the ability to host visitors. I have always loved providing tourist tips for the area, sharing local trivia, creating healthful snacks. At this point, I may even look into AirBnb once the pandemic passes. I can provide a room, full bath, customized breakfasts, and a 5 minute ride to Metro. It will be more of like a Bed and Breakfast, but I think I would enjoy this. (Yes. I am an ambivert, but…)  Maybe I can offer job seeker counseling sessions thrown in for free!

11. What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

It is my magnet collection. After my relationship of nearly 30 years was terminated, I began a cross-country journey from Montana to Maryland. I thought that my new life of becoming a single mom would end any travels in my future. Our first stop was in Rapid City, SD. I remember sheepishly asking the front desk clerk if we were anywhere near Mt. Rushmore (I had always wanted to see it!) He said, “Just 30 minutes up that same road you turned off of.” We made a beeline, and after our visit, I picked up a magnet for a souvenir. I had no idea at that time that it would be the first of many, many magnets from all around the world. It is a reminder that we may have unexpected setbacks in our lives, but sometimes, those detours will take us to places we would have never dreamt possible. #FairyTaleLife #TravelBug #Blessed

12. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?

After the tsunami hit Japan, everyone was pitching in, doing what they could do. They had ALL lost EVERYTHING. But even the elderly women engaged in making mammoth pots of rice, and helped to pick up broken pieces of pottery, taking them to a designated area, to match all the pieces. My friend who lived there reported of no looting. No stealing. No hording. No violence. Respect was shown by all to all. This inspired me so much that I would love to play the role of helping to organize the staging areas for rebuilding, assembling the teams to engage in various tasks aligned to objectives, and providing encouragement along the way. I would love to liaise between the decision makers and the trench workers to ensure there were good lines of communication, and that all the input considered would be representative of those in the field who would be most affected by those decisions. And, we wouldn’t need a karaoke machine. I would love for every community group to have a sing-a-long before bedtime. Because music does wonders for the soul!

13. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Torin Ellis

Because he is thoughtful and wise, and would challenge ideology with questions that make you dig deep. Find those hidden areas that need evaluation. I disdain small talk, and Torin would ensure that meaningful conversations would be had, like them or not! And, since it would be the “last supper”, we would go out feeling as though that time would not have been wasted.

Janet Reno

I will never forget meeting her with my family as my “surprise birthday present” one year whilst she was the first female Attorney General of the United States. She told us great stories, like having met Rosa Parks. She was misquoted continuously yet, she was never rattled by it. The stories she would tell would have us rapt. And, we will love the diversion from the impending doom.

David Nicola

A “clean” but irreverent jokester, somebody like David Nicola. Why? Because this is it. The world is going to end. We will have engaged in meaningful dialogue, we will have been inspired by stories of bygone days, and then, because it is all coming to an end, we will laugh about it. A joyful heart is good medicine. I would love to go out laughing!

14. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

“Trust your gut. Unless you have just eaten four pieces of pizza.” I regularly feel those little pangs that attempt to grab my attention. One time, I went into an office on Day One. A meeting was scheduled for 3 PM and at a few minutes before 8 PM, it ended. No water offered, no food. The pertinent details about how to collaborate on recruitment was gleaned in 35 minutes. The absolute rest of the time, we learned about the HR manager’s parents, previous jobs, and other non-job related stories. I should have walked away, but felt obligated to the person who referred me for the role. Of course, there was more to it, but I should have listened to my gut. The person who regularly shares gut advice with me has been a mentor for years, and whenever I start talking about challenges, she simply says, “What is the universe telling you?” Note: there is a difference amongst head, heart, and gut. When I listen to my heart, I tend to react or respond in ways that my head would have disagreed with. So, I try to keep that at arm’s length. My gut does not rely on feelings or fact. It is a weird little thing that simply has an opinion, and I am wise to at least consider it.

15. Can you give a work example of a lesson you had to learn the hard way?

I have remained in jobs where I was kicked under the table by a CEO for ending a tech interview on time. Instructed by another CEO to helm an executive meeting the following morning, despite having been diagnosed with pneumonia that day. Was bullied by a team mate and endured this for three months before sharing with my supervisor, whose response was that I needed to keep my head down, do my work, and grow a “thick skin.” Suffice it to say, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” But, I still tried to make things work. Sometimes things do not work out the way you would have hoped or planned. A decision to resign might have been a long time coming, but it would still be interpreted as being disloyal. I have learned a very hard lesson about myself with respect to loyalty. I have stayed in situations and jobs long after I should have exited stage left. But sometimes loyalty is bestowed upon people or companies that least deserve it. You persevere because this loyalty is about your gift, and not because it was merited. This becomes about you, and the choice is yours. This has been empowering for me.

16. Who was the best person you ever hired? Why were they so good?

I didn’t hire him, I inherited him! Ali Rahmani is a contract recruiter dream come true. We collaborated on supporting ten hiring managers, with various roles in local and global locations. Nearly all roles required some level of security clearance. The negotiated rates we had were among the worst. Quite a number of roles were located in a not-a-hotspot area. Despite many drawbacks, Ali consistently sourced and recruited countless candidates. I never learned his “secret sauce” but he was able to successfully engage with candidates and got them to consider taking on these less than desirable roles. And, with having nearly NO social media presence or “cool tools”! (Yes. You read that right!) When hiring managers were unresponsive about feedback, Ali diligently kept them warm, which took heroic effort. Sometimes, we could not get feedback for over three weeks, yet Ali persisted in keeping key candidates interested and willing to hold on. Ali was always positive, always respectful, always reliable. He has tenacity, integrity, mad skills (on his own, unaided by tools), and a personal drive to always be achieving the best.

17. Who is the best co-workers or collaborator you’ve ever worked with? Now is the moment to give them a shout out - who were they and why were they so good?

I am currently partnered with the Director of Federal Contracts at ELEVI Associates, Bill MacDonald. We are collaborating on strategy and the trenchwork of recruiting for some of the most niche roles in our industry. Bill had retired after nearly 4 decades with Lockheed Martin. He shares with me the good, the bad, and the ugly. He respects my expertise, grants my legitimate requests for support, and most importantly, he trusts me. We have had a whirlwind of a time, what with getting new ATS, tools, processes, platforms for communication, and having to host ongoing training for all of it. Working to gel a team that had not worked together before and two who had never recruited! Despite all of this, we achieved more recruiting successes in 3 months than the previous 3+ years! He is someone with exemplary leadership skills. He challenges me while inspiring me to keep doing my best. Everyone should be able to work with someone like this. I have grown much and continue to learn, every day.

18. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

The elitist college degree requirement. I get that in order to be a medical professional, finance professional, data scientist, etc., you need to have successfully completed coursework and practicals toward a degree. In this day and age, for a myriad of other roles, we have sourced hundreds of thousands of candidates with amazing qualifications due to their skills and expertise who can run circles around the requirements of a role, but are barred from consideration due to a degree requirement. You need a web developer. Would you rather someone with a computer science degree with no project experience, or someone who has been creating code for gaming, apps, and other projects since the 8th grade, whose tech stack is like a foot-tall Jenga tower? At what point do we stop with meaningless measures of a person’s mental capabilities, and throw mettle into the mix? Not having a degree does not indicate a lack of intelligence or laziness. It may mean having been raised in a different demographic where college was not an option at the time. (White privilege comes to mind.) Or, in an era when the son got funding for the degree and the daughter did not. Or, where on-the-job skills development surpassed the coursework being taught, making the expenditure of large sums of money or amassing staggering debt to attain the degree was not feasible (or logical, to say the least!) I am not “against” higher education. But why does a recruiter need a degree? I am working with a former bartender turned recruiter who has amazing people skills, and can engage prospective candidates with aplomb. She is a top producer on our team! I don’t know what it is going to take to reevaluate this decades-old requirement. I also see many ATS barriers to applying, and especially when a company can program it to REQUIRE the years attended at college just to submit a resume for consideration. This will take me down the rabbit hole of ageism, so I will just leave this here for now.

19. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked?

That “progressive leadership experience” is preferable. In any role. Take HR. The person writing this requirement started as a HR Coordinator, then became a Generalist, then a Manager, then a Director, then a VP and then a CHRO. This person “paid their dues” by working their way up the corporate ladder. What about the person with the “hockey stick” career? Someone who dove into the deep end of the HR pool, was told to sink or swim, and had to quickly learn the backstroke, the butterfly, the breaststroke, and did so on evenings, weekends, whilst on vacation, etc.? Some didn’t just punch in 40 hours a week, but had to learn it all, and mostly on their own time. This is not progressive, this is intensive! Let’s say Jake and Karen played the same video game. Jake really loves gaming, and did the research to find the hacks, paid for guidebooks, and was able to reach Level 100 in just three weeks. Karen, on the other hand, crossed every bridge, stepped on every stone, and methodically made her way to Level 100 in three months. Who gets the promotion? Karen does, because she demonstrated “progressive leadership experience”. She goes on to be in a position to promote others, and uses the same criteria used when achieving her goals. Disruptors not allowed. Too risky. Won’t follow instructions. Won’t stay in their swim lane. Won’t be loyal. So many discriminatory opportunities leveraging unconscious and conscious biases with just that one phrase, “progressive leadership experience”.

20. Name one person who has had an extraordinary impact on your career.
What did they do and what did you learn from that person?

Gerry Crispin, the godfather of recruiting. At a happy hour, he asked me what work I was engaged in, and what I was passionate about. The convo led him to invite me to be in a delegation that would travel to Japan to engage with industry leaders, government, and higher education. I could NOT sleep that night! That trip changed my life and also my career. First of all, I was with former heads of SHRM and other esteemed HR/TA leaders. Listening to them challenged me to think higher thoughts about my craft. Gerry gave me a mirror so that I could see my own expertise, and encouragement to walk in what I knew. This led to successfully interviewing for a role in the Middle East as the Chief People and Talent Officer of a holdings group. A snafu with a residency requirement, and a hop and a skip later, this takes me to the present day, where in the last year, I have curated and written content for a book about HR for Non-HR Managers, have coached over a dozen European companies on how to do HR and TA in the US, led webinars for job seekers, college students, and TA professionals, and continue to execute strategy via trenchwork. Gerry has been available at crossroads along the way, to provide me with wise counsel and encouragement. I will be forever grateful!

“Gerry gave me a mirror so that I could see my own expertise, and encouragement to walk in what I knew”

Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With ... ?

Everyone has a story. Some are more publicly transparent about it, and there are some people that I have learned so much from, but they are not limelight grabbers. So, my list includes:

Matt Duren, Sr. Manager, Talent Acquisition at Tenable Network Security. On the board for recruitDC. He is always giving, serving, and ready with good advice. And, a really, really good recruiter!

Audra Knight, who teaches us how to leverage our personal branding to boost our employer branding (and, is literally a “rock star”!)

Carmen Hudson of Recruiting Toolbox and Recruiter Hunt has some pretty amazing, insightful stories to tell, and is on the top of my list of go-to people for advice about nearly everything!

Katrina Kibben, CEO, Three Ears Media. No one should write another job description without her help!

Tangie Pettis, Speaker for SourceCon, HRTX, etc. Sourcer extraordinaire. Shares with all.

Maisha Cannon, SourceCon Advisory Council, teacher/coach on sourcing. Mad skills and great instructional mentor!

Mike “Batman” Cohen, Speaker at multiple conferences, extraordinary sourcer, transparent and honest.

Arron Daniels, specializing in sourcing and veteran hiring.

Of course, you are already aware of Torin Ellis, Michael Crouse, Andrew Gadomski, Amy Miller, Alison MacKay, Marvin Smith, Steve Levy, Jackye Clayton, Robin Schooling. These folks have massive influence in different ways. They are also amazing humans.

Thanks to Jo Weech for taking 20 Questions With the Brainfood Tribune

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