Laurie Ruettimann

Speaker / Author / Podcaster

1. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Some dude walked into my office at work and asked me to help him hire an engineer at a pharmaceutical pilot plant. I wanted to know more about the job, so I asked him to lunch. Then I married him. Who says office romances are toxic? Sometimes your coworker can be your life partner.

2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?

I became pregnant in high school at the age of 16. You probably know how the story ends because I don’t have children and am ardently pro-abortion. Without the freedom to choose my path, I wouldn’t have had a future.

During this particular crisis in my life, I talked to a counselor at school. I needed a day off for my mental health but was hesitant to tell my parents what was happening. He said, “You are pregnant, which means you are technically an adult in this state now. You can take a day off and don’t need to tell anyone why.”

That blew my mind.

Later in life, when bosses would ask for clarification behind my PTO or sick day requests, my answer was always, “Because I’m an adult, and I need this day off.”

You don’t owe anybody an explanation for using what you’ve earned.

3. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really important? What was it and what led you to change your view?

My mother is a retired Chicago police officer. I grew up believing people are too stupid and irresponsible to own guns. I still think that’s true; however, I’ve come to believe that we don’t legislate for the lowest common denominator. It’s possible to allow for sensible gun ownership in America and protect people from mass shootings, domestic violence, and other gun crimes. The current debate around gun control gets us nowhere, and it’s frustrating.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

I’m totally impacted by white literature from North America. Here’s what I recommend:

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski for lessons on how to write short sentences that pack a punch; Empire Falls by Richard Russo to understand the lives of Trump voters before they were Trump voters; The Handmaid’s Tale because the future is the past—everything Margaret Atwood wrote about in the book (and is on the TV show) has actually happened to women at some point in history.

5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

Some people think I’m loud an obnoxious. The truth is that I’m very short, and it was easy to ignore me for most of my life. I was either a short young woman, a petite and frumpy HR lady, or a tiny woman on a big conference stage. I’ve had to work hard to amplify everything about myself—my voice, my presence, my brand—and overcome the bias to dismiss me based on my appearance. Trust me, I’m not loud and obnoxious. I’m mumbly and private in my personal life.

6. What is your untrainable superpower?

Nobody has my smile and how it makes others feel.

7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

I always feel like an outsider in every group—even if I’m among friends.

Early on in my blogger career, I remember attending a tweet-up in San Diego. The event was full of people who enjoyed my work and wanted to know me better. Sitting at the bar, I thought, “I don’t belong here.”

It’s not impostor syndrome. I’ve always struggled to feel a real connection in the world. Most of the time, I do better by myself. That’s why I’m a writer.

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

I think we’re on the verge of it becoming taboo to talk about someone’s size or appearance. I have mixed feelings on this topic.

Sexism, sizeism and ableism are real. There’s also the beauty bias to contend with at work and in our peer groups. But we’re becoming a world where binary thinking and groupthink have merged in unhealthy ways. Mobs of nameless, faceless people on the internet push us to label actions and behaviors as right or wrong without allowing for nuance and distinction. We also don’t forgive the honest mistakes that come with evolution and growth.

Please don’t hire or fire someone based on size or appearance. Use your best judgment when making a comment about someone’s new haircut. But don’t be afraid to intervene with a first-degree friend or colleague who looks unhealthy and might need help. There’s sensitive and effective language you can use. DM me if you need advice.

9. What’s the last image on your camera roll? Can you explain?

It’s an out-of-focus image of my cat, Roxy, who is in her favourite bed overlooking our front yard. She is the queen of all that she surveys. I have taken the same photo of Roxy about 100 times. She’s so pretty in the sunlight, though.

10. Cheese or Chocolate?

I love cheese. The stinkier, the better. My favorite place to get a cheeseplate and a glass of champagne is in Chicago at a hotel off the Magnificient Mile. I take the corner of the restaurant on the 8th floor and look up at the John Hancock building. It’s quite lovely at night.

11. If you were a giant mega Monster what city would you rampage first? Why?

My friend Don MacPherson and I play a similar game called, “Which city should a hurricane destroy?” I won’t tell you his answer, but my top three are New Orleans, Miami and Las Vegas. (Yes, I’m fully aware that a hurricane can’t reach Las Vegas. However, this is 2020, and nothing is off the table.)

Why are those my three? Well, those three cities are corrupt. There’s hegemonic corporate power run amuck. And people suffer for no reason.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the music of New Orleans, Miami’s food, or the allure of the casinos in Las Vegas. I’m just saying that a giant mega Monster could rampage any of those cities, and it would be okay.

12. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?

Cinderella’s stepmother gets a bad rap. It’s hard to parent other people’s jacked-up kids

13. What decision makes you say, “What was I thinking??” when you look back on your career?

I tried to work in a restaurant, once, and dropped a tray full of ketchup bottles. The manager fired me on the spot for being so stupid. I was devastated. How could I be do dumb? Looking back, I can see that a restaurant job was never in my cards.

14. Tell me about that one project that was a total off-the-rails disaster? What was your role in that shitshow?

We tried to implement career ladders in Pfizer’s Corporate IT department in 2005—five years after career ladders were trendy. We also tried to decouple it from compensation. And people revolted because a) they never asked for career ladders and b) only asked for pay transparency. It was a disaster and ruined our department’s credibility. My HR director moved to another role, and it was my job to step up and sell this to our leadership team and our employees. I was told that I had no option, but I did have an option: I could’ve found another job just like her.

I was told that I had no option, but I did have an option: I could’ve found another job just like her.

15. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?

I just hired my colleague Devon McGrath, and I basically threw out everything I ever learned about recruiting and leaned heavily into Stephen Covey’s Speed Of Trust. I wrote a job summary, asked for recommendations from friends, trusted that my friends fully understood my needs, and talked to the people they loved. I assumed all candidates were qualified. I acknowledged and explored my biases. And I hired the woman I loved the most. I did it quickly. And she’s terrific. It was a good reminder that this process is wholly imperfect. One day, Devon will quit this job for another. She’ll have regrets. I will, too. That’s capitalism—messy, complicated, full of mistakes.

16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

I am always the weakest member of the team because I hate to work. I have addressed this in my life by being on fewer and fewer teams. When I collaborate, I map out my contributions early so people know what to expect from me. The answer is “not much.”

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

The recruiting industry is overly confident and laughs at early predictions that turn out to be true, making them look like morons. Sorry, not sorry, but it’s true. Automation is going to decimate the recruiting industry. It’s coming. Laugh all you want. No, the recruiters who provide “additional services” and are “more human” aren’t exempt. The real question is how do we create humane and ethical recruiting platforms? Go work on that problem, and maybe you’ll have a job and do some good in the world.

18. Who will be the winners & losers in our industry in the post-Covid19 world?

The winners are people with generational wealth, as always. The losers are everybody else—95% of the world

19. Name one person who would you like to read these answers

I have an ex-friend who won’t talk to me. It’s deserved. I have regrets. But I’ve changed! Look at these self-aware answers! I’m not an asshole narcissist! Oh, wait, snap, I still suck. Maybe it’s best if we keep these answers quiet.

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

Mary Ellen Slayter

Thank you to Laurie Ruettimann for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Laurie has a new book out Betting On You. I assure you it will be a must read. Pre-order here

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