Mark Deubel

Senior Tech Recruiter, Gitlab

1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

It was my Math teacher in my last year of middle school. I was terrible at math, and I really mean terrible. I always struggled with my grades until mister Goud came in. Everyone hated him as he was tough, unfriendly and well… it felt at that time like he would do great at a prison camp as a guard. One of the major annoyances for the kids was that he didn’t want you to just study for an exam. Getting a high grade wasn’t good enough for him. You had to understand the topics and explain to him exactly how you came to an answer. While everyone hated it, he eventually was the person that made me understand math. My grades went up and I actually started liking him. His approach might not have felt great, his intentions and the results were.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate math. But at least I understand why I hate it now. He was the one that taught me to reason things, to find out why things work the way they work. It was a strong foundation for the rest of my life. So weirdly enough, he became my favourite teacher together with mister Den Held. He was my English teacher who basically told me to help others instead of wasting my time doing nothing as I finished the coursework quite early. He taught me that transferring knowledge to others is the best way to learn and I started helping others become better. It still is something I like to do. I love to help others because while I am helping them, I am helping myself as well.

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

I just turned 16 when I joined the Royal Dutch Navy.

I had been waiting for that moment for years as I wanted to see the world, help people be safe and sail the seas. I initially wanted to join when I was 15 as I finished school early, but I needed to be 16 to join. I was just a bit impatient I guess. On the first day I arrived on the naval base and I got to meet my fellow trainees. The youngest trainee was 20! I had to adjust really fast to all those ‘adults’ who were shaving, swear like sailors (pun intended), drank beer like it was lemonade and looked at me as if I was a little kid that needed his mommy. That did not feel great, I can promise you that. I can still remember the moment that our instructor, a tough as nails marine, came up to us and said that we had to shave crisp and clean every morning (except for the women in the group of course). Here I was, not a facial hair in sight and still he wanted me to shave, I felt small although thinking back on it, that didn’t make any sense to feel that way. Thankfully the oldest trainee came up to me the next morning, gave me a razor where he removed the blades from and said ‘if he comes in to inspect, just shave… play the game’. It worked and life became a little bit better, but training was fun and hell at the same time, I had to adjust to so many things that were natural to the older trainees, that it took me a long time to adjust to not only being responsible for myself, but for others as well. And the physical part, well… that was tough.

When we got sworn in as navy personnel, after a year of training by marines and education by navy instructors, I felt so proud, I felt like a man! I was bullied at school…. Well, I was a different person now! That feeling lasted about a week as I joined my first frigate (warfare ship). I was the youngest again and had to work my ass off to prove myself. The first year was a slight hell, but by the time I was transferred to a newly built ship I was already training other people on tech and emergency fixes. It’s weird to be 16 – 17 and decide on everything for yourself, not being able to rely on your parents, family or friends.

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?

People probably won’t like to read this, but since we are honest here, I hated recruiters.

When I was still working in engineering, recruiters annoyed the hell out of me. They spammed my LinkedIn, my email (even work), they called me on a company phone line and were basically stalkers. A headhunter once got to me through my manager, which may sound like an accomplishment, but I had to explain who it was. It had put me in a difficult position. Now the stalking part was annoying, but he fact that 80% of the recruiters offered me a job that made no sense at all made me furious. How hard was it to read a profile or for that matter understand what you are looking for?

I only met 2 good recruiters back then (in a 20 yr timespan). One brought me into a project engineering position without me having the paperwork or relevant experience. He saw something that made him decide to introduce me to the company and he was right as it was a great fit. I never had thought about that position or believed I had the experience to back it up, but he was right and it went really well.

The second was a recruiter that approached me for the wrong job but was a great listener. He approached me for something that I, at that time, had done 15 years ago, but his message was really interesting. Thankfully, he was a great conversation partner, listener and adjusted quickly. We had an amazing call and he not only changed my view about recruiters, he changed my life. I owe it to him that I became a recruiter, a job that I (now) truly love.

I started out at the agency where he worked and we worked well together. We exchanged knowledge and he laid the recruiting foundations and I owe him for being where I am right now. Since I’m working in this field I have had the pleasure to meet more amazing recruiters and I believe I just had bad luck back then. There are truly great recruiters out there that change lives for the better, but it’s a small percentage when you look at how many there are.

I still feel like we could do a much better job and that is why I started my podcast ‘Doobles Talks’.

4. Name a well known person you admire and explain why you hold them in high esteem.

Steve Jobs. Without a doubt. While I can only look at the biography I’ve read, the information I saw in documentaries and articles, I do have a huge respect for him when I look at his professional life. While he may not have invented a lot of what he ‘made’, I admire his drive to make everything better. When you look at the first Mac’s the quality was amazing, they were made of the best materials, thought through with the user in mind and they were autographed by their makers on the inside. He understood that a good product is not just good on the outside. It’s in every detail, even the unseen ones.
A lot of people buy Apple thinking they are buying the latest tech, but that was never the case. What Steve really understood was that it was not about being the first. It was about being the best. A mac computer was built with tech that was perfectly in tune with each other. The motherboard was fine tuned to the memory and the graphics card and so on. By doing that, they managed to still get better results while using slightly older tech. It was all about removing bottlenecks, understanding the effects that parts have on each other. When I was building computer systems I followed that philosophy… I researched every part and ended up buying slightly older video cards while outperforming newer ones because my motherboard wasn’t bottlenecking it. I still use that when I’m building processes or am looking at tools. It’s not about being the fastest. It’s about the details, the quality

and the experience. He made an impact on the world with his vision. You can actually see that he left the company, his eye for details would never have allowed for some if the issues the newer macs experienced.

5. If you wrote a user manual for how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?

The most important point? As I have to choose one it’s ‘tone down your ego’. I hate ego’s. They are useless, just leave them at the door. Thinking that you are better than others, and even showing that, is actually showing how uncertain you are. If you interact with me, show your strengths and show your weaknesses. I do it as well. People sometimes see me as arrogant, but I am just very certain of what I don’t know. (Yes, what I don’t know, it wasn’t a typo) and what I do know.

I will talk about what I know, I will ask about what I don’t know and I would certainly use that in a manual. I believe people that are successful are comfortable to show their strength and their weaknesses. It’s that combination that levels you up. You can’t get better if you think you know it all and act like it. People with an ego often have something to hide, so when talking to me…. tone it down, get back down to earth and be human. You will never hear me say I’m the best at something, simply because there is always something to learn. Teaching others is not about being the best. It’s about being able to share your thoughts and ideas, being able to transfer knowledge, and most importantly…. Being able to learn from your students!

In my old CrossFit box they had a nice sign. ‘Leave your ego at the door, the room isn’t big enough for all of you’.

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

I call it like I see it (radical candor). I’ll tell you straight up what is wrong or good and why it’s wrong or good. People hate that approach when it’s about the ‘being wrong’ part. They sometimes see it as arrogant or non-social, but it’s a ‘flaw’ that I don’t really want to lose. When I was a kid it meant I called out the bullies in school. I basically told them they bullied because they were uncertain and probably too dumb to learn and thus they picked on the smart kids… Let’s just say I got beaten up more than I can count or remember, but I stand by it. Calling it like I see it does not mean that I’m right though. Prove me wrong and I have learned something new.

In my adult life it has cost me some promotions. But it’s simple, I need to be honest and say what I see, think or feel. It’s a radical candor I have and I just can’t live without it. I wouldn’t be happy. It, thankfully, also brought me some good stuff. I got pretty good in coaching people as I (nowadays politely) confront them with their strengths and their weaknesses. It’s a bit of tough love, but it wakes people up. Since I’ve been working in very multi-cultural companies, I’ve learned to nuance things better and communicate more delicate. Radical Candor is a personality trait I believe in, but I had to learn where and when to use it.

7. On what topic would you never make a joke? Why?

War and military personnel on missions. Sometimes people make jokes about it, but as a veteran I’ve seen too much to be able to accept that, so I would never make a joke about it. Some jokes are just tough for a lot of veterans, active military personnel and their families. It also has to do with what the news reports and what is actually going on. People make jokes about things they don’t understand because they were misinformed. You can’t blame people for what they don’t know, but a bit of common sense goes a long way.

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

I always feel like an outsider and it’s annoying on the one hand but it also makes me who I am. In the military I was ‘softer’ than the rest. I didn’t care for super cars, I didn’t drink beer (still don’t) and didn’t drink coffee nor did I smoke. That was sometimes hard as you get shut out because you are different. These things might seem very small, but somehow it had a huge impact on how people perceived me. It immediately limited my social life but also impacted my professional life. As I got older, it didn’t matter anymore but when you live on a ship… it’s a very confined ‘world’ where you really want to fit in.

In recruitment I still feel like an outsider. I’m not a typical HR person or Recruiter, I think differently, I interview differently and do things differently. I’m not saying I’m doing them better, I always make the joke that I’m a terrible recruiter and I just do what feels right, which apparently works.
I mean, how often do you hear a recruiter about building projects with milestones, mvp’s, etc.

In my current company people don’t treat me as an outsider, they accept my different ideas, vision and approach. As everyone is able to be themselves, there is no clear judgement of others.I have no clue if they think I’m weird, but it’s the first time I feel ‘normal’. The best part of being an outsider is that you actually diversify the team.

9. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

It’s a close one between the new iPad Air which is simply amazing, and the new microphone I bought (ATR 2500x). The microphone wins the battle for now. I’m creating my own podcast and wanted better sound. I never expected to fall in love with a mic! The sound was so crisp and high quality that I now even use it when I have meetings or interview candidates. It’s a small detail but it makes such a difference. Yep, now I think of it… Mic all the way. It makes me feel more professional which is the biggest nonsense, but hey, it feels good!

10. What’s the most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

It’s a medal from my time at the navy. The war in former Yugoslavia had destroyed Kosovo and left people hurt, hungry and homeless. We sailed out with our ship and brought food and medical supplies to refugees, and took the wounded on board as we acted as a hospital and refugee ship. That mission made such an impact on me. The results of war, the pain and grief of the people and the effect it had on the crew. I was happy that we could help and it humbled me. It also gave me a new perspective on life and freedom. It’s something that had an impact on my life and reflecting back on it, I’m sort of happy that I gained that experience. The images will never be erased from my mind, but it makes you reevaluate things.
Once you experience that, you kind of don’t care about the small things that hold you back as you know how blessed you are with your life. That medal reminds me about the horror of war and about my own humanity.

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you want it, what would it look like?

This is tough as there are so many things I would want to get into that bar! But let’s start with good massive wooden tables. Long ones, where you can sit with good company but where you’re also kind of forced to sit with strangers. I love pure craftmanship, so they are handmade by an artisan.

Some unique deep wooden chairs with leather next to a round fireplace and on the other side of that a long whisky wall. I love whisky as it’s so complex in taste and they always have the best stories on every bottle. I don’t care if the stories are true to be honest, I just love the storytelling. I would add those stories to the drinks menu. The bar itself would be made from thick wood, handmade and not too smooth. I love some deep visible grain. Lighting not too dim, but not too bright. No TV’s! That’s something I would never do. And on the walls pictures of historical moments in technology, just because it doesn’t really belong in a bar. The first electric lamp, car, CD, computer, processor, rocket, etc. All monochrome pictures, not too big and never containing the full image so you have to guess a bit about what it is. A small open kitchen with fresh made food. No typical stuff, but food that is simple yet amazing. I would love to see the best burger I ever had on the menu. It was in Finland, Helsinki to be precise. They had a small market and there was a little hamburger stand. I don’t know how they did it, but it was the burger redefined. Everything had a better and special taste, nothing was standard. I recently bought a Kamado ‘BBQ’, that needs to be present in the kitchen as well. It’s amazing!

The music would be soft enough so you can understand each other, and loud enough for the room to have some ambiance. Last item, a plant wall! You need some green in a bar.

12. Aside from family and friends, 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?

Gautama Buddha is on number one. I’ve always been fascinated by Buddhism and I would love to just discuss every aspect with him. He became such an influence in the world as we know it that I would love to learn the why of his teachings. And also to see how he reacts to all the images and statues they made of him.

Next up I would say Leonardo Davinci, the ultimate multipotentialite. I would love to learn from him how he managed to be so talented in different areas. There must be a secret. I would also love to see how he reacts to the world today. He must be shocked!

And finally a lesser known person: Graham Hancock, A writer. He wrote pseudoscientific books about the history of the world, ancient civilisations and he has some provocative ideas about the pyramids and more. I’m curious on how his mind works, how he came to the conclusions he made and just have a very interesting chat.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

“Mark, shut up and listen, let people talk before you say what you think!” I had the tendency to think and talk about A, go to B and all the way to Z in a fast pace, and in one take before people could say something. It was annoying for them as they were not feeling heard, and while it frustrates me to go slow it made me listen better and accept changes in my thinking. I had to learn to accept that while I might have everything clear in my head when it comes to an idea, strategy or process, it doesn’t mean it’s clear to others and it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m right. Listening is silver, shutting up is pure gold.

14. What decision makes you say ‘what was I thinking?’ When you look back on your career?

It’s one that bothered me for a long time and I’ve been talking about it with people ever since as I don’t want them to make the same mistake. When I joined the Airforce (after my time at the Navy) it was meant as a transition to civilian life. I was supposed to stay for max 4 years so I could get a bachelor degree and leave. However, Afghanistan started and I didn’t have time to finish the degree. I did 1yr of Psychology and honestly I’m happy that I never finished tho whole 4 years as it turned out to not be my ‘thing’. Anyways.. those planned 4 years became 12.5 years as I was afraid to leave the Airforce. I somehow created the belief that I couldn’t do anything else in civilian life as my expertise was almost non-existing in the ‘normal’ world. That kept me back, drained my energy and wasn’t exactly good for my self-esteem when it came to the job market. After 18.5 yrs in the military (navy and aitrforce’ I had NO CLUE what to do next. When I look back I had all the chances in the world to get a great job. I was just so afraid of the unknown. Now I know better and I don’t want others to make that mistake.

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

I’m not sure the word ‘weak’ is what I’d use.

I’d keep it at not experienced and unprepared. Anyways, weak it is! Yes, the Navy comes to mind first. I was the youngest on the ship, unable to verbally defend myself successfully and unable to defend myself physically as well. I was lucky that my mentor at that time was getting fed up with me after yet another crappy moment where I was made fun of and I fled the scene. He took me aside and said ‘what the hell are you doing!? You made it through selection, basic training, advanced training and technical school and you sit here feeling sorry for yourself because you are a skinny young kid in the middle of grown men.. Suck it up because you are doing the exact same job as them and if you’re smart, you become better than them. You left a lot of people behind you as they don’t make it to this point so ..’

I won’t repeat all the swearing that he did, but let’s say that he made sense. I can still remember the words and his angry red face while he was shouting at me. I took the advice to heart. Ever since, my approach is the same. I join a team in a field I know nothing about and I dive in deep, deep enough that I can get to a point where people start asking me for my opinion or advice.

16. What is the optimal number of people in a team, with you in it? What roles are people playing?

It depends!

It depends on the amount of work the team has, the environment the team is in, the available resources, the goal that needs to be achieved and the goal they would actually like to achieve. It depends on where you are now, and where you have to be in 6 months, 1 yrs, 2 yrs etc. But for arguments sake, let’s start with a natural leader, an influencer that brings ideas to the table, involves the team but does not necessarily execute on them. Someone that people will follow while that person might not have the official position for that.

Then a decision maker, the one that talks sense in the natural leader as ideas are great, but they often turn into long discussions. The decision maker looks at the team’s input, buy-in, budget, timing etc. That person is the optimal realist, weighs out the pro’s and con’s and decides what actions are to be taken.

Then the researcher/analytical person that dives into the details. That person looks at viability, ROI, what is needed to make a project achievable.

Finally you have the supporters, these are the people that are executing the actual project or work. The researcher/analytics and supporters can be multiple people depending on the project/work, scope of work, workload etc. Without these details it’s impossible the define the optimal number of people in a team.

IMHO I see a lot of leaders looking at headcount too much when they start planning. Take recruitment: We need to fill X amount of positions, so that takes X amount of recruiters. And that’s the discussion.

What I often miss is: We need to fill X amount of positions, we have Y amount of people, what are we missing to get to that number X? Is it Recruiters or do we need a lead, a manager, more people in RecOps that fix A,B and C so we don’t have to hire more recruiters and are able to scale more? Often, and I call this out a lot, people forget to build a strong foundation.

If you have a strong foundation, you’ll see that it’s easier to scale up, see where the actual challenges are and iterate. Just throwing people at problems never works. So how many people will be optimal? It depends on the challenge.

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

Bad templated messages/outreach!

I’ve been on both sides of the table. Well, 3 sides actually. Prospect, Hiring Manager and Recruiter. On all those sides I have experienced the most terrible messaging/outreach there is. Templated messaging, poorly built messages, irrelevant messages and more. Unfortunately it’s hard to solve as long as we (1) don’t take the time to train people and (2) don’t give them time to actually spend time on a good message.

A lot of employers and managers still believe that the way to success is sending X amount of templated messages to people in a day/week because there are always a few people that bite. Spray and pray as we call it. They forget that the people that do not respond will not be inclined to reach out to them when they need help. It’s a big part of why people don’t like recruiters, we don’t treat them as people, we often treat them as a prospect, a target, a number.

As long as employers push for X amount of sent messages, recruiters and sourcers won’t be able to craft good messages. Recruitment has a lot of ‘old’ approaches and ideas, we really need to redefine it. It was the biggest reason for me to start a podcast to be honest. I want to discuss and show we can do things differently, we don’t have to be stuck in the 90’s.

What still baffles me, is that there are so many recruitment tools on the market, but somehow they are hardly ever ‘disrupting’ and, even worse…hardly implemented correctly. ATS’s are a prime example. They all fence with ‘built by recruiter’ and still none of them are enjoyable to work with, they all lack features that are needed (Better dashboards, less clicks, searchability, automation that makes sense) , but instead are focussing on trends (let’s add focus points, remove bias).

It’s a challenge I have thought about, building an ATS myself, and I might take myself up on it one day as, while the market is crowded, there is a big opportunity for a good ATS.

18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that contributed to your success?

it’s not a secret, but it’s a tip that works: It’s all about ‘WHY’!

When reaching out to someone don’t tell them they are perfect for the job and that you have the perfect job for them. Tell them WHY you think they are perfect and WHY you think it’s the perfect job for them. WHY is a powerful word, use it. If I reach out to you and tell you that I think you are the best candidate because you did X at company Y which ties into project Z that my team is working on, that is a clear message that I’ve shown interest in who you are, that I understand what I am talking about and that I have something interesting for you. I can’t say it often enough. Tell people ‘WHY’.

It works the other way as well. If you ask WHY a hiring manager is looking for a certain skill, WHY they are looking for a certain personality and WHY they are struggling with a certain challenge, you’ll learn so much that you can use later on.

A second tip, and one I live by: Build your foundations first!

Whatever you do, make sure you build your foundation before taking action.
New req? Get all the needed information before you take even one step. Makes sure you understand what is needed, that you have built out your processes and that you defined a strategy, an approach and a timeline. If you have that, then you start recruiting!

Joining a new company? Make sure you set up your system and processes perfectly before you even start working. Understand where you are, what they do and WHY they do things they do before you start running/changing etc.

New process? Check the underlying processes first before you complicate them more. Are the processes still up to date, can you make them shorter, faster, can you automate them?

Why? Because you won’t have time to correct it when you are full blast at work.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What is failing in recruitment in your opinion? What should be fixed now?

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

Antonios Tsiras. I got to know him as a Recruitment Coordinator and he was so driven to become a recruiter that he had more questions than the team could answer. His hunger to become a good recruiter was, and still is, incredible. He is an amazing person to talk to when you want to learn more about what it takes to become a great recruiter,

Thank you to Mark Deubel for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to connect with Mark on LinkedIn and tune in to Doobles Talks

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