An interview with...
In the first of our new interview series, we sit down with Stephanie Nicholls to talk about her successes in Montreal and Toronto’s tech market, transitioning from university to a career in recruitment, and challenges faced as a recruiter.
Stephanie joined us in 2017 and has since become a key member of Caspian One's Canadian team, leading the way on Java technology recruitment.
Continue reading below...
Hi Steph, thanks for speaking with us!
Can you start by telling us a little about how you came to Caspian One?
Sure - this is my first job straight out of uni. I went to Leicester University - graduating in July 2017, and started the interview process before graduating on the recommendation of a family friend whose daughter used to work at Caspian One. I received offers from 2 recruitment companies and chose Caspian One due to the culture and working environment.
What were you studying at University?
I did Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience.
How do you go from psychology to recruitment? - what was the appeal...
So, in my second year of uni I applied for a summer internship with Michael Page in London. I went through a full interview processes - which was very intense, but gave me a really good insight into what recruitment was actually like.
Recruitment aligned with my psychology studies too. People don’t often think recruitment : psychology, but there’s multiple crossovers. You have to assess how someone else may be thinking, what could be the issues, what could this other person possibly be considering that could be a problem, and put yourself in their shoes.
I also knew that within recruitment there were some companies I just wouldn’t like to work for, because they were cold or didn’t have a good work environment...
- You were researching opportunities?
...yes, because when I applied here, working environment was one of the most important things to me. Straight out of university I didn’t want to join an office that was overly corporate, with people just coming in to do a job. I wanted to be challenged and feel like part of the team.
I knew recruitment would be for me as it’s fast-paced and I get to work with a variety of different people. That’s how I got from psychology to recruitment.
Okay, since joining in 2017 then, how has the last year been for you? - Have those needs been met?
Definitely. When I came to Caspian One I could tell instantly that the working environment was what I wanted. It’s an open office environment - so it’s not like you don’t know who your managers-manager, you know everyone (even Marcus who runs the entire company). That was one of the big things that appealed to me.
I also like travel. When I interviewed with Pete he suggested I’d be perfect for the Canada team as I can work the later hours required due to time difference... and I’ve since been able to travel to Montreal and Toronto which was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to meet with our clients and candidates.
Caspian One has been everything I could have asked for. I’ve hit every target set since joining,
And have been part of team incentives and various company events. I’ve started to take on mentoring and account management with clients I’ve picked up myself. Also, when my Manager was away earlier this year, I took over her account management and helped manage the team which was a great experience.
Steph, what impresses me is how in the little time you’ve had - particularly for a first job - you’ve achieved so much. Why do you think that is, and what differentiates you from other recruiters?
Personally I think it’s being aware of your motivating factors. We always talk at Caspian One about what drives you. To be a recruitment consultant you have to accept some things won’t go your way. You will have bad days, so you need to know what motivates you and tap into that.
For me, minus money or being prestigious at the top of the leaderboard (which does help), my main motivator is wanting to outperform myself. I’m a competitive person by nature - I’m in competition with me at all times.
I’ll hit target and already be planning what’s next - but almost overplanning it, so that I push it further. I celebrate and praise myself when I hit a target, but I’m always straight onto the next project.
It’s always about challenging me - and I think a lot of people don't have an idea what their motivating factors are, something that Caspian One helped me realise.
I haven’t got years of recruitment behind me, I’m also a female and I’m in a finance, developer, mans world... plus I’m young. I knew that if I performed well in all aspects of the job, I would be proud of myself. That’s always been my motivating factor.
Picking up on your last comment - what’s been your experience of engaging with a very male-orientated tech demographic?
There are times when you might speak to a CEO and get a “does she know what’s she’s speaking about?” - vibe.
My manager Dani taught me that to overcome this, just make sure your knowledge is there.
If the CEO says “do you know about xyz?” and I come back with “I’ve been working in the Montreal market… I know this person, this person, this person… these are their challenges… I have this person that can fill this job”... than that’s it - they can’t say anything else. As long as I maintain a professional manner then for me, it’s always been fine.
On the opposite side, when I speak to candidates they can be more open with me because I’m female, which works in my favour. When you speak to male developers they can be easier to speak with and more conversational because I am a woman and not a man - so there’s less pride, ego or bravado sometimes.
Generally it’s been a lot better than I expected. As-long as you know your value, know you have the knowledge behind you, know what you’re talking about and have a plan in place, it’s fine.
How do you get on with the distance issue, working with Canadians from a UK base?
It’s actually a real positive. A good thing we have is the time difference - so because we start earlier in the day, we can speak with Canadian candidates in the morning before they leave for work (when they’ve woken up and are a bit more fresh, compared to after a tough day at work).
You offer more flexibility around their working hours then?
Exactly. With job boards for example, we’re calling our candidates before the recruiters in Canada have even woken up, so we have that edge being 4 hours ahead of competitors. It does also mean we often have to work outside of normal office hours, taking important calls at say 9 or 10 pm. But we understand it’s about shared success, so helping a candidate or client will in return, benefit me or us as a team.
Can you tell me more about what you’re working on right now? - verticals, specialism etc…
I started on Java and I’m still on Java. Core Java Developers of all seniority levels. I began by working in Montreal, then a few changes in the team saw me work in Toronto for a while; so now I support dual locations, both Montreal and Toronto - which presents its own challenges...
Is there a different culture then between each city?
Absolutely. When you work Toronto you have candidates coming at you left, right and centre, so there’s more work required to find the perfect applicants. Also, recruitment in Toronto is a-lot quicker as it’s typically contract - so you need to be on the ball, competing with other recruitment agencies.
Montreal presents its own challenges. Being smaller, you have to get your magnifying glass out and really delve into people at companies using passive persuasions. You won’t have as many people contacting you saying they want to leave, so you have to use your selling skills more. Overall though, both locations are enjoyable and I work with both contract and permanent positions.
Montreal is still my primary location, and I manage roles for one of our key accounts there, supporting Dani to manage the team and key accounts. I also now have three clients of my own which I picked up; the first being a recently acquired EPOS-type tech firm who I’ve been helping from a UI perspective with four placements to-date.
Another is a really interesting machine learning, artificial intelligence company in Montreal. They’re an exciting sell to candidates because of their tech, and in the past three months we’ve done three (hopefully about to be four) placements there. What’s great with both of these is that they’re my clients and I’ve placed candidates with them, but so have the rest of my team, so there’s a sense of pride in developing this.
The other client I’m working on is a SaaS organisation that had a poor experience with their previous vendor. They came to me after I’d spoken with senior members of their team on LinkedIn and when visiting Montreal. We’ve just recently sign terms and we’re now working on roles, something I’m really proud of.
So would you say that you’re recruiting beyond just FinTech - focusing more on the Java skill set than then finance sector specifically?
That’s right. In Toronto there is a large finance market so there, we can focus on the FinTech environment. In Montreal there are fewer financial institutions and people want to work on more interesting technologies. Therefore we’re now looking at the tech companies people want to work with, not just finance.
As a recruiter you’ve spent a year learning about different technologies. Have you now gained a genuine interest in tech?
Some of the projects I hear about with real world applications I do find really interesting - so robotics, AI,systems for the London underground, big data. I tend to be drawn to certain projects where I think the technology looks more fascinating, but mostly because I’m excited about what people are working on, and the real life outcomes of those projects.
When you’re speaking to a candidate and they’re telling you all about what they’re working on - and you can be like “yes I’ve seen that in action” or “yes I’ve used this software” it’s quite cool. Especially when you see their offices and the people working on the systems. It’s impressive.
Finally, is there anything you’d like readers to know about you as a recruiter?
I’m very much about expanding my knowledge and giving back. So whether that’s growing my knowledge of tech by speaking with developers, or increasing my knowledge of the market, I’m always trying to educate myself.
I have relationships with people who aren’t even clients or candidates, but that come to me for my knowledge of the market - and to share what they know too, which helps everyone. Overall I love making people happy and putting them in a better position.
Absolutely brilliant, thank you Stephanie.
Today’s interview was with Stephanie Nicholls, a Java specialist within Montreal and Toronto’s tech recruitment markets.
Comments and feedback below!