Sure, machine learning tools can bring efficiency to companies searching for new employees.
But after 25 years helping businesses build their teams and find new talent, Shauna Swerland is confident that humans will continue to play a role in job searches, at least for the foreseeable future.
Swerland is the founder and CEO of Fuel Talent, a Seattle-based company that she launched in 2013 that aids companies in hiring engineers, product roles, marketing, administration and human resources.
“It’s like dating,” she said. There are aspects of understanding candidates that would hard to replicate with a computer.
“It’s the nuanced part of recruiting and reading the ‘white part’ of the resume,” Swerland said. “It’s what fuels people and what drives them and the decisions that they make.”
Recruiters who rely too heavily on tech, however, are vulnerable to being replaced, she said. So while Fuel Talent uses platforms like LinkedIn to find candidates, her team connects personally to get to know them on a deeper level.
It’s a part of the job Swerland likes so much that in January she launched a weekly podcast called “What Fuels You” in which she interviews business leaders. She started the series in part because she wanted a new professional challenge, to stretch herself and “to feel a little uncomfortable.”
She found in the course of her work that she was learning interesting backstories of prominent leaders and wanted to share them. As a bonus, the podcast is proving effective in promoting companies that are sometimes also clients and can serve as a recruiting tool. Profiles have included Karl Siebrecht, co-founder and CEO of Flexe; Dan Shapiro, CEO of Glowforge; and Dry Soda founder Sharelle Klaus.
Before founding Fuel Talent, Swerland worked for recruiting companies in San Francisco and New York. By 2009, the U.S. economy was tanking and Swerland and her husband were feeling the pinch of New York’s private school tuition for their two kids (which soon after became three). Swerland had grown up in the Seattle area and graduated from the University of Washington. The family decided to move to the Northwest, and Swerland kept her job as partner at New York-based Glocap Search, traveling between the company’s five offices.
As the family settled into the Puget Sound area, the economy picked up. Swerland decided to start her own company.
“I wanted to create the kind of culture at a company I wanted to work at,” she said. Fuel Talent works now has roughly 120 companies as clients and has been recognized by Seattle media for being one of the largest women-owned companies and for being one of the fastest growing businesses in the region.
Swerland has noticed a dramatic shift in the past year or two in corporate attitude about the importance of building diverse teams and supporting pay equity. Companies are eager to hire women and underrepresented minorities for engineering roles, in particular.
“There is clarity around the return on investment. There is clarity around the revenue that it can generate for the company,” she said. “Companies are realizing that diversity of thought can lead to better product outcomes, better cultures, better sales.”
We caught up with Swerland for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle
Computer type: MacBook
Mobile devices: iPhone
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Cozi, Docusign, PaybyPhone, Venmo, Trello and Wordscapes.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Most people describe our office as having a very comfortable, homey feeling. We have a killer industrial sign of our logo as you walk in, made out of metal and Edison light bulbs. We had an artist paint “What Fuels You” in gold glitter down the entrance hall, which is usually the first thing that catches people’s eyes. We had the same artist individually frame and write out our values, which hang in our kitchen/dining area. We came up with them as a team and we love the way the values reflect all of us. They include: drive, integrity, efficiency, accountability, excellence and respect. In the same space, we have a square, raised table that we all gather around for group meetings and lunches.
We have an open floor plan, built for collaboration, with oversized, distressed wood and metal frame desks and white, leather swivel chairs. No cubicles. We also have three small interview rooms for more private conversations and meetings. In the main interview room, we have a purple unicorn hanging on the wall (the inside joke among recruiters about the impossible-to-find candidate). Most of our time is spent on the phone and communicating with clients and candidates. My office has a glass floor-to-ceiling window facing the open floor and my door is almost always open. I often like to move out to an open desk out on the main floor to be among everyone else!
In a little nook, we have a bookshelf filled with business and fun books to share. Our team has even started a book club! Everyone enjoys being able to spread out in various areas around the office including working on the treadmill desk, laying in the bean bag, or sitting in the massage chair. Our office has a fierce group of ping-pong competitors, so the ping-pong table is an essential. We like to blow off steam by playing quick games throughout the day. Anyone is welcome to come play any time! We’re situated right in the middle of downtown, which is the perfect spot for midday breaks, lots of lunch options and coffee meetings.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Surround yourself with good people and good friends, raise self-reliant and responsible children, marry a strong partner, let go of trying to do it all, and be okay with delegating.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn. We use it to help find the best talent for our clients. I am within the first 40,000 users; an early adopter having been in the recruiting industry for 25 years.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 36
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 23
How do you run meetings? I am not a big fan of meetings for meetings sake, so we are very lean on internal meetings. For our weekly company meeting, we start with one minute of silence, followed by individually sharing on a rotated subject every week. For example, I might ask everyone to share a goal for the week, a challenge, a word to describe their mood, or a positive comment about the person next to them. We then share our highs and lows from the previous week and what our upcoming week looks like. We keep it short and sweet. The meeting is no longer than 45 minutes. Additionally, we sometimes bring in guest speaker/experts to share their knowledge and help our team grow.
Everyday work uniform? Jeans, white tee, black blazer and either heels or booties.
How do you make time for family? It is hard to have all five of us together consistently doing the same thing at the same time between everyone’s sports, activities, events, etc. Whenever possible, I try to have alone time with the kids, often at home chilling, playing backgammon or cards. When the weather is nice, we play outside and will go for walks and play pickleball. We all enjoy listening to music, so usually there is some form of a dance party happening at the house.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I like relieving stress by working out. I try to meditate, but I am having a hard time making it a habit. I love to snuggle our dog, Marley, and I really love to hang out with family and friends. Whenever possible, we try to have Shabbat dinner on Friday nights and unplug.
What are you listening to? I am kind of addicted to podcasts. I listen to “How I Built This,” Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert,” “GeekWire” (of course), “Acquired,” “Founded and Funded” by Madrona Venture Group, and “Naval.” It’s too hard for me to listen to my own podcast, “What Fuels You.” It feels inefficient to listen to the same conversation since I was already a part of them during the recordings, and it’s also hard for me to listen without being critical. My next level of vulnerability will be to listen to it.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? The Skimm, Flipboard and GeekWire.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? My friend Bari Weiss wrote “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” and it just came out, so I am reading that, “Educated” by Tara Westover, and “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown.
Night owl or early riser? I am hard wired to be a night owl and have a chilled-out morning routine. The reality with three kids and a business is that I can’t stay up too late. I’m usually in bed by 10:30/11 p.m. during the week and ideally up at 6 a.m. to work out. I am paying closer attention these days to my sleep and am consistently aiming for eight hours. My typical sleep quality is 4.5+ out of 5. I sleep like a baby.
Where do you get your best ideas? Usually from talking to friends or meeting inspiring people. I am so curious about others and tend to love to learn through conversations. From those conversations, I might write down ideas in the notes on my phone. My notes are a crazy collection of nuttiness.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Dan Levitan, co-founder of the venture capital firm Maveron, has been a very inspiring guest on my podcast, “What Fuels You.” I tend to ask a lot of similar questions to the ones here, and Dan is incredible as far as setting intentions, holding himself accountable and aiming for goals and milestones. I am not sure I can emulate, but I would like to learn more from him.