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How do women get to the top? Think flexibility!
When Michael Page recruiter Melanie Wallace-Smith was promoted to the role of Director, she cemented her position as a woman in leadership worth emulating. Her path to management has demonstrated that the key to success is taking control of your own professional future, within an organisation that values flexibility and a work/life balance.
Did you start out having a vision of where you wanted to be or has the journey been somewhat fluid?
The journey has been somewhat fluid for me, when I moved to Adelaide I performed a role of Business Manager which was more across account development and winning accounts, and then on my return to Melbourne I managed a team for a few years before taking maternity leave. I have always really enjoyed both these sides of my role, however coming back part-time in 2016 it was challenging to do both very well. Being a Director on the board was something I have thought about in the last couple of years, having worked across different markets for 10 years. I am passionate about the Michael Page brand and the key strategic decisions that the business make. I wanted to be part of this and to ensure that we remain one of the best recruitment firms out there.
Did you have any reservations about taking on a higher role given your commitments already?
No, now that my daughter is two, I feel like I have finally worked out the perfect blend of work and my personal life. I am back working fulltime hours and getting a full night’s sleep again which has made all the difference. It took me a while to get it right, but now I have, I am ready to take on more of a challenge.
What attributes do you feel have allowed you to be successful as a top billing recruiter?
I am super competitive but also resilient now I’ve been doing it for so long. I also know my market very well in terms of suitable candidates for the roles I am recruiting and am passionate about high service levels to clients and candidates.
How has Page’s dynamic working allowed you to manage your career while maintaining that vital connection with your family?
It has been essential, I discussed this earlier but it ultimately allows me to be there for important family activities and give clients and candidates the same service I used to give them, if not better as I often log on at night time.
What sets you apart from other recruiters when building key accounts?
Building a key account comes from consistent and repetitive good service and exceptional hires for the same company over a long period of time. I am lucky to have worked with many key accounts for consecutive years and the talent sourced has been the right fit. When I personally recruit, I think it is imperative to meet all the key stakeholders and understand what they are looking to achieve from a team perspective and the people they are looking to hire long term. Trust is also very important, once this is gained, you are in a better position to consult to the hiring managers and also challenge their recruitment process if you feel they aren’t attracting the best people in the market (this could be due to their brand, lower salary ranges, industry sensitivity, poor leadership team etc.).
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career and why? How have you overcome this?
Moving to Adelaide in 2009 when the market was terrible was easily the hardest job I had taken. Adelaide had a lot less head offices than Melbourne and the finance market was challenging to say the least. I wasn’t sure recruitment was for me at one time, during this time I was exposed to some very established recruiters and I think because the market was so tough you had to get a lot better at converting your roles and just at recruitment in general. With this, my skills around control and processes, understanding the market and which sectors were doing well (ie. Electricity and Defence) and my overall strategy greatly improved. When I returned back to Melbourne in 2012, recruitment seemed to be a much easier role; I don’t think I realised how good I had it until I left.
If you hadn’t chosen to go down the recruitment path, what would you have chosen to pursue as a career? Why?
I have no idea. As a kid I loved two things, sport and travel so I guess probably something in these fields. When I finished my degree, I travelled for 9 months around South America and Europe and ended up in London. Every job I got was through a recruiter so when I arrived back to Melbourne I registered with Michael Page and the rest was history.
I think some people are too afraid to ask their employers for these changes and therefore assume it is time to look for something ‘easier’.
How do you intend to ensure your voice gets heard at the Director’s table?
Given I am in the market every day I have a strong sense of what is working and what is not working out there in the recruitment world. I am really passionate around best practice and customer service and driving this through the business. At a Director level when you have very large teams, you often can’t recruit as much and sometimes be a little out of touch with what is happening in the recruitment market. I feel I can add value around the Director’s table by giving insight into current market conditions and what Michael Page needs to do to remain a major competitive player.
What message of a working woman do you hope your daughter Grace will get from your modelling?
That you need to work hard to have a good life. I want to give Grace a great education, nice house and set her up financially so she has the best chance to do whatever she wants by the time she finishes school. I also want to be able to take her around the world for school holidays / educational trips and we can’t do this on a single income! This is just my personal goal, some mums I know think it is best not to work and be at home and that works for them also. It just comes down to what works best for you, I am happiest when I am challenged and working and I think this also makes me a better mum in the long run.
What do you challenges stops some women in managing a successful career and family life? Can this be overcome?
Trust with your manager and leadership team, if you are working hours out of the office there needs to be the level of trust that you will do the work when you can, even if you aren’t in the office all the time.
Not asking the question about changing your role to accommodate your current family situation, if you don’t ask you won’t know. Don’t assume expectations are the same when you return back to work from maternity leave and that your role can’t be altered. Michael Page has been great to me around this and my role has changed over time. It doesn’t have to be a major change but something as simple as flexible hours, job sharing, less staff management or a different market could make all the difference. I think some people are too afraid to ask their employers for these changes and therefore assume it is time to look for something ‘easier’.
Where do you intend to go from here? Do you feel this is the furthest you can go along this path?
Absolutely not, I think there is definitely further I can go; what that role entails I am not exactly sure, but that is the exciting thing about working for Michael Page. There are lots of opportunities if you want to progress your career.
Do you have a mentor? How has this helped you to achieve your goals? Are you a mentor to others? Is this something you see yourself doing?
No, I don’t have a mentor but I have had some great bosses over the years. I am mentoring others at the moment, I think it is important to have someone else to speak to that isn’t always in your team and to get a different perspective.
What’s your favourite way to relax and unwind?
Travel, I have a rule I have to go to two overseas destinations a year to somewhere I haven’t been before.
On the weekends it is catching up with mates, going for a run, watching telly and drinking a nice glass of red wine.
What are your top five tips for maintaining a work/family balance?
- FLEXIBILITY AND REMOTE ACCESS: Being able to work unusual hours. This ensures I can do childcare drop offs and pickup, bath time and read her books at night. I often then log on when Grace is asleep that way don’t miss out on the important family routine.
- PLANNING AND ORGANISATION: Every night I do a to-do list divided into Clients, Candidates and Action points. When this is done each day, it is time to go home. It actually helps me be more productive in my days I am in the office and also allows me to mentally switch off when I am not at work as I have achieved my daily goals / tasks..
- DEDICATE FAMILY TIME: Fridays I am not in the office and this day is dedicated to Grace. A typical day for us includes walking the tan (where I make all my calls with a headset on), followed by feeding the ducks at the Botanical Gardens or going to a Park. I do all my house duties like washing, cleaning and going to the supermarket but we do it together. Having this day once a week, ensures I focus completely on her. I make up my hours during the week at nights or over the weekend when she is sleeping and it this balance works for me.
- BE CONTENT: Don’t be too hard on yourself, when I first came back I felt like an average mum and average recruiter, I think you just need to accept it will be a bit of a shock to the system and that things are different. You can’t do the hours you used to do, as long as you are doing your best that is enough.
- WORK SMARTER, DON’T WASTE TIME: The minute I get to the office I am there to work; the more time I waste, the less I have at home.
If you see yourself in Melanie's shoes, get in touch to discuss your future with PageGroup!
Michael page consultant Melanie Wallace-Smith was promoted to the role of Director and shares her path to leadership, noting what has made it possible for her to achieve this. She also lists her top five tips for maintain a work/life balance as follows:
- Flexibility and remote access
- Planning and organisation
- Dedicate family time
- Be content - work smarter, don’t waste time