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Empowering HR Leaders - Jessica Miller-Merrell [Interview]

Empowering HR Leaders - Jessica Miller-Merrell [Interview]

HR blogs
Aishwarya Jain
March 8, 2022
Human Resource Management Platform

About Jessica Miller

Jessica Miller-Merrell is an author, speaker,  human resources professional, and workplace expert who has a passion for human capital, talent management, workplace leadership, and technology. She is a globally recognized HR and talent acquisition consultant focused on process optimization. She is an HR and a business leader who is the author of 'The HR Technology Field Guide' (2014) and 'Tweet This! Twitter for Business' (2010). She is also the founder of the popular online HR and workspace resource, Workology. Jessica has been recognized as the top 50 social media power user by Forbes and as the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter.

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Jessica Miller today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum -  peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.


Welcome, Jessica. We’re thrilled to have you. 


Awesome. Thank you for having me here. It's great. It’s great to talk with everyone. 


Our pleasure Jessica.

So Jessica tell us a bit about your book 'Tweet This! Twitter for Business'.


Well, this book has been out for a while. I wrote it actually, during the last recession, and I was on maternity leave when I wrote the book. I fell in love with Twitter during that time, started a book, and wanted to find a way for business professionals to be able to learn about how to use Twitter, how to leverage its power and build relationships and grow your business. 


Wow, that's amazing. And you're the founder of Workology. What is the vision behind Workology? And how did you come up with this idea? 


Well, when I was in corporate HR, which was many years ago, I started a blog and this was in 2005 and originally I was talking to the job seekers, as in was building a funnel for my candidate pool for positions that we were hiring for. We shifted a couple of years later and I started to focus on human resources and recruiting topics. I saw that there was a need for practitioner-focused resources to help empower HR leaders to do their best work.

"I saw that there was a need for practitioner-focused resources to help empower HR leaders to do their best work."

And so I shifted from the corporate world, I left and started my own business full-time head first and have really been focused on providing those resources and empowering HR on recruiting leaders to get the information and support they need to be able to help elevate their businesses. And so that's really the focus of Workology. It's kind of no-nonsense type of resources, we really put the practitioner first in everything that we do.


I appreciate that. I think that's a wonderful initiative. You know, that's what you're driving. And you know, you have more than 15 years of experience now in HR.

And there is a phrase which is “Treat Talent As Customers And Not Candidates”. What are your thoughts on this and how do you think we can apply this in today's HR world?


Well, the world is big, but it's so very small. So I do believe that relationships are really important, so your candidate might be your customer later on, or it could be really great conduit for driving future candidates to your pipeline. So it's really important that you build those relationships and treat people like human beings. 

An example of how not to do this is with what's happening in the world right now with a lot of furloughs and layoffs. Bird, they’re a scooter company and the Techspace, last Friday did a layoff announcement to 400 people over recorded zoom call, that was two minutes long. This is not how we treat people as people.

We are human beings, we need to lead with empathy. And so when we're talking to, whether it's candidates, employees or customers, we need to be focused on relationships and empathy first in all our interactions. Because at the end of the day, we're all people and we have feelings, emotions and families. And we're just trying to get through whatever the current time or crisis or situation in our lives.

"We are human beings, we need to lead with empathy. And so when we're talking to, whether it's candidates, employees or customers, we need to be focused on relationships and empathy first in all our interactions. Because at the end of the day, we're all people and we have feelings, emotions and families."  


Absolutely. And you're talking about empathy. Empathy is such an important emotion. I think a lot of leaders right now in the human resources industry, it's very vital to be empathetic at this point in time because of the situation.

And how do you think recruiters or human resource functions should look at the situation right now. And how should they cope with this situation?


I think everybody has mechanisms or ways to be able to cope and to realize that everybody's a little bit different but in many ways we're the same.  

"I think everybody has mechanisms or ways to be able to cope and to realize that everybody's a little bit different but in many ways we're the same."

So HR leaders and recruiters need to take time for themselves. And that might mean focusing on a little bit of self-care and finding ways to help reduce, maybe that uncertain feelings, stress and anxiety.

I launched a meditation for HR leaders over at Workology to help reduce stress and anxiety. They're certainly other ways that you can go about that exercise or maybe follow some in-home hobbies or passions right now to help get your mind off maybe the state of the world that we’re in right now. You can also encourage your employees and your team members to do the same too. They need to find ways to help eliminate that stress.

Hopefully, this is a short term situation, that we're all living and working in right now.

For HR and recruiting leaders, I think we are needed now more than ever and leaders in our organizations to help set the bar and help support our managers and business leaders because they're in unknown territory. And as recruiters and HR leaders, we are sort of that voice that's often in their ears, so hopefully, we can give them some supportive advice and resources to help them get through this and also lead by example.


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, Jessica. I think that recruiters and human resource managers, what they can really do right now is, focus at building themselves and taking some time off and you know, really balancing it out.

And what do you think is going to happen next? You know, once we come out of the pandemic, do you see a shift in the way the human resource as a function will work and recruitment will work? Because there would be an anticipation of, a surge in the number of candidates coming to organizations. So how do you think human resources as a function should brace themselves for this?


I think during this kind of downtime and it's not really downtime for HR leaders because I do think that we're talking to our managers, we’re following employment law changes and different things that are happening. We're helping support our employees on maybe getting used to remote work and then really focused on employee communication and having to make some hard headcount decisions.

But if you have some free time,  I would suggest working on automation and then building funnels, because what I do think is gonna happen is that for a number of industries, when we do sort of resume to normal operations, there is going to be a huge need to fill a lot of positions quickly so that we can really hit the ground running.

So I would suggest take a look at your processes, think about how to build a pipeline and a funnel for some of those positions, that you anticipate being really needed to fill quickly and work towards those. One of the things that I think will change is obviously we're all working at home. Many of us are right now, so of the use of video technology in automation and email and kind of this remote lifestyle is going to shift.

So in order to get the best talent, I think companies are going to be more open to hiring remote workers so you can get it in on really great people who might have been stuck in a certain geography or area. You can tap into those talents and bring them to the organization to give you a competitive advantage.


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, if you focus on automating processes and making it more robust, I think the entire equipment process would become much more efficient when you would have a surge of applicants coming in, right? And talking about automation, there is a lot of techs out there. Lots of HR tech out there, right? And we talk about artificial intelligence.

So how do you think that's going to impact the HR world of the future? Or how does it impact the recruitment process? And what's your personal opinion on that?


I think many companies are already leveraging artificial intelligence in some form. They just might not think of it as AI. Machine learning is such a part of HR technology. Right now, you're probably leveraging AI and you don't necessarily even know it. I think that there's a number of different ways that you tap into this artificial intelligence technology, that's gonna help you in recruiting right away. And it's kind of a low hanging fruit, and one of those is your career site.

So take any of those automated messages or those frequently asked questions and use chatbots or other technologies to help free up your recruiters so they can focus on more strategic tasks.

"So take any of those automated messages or those frequently asked questions and use chatbots or other technologies to help free up your recruiters so they can focus on more strategic tasks."

I think it's something that we can all right now. It frees up your headcount to be able to do other things. Maybe it is like spending more time with candidates over video interviewing or other technologies.

I think that we do want to look at things differently. Automation is critical. I do think that AI is important and it's going to be a key component in our future. But I do want HR leaders to educate themselves on how AI works, just on a basic fundamental level what it entails and then work with those HR technology companies to understand how their algorithms are built. Because one of my biggest fears and a lot of my work in AI right now is focused on algorithms that are discriminating against pools of candidates. 

So we do want to be able to have checks and balances within the algorithm and work with those HR tech companies to ensure that those are in existence so that we don't put ourselves as employers into a situation where we are unconsciously discriminating via artificial intelligence. I think it's a great tool, but I think we need to educate ourselves on how to use it so that was informed. And we can limit our liability as an employer.


Absolutely. That makes so much sense because if you leverage technology in the right way and kind of use it as an enabler or in a supporting role. Then that's when you can really both forward and make the recruitment process really efficient. And like you said, right, chatbots, they really help reduce candidate anxiety. You know, like candidates just want to know. At least if you've moved on to the second round and that's something that a chatbot can easily do right? It can just do the pre-filtering on. Just tell you that. Okay, you can go to the next round, right?


You can even add chatbots in your own internal organization too. So as employees have more questions about what is happening with COVID-19, where can I go to maybe get a new monitor? Can I make technology requests for my home office? You can leverage chatbots to answer a lot of the basic questions.

"You can leverage chatbots to answer a lot of the basic questions."

So as an HR leader, your team or your field team isn't getting inundated with emails and they're not able to do their work. I asked a group of HR professionals in an HR department of one Facebook group, the number of messages that they had been receiving from their employees that are COVID-19 related and it was 50 plus email, communications, and questions a day. 

That's an additional amount of time every day that HR leaders are being stressed and are happening to commit to, so having a chatbot can free things up. Maybe it's only 20 questions instead of 50 every day, but that gives you the free time or freedom to be able to focus on other areas of the strategic part of the business, which I think are really critical.


Absolutely, it can really free up the HR and they can do things that are of a much higher order than just doing these routine tests because that can really demotivate even the recruiter or the HR. And it just makes so much sense to free them up from the routine, the mundane tasks as such right.


You get the same questions over and over again. Where is this form? How do I do this? It's probably the same 20 or 30 questions, and if you could build a bot that can help automate some of that and free up your time, then you can focus on more time and effort on to maybe some more strategic planning.

Or there are more complicated employment situations or even better, training your managers and providing them with resources on how to interact, maybe with employees remotely. Because this is a new world, and if you haven't ever lead a team of remote workers, it is extremely challenging, and it can be really overwhelming for those business leaders.


Absolutely and talking about marketing for recruiting and the human resource business functions. What are some key learnings that you have or some tips that you can share with us?


So I guess my question back to you is when we're thinking about marketing. Are we thinking about, recruitment marketing? Or is it more like employee communication that you are thinking about when you ask this question? 


Well, more of the recruitment part of it. 


Okay, all right, I do think that HR leaders are communication and marketing ninjas, and they don't even know it. As far as where we should go in terms of marketing for recruiters, I think that now is the time to hone your messages, maybe try some new tools, but really focus on activities and actions that can help streamline your business. For example, if I had downtime as a recruiting leader right now, I would be focused on how I can understand or better serve the candidates in my community.

So putting together a nice, frequently asked questions document that's part of an automated messaging using your existing optical tracking system is a great way to provide value to this group without doing a lot of extra work because every time they apply, there's already an automated message that's happening. Candidates, in general, want more information from the employer. They want to feel like they're being engaged, that they're getting status updates.

You can create a lot of automation into that and to make it more personalized through just some small changes in structure during this downtime. As far as marketing, I look at my digital activity, where are people coming from, where are they going, what candidates are applying for jobs, and where they're coming from? And that could be adding Google Analytics to your career site and then working with your applicant tracking system to take a look at your source of higher metrics. 

Which sources are driving the most qualified candidates to you? And how are they doing that? And then determining which ones are more cost-effective and then even taking it further. Which sources have the highest retention rate? These are all things that we could be doing right now during our downtime so that when things ramp up again, we are armed with information and knowledge, and we can make budgeting decisions to where to spend our recruiting dollars and we can move quickly.

And we are gonna have higher success because we've done the pre-work looking at analytics and metrics when it comes to our marketing efforts.


Absolutely. That makes so much sense. And we can give so much emphasis on data and understand our recruiting process and make it more robust and adaptable with the situation. So many insights we can get from data and we can just keep making it a better bush, right?

And, so, when you're thinking of like matrix, let's say attrition rate. Do you think organizations are really focusing on these metrics or they're still not really aware of this?


I think we're looking at attrition numbers, but we're not really applying it to the full, the bigger picture right. We have the turnover numbers that we maybe review, and we talk with our leadership team every month. But we're not really going deeper and looking at maybe the real reasons why people are leaving. So doing exit interview surveys or regular meetings with exiting employees, walking, and tracking.

This is where chatbots come in, the number of questions and information that people are looking for so that we can really demonstrate and showcase the value of HR. if we have a chatbot for candidates or HR for those employees, we can understand what resource is in support or questions they have about the job, that they need now more than ever so that we can serve up that content to them before they even ask for it.

So it's like we're reading their mind. But we already also have content that's prepared and ready to go. So when they do ask that question, or maybe they overlook they missed the video on one of our career sites or of the landing page with more information about company benefits or culture. We conserve that up with the Chatbots, 'oh, here you go. This is where you can go to learn more.' 

These are the things that are important. We can just at least measure with this technology. The types of questions and topics that employees or candidates are are needing more, and then we have clear concrete data to be able to build out our communications strategy, whether it's for HR or for recruitment.


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

And, when you talk about recruitment, right, do recruiters still go to job boards to search for candidates? Or are they also leveraging, a lot of LinkedIn? Let's say other kinds of sources. Are they doing enough research to find a candidate?


Well, what I fear is happening is what happened during the last recession and that was sourcing was on the back burner, right? Because now candidates are not desperate. But there's a lot more, higher volume of candidates who are looking for work. So we're gonna get lazy as recruiters and HR people when we post jobs.

So we're posting a job. But what we really need to do is we need to have a mix of sourcing with this job board posting kind of strategy where we post our job. We want to make sure if we can find an ideal group of people or pockets of people, that we feel like would attract or could all be a good fit with our organization, we should do outreach on them.

And right now is a great time to start building those relationships again, build our funnels. So when these openings come available, all we have to do is send a couple of messages or text recruit a handful of people. And suddenly our funnel is filled with our top three prospects. So I would encourage recruiting teams to not quit sourcing. We should be building relationships.  

"So I would encourage recruiting teams to not quit sourcing. We should be building relationships."

We should be building trust right now, we don't have to have a full-on sourcing team that thought that's all they're doing. But we should be doing a lot of digital Internet research to try to build those relationships with those ideal candidates, especially for those hard developed positions or those high volume positions.

I think right now in manufacturing and healthcare and retail, there's a lot that we can do right now to build those relationships. So if we can find a way to add value to them, could be something as simple as paying for surgical masks and sending them out to your top 200 candidates. They're going to tell everyone that they know that this company that hasn't even hired them went and took the extra effort to be able to engage in those relationships.

So you can make a big impact with a small amount of effort. And the bar is low right now. There's not a lot of activity happening, but you can make a lasting impression.

Imagine you did that for 200 people in the healthcare space for RNs (Registered Nurse) or CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistant) is what it's going to do in terms of driving referrals or candidate funnel your direction for your other positions. 


Yeah, absolutely this is such a good time for recruiters to just, do a lot of research in building relationships to connect with people, and they can absolutely do that.

And also do you think that, you know, an HR should focus on employee engagement at this point in time? And how can they keep remote workers engaged as such?


This is really in the hands of the leaders that are managing the teams, but it's an HR’s responsible ability to help provide resources and support for those managers on how they could do those things. It could be simple as giving them a little bit of budget, maybe to host lunch. With my team, I just ordered uber eats for everybody. And then from 11:30 to 12:30, we all sat down on Zoom and all ate together.

It's little things like that. I think that can really go a long way. A lot of times managers don't think about the need for communication for their teams. I think it's a good idea to have a regular schedule built-in and so encouraging or your team managers to go ahead and have maybe a daily meeting at the beginning of the morning where you just get on a group call. You talk about what you're working on. It allows for questions. It builds relationships so that people don't feel so isolated and remote.

That's the hard part about working from home, and I have had an office for the last three years, so I have kind of forgotten because I wasn't working remotely full time. But now here I am, back working from my home office again, and it gets a little lonely, so you need to create opportunities for people to connect and engage. It may seem silly to those managers, but  It really goes a long way for employees to feel like you're making an effort. Even if it isn't perfect.

"It really goes a long way for employees to feel like you're making an effort. Even if it isn't perfect."

You can have a happy hour or there's a lot of fun little activities that you can do to help build those relationships.


Absolutely. That’s such great advice. I think team leaders are responsible for the team's engagement, and especially at this point in time, they can really do a lot too, just empathize with them and to have like, as you said, a happy hour.

That's a good concept, and using that HR, I think previously in old times HRs probably were not very open to being inclusive at workplaces. But do you think that's changing now?


I think so and especially now that we're all remote, like kind of all the rules are changing, so people are more open to different ideas, different processes, different strategies, a different way of life because they kind of had to. It was thrust upon us. We had to change. Otherwise, our businesses might not survive or it was required for us to do so now I think it is a great time because organizations are being adaptable and flexible to bring about some new changes.  

"So now I think it is a great time because organizations are being adaptable and flexible to bring about some new changes."

Because conceptually and like fundamentally, they have already had to make a huge shift in a big change in their businesses. And either how they work or maybe how they operate. I mean, our restaurants here in our neighbourhood are selling produce. My nursery is now doing pickups, and they're having to take orders online and over Facebook. So everybody is making a shift to different things. They're open to the change. We don't want to overwhelm them with it, we should be strategic.

However, I think our minds already agile right now. So if it makes sense, we should move forward with some new ideas and maybe a new way of working or continuing to do this virtual work that we are all kind of living in right now.


Yeah, that would be great if we can just adapt to this style and to be positive and try to be as productive as possible, then I think it's going to be the new normal. You know, we could be okay with it.

And with respect to candidate experience, almost like 50 to 80% of the companies, they just don’t give feedback to the candidate. Whether they've been rejected. And why do you think that's the case? And how could we solve that?


I think it's lazy, honestly. Or we're not putting ourselves in the candidate shoes. You have any recruiter that has been through the hiring process, and there are many right now that are being impacted and they have been laid off or furloughed, and they're seeing for themselves what the candidate experience is like. I want recruiters and HR leaders who are impacted right now to remember those feelings and it can't be something that we just sweep under the rug or we just push to the side.  

"I want recruiters and HR leaders who are impacted right now to remember those feelings and it can't be something that we just sweep under the rug or we just push to the side."

We do need to treat people like human beings and lead with empathy in everything that we do. It doesn't have to be a million phone calls. It's simply just a regular status update email that says, 'Hey, there's nothing new going on with your opening right now, but we're keeping your application on file.' That's really the lowest end of an engagement, but we're not even doing that.

So I want HR leaders or recruiting leaders to be relentless about this, and especially if you're a senior-level leader, you need to remember, write this down, write your story, keep it in your heart, and promise yourself and your candidates that you care about them enough, that when you go back to the normal and you get hired on in a new position that you're gonna implement even a seeming automation message that comes out, to four candidates giving them a status update every 45 days or so to let them know what's going on.

That is the minimum expectation right now. And you would be better than 50% of the employers if you just sent an email. If you sent a text message with that email, you would be a rock star.

People wouldn't even know what to do but that's the reason that employers are getting flambé on review sites on social media. Candidates are going to get more frustrated as the unemployment levels rise and hiring shifts slows. 

They're going to start to take their frustrations out on the Internet, as we've seen before during the last recession. But now we're all more digitally savvy, so there’re going to be more angry Youtube videos, more angry blog posts, and social media posts.

They're going to go viral because we didn't just take a little bit of time to lead with our human side of things and set up some just regular automation to say, 'Hey, this is on hold right now. I appreciate your email or your application'. 'Hey, if you would please fill out this little survey and tell us what our experiences like, that's all that needs to be done'. And that is enough right now to move the needle in a positive direction


Absolutely, just simple steps, that could really impact your brand and these guys, the recruiters they are kind of the front face of the organization, and if they do not pay attention to this, those candidates are not going to refer you anywhere else, and you can have a bad brand name out it, right? So it's just so critical and do you think you know the future of recruitment is at an inflection point?

Do you think that there's going to be a tremendous change in the field? As such Let's say about five years down the line?


I think this has accelerated things quite a bit with the digital adoption because now people are working from home. They are seeing and being open to things like Zoom video, other types of technology, instant messaging, different tools, maybe in a way they weren't before. It's not a bad thing. It can be really effective and fantastic. And so I do think that organizations are going to be more open to leveraging technology.

It's up to HR and recruiters to be able to sell the benefit of that tech. So CEOs are now experiencing the world remotely right there. They see the video, the power of it. Now as HR recruiting leaders, we need to really think about our metrics and measurements.

OK, where can certain technologies make the biggest impact for us in some specific areas? Then we need to translate that impact into revenue dollars or cost savings for our businesses. That is the way we're going to give the budget to be able to move forward with this new tech just to say because Amazon is doing it or this is really cool or it's gonna help improve the candidate experience.

They don't care. Honestly, they need to say this is going to reduce our recruiting spend by $75,000 this quarter. This is how the initial investment is going to cost us 25. But quarterly, the reduction in spend is gonna be $75,000. Everybody needs an extra 50K right now. Right? So if you could do that quarterly, people are going to be able to make the investment.

That's how you communicate to your leadership, how to adopt this tech and those leaders and in turn, recruiting that are able to do that. They're the ones who are going to really move the needle and make an impact over the next 18 months to 5 years.


Absolutely. You know that that is a great insight and I'm sure a lot of viewers will definitely, you know, get your learn and be aware of these things, that they need to start thinking right now about all these things, and if they are to survive in the next few years.

And to wrap this up, Jessica, I'm just gonna ask you if you have any other important sound bites that you'd like to leave with our viewers?


I know it's scary right now. It's an uncertain time. I think I would just urge HR and recruiting leaders to make it an effort to build relationships. Leverage your personal network. Check-in with friends, family, colleagues. Now is the time, especially if you are experiencing some downtime, you can schedule some time to connect a network with other professionals.

"We aren't traveling to conferences, we're not going to happy hours, but that doesn't mean that we can't continue to build relationships, especially if we think that our jobs might be impacted."

We might be looking for work, and then in the near future, whether it's out of our own choice or not, we should be continuing to network grow and learn. 

So build those relationships, but then also focus on maybe some learning opportunities where you can grow and really become and a part of the organization like they can not have you there because you're so valuable with these new skills and resources that you've picked up. For me, all my team right now is going through Facebook ad certification and Google Ad certification.

I'm taking some new classes right now, too. I want to be able to add to my tool belt. And I think the HR leaders should be doing the same because we don't know what the next six months or 18 months has in store with us. So we can make ourselves as desirable as possible so that we can ride this storm.


Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense just be become as desirable you would want to see yourself and work on your skills and improve your knowledge base. Now's a good time to think of all those things. And all those hours that you spend lazing around, you could just really invest in learning. So thank you so much for that advice. And it was a pleasure talking to you, Jessica. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. Thank you so much. 


Absolutely. Thank you for having me. 


Thank you. And let's keep it in touch. Have a safe and healthy time ahead of you.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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