E051 Maura Declercq - Mîndrilà: Confessions of a Professional Recruiter & Networker

May 5th 2021

Maura Declercq-Mindrila LLM is a Belgian M&A Lawyer turned Entrepreneur. She is the founder of S T A F F, an executive search agency focused on senior tech profiles within the STEM industries, helping companies grow Europe-wide.

Maura studied International & European Law and Economical Law in Dutch and French at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) in collaboration with HUBrussel and at the Saint-Louis University in Brussels. She also holds a degree in Fashion from the Akademie for Fashion and Design (AMD) in Hamburg, Germany. Maura lived in Belgium, Germany, and Romania and is currently based in Madrid, Spain. She is fluent in 6,5 languages.

She came in contact with politics and networking at the age of 16. After having successfully completed 2 internships in the Belgian Federal Parliament – with Senator Martine Taelman and with Deputy Hilde Vautmans, she was a board member of Open VLD Grimbergen, President of Jong VLD Grimbergen and PR and Communication Manager for the Blue Ladies and LIMA.

Maura had a few careers turns:  from M&A lawyer to headhunter on the pharmaceutical market in the DACH area to owner of a production agency in the fashion sector, and finally owner and managing partner of an international network-based recruitment business. As an avid networker and serial connector, she is an active member of 18 network organizations globally organizing and attending events. She loves connecting people, building communities and creating meaningful relationships, based on trust. Lastly, Maura is a Polymath, with varied interests: technology, neuroscience, biohacking, philosophy, yin yoga, podcasts, animal welfare, gastronomy, music, cinematography, and many more!

Reach out to Maura:

Ontology Of Value 27a1 Career Development Strategies E051 Confessions of a Professional Recruiter & Networker Career Talks General Career Advice Unique Career Tracks  https://www.linkedin.com/in/mauramindrila/

Ontology Of Value 1f4e9 Career Development Strategies E051 Confessions of a Professional Recruiter & Networker Career Talks General Career Advice Unique Career Tracks  maura@staff-europe.com


Natalia 00:10 Hello, everyone. This is another episode of career talks. In these meetings, we talk with professionals who have fascinating careers and who’re willing to share their life hacks with us. Today, I have the great pleasure to introduce Maura Declercq who is an entrepreneur and an owner of STAFF and a network-based international standard equipment company providing staffing, employer branding, and consultancy services. 

She studied law in Dutch and French at the Catholic University of Leuven in collaboration with Hu Brussel and Saint-Louis University in Brussels. She then got a degree in fashion from the Academy of fashion and design in Hamburg, Germany. After completing two internships in the Belgian Federal Parliament – with Senator Martine Taelman and with Deputy Hilde Vautmans, she was a board member of Open VLD Grimbergen, President of Jong VLD Grimbergen, and PR and Communication Manager for the Blue Ladies and LIMA, she got to know the political world inside and out. 

Maura has a broad range of experiences in legal pharmaceutical sales, online marketing, ICT real estate, and the public sector. She has founded two companies so far that provide elite custom-made styling and production services for international particulars and corporate clients and staff. She’s a polyglot speaking in six languages and a passionate networker. Thank you so much, Maura, for joining us today. I’m so glad to see you again. Thank you so much for accepting our invitation. 

You have an amazing career behind and it’s hard to believe looking at you as you’re still so young, yet already so accomplished. And I’m very happy to see you today. I am curious how this whole career looks from your perspective. I’m very curious about how it all looks behind the scenes? Because when one looks at your LinkedIn profile and your professional way of presenting yourself, it looks perfect. It looks like you got it all. You had easy starts. 

You have a shiny career and everything went easy for you. But I’m sure there were many points in time during your career when it didn’t look as shiny and as easy as maybe it might look from the outer perspective. Could you tell us a little bit more about how your career looked behind the scenes and what strategic decisions you had to make? And maybe some of the decisions that you feel very proud that you took, but also maybe some decisions didn’t pan out as good ones. Tell us how it looks behind the scenes?

Maura Declercq 03:28 Thank you so much, Natalia, for inviting me. I’m very honored to be on your podcast. It was a nice journey. It was quite a heavy journey at times. And I think the main reason why I had so many career switches is that I think it’s difficult when you’re a person with many interests and if you like many different things if you’re good at many different things. For me, it has always been difficult to choose. Somehow people always wanted to put me in a box and put a label on me. This has never worked. It started already with my choice of study. In university. I was doubting about studying medicine or law, which are completely different. I know. 

But again, I’m a person with many different interests. I chose law and I don’t regret it. I’m very happy. It was a very interesting study and it has helped me tremendously throughout my career. However, I wish looking back that I had studied medicine because I’m also a very structured mind. Sometimes, I wish I would have had this very scientifical frame, this very interesting background that scientists have. Now to make up for that, I have read a ton of nerdy scientifical books. I think I caught up pretty well on that side. But yes, the difficulties started already there with making choices. I’m not a person who is a doubter. When I make a choice, I make it pretty quickly and I can stick to it. 

But then after my studies, I was faced with the choice of going to work for a big law firm, maybe going to work for a smaller law firm, or just starting on my own. Now, I have looked into law firms. I have looked into all the possibilities. And pretty quickly, I discovered what I wanted and I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then I started my own company in international M&As. When I finished university, I graduated, and I had a feeling I still knew nothing. And this feeling has never left me. It’s one of my mottos in life. I believe that I know nothing. And this helps me to view things always from a fresh perspective, to be open, and to absorb knowledge.

Then I started that company. To my own surprise, I think it was beginner’s luck, it went well. And I had a lot of fun. I started networking a lot during that time because I needed clients, I needed connections. And as you have mentioned in the intro, I did my internship in the Belgian Senate and number of representatives. This’s where my networking has been started. I’ve been very active in politics in Belgium which opens doors and gives interesting contexts. I mention this because this’s also something that I have always used throughout my career, my love for making connections for connecting people by powering and learning from people. 

I think this’s very important. After my career in M&A, I got the opportunity to recruit in the pharmaceutical markets. And as you know, I always had a passion for science. For me, this was so interesting. It was a bridge between business and my law background, which I could also use in this job, and in between the whole scientific world. And for me, this was really like magic. I enjoyed it a lot because I have gotten to know so many interesting people. Some of them became good friends. We had the most interesting conversations. And we helped each other and we enrich each other’s lives. After this contract ended, I was faced with the decision of moving to San Francisco or moving to Hamburg, Germany. 

Naturally, I was already thinking of looking for apartments in San Francisco. I thought, Why would I go to Germany if I can go to San Francisco but I saw, for $6,000, you have a small 30 square meter apartment, in a not-so-safe neighborhood. Also, the relocation package was not as good as also the health benefits.I decided the wisest decision would be to Hamburg and so I did with a very wrong image of Hamburg. I thought, oh my god, and moving to the north pole is going to be so bold and so dark and people are going to be so unfriendly and I was wrong. 

And I happily admit that Hamburg was an awesome experience. It was a different culture for me. I had worked in these areas before the German-speaking area, so I knew the business culture a bit. It’s still when you live in a country, the culture is still very different. Even if Belgium is only 600 kilometers away from Hamburg, I still felt like I was in a new world. I made new connections in my brain as learning German. I didn’t know what to do then because like I told you my contract had expired. I wasn’t a recruiter anymore in the pharmaceutical markets. And I had no idea. This was one of the first times in my life that I had no answer. 

I was literally asking myself why I’m in this country where people speak other languages. I didn’t know anybody at first. The first three months were pretty challenging as well because we moved in winter. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Hamburg. But winters in Hamburg are very gloomy, very dark, and very cold. That didn’t help either. I met some people and some of them started to see my love for fashion because this’s also one of my many interests. And they said, why don’t you just go and study fashion instead of just doing a language course or any other course and wasting your time and who knows, maybe you’ll do something. 

I started my own company with my business partner whom I met in the Academy for modern design in Hamburg. I also learned German perfectly. I didn’t speak it already a bit before but it helped me studying in German. And I had so much fun. You know, it was a whole new world for me coming from corporate, from the legal world. Having fun in fashion, you know, meeting photographers, this was a whole other new world. I got new perspectives on life. It was enriching. We had fun but we also had a lot of very dramatic moments. It was an experience to own a fashion company, especially having no context and no knowledge at all. 

I felt challenged in a good way. I had to grow a lot in a very short period of time. And this is what I mostly take out of it. Now in the meantime, I was also heavily networking in Hamburg, I became an ambassador for inflations, the large ex-pat community. And I became an ambassador for the newcomers. Every newcomer that entered Hamburg, I welcomed into the city. It was very special because you had this special bond with these people. You were one of the first people they met in the city. And these are relationships that I still have and I still hold on to very dearly. 

This was Hamburg in a nutshell. After almost four years in Hamburg, I started suffering a bit from the weather. I decided one day that I am moving to Madrid. Rome and Paris are my favorite two cities. And for me, Madrid is the perfect mix. It has amazing architecture and good food. You can live outside. It has great weather. The biggest luxury here is the sunny blue skies, I guess. I decided to move to Madrid but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And they strongly believe in serendipity. One day, I was sitting in an airplane next to a gentleman. We exchanged business cards. We were talking. He was looking for staff. His office is in Romania. 

We just exchanged business cards and one month later, I found out as he was a director of a big ERP company in Hamburg. He threw me in a conference call with his board of directors announcing me as the new recruiter for Bucharest. I called my tax advisor asking him how we could convert a fashion company as soon as possible into a recruitment company. And this is how my current company was born. Now, I own a company called STAFF. Today, we are active in five different European countries. We are based in Madrid. We made the move. And we specialize in executive search and the search of Senior Technical profiles which I also love working on because I love technology as well. That’s a brief overview of behind-the-scenes. I hope this answers your question.

Natalia 15:06 Perfect. I have a lot of questions after hearing your story. And my first question is why did you choose Madrid and not Barcelona?

Maura Declercq 15:18 I get that all the time. I love Barcelona to visit. I needed a dry climate after Hamburg. I mean, you need to live there to understand. It’s a bit like New York. It’s very humid all the time. And I was longing for a drier climate. Barcelona has the beach. It has a bit more humidity. That’s the only reason why they have chosen Madrid. But Madrid is a bit more cosmopolitan. 

It’s a bit bigger. And I think it’s a general feeling here for me that Barcelona is not a capital. This’s what I’m trying to say. You have this international cosmopolitan feeling. There’s always a buzz. And I think I needed that because Hamburg was quite a nice continuity but I needed something else for a change.

Natalia 16:23 I perfectly understand that. That’s also one of my main resolutions that after the lockdown ends, I might actually move from where I live now, which is also a peaceful city to Amsterdam, which is much more international and where all the entrepreneurship also happens in the Netherlands, so I perfectly understand this. I’m still in Barcelona. It still sounds tempting compared to Madrid but I get your points. And another thing I like to mention is referring to what you’ve said about your dilemma about whether or not to choose medicine over the law as a major, it’s interesting because from what I noticed talking to people, medicine has something special to it. 

And those people who wonder whether or not they should become doctors, and eventually go for another major. They often regret it for the rest of their lives. They still have afterthoughts about what if I chose medicine. That also happened to my own mother. She decided to become an engineer. She went after a rational mind rather than listening to her heart that was telling her to choose medicine. And then she always had thoughts about it. And now when she’s about to retire, she’s thinking about going to study medicine because she’s been regretting it for her whole life. 

There’s something special about becoming a doctor and studying medicine. I have another question for you. Because I also noticed when you were speaking about your travels and your career path so far, that you seem to have easy learning new languages and adapting very quickly to wherever you go. You’ve learned six languages and that’s very impressive. And I think most people have a hard time absorbing new languages. Could you share some of your life hacks for how to learn languages fast?

Maura Declercq 19:06 For me, a language is no different than any other system. I would say it’s not a language in itself. You need to know the basic rules. You need to learn the patterns. And you also need to listen to it. And I think this’s true for all these systems. I don’t understand people who say, Oh, I’m good at doing mathematics but not good at languages. For me, that makes no sense. I’m good at maths because I understand the language of mathematics. I understand the system. This’s also the reason why I can speak many languages because I see the patterns behind them. I guess there’s no miracle or quick fix hack you need to have a deep understanding and connect with these languages and systems.

Natalia 20:06 Okay.

Maura Declercq 20:08 I’m sorry.

Natalia 20:11 That’s interesting to hear because I always felt that I’m a mathematical genius, I’m far from that. But I was always scoring better than most of the population in terms of my acquisition of mass and speed. I can catch the new concepts in mathematics quickly. I always felt I’m way below the average with learning new languages. And now I’m trying to learn Dutch. It’s a very shameful situation for me because I’m here for almost 10 years now. My Dutch is miserable. And I feel that the problem is with my memory. 

Because mathematics is learning very simple rules and then deriving theorems and new rules based on these little sets of axioms. I think, as a scientist, you also learned that too. You learn rules more than you learn facts. That’s what happens. I always have a problem that learning the rules behind the language is not as difficult but I don’t have material to work with because my vocab is too narrow. And I’ve difficulty learning new vocabulary fast enough. That’s my problem.

Maura Declercq 21:46 Why do you make a distinction between the rules you learn in mathematics and the rules you learn in languages? Why is there a distinction in your head? Because it’s fundamentally the same thing.

Natalia 21:59 In my case, I can learn the rules in the new language relatively quickly. The problem is to build a sentence and express yourself. You also need vocabulary. You need to have memory for how to translate single words. I think my problem is that my memory is quite bad. 

Maura Declercq 22:24 Let’s agree to disagree. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your memory. I think it’s like in mathematics, you need practice. If you do algebra every day, you’re getting quicker and better at it. And it’s the same with languages. You should see more parallels and then you’ll see it will come easily. Let me know if that works.

Natalia 22:51 I think I’m in a specific situation because living in the Netherlands, you don’t have much chance to speak Dutch. Because as soon as people feel that you’re struggling to speak Dutch, they turn to English, so they don’t give you a chance to speak in Dutch which you need to learn. That’s the problem. I will have to think about it. Thank you for your advice. What I understood is that you created three companies, the one you’re occupied with is STAFF. And this is also a topic that is related to the main theme of this channel, which is all about careers. 

I’m very curious to learn more about how your company works, especially in times of the corona crisis because I know that for many recruitment companies, the situation changed a lot in the picture and in the way they operate. What do you do? What are the services that you’ve developed? And what is the vision behind the company and what does your typical working week look like?

Maura Declercq 24:15 I have the job of Headhunter which is very strange for me because I’m not a real headhunter. I see myself as sort of an undercover Headhunter because I’m a serial connector. This’s what I do. And I’m a networker. I’m going to look for people to hunt them, to try to convince them that my client is better than where they currently work and just try to sell them some kind of dream job. This’s not my way. This’s not what I do. I like to know people. And what I’m telling you now is part of my fundamental philosophy behind the conflict. I like to get to know people to try to understand where they are coming from, maybe what they are running away from and this’s always interesting to understand. 

I try to let them tell me where they want to go, what their vision is, and where they would ideally want to be. I like to believe that my job is actually to play a little part in co-creating that future along with them. And I would say, a part of my job is giving them career advice and some guidance but most of my job is listening to them and trying to understand them. And the best thing I can do for them is to be a good sparring partner for them. This’s the base of how I view recruiting. 

For me, a good recruiter stays in touch with the candidates throughout their whole careers. And the added value of the recruiter is the network that they have and the market knowledge that they can bring for the companies they work with but also for the candidates. This’s the fundamental starting point for me for approaching my business. You also asked me where I find my candidate or how I work. I would say candidates find me. I’m a networker. 

I’m an active member of 18 different network organizations globally. I also actively organize networking events. I used to do offline events, of course, before the pandemic hit. Now it’s more online. I believe in keeping in touch with my network providing content for my network, providing guidance, and being a good sparring partner. This is the basis of how I work. 

Now, a typical workweek is one where I have my Thursdays and my Fridays, filled with at least 10 to 11 Zoom calls. And the rest of the week is being in touch with my clients to update the weather. They are looking for new profiles. I always try to work with my clients starting from their needs. And I also do that with the candidates. I feel it’s important to understand what their culture is and what their way of thinking is on both sides. And as a recruiter to match this, I need to try to provide a solution and meet this need. This’s fundamentally how I do recruitment. I don’t know if this answers your question.

Natalia 28:29 It’s very interesting what you’re saying. From what I see, talking with recruiters is not a typical approach. Most hunters work with corporate clients. As soon as a corporate client has a vacancy to fill, they start the hunting phase. But I see what you’re doing is a bit different approach. You are working on actively developing your network and connecting to potential job candidates. And you’re working on both sides. You’re working with corporate clients who actually have the vacancies but you’re also working on developing relations with some people who might potentially be good job candidates. 

I think it’s different from what I’ve seen in most cases. It requires a lot of hard work from you. Because that requires so much more engagement. That’s interesting. I have a lot of questions about it because how can you self-manage in this complex environment that requires so many meetings. You’re being so active on a daily basis. You have to go into interactions with so many people. I like to ask you what is your general approach to meeting new people? Is it that you develop certain intuition for who might be potentially a good person to work with? 

And you can kind of screen someone in five seconds or one minute and say, Okay, this is my person or this is not my person, and continue based on that, or do you give it a punt and get involved in new interactions without really thinking of the long term plan related to that particular interaction?

Maura Declercq 30:50 To answer your question, I also work with corporate clients to be clear about that. And yes, they have opened vacancies that I will always keep in mind when networking. You can network in a very open positive way and still be strategic about it. For me, it’s not a contradiction at all. This’s how I do it. When I meet somebody, whether it’s a potential client or a potential candidate, somebody who has no professional relevance to me, that doesn’t matter, I always approach it the same way. 

Networking is not about selling anything. Networking is not about, oh, I’ve met you, you’re a potential candidate, would you be interested in that? This is horrible. I mean, you would laugh, but this happens every day. This would be the wrong way. The way to approach it is you have to be open, you have to be genuinely curious about the other person, show interest in what they do, and ask questions. I mean, any good recruiter should ask questions and try to understand the mindset, the reasoning, and the need of the other person. 

In any network interaction, whether it’s related to recruitment or not, you need to be open, you need to be there with an obvious agenda, and you need to be genuinely interested in that person and building a connection. Because people work with you based on this connection not on the names of your clients or on the fact that you approach them or not. In the end, people work with you and keep on working with you for you. Be yourself and always be authentic. I know this word has been used and reused and misused. But I believe that if you’re aligned and if you’re genuinely interested in the other person and you’re genuinely looking for ways to connect with them and to also connect them to maybe other people that might be helpful to them, that might be a potential employer or a client. 

But that might also be somebody else from my network that is completely not related to my recruitment activity. And even in this case, I noticed that most people come back. They will always come back to me because I genuinely did something for them. And they will want to give back in some way. It’s not even about me expecting them to do something for me in return. It’s about the fact that there is flow. 

I believe in Monterey, you know, in the flow state of obsession with studying that as well. I think as soon as you start selling hard-selling, you introduce some kind of resistance because hard selling is not very subtle, in that case. I would say, especially the first contact, just be interested and don’t have an agenda, even if in your mind, you know, you keep it in the back of your mind. This might be potentially somebody that I can help get a new job or I can help hire people for his company. But I never discussed that people come to me. I hope this answers your question.

Natalia 34:52 It’s often the case that people whom you meet in, let’s say social situations only in these different online networks, that they are unaware that you are an external recruiter and they just talk to you naturally without knowing that you might potentially have a placement for them. Do you make it clear what your profession is?

Maura Declercq 35:23 I’m certainly not hiding it. That’s the question. I’m not deceiving anyone. It’s just I don’t feel the need to profile myself as a recruiter. When introducing myself, I’m going to tell them what I do. But my introduction will be a lot broader than that. I will focus a lot on the networking part because I am truly a networker before anything else. I feel this’s a genuine introduction and they know who they are talking to. But they also see if the relationship is genuine or not. This’s something you don’t need any special education for. This’s human interaction.

Natalia 36:06 I’m just wondering because I feel, especially for people who are actively looking for jobs, if they encounter someone who is a recruiter, they might kind of show us some form of a persona. They know that if they perform well, they might be offered an opportunity. It might change their behavior a bit if they know what your profession is. That’s why I’m curious. I asked about it because although I also understand that it’s hard to hide your profession. 

Once you’re asked, Hey, what do you do for a living? While most people would say, Well, what they do for a living, I probably also would say openly what I do so. But I think you have an eye for people. You can tell who is genuine and who is showing you a persona. You already have a good sense of how to tell the difference.

Maura Declercq 37:12 Biases exist always from both sides. I mean, sometimes when I say recruiter, I can feel resistance because recruitment doesn’t always have a positive name. I don’t need to explain this to you. You have been speaking to a lot of recruiters. You know that biases are everywhere in the system. Recruiters are biased as well. People are biased. We have many systems to try to soften these biases. We are aware of that as well. For example, as a recruiter, when assessing a client, I will use the typical systems that are available like MBTI to try to assess the personality and all the systems that are out there. 

I know them and I use them. But what did they say? Honestly, for me, they only give a very small indication about a person. And I tried to be very much aware of that. I don’t believe any of these systems tell a complete truth about somebody’s personality. It has some value. It’s some small direction that we can further explore. This’s how I view it. And this being said, I have kind of developed my own system to try to assess people. I mentioned that open mind curiosity is very important. Asking the right questions at the right time is also important because timing is also important in the conversation. Rhythm is important in the conversation. And this’s valid for both clients and candidates because you need to assess the people that you’re talking to and understand them. 

Understanding the context is also the second step behind understanding the person. In which corporate culture will this person arrive? Or what is the corporate culture of the client? You know, the trends that we see in these companies, what are the possibilities within a company whether the desires of a candidate or the ambitions of a candidate, so the broader context on both sides is also very important to assess. That’s certainly effective. You also need to understand your intrinsic motivations and objectives as a person, so I’ve referred to it earlier as the need. 

I want to know that if you are a candidate, what are you running away from? And what are you running towards? I need to understand this because my job is to make sure that your needs are met. And it’s the same thing from the client-side. Because often people lie to themselves. And often these motivations and these needs are hidden from the people themselves. It’s my job to try to get it out. And it sounds like torture. But I promise it’s not.

Natalia 40:42 I can see a lot of people change jobs to run away from their current job and that’s not a progressive way of building a career. It often happens in academia as well. Many PhD graduates just run from their boss from the toxic environment and change careers mostly thinking about what they don’t want and what they run from. And that rarely ends up with a good story. It’s much better to focus on what you want and try to orient yourself on that. I can see the point. And I dedicated a whole chapter of my book to this exact problem that internal and progressive motivation is the best way of choosing jobs. I fully agree with you that people lie to themselves a lot. 

Sometimes, it’s also difficult to admit to yourself that the career you chose many years ago is just not for you. You have to have a stop loss. At some point, even if you spend 5, 10, or 15 years, in a place where that is suboptimal, it’s still better to admit to yourself that you should have spent the last 1010 years of your life differently probably because it’s not healthy for me. I should now find a better place where I can develop myself better. But many people just are not willing to admit to themselves that to put that stop loss and then admit to themselves that they made a suboptimal choice.

Maura Declercq 42:39 One of the biggest mistakes people make is staying too long in the same career. It’s a mistake from so many viewpoints. Because first of all, you cannot develop yourself if you’re stuck in a company for 20 years or I don’t know how many years, you can’t learn new skills or just very little. You can’t broaden your network. It’s riskier to stay than to go. But people view it the other way around for some reason.

Natalia 43:16 They feel like they changed their career at some point as if they were losing all they achieved before which is not true. And if you’re on a career track, like academic career track, it’s a bit like a karate school where you have these belts and you try to build up to the higher and higher degree. At some point, if you step out, it looks like you lose all your accomplishment up to that point. That’s how it feels. That’s the difficult part. I would like to also comment on what you said about the tests. I fully agree with you that aptitude tests are only an indication and I myself build a psychometric test. 

I was studying psychometrics and at the moment, I’m working on a very exciting project. To me, it’s also a test that is meant to help people better choose career paths, so that they can build value in the job market in the way optimal for them and in the environment that is optimal for them. And I have to say, I know how these tests are developed and it’s all about statistics. They only give you statistical results but they’re always outliers. And it’s always only a probability. It’s all based on probability. A test can only give you some indication and some little guidance and additional help in making decisions but it shouldn’t ever decide for you. It’s just a little indication that it’s worth taking. 

But the ultimate decision of how to progress with your career is always yours. And it should be a combination of multiple different factors not only one test or a battery of tests. But for me, some of the tests I’ve made in the past helped me in some ways. I remember I’ve done 16 personalities test based on MBTI. I learned that I’m a protagonist. That helped me because I always felt that I’m a bit of an outlier but I’m always with people. I am never part of any particular circle or circle of mutual adoration. 

And the particular group I talked with everyone but I’m never a part of a clique. And I can find a common tongue with people but I’m never closely related to any particular group. When I got this result, I learned that some people are just there, they’re always kind of outside thinking about society, a little bit like standing on the side and trying to be objective. And that’s a good thing. 

Then it also helped me to choose the career track that they eventually chose. And I started treating this as my strength, not as my liability. Those tests help me. I can tell that, you know, even if tests will never show you the path with 100% certainty, they can help you also see the features that you might perceive as your weaknesses or strengths. That’s why I think they’ll see the value.

Maura Declercq 47:03 There are things you cannot see about yourself unless you record yourself and analyze. But one system that I also use, I studied facial expressions a lot and micro-expressions. I’m fascinated with all of this. And I’ve been using it in my work as well. It’s an indication. It’s also all these tests. If you can call them tests, or all these systems, they show how you are in this particular moment. Now, a test like MBTI claims that you have these attributes from birth, and they are fixed and they don’t change. 

I mean, this has not been scientifically proven. I don’t want to say this as a law because it is not written in stone. I’m trying to say that all these tests have value. And it’s interesting as it gives some information, an indication. But it’s just a very tiny piece of the puzzle. And you would need to do a lot of these tests and use a lot of different methods and different approaches to start getting a whole image of how somebody’s personality evolves.

Natalia 48:31 There’s a lot of interpersonal vulnerability not only from let’s say you’ve still like old years, but even from day to day, the amount of coffee you drink in the morning can affect your irritability or impulsivity during the day and that can influence your results of personality tests. The same person is different with different air pressure behind the window and different weather and different amount of coffee. The results can vary a lot from day to day. That’s also when I coach people, I always tell them that treat this seriously and take a personality test only when they sleep well at the night. 

Don’t stop yourself with too many cycles of stimulating substances like coffee because it will change your results and there is indeed a lot. That’s why human psychometric data is highly noisy. I’m working on the model and I know how much variability there is. And that’s also a constraint because once you construct the psychometric tests, you can’t build very complex models. After all, you will overfit the data that is so noisy. You have to have a very simple model with well-defined variables and simple construction on simple architecture because of this factor that we are not machines. We have our moods. And the results differ from day-to-day.

Maura Declercq 50:22 The last thing I want to say on this subject is to come back to recruitment. We’ve talked about biases. And even if with the help of these tests, you would try to match the client’s needs with the candidate’s needs. That’s not perfect because perfection doesn’t exist. But even if it’s a very good match, in the end, the client decides to hire or not to hire the candidate. And I have seen this in my job many times that even if the needs were very well matched and everything was aligned. It was almost on paper a certainty that we have a deal and the client has found the ideal candidate. 

Many of these candidates were rejected by the client just because there was not what we say a click or chemistry from human to human. And this’s something that no model can predict. I haven’t encountered that model yet. That was the last point I wanted to make. It’s a very subjective process, the recruitment process. And these systems can’t help us achieve or influence the results.

Natalia 51:55 I have to fully agree with this. These quantitative methods such as tests can only help in pre-screening candidates, but eventually, building a team is always a personal interaction. And that’s also something I always hear from recruiters that, in the end, there must be a spark. Now, I have a company. And if I decide to work, like at the moment, I work with subcontractors only but even with the subcontractor, I like collaborating with people for longer. But indeed, I only collaborate with those with whom I not only do projects but it’s also like, there is some fluency in the way we talk with each other. 

And there is some humor in that there is some personal connection and that’s what makes me enthusiastic. That’s how I also feel more motivated to teach them more and give them more than just a paycheck and help them career-wise as well. I think, if I hire people, at some point for the company, I will treat them the same. I’ll just choose people whom I also feel a personal relationship with. You can’t blame the recruiter for that. Because at the end of the day, these personal connections also increase the probability that there will be no miss hiring and the high cost and big problem to a company. That’s what you aim for. 

You don’t aim for just having a contract signed and having a paycheck but making sure that it will work out for a long time. I like to ask you now a question that I was recently talking with a lot of recruiters about, and asking them the same question. And I’m just curious about your opinion here. Is there any situation you recall when you recommended a candidate who did not entirely fit the description of the job 100% and eventually got hired and turned out to be a very good person for the job? In other words, does it often happen that you might get a position and get the job, even if you don’t fulfill all the requirements on the list in the job offer?

Maura Declercq 54:46 Thank you for your question. This happens all the time. In my experience, we rarely place candidates who are 100% fit compared to the job description. And I think this’s a great thing because there is no such thing as the perfect candidate. If somebody else has told you that, well, I’m agreeing to disagree with them. Why is it great? Because, you know, think about it. It’s logical. If I would find the perfect candidate for a company, that means this candidate is already very experienced in doing what they are already doing. 

First of all, there is no perspective for this candidate, so why would he change if he cannot improve himself and if he has to do the same job that he was doing for all these years at his previous employer. That’s one thing. Then there is no learning curve or a very small learning curve. Maybe he will learn at the beginning because it’s a new company, but in the end, the tasks that you will have to perform would be the same. 

It would be repetitive. There would be very little or no sparring with the teammates and with trying to align the team because this person knows what to do and is already self-driven. He doesn’t need sparring anymore for this role. Where is the motivation for that poor person? I mean, I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone. For me, that’s like a recipe for disaster. I think it would make somebody very unhappy, don’t you think? 

Natalia 56:35 I wasn’t in the situation yet. I’m just trying to relate right now. But I know what you mean. If you’re aiming for the same type of position, just in another company, what’s the development there. And I understand, at some point, you might just want to refresh your environment and start just working with a different group of people. You choose and just do this diagonal type of promotion where you applied for a position that is quite similar, but maybe a little bit better paid and in a different company, just to refresh your working environment. 

I’m trying to imagine such a situation. I think many people do that. But I see what you mean. If someone wants the same as before, then that’s maybe not the best sign that they are not going forward.

Maura Declercq 57:33 I have some advice for the clients. For companies that are looking to hire talent, I have some very valuable advice. And this has helped my clients to as everything in life, I believe in the Pareto optimal, you know, the 80, 20 rule, though, as a client, look for the essential traits that you need in a candidate and be flexible for the rest. Because in the end, there’s a gap that needs to be bridged between the client and the candidates. 

My recommendation would be, as a company, to hire for a mindset because skills you can train if the person has the right mindset. I can have a whole conversation on this. There’s like a whole list of things I could say but I’m just gonna say a few things. You know, high integrity, high intelligence, high energy, somebody very self-driven, and that wants to contribute to the company. I think this was also said by Naval Ravi Kant. He’s the founder of AngelList but I’m not sure anymore. 

This’s very important. And also as a company, please be flexible and open to surprises. Because if you have a very predictable candidate, how will this person elevate your team? How will they be able to surprise you? 

Because on the one hand, some employers expect the candidate to elevate the team. But on the other hand, the candidate also needs to be very predictable and behave in a certain pattern. For me, that’s very contradictory. If you’re a hiring manager, please don’t hire copies of yourself. I don’t think this will make any addition or any added value for your team. Be open. These are my tips.

Natalia 59:58 There are very good points. And I’m sure that many viewers watching this episode will feel much better after hearing what you just said. Because it gives a lot of hope. Indeed, people have a desire to grow. Everyone, like people who finish academic positions in academic education, but everyone else, like we are a developed society, in which we already have all these, like the low layers of Maslow’s pyramids already filled in, so we have shelter, we have a pension plan.

We don’t have to worry about getting homeless and hungry. We have a network. We have friends. Most of us are healthy. Most people are upstate where they have space to work on their goals of becoming better and transcending themselves. If recruiters value that, that’s perfect.

Maura Declercq 1:01:19 Yes. You’ve mentioned two points that just triggered me a bit because it’s not I gave tips now for the companies or the employers, but the same tips are valid for the candidates. If you’re a candidate wanting to change jobs, do not focus on salary. You mentioned Maslow’s pyramid. Most people, especially PhDs, don’t need to complain about their salaries. They are not badly paid. They are not dying of hunger. This is one of the mistakes people make. 

If an employer sees that somebody is more driven by salary, it’s not motivating because that’s not the right mindset to have. The second thing you mentioned, is also having high expectations as an employee. It’s nice that you can have your expectations. But again, the 80, 20 rule, what is the minimum you need to be very happy and to move forward in your life and your job, and all the rest doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. 

Sometimes, people have too many biases and too many assumptions. This’s the third point. You didn’t mention it but I want to throw it in there. You know, sometimes they listen too much to their colleagues and their colleagues say, Oh, don’t go work for that company. Because I heard this and this and that, or they hear a company’s name. 

Then they read something in a newspaper. And I think, Oh, my God, I cannot work for that company. Because I read this and this and that in the newspaper. That’s also something I don’t understand. If the job content is interesting and if it’s an added value to you if it will help you elevate your career and help you evolve and learn, then why wouldn’t you take it? This’s something I don’t understand. You have it on both sides because it’s a cycle. It’s again, I’m back with my flow. It has to flow in both directions. This’s my little side note on what you said.

Natalia 1:03:39 I couldn’t agree more. And I think there is also a lot of hate that journalists produce. Everything comes from the media in a negative context such as this famous scandal with Cambridge Analytica that Facebook was collaborating in the American Presidential Campaign. It was a major backlash on Facebook’s image. And I know a lot of people who say I would never work for Facebook, they are just evil and sell your data. But I know people who work for Facebook. Some of them are my friends from studies and they love it. And Facebook is an amazing employer. 

Whoever doesn’t believe it, can also check Glassdoor reviews. They are extraordinarily good. And they treat the employees very well. They also have many projects that are humanity and charity projects. But you will never learn from the press because the press and journalists are paid for clickbait content and this content is negative. It’s much easier to get clicks from turning a company or public figure into a villain than talking the truth. 

That’s why you should always take with a grain of salt what you see in the media and what you read in new newspapers because this was written by people who are paid for creating hate. And before you kind of cross out the company from your list of interests, you should also look at what the employees of that company say not only what is written in the media.

Maura Declercq 1:05:35 I mean, you mentioned Glassdoor. I also want to make a little side note. Mostly I see reviews from employees who don’t work at a certain company anymore for very different reasons. But these comments are not very positive. Take it all with a grain of salt, maybe somebody has been fired for a good reason. And they are just frustrated. This’s exactly my point. Everything you read, you know, be authentic, be yourself. Just start from your own goals and your own needs. 

Think for yourself and see if this job can or cannot fulfill your need. Because in the end, that’s the only thing that matters not what any media or any other people are saying about it. Make your own mind and think for yourself. This is what I want to say.

Natalia 1:06:36 I would say if you have personal contacts, then they’re more reliable than what you see on Youtube.

Maura Declercq 1:06:46 But even then don’t trust anybody. Make your own opinion. This’s what I will say.

Natalia 1:06:53 I cannot help saying that, among all people, I think what I enjoyed the most are those who subvert expectations. I liked that about you because you look like a supermodel. But when one on one talks with you, it’s like jaw-dropping. And I can imagine all these guys who kind of meet you at the party or some social event. And then I know they just come to you showing off and he’s trying to make a good impression on you. You’re the smartest person in the room. That’s super cool. 

Lastly, I like to ask you, if you have maybe some general advice for the job hunters, people who, especially now in times of Corona crisis, are in need to find a new placement, and maybe if you could tell us, so what are the most common mistakes that people make while looking for jobs and some general advice that might help them to improve on their strategies to find a good job?

Maura Declercq 1:08:14 Okay, as we have mentioned a few already, like the do’s and then don’ts. I would start with having a clear vision of what your objectives are, what you want, and who you are. And never lose sight of that. I would even want to add that only your agenda matters because it’s your life. It’s your career. Many times I’ve been told that I can’t do that because I don’t have a background in that. Don’t listen to anybody. If you’re interested in something, if you believe that you can do it, go for it and do it. That’s my number one advice. 

If you don’t know who you are or what you want, then there are so many tools and so many people out there that can help you. There are career coaches. There are all these tests that we’ve just spoken about. And I recommend just going to a psychologist and having them properly assess things. Because I mean, I’m not hating on coaches at all. But I see many coaches popping up everywhere. Be selective and make a well-informed decision before working with anyone. This is also valid for recruiters, by the way. That’s my first point. 

Then we had a few don’ts. Don’t focus too much on the salary because we live in a fantastic world. I think people are never this well off in history as our generation nowadays. Especially PhDs do not get paid. Don’t focus on salary but focus on job content and focus on what you want, what you can learn, and what you can and want to achieve. That would be a thing. Assess the risk of staying somewhere, and not making a move. 

Are you staying in your current role because you’re afraid of the risks? Are you afraid of losing? Maybe your years of experience that you’ve built in the company? What are you afraid of? Make this assessment for you. And I always ask this question to all my candidates. What are the implications of you staying where you are? Because everybody’s always freaking out about what will happen? 

If I leave, I will come into unknown territory. That’s true. But what is the potential to analyze yourself? The 80, 20 rule is important for all people. I would recommend it all the time. And define your priorities. Define the minimum things you need to move forward and move forward. Always choose flow to the movement. Choose action over perfection. This’s something I have learned myself. I’ve struggled a lot as a perfectionist, but in the end, choose action over perfection and trust. It’s really what any entrepreneur professional or anybody can use in their life. I think we need to start.

Natalia 1:11:57 I mean, not making a decision is also a decision. That’s something people often forget. That’s bad. They regret things they didn’t do. They don’t regret things they did. I fully agree with you. 

Maura Declercq 1:12:26 I would say progress over perfection. 

Natalia 1:12:31 Fantastic. Lastly, could I ask you for all the people who are interested in working with you or meeting you in person? How is it possible to contact you? What is the best way?

Maura Declercq 1:12:47 I am an open networker on LinkedIn. I warmly invite everybody who likes to send me an invitation on LinkedIn. And I would gladly follow up with a one-on-one call. They can send me an email. I’m pretty reachable. I’m pretty open to contacts. They are welcome to contact me anytime.

Natalia 1:13:13 And I can maybe also reveal that the place where I met Maura first was the Lunchclub which is a free app where you can schedule a one on one meetings with interesting people who have similar interests to yours. And it’s a bit of a gamble. It’s a lottery because you never know with whom you will be matched. And I hit the jackpot. We talked after 15 minutes. We know that there will be a follow-up. Thank you so much for joining us today and for all your wonderful insights.

Thanks to everyone who successfully came to the end of this episode. I mean, this is for real. If you’d like to connect with Maura, please drop her a message and connect with her on LinkedIn. And if you have any comments or questions for this episode, please post them below and we will take them. If you would like to get more of this type of content, please subscribe to this channel. We wish you all the best. Have a great day. Thank you so much for coming.

Maura Declercq 1:14:32 Thank you, Natalia, for inviting me. Thank you for giving such great content out into the world. Enjoy your day. Enjoy the weekend. Thank you.

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, May 9th). E051 Maura Declercq – Mîndrilà: Confessions of a Professional Recruiter & Networker? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e051-maura-declercq-mindrila-confessions-of-a-professional-recruiter-networker/

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