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Women Mean Business- Interview with Julie O’Neill

Women Mean Business- Interview with Julie O’Neill

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Last edited May 5, 2023

Women Mean Business- Interview with Julie O’Neill

Following our ‘Women in Recruitment’ roundtable events we wanted to shine a spotlight on women in business, so we have conducted a series of interviews with successful women in our industry, to hear from them about the challenges they face and what inspires them.Following our last ‘Women in Recruitment’ roundtable event we wanted to shine a spotlight on women in business, so we have conducted a series of interviews with successful women in our industry, to hear from them about the challenges they face and what inspires them. The eighth interview in the series is with Julie O’Neill.

With more than 25 years in the recruitment industry, Julie is still passionate about her sector, which definitely comes across in the interview. She commenced her career at 21 at the Select Appointments, where she became a top biller, Manager of a number one office, then Area Manager in London and Home Countries. She stayed for 8 years before deciding to specialise, at what is now Adecco’s Ajilon brand, in accountancy and finance recruitment, where she was Area Manager for Central London and Home Countries offices.

In 1999 Julie had joined McCall and spearheaded the Senior Appointments Division – Board Room and Executive, Joint Ventures and Mergers & Acquisitions. After a management buyout of the company in January 2003, Julie is now the Joint Managing Director. McCall sits within Empresaria, the global staffing group.

Now we have some background information on Julie, let’s dive into the interview to find out more:

Q: What inspires or drives you as a leader?

A: I love recruitment – it’s such an interesting and diverse sector, constantly changing and evolving. I believe we really help people – we do change their lives – ultimately, we secure them a better job and career, either by improving their financials and/or by changing their lifestyle. There are so many choices in recruitment – from location and country to sector and level, so it’s key to keep up to date and be a part of change, particularly diversity, on all levels. It’s important to grow careers for our own staff also – we’ve hired 2 great apprentices in recent years. These include Alex who joined us from working in a hotel and she soon became a fantastic Administrator then Resourcer and now has been a Consultant for 2 years, also Hollie who hated working in admin in an industrial estate when we hired her 2+ years ago and now she’s our Admin Manager. It’s good to be the best at what you do – and be known for it!

Q: Do you have a female role model, if so who and why?

A: There are so many women that have made a difference, and to have worked really hard and selflessly to change lives for the better particularly in 3rd world countries where opportunities can be so much more limited.

Q: What would you attribute your success to?

A: Hard work, a genuine desire to succeed (I’ve been a working mother – made that choice at 24) and a real love of what I do.

Q: How did you get to where you are today and who helped you along the way?

A: Sometimes it’s hard to find defining moments. Marian Berry was a great MD at Select and at reviews we would have a ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ session – then at 24 my branch became number 1 in the network and she stopped giving out the advice – I remember feeling gutted as I enjoyed it so much! Working at Ajilon was interesting because it was a US owned brand so travelling abroad and getting that American input was different. Joining McCall as an independent but selling it to Empresaria, a global staffing firm on AIM, has also been interesting. I haven’t had 1 specific defining moment in my career – but I recognise I’ve worked with good, committed people who typically enjoy what they do and go above and beyond to deliver. I’ve also had a lot of loyal candidates and clients who utilise McCall services, and myself solely, which is always a high accolade. That helps a lot.

Q: After all your success, what challenges do you continue to face?

A: More candidates want to go abroad which is a real bonus in recruitment – to live in a different culture and travel – but visa restrictions are tight and becoming tighter so that is challenging at times. Our office in Sydney has definitely noticed it recently, as Recruitment as a profession was removed from the visa entry list. Hiring is always a challenge – even when you are in rec to rec – both for our clients and ourselves! Keeping up with technology – so important – we are investing currently in a new product which we are launching in October which is very exciting, but of course its vital to get it right i.e. user friendly and easy. Expansion – we would love to work in more countries – we regularly place in some, but it’s a big world out there – full of opportunity!

Q: Have you ever struggled to achieve work life balance, or achieved it?

A: Yes, as a working mum of course – particularly in the Summer holidays with 2 children when they were small – but I’ve been blessed with a good network and helpful family – plus a husband who partially works from home! We are all contactable pretty much most of the time now – it’s a way of life – so restricting it sensibly so that I do switch off is also important e.g. I’ll check email Friday evening, then not again until Sunday afternoon or evening – I try and keep Saturday as my Email Free Day! I did a 10 day cruise to Alaska this year and the patchy internet on board and the dodgy wi-fi when off ship was frustrating… but it was also a stark lesson that life exists in very different ways and we don’t need to be addicted to our iphones all the time. I also have a cut off time in the evening, and always have had that, after which work simply isn’t referred to again – I think that’s healthy.

Q: What have you learned about leadership and entrepreneurial-ship?

A: It’s so enriching to spot opportunities and balancing risk and looking at new products or services – I love all things entrepreneurial! But I think that’s the key – some people are born entrepreneurs and others aren’t – it’s the same with good leaders.

Q: Do you or have you mentored others, is there value in this in your opinion?

A: Yes, over the years I’ve run many offices as an area manager in high street for Select and it’s wonderful to shape newbies in recruitment and see them flourish, or take a good senior consultant and shape them into management (not the same role at all – often in recruitment we promote to easily) and develop managers to running successful stand alone branches. It’s so beneficial to spend real time with others and focus on them – yet it works both ways – you remember so much that is still useful! I think we often need to look outside of our circle for true mentors – not just those that have been there, seen it and done it – often generally good business minds have transferrable skills that add to what we do. It can be so useful to seek a fresh perspective.

Q: What is the best and worst decision you have ever made?

A: Having worked for 2 corporates in Select/Vedior and Adecco, I then went into what was an independent niche recruitment agency with McCall, prior to the sale to Empresaria. Culturally it was very different, but it was the best decision I made for me, in my situation. I always try to make the best of any decision – I don’t think recruitment has dealt me a really bad decision. It’s not always easy – a bit of character building doesn’t hurt in the long term though!

Q: Do you think there are barriers for women looking to climb the ladder?

A: Sometimes there appear to be … other times not. You can’t generalise. I did notice that both times I returned after maternity leave (which was VERY short then anyway!) my regions and role had changed, which wasn’t helpful or encouraging. Hopefully there is more consideration given in this area now – but I suspect it could be improved further.

Q: What advice would you give to women who are looking to become leaders in a business?

A: Be confident in your own abilities – don’t doubt yourself – ask, most people are happy to help assuming you have chosen your helper wisely.

Q: Are there any strategies that can help a woman achieve a more prominent role in a male dominated organisation?

A: Be yourself – and stay true to your values and beliefs, don’t compromise.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women looking to move up the hierarchical ladder?

A: Balancing everything – particularly if you are a working mother organising the majority of home life as well. But it can be done, plenty of us do it, you need excellent organisation (I liken it to a project management task!) and support always helps – if there are good offers of help, take them! I am lucky to have a supportive husband in Mark, also my Co-MD Nick. Sometimes it’s our own mental attitude – we need to stop doubting and sharpen up at times – realise we are as good as our male counterparts … or better!

Q: In your experience what do you think a business can do to encourage diversity?

A: This is a very interesting and timely question – something McCall is researching and investing into currently. It’s all about heightening awareness out there – removing any stigmas that exist, where possible. Recently we hired a Grandma Returner – we took a decision to hire Pat our Resourcer and she has loved being back in the recruitment world after a 20 year gap raising her family. Training is always useful, and there are some dedicated specialists out there now. We should all embrace diversity and every opportunity, on every level.

Q: In your experience, what can a business do to attract and retain female talent?

A: Flexible working practices is really appreciated – McCall employs part-time workers to suit their lifestyle. Using the tax system advantageously can be beneficial e.g. childcare vouchers. A sabbatical seems to be becoming more popular – as more people want to travel at different stages in their lives, or engage in some meaningful voluntary work Larger companies have an on site crèche which is of course very helpful – some of the major head offices could potentially offer this.

Q: What advice would you give to leaders to encourage diversity and a more equal split of male and females in more senior positions?

A: Look at the facts and figures of your organisation – does it reflect the way you want it to, or the way it should do? If not be bold and do something about it. I am often given briefs for MDs, NEDs – senior roles generally – and nothing is said by the client about gender balance… it needs to start at the top and filter through an organisation. There should ideally be a Champion for Diversity in some of our larger recruitment firms.

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