S1 Ep 3 Careering with Leesa Rawlings


Welcome back to our special podcast series, Careering.

In this series we speak with experienced leaders about the unexpected detours in their career journey. Speaking candidly about their experiences, our guest will inspire and motivate, offering advice and suggestions for how to re-route your career when it comes off the rails.

About our guest, Leesa Rawlings

Leesa Rawlings is VP Talent Acquisition, Asia for Manulife. Since 2009, Leesa has worked in Singapore for major brands including Mercer, Google, Diaego and now Manulife. Prior to working in Asia, Leesa started her career in Melbourne, Australia. Leesa shares insights from both a personal and professional perspective as a leader in Talent Acquisition.


Thanks to the City of Melbourne for funding this podcast series through their COVID-19 business grants.City-of-Melbourne


Graham Seldon: [00:00:03] Welcome to the special Seldon Rosser podcast series called Careering, we’re your hosts Katie Rosser and Graham Seldon, and we’re specialized in the recruitment of senior-level candidates to professional services.


Katie Rosser: [00:00:17] In this series, we interview experienced leaders about the unexpected detours in their career journey and dive into how they got back on track. Speaking candidly about their experiences our guests will inspire and motivate offering advice and suggestions for how to reroute your career when it comes off the rails.


Graham Seldon: [00:00:38] Thanks to the City of Melbourne for funding this podcast series, which is produced by Michelle Le Cornu at Brainbox Marketing.


Graham Seldon: [00:00:48] Our guest today is Leesa Rawlings, who has had an amazing career in recruitment and talent management. She started her recruitment career with Adecco in Melbourne before setting up her own recruitment training business, which is where I first met her. She then went on to be appointed to senior in-house roles with iconic global companies such as Mercer, Google, Diageo and now Manulife, where she’s the vice president for talent acquisition in Asia. Having been based in Singapore for nearly ten years, her CV shows an impressive track record. But, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. There have been opportunities and challenges along the way but her savviness and determination have proved that it’s possible to shape a career even when sometimes the odds are stacked against you. Welcome, Leesa, to the Careering podcast.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:01:39] Thanks, Graham. Thanks, Katie.


Graham Seldon: [00:01:42] Leesa, let’s start talking about your own career and experiences. So, in the introduction, I alluded to the fact that sometimes in your career, it’s not always plain sailing. Can you describe both the situations in your life where you haven’t felt completely in control or you haven’t known what was next for you in your career?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:02:05] Hmm. Well, where do I begin? So, I think my professional career, just even listening to it summarized by you Graham, has certainly not followed a very straight and predetermined pathway. I think nothing has been planned and I’ve been very opportunistic across each pathway that has come my way and that in itself causes its own problems. Because when you don’t plan about something, then an opportunity presents and you then deliberate over quite a period of time. Is this really the right road for me? But having said that, I think there’s two distinct moments where I’ve made a career detour that I think are the kind of exclamation points which is really change the course of my career. And I think looking back on it now, really developed me also, as you know, who I am as a person and also in my professional capacity. So, the first detour came it was about 10 years ago, actually, and I’ve been working out of Singapore and for family reasons, I decided to bring my kids back to Australia to attend school there at the pivotal point in their education around fifteen years old. And I was working out of Melbourne, I really wasn’t that happy with the career that I was in. And, as a family, we decided that perhaps we should go back to Singapore because the internationalism of it and the opportunities that are presented for our kids and for us in our careers would be better. So we just at that point when we were deciding to pivot and move back to Singapore and I received a call out of the blue from a professional services company called Mercer, and they had said to me that they were looking for someone with my background and would I be interested in an Asia head of TA role. Now, at that stage, I’d only been working in recruitment agencies, heading up regions prior to that.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:03:59] And I had always thought about how it would be great to transition into in-house talent acquisition, but I didn’t quite know how at that stage. So when this call came, it was almost like a gift to me, but at the same time was quite perplexing. Should I look at this now? I’m just about to do another international move and all the stress and all the logistical nightmares that create that. And, I don’t know about my working visa. There were so many question marks about whether this would work or not, but I decided to take the chance and at least start talking. And so, looking back on it now, that was a pivotal moment. I got the job, we moved back to Singapore and I’ve been in in-house working in TA regional role since. And that really set me up for that change of career pathway. And then, the second kind of pivotal moment was just recently, actually, which was during COVID lockdown, which we’re all still in various stages.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:04:57] And I was down in Melbourne and I was working remotely in a senior role for an FMCG company in TA and I once again, out of the blue, got this call from a company saying, would I be interested in moving across the company I had never heard of before and during COVID. So, you can understand the kind of environment I was in because we’re all still in it. How there’s so much uncertainty, so much unknown, there’s so much stress. And once again, I thought, should I be looking at this opportunity? Could it give me the kind of development and training and career progression that I want? So, I then started talking to them, despite all the mayhem going on around me. And, long story short, I am now in a new job with Manulife, and I’ve been there for five weeks. So, they were the two main times. And I think when I look at them and I think what was the defining moment, it was that I did take the chance, despite everything that was going on around me. And I did explore and I did listen. So I was interested in the art of the possible,


Graham Seldon: [00:06:12] Which is amazing, given that during COVID, you had a very safe and secure role with the Asia in a global business. And you actually, I think at the time you were back in Melbourne, you tell the story, Leesa, because I think it’s fascinating. You are back in Melbourne. You came back for a couple of weeks to check on a property and ended up getting stuck here, didn’t it?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:06:39] Yes. And, you know, I think it certainly has been an interesting past six months. And I think I think years from now, we’re all going to look back on this time over COVID 19 and kind of remember, you know, what were we doing and how it has changed us. And I mean, we’ve all been experiencing the uncertainty and the fear and the isolation and the frustration of taking three steps forward and two steps back. And how could all that not change us? So, when I look at it and look at what the kind of economists are saying about it like it’s a rare black swan event and it’s those times that are beyond the normal and it’s extremely rare. And black swans usually hit with severe impact. So, my personal private story is definitely beyond my normal. It’s extremely rare and it’s been a big impact on me. So, if I kind of just succinctly just touch on some points. Yes, I was popping down to Melbourne, which is where I come from, from Singapore for a quick two-week trip to check on a property. At the time, things were ramping up with it to a certain extent, but it seemed quite under control in Australia in mid-March. And then I, unfortunately, got stuck in Melbourne because all of a sudden COVID hits globally with a huge bang and Singapore shuttle exporters down to Employment Potholders.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:08:10] So, I ended up having to find a place to live and the house that I was renovating, which was completely like a major building site talking about scaffolding, thousands of trades in and out, about five power tools used at any one time. I ended up having to live in that house that had no furniture. It didn’t have all the kind of basics of what I see as my everyday life, such as a washing machine. It was a very primitive, very simple existence. I had no furniture and I ended up thinking, you know, I’ll only be there for about a month. I can deal with this. I’ve got a suitcase full of stuff that I brought for two weeks, a month isn’t that much of a long time to kind of sit this out. But then as each day went by and the situation both in Australia and also in Singapore and indeed around the world got worse and worse. I came to the conclusion that I was going to be here for the long haul. And as it ended up, I was there for nearly four months and I felt like I was camping and it was extremely challenging from a professional point of view because I had to still work virtually across the Asia time zone in a building zone.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:09:20] So, I remember really distinctly some odd, bizarre moments where I would be on a very important, like interview or meeting, and the only piece I could find in this building environment that I was working in was this tiny corner of a bathroom, which, by the way, didn’t have a door on it. So I’d had the laptop on the sink and I’d be standing up and I’d be obviously with a nice zoom background, not the building or the background. And I’d be on call. So, physically, it was a very challenging time. But I think also the isolation because even though it was my home town, I wasn’t able to see anyone for a long period of that time. And I think the mental peace around the resilience and just dealing with day by day, when can I get back? When can I get back to almost a kind of normal situation for me? And, you know, despite applying for numerous visas to try and get back in and the fact I’ve been in Singapore for over 10 years, it’s still kept getting rejected and rejected.


Graham Seldon: [00:10:24] So, during that whole entire time, when you’re in a building site, you’re isolated, you’re trying to manage your very, very busy job doing zooms meetings in the corner of a bathroom. That’s when you decided that you might apply for a very senior role with Manulife and go through that process?


Graham Seldon: [00:10:43] I mean, what mindset were you in and why did you even get to that point where you thought the timing was great. What did you do to get to that point?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:10:55] Mhm. Yeah. That’s the million-dollar question because I suppose a lot of people are facing very similar issues, maybe not exactly what I have had and what I’ve been through, but issues when the timing is not right, issues of self-doubt, issues when you feel that the circumstances around you are just so surmounting that there’s no possibility that you could ever break through and find the next step. And I suppose for me, what has really helped, because in these uncertain times like there’s no how-to guide for you. And, you know, I’ve seen a lot of people lose their sense of self-worth and confidence when they go through these sort of career changes. So, I think what is really helped for me is that I’ve always had a good sense of who I am and my own self-worth and value, which I don’t connect or is not defined by my job. So, despite being in that sort of environment, both mentally and physically. When the call came through, it was like, OK, this is not the best time, but at least gives the opportunity a chance and maybe this might lead into something that’s going to be incredible, despite all the mayhem around me. So, when I go through those sort of times, I try to open my mind up to the art of the possible. I don’t shut myself off from something that could be an amazing opportunity. And I don’t close down and I don’t lose confidence. I see it as a glass half full that this could open up some other doors. So, I think another critical piece of this, Graham, is that I really understand what my personal purpose is. So, when I’m thinking about opportunities that come my way, I see whether it’s aligned to that sense of purpose. And I think knowing and understanding about what makes you, you know, what gives you a sense of fulfilment, what you’re passionate about, and being able to really, truly understand that and articulate it in a few sentences, it just really helps you with your own self-worth and sense of identity and helps you understand that when things come your way, you know, that is a bit of a road map for you. Is it aligned to that? Is it worth me looking at it? And so, the job at Manulife sounded as if it was right in my wheelhouse. And so I pursued it.


Katie Rosser: [00:13:32] You have mentioned self-confidence there a couple of times one thing that we hear from people more so when they’re between jobs and out of work, is that they often get questions that are well intended from previous colleagues, family members, friends, you know, has the job search going, you know, how is your career going? And even if you’re in a role, you can’t see but they’re aware that you might be thinking about what next.


Katie Rosser: [00:13:57] You know, you can still get those sorts of questions from colleagues and family, what’s happening with your career. And sometimes that can be a bit draining and that can sort of affect people’s self-confidence if they’re between jobs. And what advice might you have for people in that situation and how you handled, you know, that well-intentioned constant? How’s the job search going in the past?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:14:21] Interesting question. When I think about this, I’ve got a pretty strong answer and I don’t know whether people who are feeling negative and a bit embarrassed about their situation and, you know, a bit closed in and not wanting to expose themselves, I think people who feel like that are not going to like this. But, I think that if someone is asking you about your job hunt and interested, I think you need to recognize that you’re lucky to have someone who actually cares enough to ask you about how your job hunt is going. And that these people are gifts to you and, you know, let them know what you’re looking for and use them as a networking tool and ask them if they’ve got at least one referral to someone that you could talk to that’s in the area of your interest that might lead to something or give you another perspective because I’ve always had the mindset of what comes around goes around. So, I myself, when I know that people are trying to find work in my network, I try as much as I can to connect other people to actually help them because, you know, when the shoe is on the other foot, I’ve got no concerns about approaching my network to help. And in fact, when I’ve been at a place where I need to think about my next role, I’ve been in between careers.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:15:52] I’ll actually make up a list of all my contacts and start calling them and meeting up with them and grabbing coffees and speaking to them and say, hey, listen, I’m in the market. This is what I’m interested in. Had you heard of any opportunities?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:16:06] And I think, Katie, I also want to say just finally, sometimes when you’re in that situation and you are engrossed in the kind of negativity of it because it can be quite a daunting period sometimes when you think about is how you see your situation and how you’re feeling. But actually, I would challenge people to think about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and see that actually reaching out to someone and getting them to help you makes those people feel really good about helping you. And so, they don’t actually see the what’s going on underneath and in inside you. They just see that they would be really, really happy to help you. And that makes them feel good. So, I’ve seen a lot of times people reticent to reach out to their network. And I just would ask people to think about the fact that they’re not seeing the situation through your eyes. They’re actually seeing the situation through how they could help you and how they could feel good and how they could create a great outcome for you.


Katie Rosser: [00:17:19] I love you come back to on that Leesa, it’s such a great sort of mindset about leaning into the situation, not backing away from it and trusting that other people want to help you. And yeah, I love the point of asking for referrals. It’s that 10 seconds of confidence to ask, isn’t it? So, that’s a great perspective.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:17:38] Yeah. I mean, the point is, what have you got to lose?


Katie Rosser: [00:17:42] Mhm. Mhm. Absolutely.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:17:44] Because, when you think about it, I mean, most people in their mid career through to senior, you know, fifteen years plus experience. All of us have been through some form of Black Swan and probably multiple black swans.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:18:00] And as a result of that I would say that most of us have either been retrenched or mutually agreed to part or found that they just couldn’t do the job they were doing at the time for other reasons.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:18:13] So we’ve all experienced this. It is not as if when you’re going through this is the first time that anyone has experienced then and because of that, people are really kind of empathetic and really understanding. So, that’s another angle to look at to Katie.


Katie Rosser: [00:18:29] We’re getting into talking about things from your perspective as a talent manager, which is great, because that’s why we wanted to take the second half of the podcast, because, you know, you’re just so experienced in interviewing people and assessing people who might have had their own career detours or different career paths. So, the next few questions might focus there in terms of your experience as a talent manager and just extending where you were starting to go. Do you have any further advice for people who find themselves made redundant or otherwise out of a role in a recession?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:19:11] So, I’ve actually counselled and worked with a lot of people that have been going through this, and it is almost like a, you know, in a way a death. So, there are lots of different phases that you go through. And I suppose the way that I’ve seen people work through all the issues is that those people that have kept up a really good external network, that have kept their skills and their competencies relevant, that have got an open mindset, are the ones that come through the process faster. So, I think that once you get to a situation like this, hopefully, you’ve already done some pre-work, as I said. So, that you’ve put yourself in a better position and you do have a great network to go to. And you do have current skills and competencies that are valued by the marketplace. And you are able to kind of articulate what your purposes and kind of know your direction for the next step. But, I think it’s also an ideal opportunity and I always advise people that I work with on this is to just take a little bit of time to think about the possibilities for what next. And there could be a whole lot of different alternatives that if you just stopped a little moment, sort of go slow to go fast, that it would unlock a whole different career choice for you.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:20:38] So, for example, maybe it’s time that you love to go back and do some study. Maybe there are some short courses you can reskill and maybe you want to drop back to part-time work and concentrate on some other passion or focus on family. Maybe you want to do just volunteer work for a while and just give back and or maybe you want to change a career kind of entirely.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:20:59] So, I think the opportunity to just take it as a chance to look at that career crossroad and work out at my stage in life here, what do I really want to do next rather than just quickly go, ‘okay, so I need to get another job exactly like I’ve just done because I need to get back on that treadmill’. The other advice that I give is, is to start to tidy up your brand. So, what I mean by that is, for example, LinkedIn is one of the main platforms that all the recruiting teams I’ve ever led use for getting their first impression of you. So, make sure your LinkedIn page looks amazing, reflects who you are as a person and as a brand, and is up to date. And of course, a part of that real estate of your brand is your résumé. So, start to get that looking very, very tight and very schmick and also start to push some content out in the social media marketplace to really get your brand exposed. And it could be stuff you’re passionate about or it could be stuff that’s kind of aligned to what you want next. The other thing is, you know, once you decide on what you want to do and to actually prepare a plan with it because there are sometimes several options that you might want to explore. And I kind of always advise just having a backup plan. So, have you A-game and you focus on what you want to do, but then have a backup plan and kind of work on that.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:22:26] Think with that in the background as well. And I think a key thing, too, just in terms of your energy and drive and kind of resilience, try and set yourself daily goals and kind of celebrate the small wins because it can be really hard, depending on what you are looking at doing in dealing with rejection. Either through applications or through interviews or through missed opportunities, and I think that if you just take it small steps at a time and just realize that each step you’re taking is a step closer to where you will end up and something will always materialize because everyone finds their path. It may be on that path that at that moment, at that time, it’s just the wrong role or it’s just the wrong time. And I think one of the mantras that I kind of try to live by is every day better, just every day, just one step better. And actually Katie, that’s why I kind of joined Manulife, because that’s part of their kind of value process. And that really kind of aligns with me as well. And then finally, I think one last tip is it can be a really negative time with people around you talking about the bad economic conditions, the news being negative. And I always say try and surround yourself with positive people and try not to listen to the bad press.


Graham Seldon: [00:24:01] I’d love to be interviewed by you Leesa, seriously. I’ve got a question, which is for those people who’ve been out of a job for, say, maybe six months or more in a market like this, it’s possible for a senior person to be out of work for six months or more. If when you’re interviewing them as a sort of talent manager for an organization interviewing these people. What degree do are you expecting that within this period of time off, whether it’s six months, five months, that they have done something constructive like study or volunteering? I mean, do you look for those sorts of things or how do you judge people who’ve been out of work a long time? I suppose that’s what I’m asking. What are you looking for?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:24:44] Yeah, you know what? Over the last twenty-five years plus that I’ve been working in this field over the last, say, ten years, I’ve seen more and more gaps in people’s CVs and quite substantial gaps and more deviations from the known pathways of most typical careers. Right? So, at first, we dealt with them with a bit of kind of perplexed by this, like, why is this happening? And then as the time is gone on with, you know, teams are not actually looking at this as kind of almost like a common type of thing. And I think what we’re looking for or what I look for when I see a break is how have you used the time and what have you learnt from it? So, for example, someone came across my desk in a couple of months ago and they had taken eight months off and they had gone sailing around the world. And it was their lifelong dream to actually do that. And they’ve been planning that for a number of years because obviously you just don’t jump on a boat and set sail around the world. You have to change a lot in your life. And she was very inspired by the troubles. She talked about how it had changed her and how that had kind of inspired her for her next role. So, I think if you can articulate what you did in the break and what you learnt and how that changed you as a person, quite frankly, I personally admire people that have had the courage to take time off to pursue other interests or even to look after their family. I personally admire people like that and also if people have been out of work and have spent six months on a journey of trying to find their next step, I also sympathize with them. And I like to listen to what and how they’ve been kind of trying to shape the future role. So, I don’t know if that helps. But from a personal perspective, I admire people that have taken time off.


Katie Rosser: [00:26:58] Sometimes more senior people will talk to us about, you know, I just want to get back in there, you know, and be busy and adding value and it’s going to be six, twelve months until a senior role, you know, that’s appropriate will come up. So, I just want to apply for something more, Junior. I’m happy to do it. I’m not precious about it. But they sort of ask us the question, but will it be career suicide? Just to be dramatic. How will it be viewed? Leesa when you have people applying for jobs that are a step down from their previous role?


Katie Rosser: [00:27:32] How do you feel about that in assessing them? And to take that a bit further, you know, how easy or hard do you think it is for them to back up later on?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:27:46] Super interesting question Katie.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:27:51] In a strange sort of way, I kind of view other recruiters or hiring managers that immediately jump to conclusions and say this person is too overqualified for the role. I see that as discrimination because what is it about our knowledge that we have the right to actually dictate to someone that this is the type and the level and the style of job that you should be doing? So, from a personal perspective and actually I just had this the other day, someone reached out to me for a role that’s in my team across APAC. And if you had the mindset of looking at the number of years that you’ve worked, looking at the levels that you’ve worked before, you would never consider this candidate. But I’m actually interviewing her tomorrow because what I see is someone who’s had a whole collection of amazing experiences has got great competency and I want to find out what she’s really looking for and why in her next role and describe to us what our role is and, you know, try work out if that’s the level that she wants to work out. Of course, there are all these considerations around. Would you take a salary drop? Because, you know, working at a high level, you’ve got a high salary. Would you at some time than potentially want to leave Manulife because you then would get a high-level job at another company? Is COVID impacting you at this time because you’re just grabbing at anything? So, of course, all those things come up. But, I think the other advice is that once you get into a company and it’s a company that really aligns with your purpose and values and you’re really enjoying the work, then there’s the possibility to move into other roles internally once you prove your performance impact. So, sometimes I kind of advise that it’s always great to get a foot in the door, prove and then move.


Graham Seldon: [00:30:02] I like that prove and then move. You mentioned in that last answer about having a collection of amazing experiences and coming back to your own career over the last fifteen years, could you ever have imagined the journey that you’ve been on?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:30:20] You know what Graham? I’ve never started on this journey with the end in mind. And in a way, I still don’t think about where I need to end up. Rather, I kind of prefer to enjoy the ride where I am right now and being in the moment. And it kind of excites me because I don’t know what cool opportunities wait for me in the future. Only time will tell, right? So, that’s how I’ve kind of face it. And I think it’s a really good point, Graham because I’ve got twenty-something twins who have graduated from degrees and all their network is also graduating and they all seem so stressed because it’s like, OK, now I have to begin my formal career and there’s, you know, COVID obviously impacting that. But also, where do I start and what do I do? And they have this really rigid thought of will they have to have the end in mind? Because I want to be X, Y, Z in twenty years.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:31:25] But as you know, the roles in twenty years, I mean, most of them won’t even be thought up now compared to what they’ll be in twenty years time and who knows where it will take them. And I just wish I could instil in them that it’s not about the end game. It is about where you are now, knowing what’s going to give you passion and purpose, trying to find that in a company that’s got a culture that will align with that and give you the opportunities to grow and develop and really kind of make your potential fly. That’s what it’s about. It is not about a predetermined, predetermined career that ego plodding step by step by step on a career ladder. It is about the letters, right? It’s about the up-down, snakes and ladders that really make you who you are.


Graham Seldon: [00:32:12] I was just about to say, I’m so inspired right now. I’m like, I’m listening to a TED talk. It’s so fantastic. I just love your comment about making your passion fly, because I think that’s something that a lot of people forget when they’re between jobs. They’re looking for the next step, they’re looking to try to get themselves back to where they were. And often the passion is the last thing I really think. Katie, are you about to say something?


Katie Rosser: [00:32:38] I just had one more burning question I was desperate to ask, actually, because, Leesa, you’ve mentioned your purpose a few times. And being someone who makes opportunistic decisions about your career, you’ve been able to connect them back to your purpose to analyze and assess whether it’s right for you. And you said how important is to be able to articulate your purpose in two or three sentences. So, I’m going to put you under the spot for anybody who’s ever thought about how to figure that. And, can you tell us what your purpose is?


Leesa Rawlings: [00:33:10] I most certainly can. My purpose is to shift the paradigms of people’s mindset, to unlock the art of the possible. So, they can realize their full potential.


Graham Seldon: [00:33:28] Oh, my goodness, she did that. We have not rehearsed that. You’re fantastic.


Katie Rosser: [00:33:33] Love it. Well done.


Graham Seldon: [00:33:35] Leesa, thank you so much for coming on to Careering. We were really keen to get you on here because we not only know you have an interesting career, but you are in a position of being a senior talent manager for global companies. You’re in a very important position. I think a lot of our candidates who are worried about their careers will take comfort from listening to some of the advice that you’ve given. Certainly, we’ve learned a lot today as well.


Graham Seldon: [00:33:59] So thank you very much for coming on to Careering.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:34:03] Graham, Katie, has been a pleasure and just wishing the best for everybody. And yeah, go for it is my thing. Nike, just do it.


Katie Rosser: [00:34:15] Thanks, Lisa. It’s been great.


Graham Seldon: [00:34:16] Thank you.


Leesa Rawlings: [00:34:17] Thank you, guys. Bye.


Graham Seldon: [00:34:20] To learn more about Seldon Rosser and to see all of the fantastic career opportunities and content we have head to seldonrosser.com. And if you’ve enjoyed the podcast, then subscribe on iTunes. Write us a review, we’d love to hear what you think.

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