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Four weeks’ ago, the RCSA announced the winners of the 2020 New Zealand industry awards. The winner of the Recruitment Leader of the Year was Stellar Recruitment’s Kymberly Tupai.

While she was completing her Bachelor of Business, Kymberly was fortunate enough to be given a rigorous grounding in leading people by managing a Bunnings store in Auckland. In March 2014 Kymberly started her recruitment career with Drake International. She joined Madison Recruitment in mid-2015 and stayed for nearly three years. Moving to Stellar Recruitment in February 2018,  Kymberly was promoted to the role of Manager, NZ Northern Region shortly afterward.

Kymberly kindly agreed to answer my questions about her career and her recent win in the New Zealand RCSA awards.

As you will discover from Kymberly’s interview, she is an outstanding example of working hard, creating her own opportunities and learning us much as she can from those leading and mentoring her.

Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?

Kymberly: Immediately prior to getting into recruitment, I was working as a manager for a large format retailer that is genuinely one of the most fantastic businesses I have ever worked for. I went through their ‘Future Leaders’ program, all while working full-time and going to university four nights a week to gain my business degree. One of my favourite parts of the role was facilitating assessment centres when we did bulk recruitment drives.

As I neared the end of my degree, I was sitting with my dad discussing long-term career opportunities and he suggested I chat with his friend Warwick, who would be able to offer great advice because he worked in recruitment (a huge shout out and thank you to Warwick — I wouldn’t be working in this fabulous industry if you hadn’t answered my call almost seven years ago). When I told Warwick about my passion for customer service, process-driven nature, and desire to continue my leadership journey, he suggested I investigate agency recruitment. The rest, as they say, is history.

What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?

Initially, it was coming to terms with the fact that I needed to walk before I could run – I was desperate to get out there and make placements but didn’t have the “how” mastered!

Further to that, juggling the many balls that a recruiter has on the go at any one time! Being someone who thrives off “talking-it-through” with others it was a real challenge for me to find the balance between the time spent in interviews and speaking with clients, with the more methodical side of report writing and sales planning.

How long did it take working as a recruiter before you were offered your first leadership opportunity and what was that role? 

After 3 years in the industry, I was offered a Team Leader role in a large publicly listed agency here in NZ. I was a billing manager, which meant that the juggling act from early on in my recruitment career came back to haunt me.

What did you find to most difficult when you moved into this first leadership role and how did you deal with this challenge?

My predecessor was an incredibly high performer. When she moved on, we experienced further churn within the team and as a result, a lowering of experience across the team. As a result of this, my biggest challenge was ensuring I was able to support my team with regard to their L&D and day to day support needs, as well as doing what I need to do to keep my desk and billings running.

A subtle plug for you here Ross – I was working through your Advanced Recruiter Program, and in our one-on-one session I explained to you the challenge I was facing. You then introduced me to a concept I had not heard before – considering who’s back the monkey is on? I began to subtly question before answering, push back, and when absolutely necessary recommend solutions but advise along the way.

Tell me about your current role at Stellar. What are your main responsibilities and what are you hoping to accomplish in the role over the next couple of years?  

Here at Stellar I am the Manager, Northern Region. My core responsibilities lay in developing and executing regional strategy, providing training and mentorship, developing, and enhancing the culture through job satisfaction and retention, and of course all things numbers – budgets, activity and metrics management!  You will also find me recruiting on behalf of our clients (albeit not at the volume I once did), because I cannot help myself.

In the next few years, I plan on making myself redundant – in the right way! I would like to continue developing my team to get them to the level where they can truly work as a self-sufficient group. We are certainly on the right journey, with one of my core focuses this past year being on raising the bar of accountability within the office to have the team focus on being accountable to each other as a unit, rather than me as their leader.

What aspect of your leadership do you regard as having improved the most since you started as a leader and what specific things have you done to develop this aspect of your leadership?

My confidence and comfort in being who I am. Authenticity is a funny thing – I’ve always felt like I have been an authentic leader, although over the past 2 years specifically I have realised that early on I certainly was focused on being who I thought I needed to be, rather than who I am while growing my leadership capability. To develop this, I have sought out mentors who can give me specific feedback in all areas, and have been lucky to have had this supported by Stellar by the likes of working closely with an Organisational Psychologist, our L&D Manager, and our Directors at different stages.

Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?

Rebecca Clarke – Rebecca is now the New Zealand Manager for the RCSA, but she was actually the one who took the chance on me by hiring me straight out of retail into recruitment. Rebecca has shown me the importance of connecting with those in the industry for learning, development, and support – because not a lot of people outside of the industry truly understand the intricacies. She has also shown me the intrinsic benefits of supporting those in our community.

Oscar Dunn – Oscar was my leader when I stepped into my first leadership role within the industry and is an incredible role model when it comes to developing strong and lasting relationships with clients. Oscar taught me how to influence conversations internally and externally and showed me firsthand what a strong team culture looks like, and all the small pieces of the puzzle you need to get right to make it fit. He also taught me some invaluable lessons when it came to building a desk early on.

Robbie McIlraith – Robbie is one of the founders of Stellar Recruitment, and the GM of New Zealand. Robbie has given me a platform and the freedom to continually learn and provided constant mentorship and communication along the way. He has developed my commercial awareness and shown me the importance of knowing my numbers and constantly tracking them. Finally, Robbie has never once asked me to be anyone I’m not – and that in itself has really supported me in developing my own style and way of thinking and “doing” recruitment leadership.

What do you attribute your win in RCSA 2020 NZ Recruitment Leader of the Year to?

Most importantly, I have a highly adaptable team, who are focused on their goals and the success of the greater team – and attribute my win to them. They are always open to giving something a go if I suggest it after being in a seminar or reading something in a book. They are all highly competitive with themselves and are focused on being better than the day before – this is a huge advantage when we set some pretty big goals. Proof of this was the 38 personal best celebrations we had last financial year, a lot of those back-to-back.

I also attribute my win to setting very clear goals and plastering them all over the place so they are constantly top of mind (if only you could see our goals wall in the office). When working towards a clear plan I have been able to master constantly putting in the 1% needed towards each goal every day to achieve it.

What are the most important things that a recruitment agency leader should focus on to build a team with strong morale, excellent skills and outstanding results?

Focus 1: Setting growth-based goals and providing the support and structure that the team need to achieve their goals.

Focus 2: Creating and maintaining an amazing working culture that fosters high-performance – fostering an adult culture based around individual accountability

These have been my core focuses which have resulted in amazing achievements not only for my team, but also the business performance as well as results for clients and candidates.

What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?

  1. Taking responsibility for my world – I believe that everything that has ‘happened’ to me, or I have achieved is a direct result of my actions – physically or mentally. When you realise that you have a problem in a world that you are responsible for, you have the power to change it!
  2. Always stretching and challenging myself – I am big on making public commitments to achieving things that seem beyond my current ability, to others who can hold me to account.
  3. Commit to doing what it takes to succeed – without causing harm to anyone else of course. If you ‘wish’ for something to happen, you also need to commit to putting in the work to making it become a reality.

What’s something about you that very few people in our industry would know about you?

I did not pass NCEA university entrance before I left school. When I was 21, I had a lightbulb moment, and managed to get accepted into university via special consideration.

From the moment I received the acceptance letter, I hustled harder than anyone in the room to make it worth it. For me, that meant working from 7 am until 5 pm, going to university from 6 pm until 9 pm every night, and then spending every weekend locked in the university library to stay ahead. I ended up getting my degree in two and a half years with an A- average and transitioned into recruitment while doing my final semester.

What advice would you give to a recruiter who has leadership ambitions?

Be yourself. Ask those around you how they do things and seek to put your own spin on them — YOU are your biggest selling point.

Finally, your results and successes will be a direct result of your activity, think about how you can do 1% more than everyone else to gain a competitive edge.

Thanks, Kymberly, I appreciate your words of wisdom and all the best for the future.


Related blogs

Interview with RCSA 2020 Recruitment Leader of the Year (Aus): Jason Elias

Interview with 2019 RCSA (NZ) Recruitment Leader of the Year: Angela Cameron of Consult

Interview with 2016 SARA (NZ) Recruiter of the Year: Alex Allan of Randstad

Interview with 2016 SARA (NZ) Recruitment Leader of the Year: Brien Keegan of Randstad

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