Former Microsoft Director of People on finding the right people for the job (and avoiding the wrong ones)

Ladders recently spoke with Dr. Laura Hamill, former Microsoft Director of People Research and current Chief People Officer and Chief Science Officer at employee experience software company Limeade. Read on as Dr. Hamill discusses her storied HR background, what technologies are reshaping the field, what an inclusive workplace looks like and much more.

What initially attracted you to the field of HR/talent acquisition/recruiting?

I grew up in a household that struggled to make ends meet, so as a child I dreamed of having a “big” career that was exciting, fulfilling and secure. I also wondered if there was a way to use my creative yet academic spirit to solve some of the problems that I saw my parents bring home every day – like struggling to find purpose at work. In college, I discovered business psychology – a context I was advised against because it was a new field within psychology and there was some skepticism in its future. But I knew in my gut it was a place that I’d thrive – and today I sit at the center of the multi-million-dollar HR technology industry – all designed to influence the way employees work and live.

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How important of a role does technology, like data science, for example, play in the field of HR and specifically in your work? 

Technology allows us to communicate and engage employees in a scalable, consistent and effective way. What the industry has done with AI, personalization and user experience is astounding and will only continue to evolve into consumer-grade experiences. What’s important to remember though, is that technology is a means to an end. Technology can facilitate, but human beings are still required to create great places to work and connect technology to business objectives. No matter how smart or sexy your technology is, it will only be worth the investment if it’s making you a better company – and if you really choose wisely – making your employees lives better in the process.

What technology/innovation/platform has had the most profound effect on the field of HR/recruiting in the past year or two, and why?

What has had the most impact on the HR/recruiting space are technologies that bring individual point solutions together and work to solve problems from the perspective of employees. When technology brings employees into the fold, it can be incredibly powerful.

What are the biggest challenges, from a technical and/or business standpoint, that those in recruiting and talent acquisition face nowadays?

HR organizations tend to have high walls—they are very siloed and are not solving for the experience of their employees. Each group is really trying hard, but the duplication of efforts, the lack of an integrated approach, the overwhelming number of resources really make it difficult to have the desired impact on employees. We need organizations to breakdown these silos and create unified people strategies that require HR departments to work together in new ways.

Besides compensation, what are the most effective ways to show employees you care, and why?

While an employee certainly cares about salary and might directly link their value at the company to the number on their paycheck, we know it doesn’t define their worth. I’m a firm believer that while compensation matters, it’s not the only way you show employees they are valued. It happens in the day-to-day behaviors that prove the organization cares about each employee as a human being — and for their unique contributions to the group. To authentically show you care, invest in well-being, foster an inclusive workplace, take action on employee engagement surveys and communicate with clarity and transparency.

What does an actual, inclusive workplace actually look like, and how does one achieve it?

Inclusion happens on a daily basis, everywhere from onboarding to an employee’s last day on the job. Think about the small, seemingly insignificant interactions, like a leader asking a young employee’s opinion in a meeting, a manager avoiding the term “you guys” or an individual asking a colleague about their background. It can also happen at the company level – making sure employees aren’t required to travel on their religion’s holidays, recognizing employees for their unique approach to a project or establishing employee resource groups where employees can connect and learn.

Ultimately, inclusion can be measured by a sense of belonging, connection, and community at work. It’s really about how you feel connected to your workplace and the people around you. An organization that has mastered inclusion is one where people feel encouraged to bring their “whole selves” to work. Between voicing diverse points of view and finding a sense of connection to others, this is what makes inclusion real.

What are the key steps that recruiters should take to develop and strengthen relationships with job candidates?

The employee experience starts with recruiters. Those first interactions are the foundation of candidates’ perceptions of a company and can ultimately impact their likelihood to pursue or accept a job there. In today’s job market, employees have the upper hand so it’s important to approach each interaction with respect and intention. It’s also critical to give candidates a realistic portrayal of the company culture. Is it fast-paced and growth-driven? Relaxed and highly interpersonal? There are plenty of ways to be transparent but still complimentary of each culture and in the end, it will result in a better fit and lower turnover.

What should HR/recruiting/talent acquisition execs look for when recruiting job candidates?

Because cultural fit is so important, interview for values just as much as experience. At Limeade we do this by assigning each interviewer a company value, give them tangible examples of how the value personifies and provide value-specific questions to ask. In addition to experience, this allows us to evaluate not just WHAT work they’ll get done, but HOW they’ll do it.

What should they avoid?

Avoid candidates that are in it for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to find people that want a bigger paycheck, a better commute or to leave a current job that they hate. What’s harder is finding the people that believe in your mission and are willing to work for you through the ups and downs that all companies face. Will they feel a sense of purpose coming into work each day? Will they live your values? Will they challenge the status quo by bringing unique perspectives and experiences? If you’re not sure, they’re likely not a fit.

Where do you see the field of HR/recruiting/talent acquisition headed?

We are going to be less about process and specific functional expertise and solving more for treating people like human beings — caring for them and solving more for how they feel when they are at work. No longer will we downplay the value of subjective data or call them “soft” skills, but instead, we will fully embrace how important it is for our employees to feel energized, engaged and cared for.

What has been the most satisfying moment of your career/proudest career achievement, and why?

Looking back on times that were hard, where we dug deep and found a way to turn things around – I feel so proud of working through those hard times. I have had times like this as an individual employee and working on a team. There have been times when I needed to stand up to a powerful leader or a time when we needed to rethink our business direction — those are the moments I’m really proud of!