When Losing is Winning: Reflections on a Recruiting Job Transition

“I think I’ll lose my job tomorrow,” I told my husband. Earlier that day, the day after Labor Day, my third manager in a year had set a mandatory face-to-face meeting for 8:30 a.m. the next day, a day I usually worked from my home office. At the start of 2018 I had received the largest raise and bonus in five review cycles. Yet the talent acquisition operating model was shifting. I’m an experienced recruiter in the semiconductor space. In this niche, as in many other fields, change is constant. 

One month earlier I had hired a coach. Working with a dedicated mentor wasn’t new. I had partnered with a career coach at other key inflection points throughout my career to enable faster and smoother transitions. I sensed a turning point at two years into the acquisition that delisted us from the London Stock Exchange. In the U.S., year-over-year headcount (ending September) had jumped from 16 percent to 20 percent in 2017 and then slowed to 11 percent in 2018. However, even as the pace of hiring dropped, I can admit now my career perspective focused myopically internally rather than externally.

Looking back, that morning meeting hit me like a gut punch even though I had anticipated it. I opted to take the generous severance package and spent the rest of the week shopping for a new laptop.

As a corporate recruiter in the high-tech field, much of my identity becomes wrapped up in the company I align with. My efforts to engage talent rely on a mix of me being personally authentic and me presenting the company authentically. At the end of the recruiting process, people join teams; the journey is personal. It’s no more about me than a trip through the Himalayas is all about the Sherpas. That’s why the notion of personal branding makes me squirm. Providing quality candidate experiences is about end-to-end congruency and transparency, not the personal packaging of any talent advisor. 

Consequently, after wrapping my identity up with the company I recruited for, I felt a bit naked once off the team. At the same time, immediately joining another company felt like wearing closed-toed shoes in August in Austin. I needed time to gain clarity. 

My husband tells me I acted like I still had a job. I stuck with my routine: morning meditation and then yoga or seeing my trainer at the gym. I stayed in touch with my former teammates and managers. I talked with former colleagues in early-stage companies. I talked with recruiters at very mature companies that are household names. I rejoined the Metropolitan Breakfast Club here in Austin to reconnect with one of my favorite networking groups of all time. I spoke at the fall ERE Recruiting Conference in Orlando and enjoyed connecting with fellow recruiters there. I landed consulting gigs.

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As I reflected on my career and the wider semiconductor industry, I considered how talent-acquisition strategies must adapt proactively to different business life-cycle stages. Many companies in the semiconductor space have been in the mature stage for decades, yet reinvent themselves through acquisition or divestment or a combo of both. We are experiencing a time of unprecedented innovation and a plethora of hardware startups. The “maker” movement has evolved way beyond high-profile acquisitions like Nest and Oculus Rift. Now, as New York Times technology reporter Cade Metz highlighted back in January, artificial intelligence has created a new frontier for chip startups. These new chip startups have gained traction as funding grew easier in the past couple years. Of course, mature companies have joined in too. Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others are creating their own chips.

Open-source software has spurred innovation for over 20 years. This silicon renaissance appears to be spurred by the new market in AI combined with the growing acceptance of an open-source instruction set architecture known as RISC-V (pronounced “risk-five”). As tech reporter Stacey Higginbotham covered last summer, “what’s so compelling about RISC-V isn’t the technology — it’s the economics.” Even with some signs of economic headwinds, the unabated creation of data provides more AI-fueled opportunities to monetize that data. Tech giants and tiny startups seek engineering talent around the globe in order to keep up. The chip startup scene and the ongoing Internet of Things revolution will be keeping hardware sexy for quite some time.  

After eight weeks of consulting, I solidified my perspective on where I most wanted to contribute. I wanted to use my technical acumen and network to continue working tactically as a recruiter. I also wanted to contribute my experience as a leader and business partner by working strategically. SiFive offered the perfect breadth of role and pace of growth. 

The team impressed me too. All three RISC-V founders are fully involved in SiFive. The leadership team plays off each others’ strengths well, and is collaborative. I sensed an incredible push for innovation tempered with wisdom from an experienced C-suite and an ecosystem around RISC-V that has exploded in five years. The right fit for a new adventure. 

I have been recruiting full time since 2008 and I love it. I practice yoga along with other life hacks and love studying people's career stories. My title, "Recruitment Yogini," means I do *not* think of myself as a guru but I *do* have a snarky sense of humor. I grew up professionally in the franchise industry: creating a pipeline of new franchise prospects, streamlining the vetting process, and improving lead generation. Seeking a change, I founded a general staffing franchise at the start of the Great Recession while employers trimmed payrolls by 1.2 million jobs and temporary help services jobs declined 9.4 percent. After learning a ton about recruiting and myself, I took an opportunity with a startup. That opportunity morphed into a marketing/recruiting consulting business where I recruited designers and developers to deliver marketing projects. When a key client was acquired, I began recruiting hardware and software engineers in high tech. Now as director of talent acquisition for SiFive, the leading provider of commercial RISC-V processor IP, I lead our recruiting function as we grow our sales and engineering teams. I tweet @jokirbs. And I drink a lot of coffee. Namasté and Sat Nam. 

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