Giovanna Lever is the founder of the Sparrowly Group and global networking group, Sparrows United.

With a 20-year track record in marketing and business, Giovanna has plenty of experience recruiting and leading teams so I aM delighted to have her kick off Heart Recruitment’s new interview series: Recruiting top marketing and communication talent.

Tell us about your business and the team you lead.

I am the founder of the Sparrowly Group based in Sydney, working globally. Our vision is clear – a better workforce for the future and better sustainable business.

We work with clients across industries and size including Virgin Australia, Destination NSW, InterContinental Hotels Group across business and marketing consulting, leadership development and mentoring services.

I’m not big on titles but I am clear on what we do for our clients: We are problem solvers and opportunity creators.

Before establishing Sparrowly Group, I previously led teams across a range of business functions including marketing, creative services, production, product management, sales, revenue, operations, logistics and finance.

I am a marketer but I’m also a business person who is passionate about leadership development and giving back.

What are the top three soft skills you look for when you recruit?

Empathy, attitude and aptitude.

I look for these things over and above technical skills – and someone needs to have all three to spark my attention. If someone has empathy, attitude and aptitude, I can teach them anything.

Empathy is a big one for me. We are all human beings, we all have stuff going on. People have life stuff that comes up outside of work and at the same time, there is a lot of pressure on people to be something. I don’t think a leader needs to be best buddies with their team, but if they have empathy, this will infiltrate through the team.

What do you think are the most important factors in retaining top talent?

I believe the most important thing – and this underpins everything else – is consistency.

Understand your peoples’ goals – including their goals outside of the business – and what they want out of life. We have to be realistic as business owners – everyone will leave at some point, but if you give them a great environment and the right learning opportunities, you can certainly retain your staff for longer.

A rigorous personal development plan. I’m not talking about a once a year ‘tick box’ exercise – ‘set and forget’ personal development plans don’t work. I’ve developed a system to make sure that everyone’s plan is front of mind, all of the time. We informally talk about it regularly, revisit it more formally every fortnight – to celebrate wins and ask each other: “How could we do better? What would we do differently?”.

Listen. By this I mean create an environment where people feel comfortable and empowered to ask questions, but also as leaders we need to be able to pick up on people’s emotional cues.

Be consistent. All of these things have to be done consistently. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company of 4 people or 4000, you can write down your values then throw a big party to announce and celebrate them, but if you don’t live and breathe them every day – people won’t buy in to it.

People are the core of the business – my team and our clients. No matter how much people talk about AI, it’s not like human beings are going to become extinct. Technology is an important part of the future – but so are people!

That’s why finding and keeping great people is so important – we have to keep people at the core and embrace the technology to help us.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges you’ve experienced with recruiting top marketing talent.

For me it all comes back to the CV. I think very few people have great CVs. So when the CV is the first opportunity to connect with someone, it’s hard.

As a hiring manager leading large teams and with various business pressure points, I didn’t have the time or headspace to look beyond a bad CV. I’ve recruited hundreds of people which means I’ve look at thousands of CVs. I’m sure I’ve probably overlooked great people because their CV is terrible.

I have previously been in situations where there is pressure to hire quickly and sometimes the ability to take the time to connect with people properly is taken away. And when the person hired doesn’t work out, more time is spent sorting that out and recruiting again.

When I recruit, I like to use my network and recommendations. The fit is absolutely crucial, so a recommendation from someone I know and trust is very valuable.

I have used LinkedIn to find people – it is a good tool – if you can spend the time to use it well.

Whether you’re the hiring manager or HR/recruitment person, it all comes down to connection.

What advice would you give to other marketing leaders about recruiting top talent?

It’s a two way street. I think the hiring manager (or person responsible for recruiting) should take the time to seek out people and connect with them. You can’t expect the best people to just land in your lap. You have to use the tools available to connect with people.

Be open mindedWhen someone reaches out to you, even if they don’t have the exact skills you’re looking for, maybe you should take the time to connect with them.

The more I hire marketers who don’t fit in a box – the non-traditional candidate, the less obvious choice – the better results I’ve had.