Remember when, in movies from the late 1990s, characters who were looking for a job would leaf through a newspaper's classified section to see who was hiring?
Jess Scott has been running HR teams and talent acquisition teams since then. "You would circle in red pen the job they're going to go apply for. That's how you applied!" she says, laughing. "Sending emails, especially with attachments, was still a very new thing."
While the industry has changed a lot since then, especially with the data and technology that allows for more predictive control of the process, the fundamentals of how to build a solid team have remained the same. And Jess has been leaning on those fundamentals as she's helped scale VTS, a leasing and asset management platform for the commercial real estate market, from a couple hundred employees to more than 1,000.
We sat down with Jess, who is currently VP of Talent at VTS, to hear more on how she's done it, as well as how she got her start in the industry and what she's learned along the way.
Finding a "real career" in finding people
Jess was a theater major in college when she realized that she couldn't commit to pursuing a thespian's life.
"I dated an actor very seriously in college who was eight years my senior, and I saw his life, and I was like, 'I can't live that life.' Temping forever, not knowing where your next gig is going to come from, it just seemed too erratic for me," she says. So Jess added a sociology and education major and planned to teach, but that didn't quite work out, either.
"I student-taught and found out that I love kids, but I couldn't do that all day!" she says. She got an internship at a retained search firm and figured she'd be there for a little while—and was surprised when she found it really interesting.
"I didn't think 'finding people' was a real career," she says, smiling. "But I was learning how to build an org chart, how to interact with managing directors, how to woo people, how that whole process works."
Jess later joined a search firm, then went in-house at MTV to help build their first internet team. "I got the startup bug then, and really learned about all the moving parts of being an HR generalist," she says. She worked there while she got her master's in industrial and organizational psychology. From there, she went back and forth between agencies and startups before finding her way to VTS.
Jess first heard of VTS from a friend who suggested she come over and consult for the growing company. But Jess stayed because she really believes in the product and the people.
"What we're building makes so much sense. It's so intuitive," she says. "Real estate isn't going anywhere. It's actually a lot sexier than I thought it was going to be!"
The opportunity to run talent acquisition at VTS checked all of the boxes Jess was looking for in a job:
- An opportunity to make an impact
- The chance to work with founders she believes in ("our founders are really good people with really good moral compasses," she says)
- A formal commitment to DEI and ongoing learning and development
And since joining, her expectations have been met. "I've never worked somewhere where our values are truly who we are," says Jess. "We don't talk about culture fit. I think that's so subjective and kind of antiquated and has all sorts of unconscious bias and all sorts of things that creep in. We think about it as: are you a values fit? Are you going to be a good peer and member of our community? We've created a really wonderful work environment, and as we scale, we've been able to keep the things that make us special top of mind for everyone."
Embracing exponential growth: 3 tips for other managers doing the same
As the VP of Talent at VPS, Jess's days are filled managing her 14-person team, directly overseeing a few executive searches, and planning for the future of the company, from hitting next quarter's head count to building a production-driven environment that more systematically manages talent across the organization.
After seeing her team through the pandemic, says Jess, she's more focused than ever about building "true, deep, authentic relationships" and learning how to support and motivate her teammates, both at work and in their personal lives. "I really care about what I do, and I really care about my team, and I want to see us win," says Jess, who adds that her team now has even better unity and cohesion than they did pre-pandemic.
She's now able to channel that shared motivation and dedication into her biggest professional challenge to date: making sure that her team can meet the talent demands of a fast-growing company.
And she has three tips to share on how to do just that:
- Adopt new tools and techniques. Jess is an intuitive manager at heart, but she knew she'd have to step outside of her comfort zone to build something truly systematic and scalable. And now, "we use data to better predict capacity," says Jess. "We know how many jobs we're going to be able to fill based on past performance, broken down by product, engineering, and business, which take different amounts of time." She invested in cleaning up her team's data and building the infrastructure to better predict and track hiring needs. "We're very metrics-driven now. We had to totally rethink and reimagine how we were doing things, because what had worked wouldn't scale."
- Be vulnerable with your team. "Scaling is hard!" says Jess. "You're flying the plane and building the next version of it at the same time. As a leader, it's important to be vulnerable with your team, as it allows them to ask questions. It's about creating that space to make mistakes or to not know."
- Ask for the help you need. "If you don't know how to do it, it's okay to say, 'I don't know how to do it!' and get resources to help you," she says. "There are things that I just didn't don't know how to do, like how to assess whether assessment tests are going to make our top of funnel better." In that example, Jess got around that by partnering with an outside firm to come in and help lead a six-month process to restructure her team's processes and set them up with the metrics-based approach that's currently driving a 33% increase in capacity.