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How to keep connected in the era of zoom

Vibrant talent consultant Valentina Severino reveals how she maintains a sense of human rapport in the post-pandemic workplace



- Hey Valentina! What is it you love about working with people?


As both a person and professional I just love getting the best from people. I’m empathetic and all about sharing experiences and emotions with others. It’s what keeps me going. Once I get to know someone, from the interview stage onwards, I thrive in getting the best out of them.



- So, what is it that stands out to you in a candidate that sets them apart?


Once you understand how a candidate wants to develop and the beliefs they have, you can quite easily match them with the culture and company they’ll thrive in. I’ve worked in places such as IDEO which had a really strong culture, and I felt at home from day one. I strive to emulate that when people come to me to match them for work. What people transmit when you first meet them makes a difference. It’s about finding that balance between cultural chemistry - that ‘click’ between a worker and a workplace. This is easier to detect sometimes in person but it’s still there over a conference or phone call.




- There’s been a lot of twists and turns this year. How have you been able to continue building personal rapport with people who are far away?


I love meeting people properly in person - it’s been my life and every professional role I’ve had depended on meeting face-to-face. At the beginning [of lockdown], I died a little inside! I had to ask myself ‘okay, so where are we going now?’. But you keep going. I was able to adapt by using online tools such as zoom, slack and google hangouts, anything that could enhance my online meetings. I updated my network, got my documents in order and got more savvy with internet resources.


I still find it dull but it gets better over time and ultimately it's the conversations I have with people that are the most important. You miss those small micro-expressions but it was not a huge adjustment. As long as you listen carefully and take away the most important parts of the conversation, you can pick up what you need to know and build a connection between yourself and whoever you’re speaking to. I’m an empathetic person so I can still empathise and understand people on a video chat too. I just miss the shared coffees.



- Do you think the situation this year has affected your professional life?


Certainly, both for me personally and people who I would help to find work. I had a few contracts just before the lockdown but then the recruitment industry changed massively. There is a lot more competition now, more applications and screening because people need more jobs. I can see the difficulty they face. But I’m quite practical as a person so I consider this time a golden opportunity to work on myself - on a personal level, not just my working life. I would recommend anyone whose professional life has changed as a result of the pandemic to focus on the skills they’ll need going forward. It’s important to embrace the time and recognise and upgrade your skills, whether they’re communication skills, industry knowledge or technical software competency. I personally read a lot of books I hadn’t had any time to read before! Ones that will benefit me and expand my understanding, such as ‘Global Talent Management’ by Hugh Scullion and ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. It keeps me thinking and makes me feel awake, so there are still elements to the situation I’m loving, somehow!




- You mentioned the recruitment industry has been affected in particular this year...in what way?


Well we’re in the situation where most start-ups are waiting, first for funding, then for information. To hire someone needs funding and at this time that’s difficult to come across, especially if you’re being hired to hire someone else! It’s a circle. I’ve seen different phases though, already a couple of years ago the industry changed in that many people became contractors or freelancers, myself included. I think this year has been difficult for freelancers as a lot of companies are saving costs, meaning fewer freelancers finding work and intensified competition.




- It has been quite intense this year! Can you think of any positives that have emerged from the new working climate?


A few things, but the most important are centred around the new way of life. If you work from home, I feel it improves the work-life balance. Not all the time of course, sometimes it gets to the point where you miss the office and working face-to-face in a team. But there’s been more time to find a personal equilibrium. This can be a great thing when you take that positive energy into your work-from-home life and let it do the speaking.


Remaining focussed on the positives of staying at home will resonate with clients because we’re all in the same situation. This can be a good way of building a connection and showing you’re able to adjust to anything, that you’re versatile.


I think there’s more fertile ground on which to grow, to read, learn and develop and that will show when I’m conversing with clients even over a Zoom. Rapport is not just about physical energies, it comes from the tone of your voice, your expression and the belief in yourself. You can apply all of those things to a physical role too but it’s the things someone says and how they say it that draws us to people. There’s space and time to grow in other directions right now and relax away from the morning tube crowds!



- Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us from Turin, Valentina. As a last question, what do you think is the most important thing to consider when communicating with other people?


Two things come to my head immediately: listening, and making things simple. Communicating with people is important; to avoid any confusion, you want to keep the dynamic simple and remember to enjoy it! Better times are ahead.


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