Denise Novosel



Western Washington University, Biology

[Welcome to I Want Her Job's Women at Microsoft Week! Today's article is the second in a series of five that will help you find out what it's like — and how you can — land your dream job at one of the biggest companies changing the face of business.]

Like many of us, Denise Novosel is now in a job she never quite imagined as a college student. A biology major who thought she was going to be a physical therapist, Denise worked as a PT aide at a clinic during her college internship. She quickly realized she wasn’t as passionate about it as she had initially thought, so she shifted directions and fell into a job at an outplacement firm called DBM.

It was through her work with helping job candidates find employment that Denise realized recruiting fit her much better than physical therapy ever did. After DBM, Denise’s resume grew with roles in a variety of businesses from an IT consulting firm and startup company to her own consulting gig for Washington Mutual. Eventually Denise’s path led her to Microsoft, where she’s been for a decade — half of her professional career! She is now a senior staffing director for the company who counts staffing the Kinect team as one of her greatest career accomplishments to date. What does the career recruiter think Microsoft saw in her? Read on to find out (and get some tips for yourself)!

When you do your work, think about those areas where you need to get an A grade, and those where you only need a Pass/Fail.

What drew you to Microsoft?

I love the global impact the company has. When I originally got the call to interview at Microsoft, recruiting for the company’s consumer products in the entertainment space — like Xbox — I thought it sounded interesting. I found a friend of mine who was working at a technical magazine. He connected me with the editor-in-chief of an Xbox magazine and I learned all about Xbox and Microsoft from this connection. I feel it landed me the job, because I came in to my interview knowing something about the industry and the business.

On the flip side, because you’re a recruiter and you’re doing the interviewing, what do you look for in those you meet with?

I look for those who can think about the broader picture and how their work affects our consumers. I try to find people who are creative, innovative, resourceful and curious. I like them to have a natural curiosity about the products and the opportunity their potential role provides. They must also have that forward-looking perspective on how they can contribute to the future.

What is the core responsibility of your job?

I lead the Global Talent Labs team, a centralized staffing organization that enables Microsoft Recruiting to attract top talent in the marketplace. Our work interfaces with technology like LinkedIn, or our proprietary Candidate Experience app, and we look at the external market, competitive talent and research. We look at where key talent is located, where talent is moving (based on what we’re seeing in the marketplace) and we watch for trends, insights and data to share with our recruiting teams. We also have a focus on diversity events.

How do you organize your day?

At home, I have a 4- and 6-year-old, so my life is chaotic. I’m usually up by 5 or 5:30 a.m. I get my workout out of the way first thing in the morning, then get a jump-start on my day and respond to emails. I spend a good portion of my time in the office every day, reserving my office time in the afternoon for meetings. Then, I make sure I’m out of the office promptly at 4 p.m. to meet my kids.

I love that you allow yourself to leave early to meet your kids. Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer has come under fire for requiring her employees to work at the office. What are your thoughts on that approach?

I don’t have the entire context on why she made that choice. I feel that if people who work for you know what’s expected, what their priorities are, then get the work done and deliver results, they should be able to work with the schedule that’s best for them. When an employee is not meeting what’s required of them, I know, and it’s usually not because they were or weren’t in the office.

Microsoft and our technology enables people to work anytime and anywhere. I like to embrace that.

Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

Before I had my kids, I could work as many hours as I needed. Once I had kids, I had to make different choices. What helps me with this is the 80/20 rule. I think about the work I’m engaged in and the impact that work has. I look at where I spend the bulk of my time and that should be the top 20 percent of my work.

We all have meetings and administrative work we do every day that keeps the business moving forward. If I don’t understand the impact specific work is having, I’m OK saying “no”. A mentor of mine told me to not worry about perfection. When you do your work, think about those areas where you need to get an A grade, and those where you only need a Pass/Fail. The latter involves those tasks you need to get done, but they don’t have to be perfect. I’ve felt free knowing this.

What about your job makes you feel it’s right for you?

I love this profession because I get such a rush from making that perfect match. I love helping connect people to find the next right opportunity. Playing a part in helping someone land a dream job is exhilarating.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

As recruiters, there are so many opportunities in how we reach our audience. How we connect with people continues to expand and become more complex. What keeps me awake is determining where we want to spend our time and resources and figuring out where we’ll have the most impact. I want my team to feel like they’re contributing to meaningful work.

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in hiring other recruiters?

People who are great recruiters embody certain characteristics. They have a thirst for knowledge and want to understand the market they’re working with. They understand the value of maintaining relationships. The most successful recruiters are individuals who truly want to understand their candidates and what is lacking in their current job that’s causing them to crave a different role. Recruiters also must have strong sales and marketing capabilities to represent our company in an authentic way.

Working on so many game-changing staffing projects, what’s the highlight of your career?

My absolute career highlight also was one of the most difficult points of my career: when my team staffed the Kinect organization within Microsoft. We were responsible for building that team that would build the Kinect for Xbox 360. It was an opportunity to have an impact on a space that, in turn, would have a very large impact. We also had a short amount of time.

We were responsible for building the end-to-end team that created a smashing hit (with Kinect). I still get excited thinking about that and how I was tied to it. We had to staff a significant number of roles where we couldn’t even talk about what project we were working on. We had to encourage talent to come in and talk with Microsoft, while not telling them what, specifically, we were working on. We helped paint the vision for them. I have so much pride in the work my team did in that project.

What would you say to girl who’s considering a career in tech but who might be hesitant?

I would tell her, “Say ‘no’ to the fear.” I get it. I recognize it, but it’s one of those things where if somebody is compelled, they shouldn’t listen to the voices in their head listing all the reasons they shouldn’t — or can’t — get into this space. Instead, I would tell her to think about all the reasons why she can and about what an opportunity it can be. You can make a real impact in this space.