Faces of HR

Faces of HR: How One HR Pro’s Passion for Recruitment Helps Uplift Others

Kathleen Duffy has been involved in the field of recruiting for nearly four decades. For our latest Faces of HR profile, we connected with Kathleen to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, best mistake, as well as why HR leaders shouldn’t dismiss the value of a strategic recruiting partner.

Kathleen Duffy

“Approach your recruiting with an open mind and explore your options for tapping internal and external partners to help you find the most qualified candidates,” she explained. “If you do engage a third-party partner, make sure they focus on collaboration, not revenue.”

Duffy is President and CEO of the Duffy Group, a recruitment firm dedicated to helping companies uncover and hire top talent. Duffy is a graduate of Arizona State University, a leader of business groups and philanthropic organizations, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the ATHENA Business Woman of the Year for her professional success, mentoring of women and contributions to the community. She is also the author of Revolutionizing Recruitment: How Recruitment Research is Reshaping the Industry.

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Kathleen Duffy.

How did you get your start in the field?
I was a recruiter long before I knew it was a profession or recognized my ability and value to identify the right people for the right organization or job opportunity. It began in college when I was a sorority sister inviting new members into the group during Rush. I discovered my talent for identifying prospective members and sensing their connection (or not) to join Kappa Delta. That experience and my involvement in myriad other campus activities helped me perfect skills that inform my decision-making today. After working in an administrative role in the Personnel Department of a corporation, I was hired as a recruiter at a boutique recruitment firm. I spent eight years there building my experience and expertise before my employer relocated to California. It was then – 31 years ago – that Duffy Group was born.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
The biggest influence on me was a well-respected industry leader, Paula Wright-Tirocchi. She hired me as an eager young graduate with no experience during the 1980s when the nation was still recovering from a deep economic recession. Paula saw something in me that others did not. She taught me the craft of recruiting and helped me sharpen my skills to be successful in the field. I vividly remember our open office setup (referred to as the “bullpen” back in the day); my desk faced hers and she would monitor my recruitment calls, coaching with phrases like “say these words….” Paula was everything a young professional relished in a mentor: She was smart, kind, patient, and collaborative.

What’s your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
When I founded Duffy Group, I was excited to offer a fresh approach to recruiting. I knew I had a sound model, but I was filled with doubt, wondering if I could do the job. I wrongly believed that people with advanced degrees and who managed large teams at blue-chip companies were more qualified than me. That led me to hire a business partner with those credentials, which was a big mistake. I quickly realized my potential and never looked back. I share this experience when mentoring other aspiring entrepreneurs, helping them discover their unique gifts and teaching them how they can set themselves up for success.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

For me, the best part of working in the dynamic executive search industry is that I’m always in the know about new products, technologies, processes and even leadership styles. As recruiters, we also are at the helm of shaping the workforce of the future, filling critical roles on our clients’ teams while helping candidates fulfill their professional goals. In contrast, “noise” from dissatisfied clients has created negative perceptions about the industry and the value of working with external recruiters. Our team has worked diligently to build a recruitment model based on trust, transparency, and collaboration. In fact, one of our company’s strategic initiatives is to elevate our model, called Recruitment Research, as a legitimate third approach to recruitment. Approach aside, we try not to be just another contractor to clients but instead a partner that helps them achieve their business goals. We share best practices to lift up the entire industry.

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.
When I founded Duffy Group, my goal was to work in an industry I love while never missing a milestone – big or small – in my children’s lives. To accomplish that, I created a company with an unparalleled commitment to work-life balance, innovating and leading an entirely remote workforce long before working from home became popular.Along with flexibility, I wanted to bring out the “intrepreneur” in my team – giving them the training and tools they need to build thriving industry practices. Our company makes a hefty investment – about $450,000 per year – in staff training. We also make time for fun by hosting internal events and sending our team deep into the community to serve causes near and dear to their hearts.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?
COVID-19 shined a light on the HR function, as leaders relied on their HR teams to navigate a remote workforce while keeping employees healthy – physically and emotionally – and engaged. The demand for talent and the fact that companies are competing for the same qualified candidates also raised the stock of HR and recruiting teams. As a result, HR’s place in the organization has changed, with more HR department heads getting a seat at the executive leadership table and a voice on corporate boards.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
Finding and hiring talent remains one of the top issues keeping CEOs up at night. As a result, companies are investing more resources in recruiting and hiring internal talent acquisition leaders. Companies also see the importance of the sourcing function – proactively finding desirable candidates and building a talent pool. Smaller companies – especially those in tech fields –  are turning to Recruitment Research companies as collaborative partners.

What are you most proud of?
Regardless of the situation at hand, I am proud of my ability to lead with kindness, always looking out for what’s best for our employees and clients instead of what will benefit the bottom line.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Stay curious, be a lifelong learner and build your network. Believe in yourself, don’t underestimate your talents, and never second-guess your gut. Sometimes our intuition is smarter than our brain.