Do our cultural background and traditions influence our work?

Many colourful people

Shekufeh is currently one of the top three recruiters at Brunel Netherlands. We sat down with her to discuss the secret of her success, and whether her Persian background influences the way she works.

Hi, Shekufeh: You hold the position of Senior Recruiter and have been working for Brunel Netherlands for six years now. Is there anything unique about Brunel as an organisation?

 

You know, before joining Brunel I worked for a British company with a high-pressure sales and work environment where people were always stressed and tense. And when I started at Brunel, I was surprised that a highly successful sales organisation can also operate and function in a different, less toxic environment. Brunel is still a results-driven company, obviously, and it sets targets to drive business performance. But it is important for those targets to be achievable and realistic, because mindlessly chasing numbers does not benefit anyone in the long run. And I feel like Brunel does a good job of setting realistic goals for the sales team to minimise stress and maximise success. There is no aggressive selling at Brunel. Instead, the aim is to build long-term relationships with clients and to deliver quality. This is also the reason why I still work at Brunel. We all respect each other, including our candidates, specialists and clients. 

 

Before becoming a recruiter, you had already accomplished many other great things in different areas. Do you want to tell us more about that?

 

That’s correct, I did so much more before becoming a recruiter. To start with, I have a background in international law and won a prestigious Human Rights Award for my thesis on children and their right to adequate housing. This research resulted in the development of the BLOEM* criteria. Every accommodation where children live must meet these criteria, which are based on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. In English, BLOEM is referred to as “The Manesh Guidelines”, which are now used by UNICEF and other organisations worldwide. After my graduation at Maastricht University, I was asked by the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers to do national research on the housing situation for children living at reception centres in the Netherlands. This was the first time in Dutch history that a systematic investigation of these accommodations was carried out. Besides that, I also look back with great pleasure at my work as a policy advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I was asked to organise two state visits for our former Queen Beatrix. This included preparing the notes for her official state dinner speeches and organising visits to the palace.

 

Wow, that is quite an impressive track record! Have you always been this ambitious? 

 

Yes, I would say so. From a very young age, I have always been very focused on giving my very best in everything I do. And perhaps this drive can be traced back to my Persian background. Iran has a very sophisticated and rich culture and, in our society, there is a strong commitment to education. Moreover, when I was five years old, I moved with my family from Iran to the Netherlands. I witnessed my parents having to leave everything behind to give me and my siblings a better future in a foreign country where we could live in freedom. After that, I just felt that being successful was not an option, it was a must. But nowadays, success has a very different meaning to me: I have learned to enjoy the ride instead of only concentrating on the destination.

Bride with child
Shekufeh got married to her fiancé in 2022. Together they have two beautiful boys. She deeply cherishes the time she spends with her family and tells us that having a healthy work-life balance is particularly important to her as a working mother.

Being of Persian descent, has your cultural background influenced your work? 

 

Absolutely. For instance, for us Persians, hospitality and making your guests feel at home is the utmost priority. You always make sure to be prepared in case someone comes over for dinner or wants to stay the night. Even when you don’t know whether you’ll have enough food for the next day, we are willing to share the little we have with our guests. And I think this mentality, this hospitality mindset, has carried over into the way I do my work as a recruiter. I want the candidate to feel as comfortable as possible when having a conversation with me. And I don’t use the standard set of questions such as: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Instead, I want to get to know the individual behind the application. What are their passions? Their dreams and fears? What does their family situation look like? Because these are all things that affect their decision making and their career. 

Shekufeh in her home office
Shekufeh and her family left Iran in 1986. Even though she has spent a significant part of her formative years outside her parents ‘culture, she still feels deeply connected to her Persian roots.

Can you share with us what diversity and inclusion mean to you in the workplace? 

 

To me, diversity means having a wide range of backgrounds, skills and ideas in the workplace. But cultural diversity alone is not enough: Only when you combine it with an inclusive working environment can you reap the benefits, which include greater empathy and compassion, increased creativity and better problem-solving, for example. And inclusion simply means making every person ‘feel at home’ and creating a comfortable workplace for all kinds of people. Only when people feel comfortable will they be able to grow. And only when companies embrace diversity and inclusion can they be innovative and move forward. 

 

In what ways does Brunel provide a comfortable workplace for you?

 

First, at Brunel we have a very open work culture. Not only is honest and transparent communication encouraged, but Brunel gives you the opportunity to get involved in different ways and be a part of their growth process. For example, I joined the Advisory Board of Brunel Netherlands to improve the organisation on a policy level. I am also part of the recruitment community whose goal is to keep our skills and knowledge up to date. This year we organised a whole month of recruitment workshops in June. It was a huge success and is something we are planning to continue doing on a yearly basis. Second, I really feel supported in my work and love how Brunel cares for their employees. The last two years have been tough for me as I was having a hard time coping with a physical health problem. And then of course you had Covid and the lockdowns happening at the same time. During this difficult period, my colleagues and supervisor showed tremendous understanding for what I was going through in my private life. And in terms of managing lockdown fatigue, we employees received motivational e-mails from the members of the Board and cute gifts by post. Furthermore, Brunel also organised virtual sports activities and social gatherings to keep us cheerful and positive. Lastly, at Brunel, I feel like I don’t have to wear a mask. I am accepted for who I am, and this is essential for me to be able to carry out my job and truly give the best I can. 

Shekufeh by the beach
As the world went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, Shekufeh and other Brunel employees had to adapt and continue doing their work from home. She greatly values and appreciates the support she received from Brunel during this difficult time.

You have been ranked among the top three recruiters at Brunel Netherlands for two consecutive years now. What advice would you give to people who are starting out in recruitment? 

 

To succeed in recruiting, you need to have commercial insights as well as a knowledge of human nature. However, first and foremost, you should prioritise making meaningful connections with candidates. Recruitment is all about understanding how to approach candidates and how you can make a difference in their lives. Most importantly, though, you need to be able to build trust so they feel like they can confide in you. That is important, because most of the IT professionals I recruit are employed and not actively looking for a new job. And they are certainly not waiting to be approached. Many of these people are perfectly happy where they are and need to be convinced to consider another employment option. Therefore, I actually see myself more as a headhunter than a recruiter, because 99% of my placements come from headhunting, which is even more challenging. This is why developing strong relationships with candidates is crucial: The more I know about someone, the easier it is for me to give them the right reasons to join Brunel and make them an enticing offer. 

 

*Acronym derived from the Dutch words “Bescherming, Leefbaarheid, Omgeving, Eigenwaarde en Materiële opvang”, which translate into English as “protection, livability, environment, self-esteem and material care”.

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