ADVISORY SPOTLIGHT: 10 Qs with Human Skills Superhero… Lou Zoanetti

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10 min read

Welcome Lou, and thanks for stepping into the Maxme Spotlight! You’re an invaluable member of the Maxme Advisory – a true human skills superhero – but you’re also the Founder of Zoanetti Consulting – an early careers consulting practice.

What does this role entail?

We focus on two things. One is helping organisations wanting to set up early careers programs (cadetships, internships or graduate programs) in order to really nail their HR recruitment strategy. We also help organisations to set up the operations behind these sorts of programs so they can attract the right people, recruit through robust and equitable processes, and then onboard and retain people for as long as possible.

The second part of my work is with universities, supporting them with graduate employability and preparing their students for the workforce via real life work experiences or workshops simulating work environments.

In 3 dot points, what do you love about this work?

I love working in the early careers space – one I’ve been in for 10 years. Prior to this, I had 8 years in marketing and communications, during which time I was asked to shift into NAB’s HR division to work on the grad program. I just fell in love with the grad demographic. I really like working with young people, driving youth employment initiatives within organisations, and feeling like the work I do has an impact.

I feel that graduate and early careers talent is having a moment right now. Whereas previously it was seen as a really junior thing to want to do as a HR professional (to work in the early careers space is often what HR people do at the start of their careers before moving onto more generalist HR roles), whereas I really love youth employment, bringing young people in and understanding youth as an employee segment. This is all really starting to resonate with people – they’re starting to understand that we really need to nail this because our workforce is ageing!

I also love running my own business because I love the flexibility of my work, doing lots of different things, and working with lots of different people. The variety it brings means I can work with a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

I was the type of student that pretty much had a ‘traditional path’. I went through high school and I actually missed quite a lot of information about university because I was away for a lot of the Open Days, but essentially a lot of teachers encouraged me to explore Public Relations (PR).

I had quite good writing skills and good communication skills generally. So I went into PR as my university entry point, studying at RMIT. It was quite a hard course to get into, so I thought it was great that I’d been accepted, but quickly realised I didn’t actually like writing that much! My impression was that I’d get to talk all the time (which clearly I like) … but I persevered and finished my PR degree and then pretty quickly went into more business orientated marketing once I hit the workforce.

I really moved away from the comms side of things as much as I could, shifting instead to marketing, advertising kind of stuff. I would say that was my first career, and then while I was at NAB (had been there for maybe 3yrs in marketing roles), was offered an opportunity by a former colleague who needed someone who could ‘get shit done’, work with lots of different people at all different levels; from grad to senior leaders. So I then switched to the grad program world and after 5years, shifted to Monash Uni heading up the internships program.

So in theory, I’ve not ‘studied’ the vocation I’m in now – I’d say the closest thing which may have helped would have been HR. I don’t really think you need to necessarily study HR to go into it, unless you’re specialising in law, HRS, or any of those deeper areas to understand the legality behind human resources, hiring and firing people, and maybe a specialisation like development where you’ve got to have good learning, acumen or understanding instructional design or building capability. I’ve acquired a lot of these skills through the different roles that I’ve held, and in managing different types of people. So no, nothing that I studied is immediately related to my current work, but there’s a lot of transferable skills – the ability to write, the ability to communicate and present really well, working in teams, working individually.

Maximising human potential through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. What inspires / excites you most about this mission you’re helping to bring to life?

I just love what Renata’s trying to do with Maxme – I think she’s really found a sweet spot. There’s a lot of people developing graduate employability / human skills stuff out there, but what I like about what Ren’s doing is foremost that she’s gamified it – she really understands the target audience and the need to have that thing in the pocket so you can do it on the go and build your skills, your awareness of your skills, and the diagnostic of what you need to develop.

I can also see that Maxme’s solutions are really complementary to what else is out there. Hodie is a great tool to complement work experience or an internship program when you’re at university. I think it’s a really great tool, and the reason I’m so passionate about supporting it, is there’s lots of linkages with my own work. It’d be great, for instance, if we could use Hodie app in our workshops, with students then completing an internship or work experience. It’s a nice little package for the unis to consider.

The real appeal for me is to see Hodie as an extension, or a really useful, practical tool to make skills development hands on.

Of course I also really like Ren – I really trust her, we’ve known of each other for a really long time – her passion is incredible and I love how she gets stuff done and moves quicker than most people. Ren really values peoples expertise, she’s grateful for people who can help, and I love that about working with Maxme.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

My superpower… and this is a true superpower … I remember everyone’s faces. I’ll meet someone for five seconds and will remember them three years later, it’s ridiculous. I constantly bump into people I know because I remember everyone, but I’m also really strong at building rapport with people quickly, and maintaining relationships once I’ve established them.

My LinkedIn network is really strong – I try and keep connected with people that I’ve worked with previously and if I see something interesting I think is relevant to a contact, I’ll flick it to them. My power is building relationships with people and remembering unique things about each person, and I really try to expand other people’s networks by introducing people to each other too.

Reflecting on Australia’s current education frameworks, curriculums and workforce pathways, what do you believe needs to be changed, fixed or solved?

I think education in Australia needs an overhaul – it’s outdated and I think the world is moving much quicker than universities can keep up with.

As a starting point I think we have to review high school education to see how relevant the curriculum is to the real world. Yes there’s stuff that we need to learn – I’m not saying that people shouldn’t learn algebra, I just think we need to think creatively about how we supplement those technical skills with real life skills like presentation skills, budgeting, building confidence through making really good connections with other people, introducing ourselves confidently or understanding what we’re good at and what we’re not. All these things that Maxme is really tied up in.

I don’t think university is the path-way for everyone. Even with my own children, I don’t talk about uni as a pathway because I think for me it was always framed as the only pathway. My husband is an academic. He got his PhD and worked as an academic for a number of years before going into a corporate, and even with him having a really solid background in academia, I still really like to talk to young people about lots of different pathways, whether they involve university, TAFE or work. It might even mean you go and work first, and then decide what qualifications you might need before making your next move. I do think a lot of people heading to uni might not even need a degree. TAFE has really suffered for that reason because so many people go straight to uni and then hit the job market without really needing a degree. It’s often a basic eligibility thing with employers who automatically make a degree mandatory for roles often not requiring it.

What I think will happen in the tertiary sector is that micro credentialing will get stronger, and unis will get better at meeting the market in terms of what students are truly needing and looking for. Educational institutions will provide opportunities for people to develop skills in a really short and timely way. For instance, you might hit the workforce, then need to upskill in coding via a short course, progressing with your career in ‘sprints’ accordingly. I think micro credentials will play a big role and unis will start to demand that as well.

We know you’re a human skills superhero … but if you had to pick just one to truly master, which would it be and why?

I think communicating with impact is the one to truly master because you need it for everything! You need it to get a job, you need it in the job, you need it to be able to communicate really effectively. I think some of the newer human skills like creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurial skills are all great, but I think as a foundation communication skills are truly vital – even for those who work alone.

If you could share one piece of career advice with Upper Secondary &/or Uni students, what would it be?

The power of saying yes to relevant opportunities. Often people say no to things because it doesn’t fit. As an example I worked with a student who was offered an internship with an organisation. She was a HR masters student, and the opportunity wasn’t in HR but talent acquisition. It was an initial internship offer, not a job, and she said no because it wasn’t HR specific. Getting paid to do an internship which is really relevant (but perhaps not ‘exactly’ suited to your area) is a hugely valuable opportunity – you can learn a lot from that experience, particularly paid ones with quality companies.

I would encourage students to keep putting yourself out there – how much you say yes to new, relevant things can really impact your skills and broader experience development. For me it’s about saying yes to the Maxme thing which is really within a volunteer capacity because it adds to my experience, I’m working with others, and tossing around ideas with other people. I get to support someone else’s business, and there’s many good synergies with the work I’m doing. I get to hear about the latest developments at Maxme, and it’s not a huge time commitment.

My advice is really the power of saying yes to relevant opportunities – use that idea for networking, for trying new things, putting your hand up in a meeting when you’re first starting out, to running a workshop, hosting a trivia night at work… there could be a million things but it’s really how you say yes to opportunities that will help you build your skills. Running a trivia night is great because you’re working on your presentation skills and you’re proving you’re motivated to do your job and engaged with the work that you’re doing.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

This is very relevant to me because it’s my job to find the right person for the job.

Having worked with thousands of students, I can confidently say I don’t care about academic results because I don’t think they ever tell the full story. This is a great question for Hodie to respond to. I think high academic marks have their place but it depends on the type of the work the candidate is vying for, and the role technical skills will play too.

I’ve hired lots of people that aren’t students, and when I’ve run my own teams, I’ve hired big groups of people too. In both instances, the number one thing I’m looking for is ‘fit’, and what sort of skills they are bringing to the role – skills they may not have acquired academic endeavors, but through work experience. Work experience is my number 1 thing, whether that be Mcdonalds, Kmart, or more professional work experience. I’m really looking for candidates, especially within the grad space, that have a breadth of experience. Yes they might have great uni scores, that’s fine, but I think being a well rounded individual is much more than locking yourself away and getting HD’s for your uni results. It’s about what work experience you have, and it’s also about looking for the people that need to work too. If you’ve got people that don’t need to work because they’re being supported by parents, then what life skills have they learnt from that situation? I’ve found that people who have worked from a young age have great maturity – they’ve got purpose and know what it means to be relied on and expected to turn up.

They may have had 15 minutes of sleep from the night before but they show up, they’ve got a uniform they’ve prepared, they’ve served customers or they’ve problem solved and that’s all great skills.

So for me I’m looking for someone who’s had that depth of experience across work experience, university life and contributing to academic components of uni life and then contributing to our community, whether that’s through volunteering or work through university. It might be that they were a mentor for other students or a tutor, it could be they are a part of scouts and they are a scout leader or they are a part of a church/youth leader. It doesn’t really matter, it’s just someone who has that breadth of experience and can manage multiple things.

I like people who are different, I want a diverse group of people working together with a world of different experiences.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”

What’s next on your #learning agenda?

I’m a real believer in learning through work.

I’ve got my Bachelor Degree in PR which I studied 20 years ago. I’ve got my Degree and I’m happy with that. I don’t feel a need to do my Masters at this stage of my career. I worked in unis where there were expectations for post graduate qualifications, I’ve always found I learn a lot on the job. So my learnings are really around what I get from running a small business, the things that work, working with other people, taking advice from other people about what has worked and what hasn’, and then being discerning enough to decide if that’s relevant to my business and personal situation.

My learning is the commitment I have to running my own business which I’ve been doing for two years now. I’ve had to deal with the ups and downs of COVID, but feel like I’ve secured really good traction, motivation and a really good proposition in terms of the value that I bring.

I really want to learn and embed myself in doing this for the long haul and can’t actually see myself working for another person any time in future. So if I’m going to run my own business, and that’s how I see my career unfolding, then I’m going to do more research, whether it’s through podcasts, audiobooks, books or learning from the people around me who have done it before.

I have a couple of mentors who I work with – a business mentor who has done a lot of work in the licensing space, and another mentor that runs a company similar to mine in NZ but is about 10 years ahead of me. These type of people who have been there and experienced it before are the type of people I get my learnings from as well.