In this episode of The Staffing Show, Sara Luchsinger, Senior Vice President of Operations at SEEK Careers/Staffing, joins us to explain how her years of volunteering in the right places helped her to become the leader that she is today. We discuss Sara’s entry into staffing and her interesting mid-career timeout, how volunteering at the American Staffing Association paved the way for her success, what she thinks about the current state of technology, and how staffing has evolved during her career. Sara also describes how SEEK uses technology to create a better experience for its customers, the three W’s that inform her every decision, what she’s learned from the brutal career obstacles she’s had to overcome, and her parting words of wisdom for those looking to forge a similar career path as hers.

[00:01:15] David Folwell: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I am super excited to be joined by Sarah Luchsinger, who is the SVP of Operations at SEEK Careers & Staffing. Sarah, thanks so much for being on the show today. Super excited to dig in. To kick things off, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the staffing industry? 

[00:01:36] Sara Luchsinger: Sure. Great. And thanks, David, for having me. I’m so excited to be here. Like every other staffing professional in the industry, I walked into a staffing service in 1993 and said, “Hey, can you find me a job?” And they said, “I think we’ll keep you for ourselves.” That’s how I ended up being in the staffing industry. Now, going almost on 20 – a little over 28 years.

[00:02:04] David Folwell: That’s amazing. And I think you’ve got some interesting stories as well. I remember you went directly into staffing and then ended up – do I remember that you became a VP and then went back to college? Is that – 

[00:02:16] Sara Luchsinger: Yeah, that’s true. Actually, I worked my way up to a regional team leader position. And then I was chosen – Laura Bush, during George Bush – President George Bush W., his campaign, his second campaign, SEEK to come and visit as working on the platforms of education and women-owned business. Because our company was founded by an educator and a woman in 1971. They came and they had a campaign rally at our location. And they chose a couple of people to come into our organization and tell their stories. And it was really an exciting time for us. 

And then I quit right after that and went into publishing for a couple of years. And then came back to SEEK as a VP. And then, few years later, I got married and then thought maybe I should go back to college and get my degree. And so, in 2014, after being a VP for seven years, I got my college degree. 

[00:03:25] David Folwell: I love that. I remember that story. I thought that was pretty interesting. Today we’re going to kind of jump into a little bit more of your background, which is awesome. And then, also, talk about what’s going on in the staffing industry. We’ll also jump into some technology trends. 

One of the things I wanted to talk about out of the gate, which I thought was such an honor – and I remember at Staffing World when they called your name because you were the ASA Volunteer of the Year. And I was proud to just know you and see you getting up on stage and getting the award and thought it was much deserved. Can you tell us a little bit about how did that happen? How did that come about? 

[00:03:57] Sara Luchsinger: To be honest with you, how that happened was I think through a long series of events. If anyone knows me really well, you’ll know that I’m a huge introvert. It probably doesn’t seem that way, but I am. I am definitely afraid to get up and talk to people that I don’t know. I’m not the first person in the room to network. 

And so, in 2007, I decided I was – well, my CEO asked me to be the face of SEEK at ASA, in the American Staffing Association. I called up ASA and said, “I’d like to volunteer.” And this was before any of the volunteer events happened, before there was a process of signing up to volunteer. And just said, “Hey, where do you need help?” And I got involved on the corporate social responsibility committee. 

And from there, I just started raising my hand. Because what I found was it made it so much easier when you were walking into one of those networking events if you knew people already. That the best way to get to know people is to just raise my hand and get involved. 

Last year, the ASA Volunteer of the Year Award is chosen by peers. And they voted me the ASA Volunteer of the Year for 2023. And I’m super honored to get that award. But it was funny, because they said, “Oh, we thought you already received the award at some point.” And I hadn’t yet. It was really quite an honor.

[00:05:38] David Folwell: I thought it was incredible to see. You and I have had some dialogue around this. But also, something I think is interesting for the listeners is, how did becoming the volunteer of the year and kind of raising your hand, and stepping forward, leaning in, however you want to say it, how has this impacted your career? 

[00:05:53] Sara Luchsinger: Well, I think it’s just been a tremendous plus to my career. Not only have I met so many people that I would have never had contact with. That I’ve grown my network exponentially. But I’ve also been able to talk to industry thought leaders and be in the room with people who are making it happen and then bring back that knowledge and then transform it into our own way of doing things. 

And we’re going to talk about technology. And that really – those interactions really helped me realize where SEEK was on the technology spectrum. And then it helped us really transform or create our digital transformation, which in turn allowed us to pivot really easily during COVID, where a lot of light industrial firms – and we’re heavy-light industrial, probably about 80%, weren’t able to do that very easily. That was probably the biggest I think plus for us was just being able to continue to do business as normal, the COVID world at that time.

[00:07:07] David Folwell: And that’s because you met the people at ASA through the volunteering. Learned about you were like moving things forward from a technology perspective. When that happened, you were just ready to go. What were some of the areas from – we’ll kind of jump over into the tech category of this. What were some of the areas that you learned about? Things that you did that have helped not only get you through COVID, but things that have been impactful for your business over time? 

[00:07:30] Sara Luchsinger: Sure. I think the biggest thing was when we went from an organization that was 100% paper to a completely digital process. We did that. And, actually, that was completed by 2015. That wasn’t something that was relatively – that we had just implemented. 

But in 2017, we added Zoom to our tech stack. We were able to yeah continue to communicate. We were already doing things remotely out of our 20 offices that we had across Wisconsin and Minnesota. But we had a texting platform. We had the ability to reach out to people in an electronic way and mobile optimize our platform. And then we continued that process of adding different pieces to our tech stack. We added Staffing Referrals in the middle of the pandemic because we really needed something not only to jumpstart our referral program, which had been very lackluster in the years prior to COVID. 

But we knew we needed to do that because just the reaching to people that we had to get out there and get a really profitable, and trackable, and transparent program in the works. Because we knew that was the only way that we were going to be able to succeed was to really capitalize on our referrals. 

[00:09:01] David Folwell: Yeah. And you guys really leaned into that. I mean, you’ve been a great partner and helped push us forward. And we appreciate all the insights you’ve given. And you kind of jumped in and said, “Here’s what we needed to do.” And I think you helped build out our integration. I think one of our early TempWorks integrations, if I remember correctly. 

[00:09:16] Sara Luchsinger: Yup, we sure did. And it was a real eye-opener to be able to see what an API integration, a true integration, what were some of the capabilities? And your team was fantastic with working with us with all of the things that we’d ask for.

[00:09:33] David Folwell: Yeah. We appreciate that. And what are some of the other areas kind of broadening out from a tech perspective? I feel like you’ve been leading the charge at keeping SEEK in the modern age on technology. What are some of the areas that you’re digging in today or things that you’re excited about going forward? 

[00:09:48] Sara Luchsinger: Well, I think one of the things that we’re really working on now is just working with AI with automated messaging, automated marketing. We’re working with chatbots. We’re trying to reach people in different ways to connect to who our customer bases. Who those candidates are? We want to give them the ultimate experience of being available 24/7 without staffed 24/7. It’s extremely expensive to be staffed 24/7. But with technology, I think we can provide the experience for the most part to allow our candidates and our employees to interact with us when they want to.

[00:10:34] David Folwell: That’s great. And how are you having – when it comes to the chatbots, automated outreach, I think I’ve seen like auto-qualify out there, are any of those things sticking out in terms of having immediate value or lower hanging fruit versus others? I know there’s so many options right now that it’s hard to identify where to go from AI perspective.

[00:10:51] Sara Luchsinger: I’m really not an AI expert. I would love to say that I’ve been dabbling with different things. And there’s just so much to learn, but it’s changed at such a tremendous pace that I don’t even know if I have the capacity to keep up with it. I’m really looking forward to continuing to network with our industry partners who are keeping abreast of all of the changes and the capabilities. 

But I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to give us a better customer experience in my mind. I know there’s some people that maybe are a little fearful of what AI can do. But I think if you harness the ability to just look at it from how can this benefit my customer experience? That’s what really is so important. Because this industry is all about customer experience.

[00:11:44] David Folwell: It is all about customer experience. And it does feel like I’m borderline obsessed with AI right now. And the speed at which it’s changing is amazing. I get to one spot, you’re like, “Okay. ChatGPT. Not great at copywriting.” And then maybe a month or a month and a half ago they’re like, “Well, Claude is 15% better writing than ChatGPT.” And I go try Claude, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. There’s some incredible moments with it.” And I’m just waiting for another 15% enhancement and to see where that goes from there. But it has become my little assistant throughout the day that I’m just asking questions to non-stop. 

I think as our industry adopts it, I think it should theoretically create significantly better candidate and customer experiences for all. It’s exciting times, that’s for sure. It sounds like you guys are kind of dabbling in on all fronts at this point.

[00:12:32] Sara Luchsinger: We’re using technology automation to really automate the basic touches. My goal is to have the high-touch experience be done by our team members, so that the really critical, important relationship-building pieces of our industry and of our customer experience, those things are done by our people. And the automated administrative tasks are done by technology. That way, we can focus our people really in on customer experience.

[00:13:11] David Folwell: Yeah. Absolutely. And I feel like that’s the way of the future. Let it, so you can actually have the human interactions when they make sense and automate the things that don’t need to be. 

Zooming out even further in terms of like what’s going on in the staffing industry right now, I know in the last year the market shifted quite a bit. What are some of the things that you’ve seen change in staffing over the years?

[00:13:31] Sara Luchsinger: Over the years since I’ve been in almost three decades, I’ve seen this wave happen where there’s a big – and the last cycle was probably from about 2013 until 2023 where we were really on this high note and this high business cycle where it was all candidates. It was candidate market. And we had more job orders than we ever had in our history. We’re in a leveling-out. And I’ve seen this play out again and again. And something – technology shifts, the market shifts, people shift. 

But what I think is different this time is just the numbers of available candidates. So many people opted out of the job market and went into either gig work or starting their own businesses. Or they opted out entirely because they figured out a way to afford their lifestyle during COVID without having that second income. 

And so, I think the biggest challenge is going to be finding talent, as it has been, though, for the last 20 years. With the exception of 2009 and 2010, talent has just been in such high demand. But we haven’t made enough people. We have more jobs than we have people. And we still have that even in this market right now. 

[00:15:02] David Folwell: It is weird to have a talent shortage and then also still have the demand for staffing services reduced a little bit over the last year where people are out trying to find more job orders or new clients. And, simultaneously, the labor shortage, we hear about it all the time on the news. And from a general population perspective, it’s not something that’s going away anytime soon in the United States.

[00:15:26] Sara Luchsinger: Yeah. I think that that’s the other thing that it’s so strange about right now is the unemployment rate is still historically low even though the economic indicators are down. How does that work? The only way that that works is that more people are opting out of the regular workforce. 

[00:15:47] David Folwell: I don’t know how accurate this is or not. And I don’t know the data well enough to talk about it intelligently. But I’ve had conversations with friends where I’m like, “Well, unemployment rate is at its all-time low.” But I’m like what work are people doing? And I have a lot of friends in tech that have been laid off. People that have been in the tech industry for a while and the layoffs have been pretty extreme. And does this mean there’s just more people DoorDashing than ever before? What are the jobs that people are doing? Because it does seem like we’re going through a bit of a shift. But I think that things are currently moving back towards in the right direction at the moment. 

Sara, one of the other areas that we talked about last time was the three W’s, which is kind of going all the way back. But I thought it would be fun to kind of revisit that. And I think you said it was one of the lessons that you had learned over time. Is that something you’d want to jump into? 

[00:16:32] Sara Luchsinger: Absolutely. My three W’s are – there are three things that I have found in my life. And how the three W started was that someone told me, “You can’t do this.” When I learned about that particular – somebody said I couldn’t do so. 

[00:16:52] David Folwell: Yeah, somebody telling you no. Somebody telling there’s no way. 

[00:16:56] Sara Luchsinger: Yeah. There’s no way. I came up with these three W’s to guide myself. And the three W’s are this. The first is the what. That’s the vision. It stands in my mind what’s next. Always have your eyes on the next prize. I was always looking for what is my next step. What can I be learning? How can I grow? But the second W was watch me. That’s two words. But watch. Don’t buy into people’s negativity. If they can’t do something or if they tell you you can’t do something, that’s the challenge to find the way. 

I had put my name in a hat for a promotion when I first started my career and I was told I wasn’t ready. And then I did it again and again and again. And each time, I said, “What do I need to learn? What do I need to change? How can I achieve this position?” And so, each time I asked for that job and I didn’t get it, I didn’t go, “Okay. Poor me.” I said, “What do I need to learn? Help me become this.” 

And so, after being told I would never be a leader in this industry, I was promoted to a team leader, and then to a district team leader. And now I’m a VP. And as I said before, I grew my career without that college degree. The college degree came after my rise to VP. That was my watch. It was always about what was my vision? What’s next? But then get out of my way. Watch me do whatever I need to do to get this done.

And then the third W is really looking introspectively. And it’s want. What do I want? Setting my expectations during the promotion phase. All right. This is where I want to go. I’m here now. I want to be this. This is what I want to earn. This is what I want to do. And always setting that next expectation so that you don’t have to ask for what you want. The expectation is that’s what you’re working towards. 

The one thing to remember with that is your value is always worth more than your fear. Set that expectation with the people that you’re working with so that they know exactly what it is that you want to do. And I think leaders always want to learn. You’re an entrepreneur. You have people that work with you. Isn’t it something that you want people to do is to say, “What do you want to do next?” What’s the next step? 

[00:19:31] David Folwell: I love that. And I’m also just think about like how instrumental was that? Or when did that come up in your career? And how did that help drive you towards where you’re at today? 

[00:19:40] Sara Luchsinger: I think that that evolved over a little bit of time. But it really evolved in the first couple years of my career. You know, when you’re turned down for a position several times – and I have to tell you that I was almost fired a couple times as well. Believe it or not. Because of being a very driven person, I was also very intense. And there were a lot of leadership lessons I had to learn. I’m blessed that I didn’t get those opportunities right away, because I think I would have failed. Because there were things I needed to learn. 

But just because somebody told me no, that didn’t mean never. It just meant not now. And so, that helped me continue on my path to grow. And so, that’s kind of what led me up to the point in my career now, is that my whole focus is on helping other people see that and grow. But that whole philosophy of the three W’s really happened in the first couple years of my career. In my early 20s.

[00:20:41] David Folwell: That’s amazing. It also feels like I think the introspection, which is hard in the 20s. I know for myself that there were moments where I thought I knew everything. And when somebody told me that I didn’t know everything, I wasn’t always the most receptive to that. But I think the ability to kind of take that and turn it into motivation to move forward. Do you have any stories that you’re open to sharing related to some of the challenges or lessons that you learned at that time that things that would be useful for – yeah.

[00:21:08] Sara Luchsinger: One of the things that sticks out to me is that when you are always looking at what’s next in the – the next prize, it is hard sometimes to get other people to feel like the same enthusiasm and motivation maybe that you have for reaching that goal. People on the team are never going to be at the same level of motivation for what you want, because they’re motivated by whatever is important to them. And what I had to learn early as a leader was to listen more than I talk. 

And I always thought that the person that was the most powerful was the person that did the most. But what I realized after a few years of being a leader and making a ton of mistakes was that the person that was most powerful was the person that helped other people be better. Helped other people grow. I shifted my focus from me being the best to having all of my team members training them to be better than I was at that job. And that was the goal. 

[00:22:13] David Folwell: I think that is a great insight for everybody and a lesson that many of us have learned. Many of us have learned that if you’re charging up the hill the fastest, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the right approach. You got to make sure to bring in people that everybody’s coming along with you. Some really good insights there. And with that, I wanted to jump into kind of our speed round for the podcast. What advice do you wish you were given before you entered into the staffing industry? 

[00:22:37] Sara Luchsinger: I think the best advice that I would have given would have been never to have left for the two-and-a-half-year hiatus that I took to move into a different industry. That was the one thing. The second thing is not to ever lose the faith in people. I think that there are times that people can be very challenging. The dark times of my career were when I didn’t focus on what’s good. What’s new? How can I help? Having that kind of a mindset. And there’s no other industry like this. This is truly a remarkable industry to be in. 

I don’t know if anyone who says the days go so fast as I do that are in the staffing industry. Because it is a little chaotic, a little crazy. But no two days are ever the same. And that is kind of a joy, because so many people do the same thing day in and day out. And in this industry, we don’t have that.

[00:23:40] David Folwell: It has not been boring for my experience. Not at all. Not at all. That’s great. In the last five years, what new belief behavior or habit has most improved your life? 

[00:23:51] Sara Luchsinger: Wow. In the last five years, I think – I think that the most important behavior that I have had was moving forward with intention. Having an intention, setting a vision, a vision board. Writing down your vision. Writing down your goals for your personal life. Not just personal, but your whole life. Work, family, spiritual, health, all those things. And having that vision written down so that you can see that it in paper and living that life towards that vision. That has really helped me in a lot of ways. Because the small things seem so small then instead of becoming these huge obstacles that we have to overcome. 

[00:24:44] David Folwell: I think that’s such a insightful comment. And, also, whenever I think about with vision, it’s like once you have it down, then the micro-decisions, the subconscious decisions all line up in the right direction, which is such a powerful thing. Last question I’ve got for you is what is one of the best or most worthwhile investments that you’ve ever made? Could be time, energy, money. 

[00:25:04] Sara Luchsinger: Personally, I think that the best investment that I ever made was my investment into the American Staffing Association as a volunteer. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that the connections that I’ve made in that industry have not only been wonderful colleagues, and thought leaders, and mentors, but have also given me some courage in my career. To know that I have this network of individuals that have a similar or same purpose even if it’s for a competitor. It’s kind of like this group that lifts you up. They say always be with the people that are at the point where you want to be. Put yourself in the room – I’ll say this, put yourself in the room with people who scare you. If you do that, you know you’re in the right room. If no one scares you – right? Because you want to be at the level or want to be with people who are at the level you choose to be at or that you aspire to.

[00:26:02] David Folwell: Any closing comments for the audience? 

[00:26:04] Sara Luchsinger: Just a really thank you for having me on the show today. It’s always a pleasure to be able to talk. And who doesn’t like to tell their story? I really appreciate the opportunity. If I can give any advice is to never stop learning. Once you stop learning, you stop growing. And when you stop growing, you die. There’s my dark analogy into the podcast – 

[00:26:31] David Folwell: Go learn. Go learn and listen. Yeah. Keep learning. All right. Thanks so much, Sara.