Interview by:

Pavle Stojkovic is Chief People Officer for The Athletic Media Company, publishers and owners of The San Francisco-based, subscription sports news site was valued at $500 million in a c-round of funding in January, 2020, and has grown to 500 employees since its founding in 2016. Pavle has 8 direct reports, and a team which supports people and hiring operations globally with a corporate presence on 3 continents.

Tell me more about you - how’d you get where you are now? How did you get into your career?

Well, my first job was as the fry cook at McDonalds, but my career-career started out in the depths of what we were told at the time was the “worst recession of our lives” in 2008-2009. That’s funny to think about now. Sort of.

I got an unpaid internship opportunity at a small startup in Florida (Grooveshark.) I made zero dollars, and I slept on my friend’s futon for six months. I was brought in to sell ad real estate on their website. I had some early wins, which allowed me to start getting paid - a truly big moment. The company was growing, and we didn’t have anyone handling the recruiting efforts. I approached one of the co-founders and asked him if he minded if I took a shot at owning it. He told me to go for it, and in I jumped.

As it turns out, recruiting and sales have a lot in common. I found it much more rewarding to place people in their dream roles over pure selling, and I started to see success quickly. As the company continued to grow, I started absorbing more and more of the HR responsibilities. Pretty soon, I owned the entire HR and recruiting function. I spent four years in my HR sandbox, failing miserably on a regular basis, but learning tons of lessons along the way. Along the way, I decided to formalize my experience by getting my PHR certification.

From there, I joined a mobile services and development startup out of Boston called Mobiquity. They were preparing to launch a development center in Gainesville, and needed someone to come in on the ground floor as the local leader for the People team. That was valuable - it allowed me to gain experience working with a team, and a distributed workforce. With this talented team, we launched the Gainesville development center and rapidly grew it to over 100 employees.

It was great experience, but along the way I reconnected with the Creative Director I hired at Grooveshark. They told me about an opportunity to launch the San Francisco market for a New York based services company (Managed by Q, ultimately acquired by WeWork). I moved to San Francisco without ever being there, and grew that market to over 150 employees from just a small group of individuals. Fun.

Somewhere along the way, growing teams and implementing process became “my thing”, and that caught the eye of the leadership team over at [car sharing startup] Getaround. I joined their team as the Head of People to built their entire HR org, as well as expand nationally and internationally.

And, by good fortune, I met a recruiter who told me about a small sports media company that needed someone to help them get their footing on the HR front. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT a sports person. I swiftly declined the initial interview request, but was persuaded to at least hear them out. As soon as I met the team and learned about the business, I was immediately sold. I joined as The Athletic’s first HR hire and VP of People, quickly scaling the company from 150 employees to over 550 across the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. I’m currently serving an incredible team as the Chief People Officer.

We’re in some interesting times. How has Covid-19 impacted how you’re approaching your role?

My team and I strictly follow our quarterly OKRs. As it turns out, as long as we are aligned on expectations, we can remain productive whether we are in the office or remote. As they say “you can only manage what you can measure.” I find that to be true.

I’m exploring the idea of creating a more flexible working arrangement once the pandemic is over. For now, we are experimenting with new expectations that allow us to be flexible with our days. I don’t expect my team to sit on their computer and pretend to be working from 9 to 5 I just want the job to get done.

Pavle recently wrote about how his perspective has shifted. Read his editorial here.

Do you have a philosophy around talent acquisition?

Talent Acquisition is typically the first interaction that future employees will have with your company. It sets the tone for their entire lifecycle with the company. In a competitive market, it’s important for companies to wow candidates with a quality experience, as well as outline clear expectations from day one (and stick to them.) That’s how you get the best people to come and work for you.

What sort of unique challenges have you faced in your career - and how have you overcome them?

Managing egos (especially in Silicon Valley) can be exhausting, but it’s crucial for an HR professional. We’re best at our jobs when we leave our egos at the door, and sometimes that requires understanding how your leaders think. It’s not always easy, and it can be frustrating, but managing an eccentric leader is the art of cutting through the noise.

Would you recommend Talent Acquisition and/ or Human Resources as career options for your children?

Yes. Absolutely. I always tell people “until the robots take over, we’ll always need an HR team.”

What question do your executives ask you the most, and why is this topic important to your business?

How can we measure performance for each employee in a way that is fair and easy for everyone to understand? We have employees in 50+ markets, and our expectations for each market have to adapt to various factors, ranging from size of the market to popularity of a sports team on any given season. We strive to measure performance in a way that is consistent no matter who you are. The goal we aim for is to “never be surprised by the feedback you are receiving.” That means giving every employee visibility into their performance 24/7.

What is the most important quality/skill you look for when hiring a new recruiter for your team?  Why?

I look for someone that knows how to connect on a human level but can also sell the company and role to the right candidates. Finding a quality person is only half the battle. It’s equally important to convince the person that they will do the best work of their career at your company, especially in a competitive market.

What do you wish vendors understood before they contact you?

You can do everything right and still not hook me if your timing isn’t right. As a process person, I wish there was a perfect solution I could provide, but sometimes it just comes down to timing.

What industry blogs and publications do you find most valuable?

I am a huge fan of The Information, and not just because they are another subscription-based publication. If you’re willing to pay the price, they provide some of the best tech news in the world.

What do you think is the biggest threat facing the talent acquisition industry today?

We’re never going back to normal. The industry needs to be ready to support remote hiring in a way we haven’t quite seen before. The best recruiters will be able to support markets they’ve never set foot in.

Where do you see the talent acquisition industry in 5 years?

Similar to above. A huge push for remote.

If your talent acquisition budget doubled tomorrow, how would you spend the additional funds?

Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! -Steve Ballmer

Jokes aside, we have some of the best sports content creators in the world. We need to create a platform that showcases their work, back it up with data to empower them to maximize their audience, and support them with a culture that allows them to constantly think outside the box when creating content.

What is the most difficult role your team is recruiting for right now? What makes it difficult?

We’re constantly trying to innovate the way we deliver sports content. In some cases, that means creating roles that haven’t existed before. Those are always a challenge to hire for.

How do you stay sane/ maintain balance?

  1. Routines & Rituals - I structure my day in a way that eliminates as much choice as possible, limiting the amount of stress or choice paralysis I feel. I wake up at 4am and finish my workout by 7am, get ready for work, go to work (pre-pandemic), and intentionally leave the office by 6pm
  2. Work/Life Balance - Unless it’s an emergency, it waits until the next day. I set the same expectation for my team. I won’t make them work late.
  3. Meditation & Stoicism* - Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and night. We live in a speck of space dust flying through the Universe at incredible speeds. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

*Added Bonus - Books on Stoicism Pavle recommends (hey - you read this far, keep going):
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
The Ego is the Enemy - Ryan Holiday
Stillness is the Key - Ryan Holiday
Discourses & The Enchiridion - Epictetus

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” -Epictetus