LinkedIn’s Sharon McCooey: ‘The concept of a job for life is disappearing’

23 May 2019

Sharon McCooey. Image: LinkedIn

In the latest instalment of our Leaders’ Insights series, LinkedIn’s Sharon McCooey talks to us about the competition for talent in the employment sector.

Sharon McCooey is head of LinkedIn Ireland and a member of the company’s EMEA leadership team.

Prior to joining LinkedIn as one of its first hires in Ireland, McCooey ran her own consulting business. She was also previously director of the shared services centre and general manager at BusinessObjects, a business intelligence software provider. She is on the board of Dublin City University’s Governing Authority, as well as previously serving on the board of the American Chamber of Commerce.

McCooey holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce from University College Dublin and is a chartered management accountant.

‘I am constantly learning that working with millennials is very different to working with Generation X’

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead a team of more than 1,200 colleagues as head of LinkedIn Ireland, where we base our EMEA and LATAM (Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) headquarters. I combine leading the Ireland office with being senior director for international operations, which involves developing how we operate from Dublin and how we open new locations across the region.

This expansion has seen our headcount in Dublin grow from three people in 2010 to more than 1,200 people today, the opening of our new building in Dublin, and the current construction of a second office to house our growing team.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

The key to prioritisation is being clear on your vision. Without a focus, it’s very easy to get sidetracked. I have a number of different responsibilities at work – leading our Irish operation, working with international teams, mentoring future leaders – as well as my family life. As a result, this means looking at how I can incorporate different priorities.

For example, when we have executives fly in from the US, rather than go out to dinner I invite them over for a home-cooked meal so I don’t have to be away from my family. At the same time, it means a lot to my colleagues, who are often away from home themselves, so it helps build a stronger personal relationship.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The key challenge for any organisation in Ireland right now is the competition for talent. The economy is nearly at full employment and that means that building a team is more challenging.

While we might be on course to hit full employment, the labour force participation rate is less than what it was during the peak in 2008, and there are pockets of people who could still be tempted back to the workforce. We see stay-at-home parents and carers as two groups of untapped talent, and have created a programme called Returnin to help people reconnect with their careers. This involves putting a series of supports in place for a parent or a carer to help them make a seamless transition back to work.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The key trend that we are tapping into is lifelong learning. The concept of a job for life is disappearing and it has never been more important for professionals to ensure that they invest in their development by gaining new skills, and ensure that they are well positioned to reinvent themselves in the event of a career change.

Most people will change their career at least six times over their lifetime, and in some cases end up working in a profession that didn’t even exist when they entered the workforce. There is clear demand from professionals for learning and development programmes from their employer, and we have our own platform, LinkedIn Learning, offering a range of courses across a variety of diverse topics, with online video tutorials taught by industry experts.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I never had a master plan – my goals evolved as I learned what was possible throughout my career – but my interest in technology was sparked by one of my secondary school teachers, Mr Brophy in Our Lady’s Secondary School in Castleblayney, when he introduced me to computers.

I have always followed the philosophy of finding a career you love, so my interest in technology led me on a path to work for a number of tech companies, helping to establish and scale them in Europe. After taking a short career break to raise a family, I wanted to rejoin the industry, and set a goal of getting a job with a company with a purpose. My decision paid off as I found a company and a role I love at LinkedIn, and we have both had a hugely successful journey since 2010 in Ireland.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I work with a diverse team in terms of nationalities, ages and genders. I am constantly learning that working with millennials is very different to working with Generation X. I’ve learned to take the time and appreciate the different needs of my team and what they need from me to help them to succeed.

‘Most people will change their career at least six times over their lifetime, and in some cases end up working in a profession that didn’t even exist when they entered the workforce’

How do you get the best out of your team?

At LinkedIn we encourage people to be their most authentic selves, and in order to achieve this we have to ensure that everyone has a sense of purpose. When people join LinkedIn, we make it clear that we want them to transform themselves, transform our business and transform society.

As a business, our vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce – whether that’s finding a job or landing a business deal – so equipping our team to help members achieve this is highly motivating.

We want people to transform themselves also, both professionally and personally. We celebrate success when we see colleagues get promoted or change discipline, as we have a culture where we believe that no matter where you are in your career, you can learn a new role.

We also want to transform society. One way this manifests itself is through our InDay programme, which allows teams to work for charities and causes they are passionate about a day per month. Ultimately, this transformation ensures our teams feel fulfilled.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

We are fortunate to have 50:50 gender balance in our Irish operation, and have an ongoing focus on diversity and inclusivity, but it goes without saying that many industries are failing to meet the grade when it comes to having a workforce that is reflective of society. There is no magic potion to fix the issue – it requires everyone to work together to solve it.

Change starts by accepting that there is a problem. Then it’s a question of identifying the causes of the problem and putting solutions in place to help address it.

Looking specifically at LinkedIn, some examples of the measures we have put in place that have helped us achieve a 50:50 gender balance in Dublin include:

  • bias training and ensuring that people from different backgrounds are involved in our interview process
  • establishing mentoring programmes and employee resource groups for a diverse range of audiences, ranging from parents to the LGBT+ community
  • putting specific supports in place like our Returnin programme, which encourages stay-at-home parents and carers back into the workforce
Who is your role model and why?

I have a number of role models. Without my parents, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My dad instilled in me my work ethic and interest in business. My mother worked as a nurse, so I grew up in a household with two working parents.

I have also been very fortunate to work and collaborate with a range of amazing people in the technology sector, who have helped me on my career journey and influenced my work style.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I would highly recommend Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman. There’s a school of thought that you have to sell out in order to succeed in business, but Kofman’s book examines how building a business culture that incorporates values like responsibility, integrity, humility, can lead to business success. We follow a similar mantra at LinkedIn, so this book struck a chord with me.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

The key tools I use every day at work are WhatsApp and email for communication, Microsoft Teams for collaboration and as a means of filtering out unnecessary emails, and, of course, LinkedIn!

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