Irina Shamaeva,
Partner, Brain Gain Recruiting
office (510) 233-9493
cell (415) 699-9841
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Q & A with Irina Shamaeva

Six Degrees: Tell us of your home world, Irina

Irina: My family is unusual. I have two lovely children, Jane, a 29-year old, and Peter, a 5-year old. I am lucky to have Jane and her family living close by. Jane has a daughter Oksana who is 4 and is close friends with her uncle Peter. My children are the joy of my life. Most of the adults in our extended family are mathematicians; Jane “rebelled” and her education is in literature. She got her degrees at Columbia and UC Berkeley (grad) and is teaching English Literature at a small private high school in Berkeley. We talk daily, are close, and also, strangely, moms of young children. My son Peter has a huge amount of energy and is very athletic and social. My granddaughter Oksana is also full of energy and is already showing her talents in math and reading. I feel blessed when I have both Peter and Oksana in my lap.

A big part of who I am is my cultural background. I came to NYC from Russia in 1990 for my first trip abroad ever, enjoyed the trip and got a 3-month contract in San Francisco over email (email was very new then). I brought then 12-year-old Jane to San Francisco, and in the middle of my stay got an offer to stay as an employee. My temporary visit to the US has lasted since. I’ve lived in San Francisco and Berkeley all this time and love the area. My family members Jane, Peter and Oksana are all bilingual English-Russian speakers. My father is still living in Moscow, Russia. At 78, he is an actively working, published mathematician, loves swimming and travels to conferences in the summers, where he is invited to make presentations. Last summer he and I met in Rome; next summer the plan is to meet in London.

Six Degrees: What do you do for fun?

Irina:I love spending time with my children and share my favorite activities with them. I used to take ballroom dancing lessons; now I go to free-style dancing events and classes. Last summer Peter and I went to a Northern CA dance camp in the Sierras near Kings Canyon Park, and we loved it.

I volunteer at Peter’s school weekly, helping his teacher in the Kindergarten classroom. I am an avid backpacker. I especially like high mountains, walking cross country to high elevations with views, rocks and snow. I have been on many Sierra Club trips; Yosemite is my favorite place to go to. I also enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing. I do yoga and meditation. I am interested in psychology, especially character theories, such as the Enneagram.

I keep in touch with long-time friends whom I met in high school. They live all over the world now. Last summer, we had a reunion in Yosemite and my classmates came from Washington DC, Boston, San Francisco, and the Netherlands.

Six Degrees: How did you get started as a recruiter?

Irina: I have been recruiting since 2003. In 1991-2003 I worked as a Software Engineer and later a Manager/Director here in the Bay Area. I worked in Biotech and Multimedia. A few times my jobs ended abruptly when my start-ups shut down during the dot-com era. At one company we were invited to a meeting with a 15-minute notice to learn that that was our last day, and no further pay was given. I worked with recruiters as a candidate quite a bit and it felt like for them it was an easy way to make money. (Indeed, I was once “placed” at a start-up by a recruiter who initially reached me by email and then was nowhere to be found throughout the whole interview process and the offer negotiation but got paid in the end.)

I started recruiting on my own as a contingency recruiter while being completely new to this type of business. (Typical for me, since I also was not quite qualified for many of my previous jobs, learned on the fly and did quite well.) I didn’t make any money in the first 6 months, but then it took off. I was really lucky to get together with my Partner Julia Tverskaya. We’ve run Brain Gain Recruiting as Partners since 2004. As I, Julia is a former software manager; she is also a chess grandmaster and won some US competitions in the past. She’s ideal as a partner, smart, reliable, and has mastered the art of interviewing candidates, including some areas that were new for us, such as strategy consulting.

Early on, we got on the vendor list for a Big Four consulting company, and stayed on based on our success, when they cut their list from 5,000 people to 100 early in 2008. Thanks to Julia, we are one of the very few companies who are on the vendor list for their Strategy and Change Practice.

Over the years our clients have included software development, financial and consulting companies. In the last 2+ years we have mostly been placing high-level consultants in ERP/IT (SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle, Siebel, etc.), Strategy and Change, and Finances. We are also getting some jobs in the Government sector now. The majority of our openings are in the $100K+ per year range.

Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?

Irina: The event was my son Peter’s arrival. When Peter was little and I was a stay-at-home Mom for his first year, I tried to do recruiting. I remembered how I could help friends improve their resumes and find jobs and also how I worked with recruiters as a candidate and so it felt like a thing to try. A few months later, I got a call from a recruiter offering to join their client as a software manager, and ended up placing someone for that position for a $5K referral fee. That was the beginning.

In my before-recruiting life, I was often able to help bring in good employees for my companies and help friends find jobs. In 1997 I got my first “recruiting” award of $8K for referring successful job candidates to my company Applied Biosystems. Before that, in 1994, when I was leaving my job, I talked my boss into hiring a friend of mine from Moscow, Russia, to replace me – which he did, without even first meeting my friend face to face. It worked out very well for all.

Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?

Irina: I do not have a career mentor. I often learn things on my own. Of course I pick advice from others, especially given the wealth of web-based publications. I feel grateful to Lou Volpe of for his advice to “submit only A candidates” early in my recruiting career. Simple as it is, this was the best advice I ever got about recruiting.

Six Degrees: Tell us about your company

Irina: Our company, Brain Gain Recruiting, is a two-person partnership. Both Julia and I wear multiple hats but my role is mainly a Sourcer for our company. In addition, I have been training multiple recruiting contractors, some of whom came from a non-recruiting background.

In 2008 I created sourcing-related forums, blogs and events and posted on many sites. My area of expertise that I talk about is web sourcing. One topic, constructing Boolean search strings, got very popular. So far I have enjoyed blogging and teaching and got many emails and messages thanking me for sharing useful information. I plan to keep it as part of what I do.

Six Degrees: (A) What other companies' recruiting operations do you admire or have heard are best-practice examples?

Irina: We’ve worked with a number of third-party recruiters as split partners (on both client and candidate sides). I have watched two recruiters with whom we have worked closely that felt as great examples in certain ways.
(B) In what aspects are they superior?

Irina: The two recruiters I admire know the business inside out, know competitors and news about them, understand assumptions behind job descriptions, can assess resumes in rather complex areas and can speak to both clients and candidates in a meaningful way. We are not bad ourselves but these people seem stronger.

Six Degrees: What recent general news story or industry trend do you feel will have an impact on your work in the future? Why?

Irina: With the slow economy, we have a challenge and those who are the strongest at what they do and can make changes work for them will be successful. I feel it’s good to have challenges since they make me grow professionally and invent new ways to do business.

Six Degrees: List/detail speaking events, awards, publications, where you have you represented your company:

Irina: I have written publications and blog posts about web sourcing and Boolean Strings and may go to some speaking events. Some of my online posts are listed on; here are selected links:

• Two Common Misconceptions about Searching Google for Resumes
• Use Facebook to verify candidate’s location and send fewer emails
• Boolean vs. "Googlean"
• New Year's quiz - 8 fun Boolean questions for all - QUIZ-JAN2009
• Number of results matters
• Finding email addresses.
• Looking for people based on a target title and a target company name
• How to source candidates on LinkedIn even if your network is small
• Find the LIONs based on keyword search
• How to create a target email list of candidates in no time and for free
• LinkedIn Tutorial, Part 2
• I Disagree with Donato Diorio | The Talent Buzz
• BountyJobs Competitor Recommended - RecruitAlliance

A few more articles will be published soon in TheSource and ERE in January 2009.

Six Degrees: What is your next career goal? What do you need to do to get there?

Irina: I’d like to grow our company, get more business and hire more recruiters so that I could delegate some tasks and concentrate on the company strategy, expand my sourcing skills, invent new ways to source and teach the sourcing community.

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Replies to This Discussion

Great interview.

It's always great to know another great sourcer on!

P.s-I absolutely love her son, Peter wearing the Recruiting Blogs hat :)
That's some pedigree, Irina, and fascinating reading.
Thanks, Irina. Again, I appreciate you as well as others in the recruiting industries who take time to share both their background and their knowledge and start conversations around topics we utilize so often.
Best wishes in your continued success!

What a facinating background and beautiful family.

Sarah White
Great to know more about Irina! Us Sources need to stick together.

Very interesting life story. Thanks for sharing!
Irina that is a great story. Thanks for taking time to share it with all of us. I am curious if you still think recruiting is an easy way to make money though, now that you have seen it from the other side.

Thanks, Julia.
I wish it were as easy as it seemed to be. :)

Julia Stone said:
Irina that is a great story. Thanks for taking time to share it with all of us. I am curious if you still think recruiting is an easy way to make money though, now that you have seen it from the other side.

Hello Irina,
Thanks for sharing your story and your thoughts with us. It is always great to see how people decided to join this profession!

Thank you all for your nice comments and big thanks to Dave for posting this interview and for helping us all network.

Please meet my business Partner Julia Tverskaya; she's also here on RBC.

I have always been amazed at the different paths we all take to get into the recruiting industry and Irina's story is another example of a very talented person’s entre into this crazy business.

Thanks for sharing - always great to hear someone's story

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