Checkr chats with VP of People at Tacombi, Jacqui Maguire, to get her perspective on talent branding, structured hiring, and scaling DEI.
Jacqui Maguire is the VP of People at Tacombi, which connects people to Mexico through hospitality at their neighborhood taquerias across New York, Washington, DC, and Miami. Tacombi also produces their own traditional flour and corn tortillas at their tortilleria and sells them at grocery stores around the country under the brand, Vista Hermosa, and runs a nonprofit, The Tacombi Foundation and The Tacombi Community Kitchen, established to fight food insecurity and provide food relief to those in need.
We sat down with Jacqui from her post in New York City to talk about her career journey from working in restaurant operations to moving into HR in the tech industry, and how the two help her lead the People department at Tacombi. We cover:
Let’s get started!
Hi Jacqui! Could you introduce yourself and tell us about Tacombi and your role as VP of People there?
Jacqui Maguire: I’ve taken an interesting path to arrive at Tacombi. I did my undergraduate studies in hospitality, went to culinary school, then managed restaurants and worked in hospitality operations for many years. At a certain point in my career, I realized it was time for a change and made a hard pivot into talent.
It was difficult to make a shift from an operations role into an HR role, but I was fortunate that the tech companies I applied for were open-minded to different professional backgrounds. A tech startup took a chance on me as a recruiter. I then grew my career in People and Talent at tech startups like Greenhouse, where I worked for over five years. My time at Greenhouse was the most formative in terms of my HR career growth.
Coming to Tacombi presented an interesting nexus for me to lead the people department for a hospitality group, going back to an industry that I love but also getting to do more of the behind the scenes work rather than the frontlines of restaurant operations.
Tacombi was an awesome company for me to join because the CEO and founder, Dario Wolos, is very focused on doing things differently in hospitality.
Most people know this, especially if you've been in the industry; hospitality is not known for great people and HR practices. Historically, it's an industry that often sees employees as disposable resources. For example, if someone doesn’t show up for work one day—they’ll immediately be replaced.
What really drew me to the Tacombi team is that we truly see people as the center of the business. Yes, we serve tacos—and they’re delicious—and that’s why people come back. But, we have a team of individuals who hand-make all of the tortillas we serve. The people who deliver our hospitality are human beings—and we need to treat them better than the industry standard. That philosophy was really enticing to me because they wanted to bring a more modern approach to people practices to the hospitality industry.
At Tacombi, I felt there was an opportunity to create real positive shifts in the way we treat employees in this industry.
What are some ways that organizations are setting themselves apart to attract and retain candidates in not only a competitive labor market as a whole, but the particularly strained hospitality industry?
Jacqui Maguire: There’s two sides to the story here, one is attracting candidates and the other is keeping them engaged as employees.
When it comes to attracting candidates, there's a lot we can do with our talent brand. At Tacombi, we’re aiming to be different and stand out within the industry.
Building a talent brand to attract candidates is about finding what will make you stand out in your industry and then telling the world about it. Organizations have to get that message out so candidates know to come to you when they’re looking for more than a run-of-the-mill restaurant job.
"We have to think differently about how we hire. It’s not about what someone has done in their past, it's about the attributes and skills that they have to be successful in the job."
At Tacombi, we don't want to be seen as just a paycheck, we want to be a place where people are proud to work and see long-term opportunities.
That idea stems from my early career. I loved being a server and working in hospitality, but it wasn’t seen as something people do as a career. Providing people with long-term incentives in the company can enable them to build a successful career that they’re proud of in this industry.
In such a tough hiring market, we've been talking a lot about reconsidering our definition of the ideal candidate. Over the last two years, many people left the workforce. Even more people left the hospitality industry, and many are not coming back. As I mentioned before, it’s an industry notorious for not treating people well, so why go back to it?
We have to think differently about how we hire. It’s not about what someone has done in their past, it's about the attributes and skills that they have to be successful in the job.
One of the things we're working on is hiring based on a scorecard of attributes that will lead someone to success, rather than just looking at experience alone. And, we have our own values that we uphold as an organization which are different from traditional restaurant values.
So, we’re looking to hire team members who have the attributes that will make them successful in a role and who share our values.
For example, one of Tacombi’s values is fellowship. That’s something I think a lot of hospitality groups would prioritize. But another Tacombi value is adventure, which you won’t find elsewhere.
Tacombi is a high-growth startup in the form of a hospitality organization, so we want our candidates to embrace the spirit of adventure and fellowship because there’s always something exciting and different to tackle right around the corner. Yes, that can be scary—but it’s mostly a lot of fun.
"By looking for people who share our values, we broaden our net of candidates who we welcome onto the team and can provide different career paths that align with their goals."
While many tech companies have run culture-alignment or value-alignment interviews in the past, it’s fairly new to our industry. We interview candidates for roles from our tortilla factory, to our taquerias, to our corporate positions, based on a shared set of values and attributes that we know will make someone successful here.
We ask ourselves: what would make someone an amazing team member at Tacombi? Two attributes we’ve determined are important in every role are professionalism and pride in service. This aligns with our view that working at Tacombi as an opportunity to build a career in hospitality.
We have a couple of success stories across the company which have become anecdotes that we want to make the norm. For example, one employee, Jared, started as a server nine years ago, worked his way up to being a General Manager, and recently joined my team as a Talent Partner. Who better to build our team of leaders than someone who worked in the position and shares our values?
Others who started as servers at the same time as Jared are still serving and are proud to be, they've made a great living and are taking care of their families. By looking for people who share our values, we broaden our net of candidates who we welcome onto the team and can provide different career paths that align with their goals.
It’s difficult to quantify and measure candidate experience. What are some key metrics your team is currently measuring or hoping to track in the future to iterate and improve on the hiring process?
Jacqui Maguire: Something that is necessary for any kind of metrics tracking is to have the right systems in place. This is a common misstep many teams make. They jump the gun and decide they want to have a KPI dashboard with different metrics and analysis before putting processes in place.
When I started at Tacombi about six months ago, I created a draft of what I want my KPI dashboard to look like. I showed the draft to my team, but shared that we will have this in about a year, not tomorrow.
Clean data in results in clean data out. You can’t put the cart before the horse.
One of the systems we put into place immediately was candidate surveys. I am a huge proponent of capturing feedback. Getting direct feedback from our candidates is one of the best ways we can improve our process, particularly in such a candidate-driven market.
Candidates have power, and that’s not a bad thing. If candidates have more power and hold employers to a higher standard—it simply means employers have to step up their game. To me, that’s positive for both the industry as whole and the entire ecosystem of employment.
"Clean data in results in clean data out. You can’t put the cart before the horse."
Back to candidate experience: the only way we know what candidates are looking for is to ask them. We implemented Greenhouse about three months ago and immediately turned on the candidate surveys function to get feedback from job-seekers on their experiences.
What's interesting for Tacombi is that we run three different businesses. We break out our feedback into those three markets because the feedback we receive is unique to each segment. What candidates applying for corporate positions are looking for in the hiring process may be very different from those applying for our taquerias or tortilla factory. So, we keep our values consistent, but create unique candidate experiences. We also choose to collect anonymous feedback in hopes that candidates will leave honest responses.
We’re still in the collection stage. Our plan is to look at the three different businesses and three different populations to try and build processes and systems that cater to each of those segments. We recognize that there will be different expectations across the business units and different ways to encourage candidates to become employees.
With three different businesses hiring different employee cohorts, you really have to stay organized.
Jacqui Maguire: That is one of the complexities of our business that’s different from my experience with hiring in tech startups.
When you’re hiring at a tech company, there are some variances in the candidate process whether you’re hiring engineers versus hiring salespeople.
We’ve recognized that we’re operating three very different businesses so we’ve created unique processes for each. It does add a layer of complexity to building a structured hiring process, but our aim is to consistently set the same goals and values behind our processes across the three units. Whether the taqueria has a two-step hiring process and the oficina has five: the foundation, values, and goals behind them are all the same.
A core talent belief for me is that structure is necessary for good data. We don’t have to be rigid, but we need structures and systems in place so that we can be intentional when we vary from it.
"Getting direct feedback from our candidates is one of the best ways we can improve our process, particularly in such a candidate-driven market."
You'll never have great data if you don't have some structure to your systems. The key to any successful talent KPI is having a strong sense of your funnel. If you don’t have structured steps that candidates go through, you'll never be able to get any funnel metrics and funnel metrics are the key to any recruiting data.
The same is true for employment processes. You need to have a structure for all of your promotions and transfers across different locations and teams.
If you don't have that structured system you'll never be able to capture the data behind things like how many internal candidates apply to go somewhere else, and how many actually get the job.
We are in the stages of building all of those systems with a strong eye on the future-state of our KPI dashboard.
DEI is top of mind for hiring managers and leaders across industries. How is Tacombi promoting DEI in the hiring process and how do data and processes relate to improving DEI?
Jacqui Maguire: Similar to improving the candidate experience, data is crucial to improving DEI in the hiring process. Structure is one way that simultaneously helps reduce bias and build better data.
In order to diversify our teams, we have to diversify the top of the funnel. That means we have to be more open-minded about the experiences that individuals bring to the table and interview more broadly, not being closed-minded to any candidates coming in.
When we’re interviewing candidates, implementing structure in the decision making process helps ensure that we’re reducing the natural bias we all have when we meet someone new.
Part of that requires training. This is the stage we’re in at Tacombi. We’re running training sessions on unconscious bias so that all of our interviewers and hiring managers can be more aware of the biases they're bringing to the table. Once we identify unconscious and potential biases, we can become conscious of them. When we become conscious of unconscious bias, we can make smarter decisions.
"A core talent belief for me is that structure is necessary for good data."
Structured processes can also help employees become more aware of their biases. I prefer to implement structure in the form of a scorecard. For example, every single candidate who comes in to interview to be a general manager of a taqueria has to go through the same process as another candidate where they’re asked close to the same questions and assessed on the same scorecard.
There will still be some human bias—we are human beings; to say that we will completely remove bias is impossible. However, by asking each candidate the same set of questions—we give each individual a fair opportunity to provide their best answer. Then, when we’re assessing those responses, we’re using the same scorecard so all candidates are evaluated on the same indicators of success. That scorecard becomes a piece of data where we’ve assessed candidates on the same set of values and attributes to make stronger hiring decisions. Ultimately, you make better decisions based on data and hire a more diverse workforce.
The next step from there is applying those same principles to your employment practices.
When you're making promotion decisions or when you're making transfer decisions—employees should be assessed on the same set of criteria. Again, it doesn’t have to be completely rigid, you may adjust the scorecard for internal transfers or for promotions, but you should still have a consistent process.
"When we become conscious of unconscious bias, we can make smarter decisions."
For example, a hiring manager may want to promote one of their team members. They might have 10 servers who all want to be a shift lead. All of those servers should be evaluated on the same criteria. The other benefit here is that the nine others who didn’t get the promotion can also understand why. You avoid any confusion and risk of unconscious bias and favoritism because you have clear data about why one individual scored above the others across these very specific criteria.
Each of the nine individuals who didn’t get the promotion can understand where they have room to improve, which helps them set clear goals for the future.
Our role as a people team is not to make those decisions for anyone or tell managers who they should be promoting, but rather, we should be able to give managers that structure so when they want to promote someone—they know they’ll have to show how they fairly assed all viable applicants across the same criteria.
With structure, we can move toward an interview process that focuses on the candidate’s attributes, weighing those against the values and skills we’ve agreed are critical to success.
Reducing bias in people decisions from your top of funnel, to the interview through to all of your employment processes is not easy, but it’s totally possible.
Thank you so much, Jacqui!
Jacqui Maquire: Thank you!
To hear more from Jacqui on scaling DEI, find this article she wrote for Greenhouse, How to build a DE&I recruiting strategy: A four-pillar framework. Find more information about Jacqui Maguire here, and learn more about Tacombi here.