It doesn’t matter where you sit in the office or what level you are, you can have the best idea or come up with a great solution or can iterate on solutions proposed by others. The best solutions always come from groups and teams.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Agnieszka Yank.
Agnieszka Zieminska Yank is APCO Worldwide’s Chief Talent Officer, with over a decade of human resources management experience. Prior to joining APCO, Ms. Yank led TechnoServe’s strategic global talent efforts and human resources at Chemonics. Ms. Yank holds two master’s degrees, one in International Administration and another one in Library Science. In addition, she holds Global Professional in Human Resources Certification and Certificate in Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership and is an active member of the capitol area Human Resources Leadership Forum and the Society for Human Resources Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
I ultimately ended up in HR thanks to being in an organization that believed in promoting from within rather than hiring from the outside, created opportunities for their people and helped them to grow and develop. I began my tenure in business development and project management at a global organization. After about ten years working on the business side, when a new function was created within the company involving recruitment, I jumped into this opportunity. Later, when the top HR leadership role opened, I was encouraged by my mentor and took a chance and applied. When you look at my profile, I’ve had worked in many parts of the organization — in multiple business units, project management, business development and recruitment. They took the risk with me and promoted me to the head of HR without 20 years of experience in that field because they believed that I could learn and grow into this role, which is what launched me on this HR path.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
When I took my first head of HR job, I wasn’t feeling terribly confident since I didn’t have much experience. I decided to gain credibility by hiring an outside firm to help me assess the HR function within the organization. They looked internally and externally, and the first thing they said to me was “you need to put a big sign in the HR area that says, ‘we do not do payroll,’” because payroll was with finance, but came up as the biggest issue in HR assessment feedback from stakeholders and employees. The bigger lesson I learned from reflecting on it is that you can’t simply ignore something, whether it’s your problem or not. If it impacts your brand or your reputation, it doesn’t matter if it’s your problem or not. You must solve it, and I think that that lesson has really resonated with me over the years and has helped me to continue on a successful career path within HR.
APCO is my first HR experience where I don’t have any issues with payroll. We have an incredible professional in charge of it and it’s also within the HR function. We really own it and we work as a team. It was a dream situation to walk into.
Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?
1. Understand the role, skills and attributes. The first crucial step I take when approaching the task of identifying talent is sitting down with the hiring manager. This allows me to get a deeper understanding of the skillsets and attributes needed for the specific role and the characteristics of a successful candidate, to make sure that we truly comprehend what it is that we are looking for. In addition, this provides an opportunity to look at the overall team composition and how we best complement the strengths and attributes already present on the team.
2. Networking. Tapping into our internal network is also a useful technique because someone within our company might know people who are either candidates or who we can network with for referrals. Our internal referral program goes hand in hand with this and internal recommendations are vital.
3. Advertising. Externally, it is important to make sure that whatever role we are hiring for is being advertised on job boards that match the type of experience we are looking for, ensuring we note the experience which is mandatory and making suggestions for an experience that is desired or could be transferable.
4. Knowing the market. Market mapping key individuals (passive candidates) in the industry who have the skills we need and actively pursuing them. We also are looking at candidates that we have considered in the past but maybe we’re not the right fit for a specific role at that time and might be the right fit for the current role.
5. Lastly, LinkedIn is a great and easy to use the tool when it comes to finding and identifying talent. We have strong recruiters who can effectively source through LinkedIn. Letting colleagues know about these open positions and asking them to share it with their networks also helps us to draw in many qualified candidates.
With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
1. Having the brand recognition and reputation — what employees, former employees, and even prospective employees are saying about us as a company plays a major role in attracting passive talent. We are currently working on launching our employer brand initiative which will aim to clearly articulate our employee value proposition, as well as what makes APCO work experience different from other organizations. Especially in such a competitive marketplace, brand recognition is crucial.
2. Many of our colleagues speak at or participate in conferences and are invited to major events and critical issues panels. This is an opportunity, through those colleagues, to also project our business brand and capture the attention of prospective talent. Prospective candidates remember them and reach out about opportunities after they learn about us or were impressed with the caliber of our thought leaders.
3. Being recognized as an honoree for PRWeek’s Top Places to Work and the winner of The Holmes Report’s 2019 Best Agency to Work For, EMEA Network Award, amongst other accolades, I have been hearing from both employees and outsiders that APCO is an incredibly collaborative organization — and collaboration extends beyond teams and offices, to the global network. We give opportunities to our staff to work with colleagues from different parts of the world on complex projects and assignments that, with another organization, they would have to be another year or two more into their career to do.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire a movement related to the environment. Our species is in trouble — we need to organize and do what we can to save this planet. My small contribution is my compost pile I started at home last year. In all of our North American offices, we have organized green teams that look at our carbon footprint and facilitate climate-friendly practices.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Being in international development, I worked in many different countries across Africa which have a rich tradition of African proverbs. This one resonates with me because it’s a perfect metaphor for the importance of teamwork and collaboration. I never claim to have a monopoly on ideas and solutions, and always find that whatever I do is better when I get input from my colleagues. It doesn’t matter where you sit in the office or what level you are, you can have the best idea or come up with a great solution or can iterate on solutions proposed by others. The best solutions always come from groups and teams.
We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
The first person who came to mind — since there has been so much attention on him recently — is Mr. Rodgers. I recently read an article called Five life lessons for HR from Mr. Rodgers. It spoke about values such as empathy, listening before speaking, if it’s mentionable it’s manageable, and to not shy away from hard conversations — which we have to do in HR when others don’t want to. It really resonated with me. And because I didn’t grow up in the US, I didn’t know about him until recently. Once I saw the movie, I got his books and started learning about him. I thought that he was such a wonderful person who also taught generations of people all of those positive ideas.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!