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How Companies Identify Talent with Carolyn Powell & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Provident Bank Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Remember we are all someone’s child. Treat each other with respect. Listen to each other.

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 Carolyn Powell.

Carolyn is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Provident Bank, based in NJ, where she is transforming the HR strategy, approach to talent, and the employee experience. Carolyn has a passion for building engaged, inclusive, and high-performing cultures. Prior to Provident, she held senior leadership roles with Conduent, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J., Dun & Bradstreet, and ADP. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Boston University and holds professional certifications in Human Resources, Executive Coaching, Sales Leadership Performance Coaching, and Human Capital Strategy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

Like many HR professionals, I followed a path that led to a great career, with the support of a lot of exceptional mentors and colleagues along the way. When I was in college, I was not sure if I wanted to pursue a career as a teacher, a lawyer, or a writer. My Dad told me; you have a lot of years of working ahead of you. It’s hard to know what is going to work best for you until you start working in a field. Find something you are good at and enjoy and focus on it. He also liked to say, the secret to success was hard work, so get going!

Through friends, I met a recruiter in the NY technology world. She helped me recognize strengths in myself, including an ability to connect with people at all levels and an adeptness for learning and technology. She connected me with her network, which led to interviews and my first HR role as a recruiter. My career developed from there. Recruiting for me was a way to help people find what works best for them. Organizations are constantly evolving. I found through connecting with executives who were leading change, and supporting people displaced from restructuring, built on my strengths in coaching, employee relations, and organizational design. I realized HR really leveraged my passion for helping people and by extension supporting organizations to be successful.

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?

I have been fortunate that my career has given me the opportunity to travel around the US and to many different countries. When trying to understand an organization and the culture, I believe getting out of headquarters and visiting teams where they work is the best way to learn about what motivates people and how you can support improving their employee experience. While a lot of good work and insights come from these trips, the bonds you build with your colleagues and the fun you can have experiencing the culture is the most memorable benefit. One of my best memories was my trip to India. The people were wonderful and welcoming. I was impressed with the engagement and quality of the teams; I was fascinated by the dynamic cultural experience. We met with a group of school students to discuss career paths and the importance of education. We enjoyed dance and musical performances, and an amazing variety of food. The most offbeat moment was taking an auto-rickshaw, which is like a high-speed golf cart/taxi and zipping through the crowded streets. My local colleagues were beyond amused and a little stressed by my fascination with this little car. What I learned from this trip, and so many others, is that the unique perspective you get from making the effort to understand where other people are from can really inform how you approach global HR strategies. It is not one size fits all.

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. Link your talent plan to your strategic plan. It is easy for the immediate to get in the way of the important. Take time to focus on the competencies you need to meet your long-term objectives. The need to fill gaps in your workforce can drive short term thinking and leave you short on talent for the long haul. If you are not in the strategic planning sessions, invite yourself and explain the need and value.
  2. Understand and develop your employer brand. You are marketing a career at your organization like you market your company’s services. Understand who you are in the market. We are a regional bank with deep roots in the community we serve. We focus on building long term relationships with local colleges and universities.
  3. Build consensus with your leadership team! You cannot do this alone. Your leaders need to be with you on this journey. This takes time, effort and confidence. Come prepared to articulate the value to the company.
  4. Focus on competency and passion for the work. A person with great customer service skills can learn your business. An ambitious person willing to learn and grow will add more value in the long run. You can teach skills, but it is hard to push a turtle.
  5. Always be recruiting. Look for talent and you will find it. In the virtual or real world, stay tuned into the people around you. You will notice a great customer service person in a supermarket, or a skilled writer on a cooking blog.

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. Be proactive. I know this is challenging during a pandemic but get out there virtually if you cannot in person. You are looking to build long term relationships.
  2. Leverage your value proposition. You may be in a crowded talent market but remember what makes your company’s value proposition unique and stay on message.
  3. Be respectful. Cultivate your network. You are building relationships for the long haul. The right jobs are about the right fit. You may find yourself trading talent with a competitor and that can be okay.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Remember we are all someone’s child. Treat each other with respect. Listen to each other.

Absolutely love that answer. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better — Maya Angelou.

This inspires me to remember we are all on a journey. I like to believe I have learned from my mistakes, sometimes more than my successes. I try to recognize that others are on their journey too. We should stay humble and understand we still have more to learn.

Great quote! We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, 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?

I would like to have lunch with Michelle Obama. I think about the challenges I have faced as I pursued my career while building a strong marriage and raising two children. Watching and reading about how her journey unfolded as a private and public figure is amazing to me. I would be fascinated to talk with her.

Thank you so much for sharing so many fantastic insights with us!

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