I like to “operate out of abundance” instead of out of scarcity.
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 Susana Dryden and Christie Burrow.
Susana Dryden serves as the Chief Operating Officer for ExchangeRight, focusing on the development, training, and expansion of the firm’s departments. She began her career in the commercial real estate investment industry in 2007 with JRW Investments.
Christie Burrow serves as the Operations Manager for ExchangeRight, focusing on attracting talent, setting training standards, improving organizational processes, improving productivity, and ensuring the company culture is upheld and exemplified amongst the team. She began her career in the commercial real estate investment industry in 2014 with JRW Investments. Burrow is a graduate from Chico State University.
Kage: What brought you both to this specific career path?
Susana: I did not specifically choose this career path. I had no idea I would end up in this industry when I started out. I was hired by JRW Investments (a real estate wealth management firm that shares ownership with ExchangeRight) in 2007. I had been working as a manager at a ballet studio and I left after the owner passed away. I was not interested in a retail position but, being that I was in college, I knew it was the route I would have to go. I gave myself three months to find a non-retail job and if nothing came along, I would apply. Three months came and went and though I had submitted for various roles, including a part-time Marketing Assistant position with JRW, nothing had panned out. On the morning of my first day of orientation at Bed Bath & Beyond, I got a call from JRW asking me to come in for an interview.
During my first years with the company, we endured the Great Recession. It was a difficult time to work for a company in the financial industry. However, the hardships of that time and the need to wear a lot of different hats to help the company save money and continue to operate presented many opportunities to learn about the different functions and departments within the company. Thankfully. we survived the recession, and the company began to grow. We did not have an HR department at that time, so the interview process became a central part of my role.
Like most of the work I became involved with, I had no interviewing experience when I started. I tried to amass as much information as I could to develop a technique and I quickly learned that this was a skill that would take time and experience to hone. I began to understand that interviewing is specific to the person facilitating it, and I have been told by applicants that I have a unique approach. While you truly cannot begin to know who a person is in an interview you can usually get a feel for whether or not your culture will be something in which they will thrive. During an interview, I try to understand what is important to that individual, what they value, what motivates or encourages them, and what culture will support them in producing and being their best. I also want to understand if our company’s work is aligned with their career aspirations, and of course if they meet the position requirements. Of all the factors we consider, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that finding someone who is a cultural fit is one of the most critical pieces, and that if we do not get that part right, whatever shining quality excited us throughout the process will tarnish quickly once they are onboard. My role in this process is to be an effective gatekeeper. I want to ensure we are hiring people who are going to support the current team and expand upon our skills and abilities so that they can be successful in reaching their personal goals while also meeting the company’s goals and objectives.
Christie: I began working as an EMT after college and received my paramedic license before I became a stay-at-home mom of three. After a divorce, I started my life over and was open to new possibilities. Susana and I grew up together attending and participating in a rigorous horse training program centered on character development and discipline for youth. We reconnected around the time of my new life chapter. I was interested in full-time work considering the circumstances, and she mentioned having an open receptionist position. She sent me several pages of information about the company, the managing partners, and tips on how to be a successful employee in preparation of my first day. At first, I was a bit intimidated, but my natural tendency to organize, desire to keep busy, and the friendly team members found me feeling at home pretty quickly.
After a few months, I was offered an Executive Assistant position for Joshua Ungerecht (managing partner and co-founder of ExchangeRight), and it was when I really began to understand the company’s vision on a deeper level. After some time, I transitioned to Susana’s Executive Assistant and in that position, I learned how to handle difficult conversations, how to be a good listener, and how to aid team members through difficult situations. The skills and knowledge I gained early from Joshua and Susana were foundational to my development into the role of Operations Manager.
Kage: 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?
Susana: I remember one time we had an individual apply for a position and they came to our office for their first interview. It was a clash of worlds as they entered our business casual office with a mohawk and matching rocker attire. They were asked to wait a moment and I walked up to let them know I was running a few minutes behind but would be with them shortly. They excused themselves to the restroom and we never saw them again. To this day, I am curious to know why they (at least initially) sought a position with us and to know what they were looking for. Not everyone is going to be a fit for our company and part of why I enjoy participating in the interview process is because I get to have conversations with people that often help to tap into what they are really interested in doing. I enjoy being a part of the interview process and helping people find their way.
Christie: Early in my career with ExchangeRight, I was assisting our CEO and he had asked if I had reached out to one of his clients, as requested. I replied to him with confidence, that I had left a voicemail. He paused for a moment and looked up at me from his laptop and smiled and asked me how I knew for sure if the client had in fact received the message. I paused and thought, wow he was right. It was such a simple concept but so very important. I was busy working down a list of to-dos and I did not stop to confirm that a message was received. I assumed (an evil word in our group of companies) and did not confirm. I did not exhaust all my resources to complete my task. To simply leave a voicemail is not enough and not how we operate. Our company’s core values teach us to leave nothing to chance, to close all loops, and that any task is still in our court until it has been completed or confirmation of receipt has been received. Even then, we still have personal ownership over the task and are ultimately responsible to see it has been completed. It boils down to taking proactive ownership. From that day on, I changed my way of thinking and never just simply left a voicemail.
Kage: What 5 techniques do you use to identify the talent that is best suited for the job you want to fill?
Susana: Try to identify any areas of misalignment by listening to what they say they are looking for or what they need in a manager or environment to be supported to perform at their best. Ask questions about their responses, too! Dig in, and do not just let them stay surface level. One of my favorite questions is to ask applicants to identify three things that they’re most proud of. I like this question because it is my opportunity to evaluate what is important to them as a person. Relationships are important to us and our culture, so if relationships or family are left out of the person’s response, we are potentially not a match for them. We want to expand our team with employees who are aligned with our core values and who will fit naturally into our culture.
As an interviewer, it is good to be aware of an applicant’s aspirations to help guide a genuine and conscious selection process. I once interviewed a college graduate with a robotics engineering degree. Since we operate in a completely different industry, I asked him, “How will this role help you advance towards your career goals?” He responded that he wanted to obtain some job experience as he had recently graduated. I encouraged him to find a position with a company in his field of interest (he wanted to develop and build robots) and that I did not want him to waste time developing skills in an industry that he did not ultimately want to work in. He thanked me for my candidness and appreciated that I was concerned about how a position with our firm would not help him advance towards his ultimate goals. We want people to be passionate about what they are doing and be set up for success not only in the right position but in the right environment, too.
Christie: We want to ensure the candidates are putting their best foot forward with their résumé, as it reflects themselves. We deeply care about paying attention to detail and accuracy, so the résumé must be perfect.
Our interview process is thoughtful and depending on the role, it can take a bit of time. We designed some of our questions around our companies’ five core values to ensure the candidate will be a good fit long term. There are also several interviews conducted by distinct levels of staff to ensure skillset, company culture, and department fit are in alignment.
All of our interviewing candidates complete psychological assessments and are given the opportunity to share their opinion of the results. These insights help us understand each person’s individual style and approach so we can better understand how each person communicates. These results are beneficial upon hire to assist with team building.
We also include a writing prompt that asks, “In a world with unlimited resources available to you, what would you seek to accomplish?” There are no right or wrong answers. We want people to be honest with their feelings and ideas so their personalities can shine through.
Kage: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Susana: I would encourage all individuals to engage with and support one another. Self-reliance is important but taking care of one another and being aware of the needs of people in our communities is beneficial to us all.
Christie: Be nice! We can get caught up in our own world and we can sometimes project anger or tension onto our conversations, text messages, and our driving. I would inspire people to get along, be understanding, and be courteous. Put others first and be compassionate. We have the opportunity to bring about significant change by actively implementing a positive and constructive viewpoint. When I address issues with my employees, I ask for patience as sometimes people just need space and time to reflect. Conflict can be good and help to solve problems if all parties are respectable and truly desire the best outcome for all involved. If we can all focus on getting along, be part of the solution, and not hold on to anger then we can move forward in a way that is better for everyone.
Kage: One more before we go. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
Susana: Doctor Stanley Ward is a career coach whom I work with but have never met. I admire him and benefit from the conversations that we have. He has taught me how to speak more clearly about what I need, increase my confidence, and confront fears in a professional environment. I am the only woman on our executive team, and he has helped me navigate the times when I lacked confidence in my perspective.
Christie: There are a few, but at the moment I would love to sit and speak with Morgan Freeman. I appreciate that he is down to earth, a straight shooter, and believes in hard work. I would love to listen to him talk about what he has learned from his travels and life experiences. Plus, I love the sound of his voice.
Kage: Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today!