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How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Sandy Albers Of Centauri & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Centauri Human Resources Hiring Strategies

I think it’s often overlooked, but sincerely connecting on a personal level with your coworkers will help them go that extra mile. It’s the simplest gestures that can make all the difference in the world.

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 Sandy Albers.

Sandy graduated in 1986 from UVA’s acclaimed McIntire School of Commerce with a B.S. degree, double-majoring in marketing and human resources. That journey as an HR professional has included working in large multinational organizations and small privately held companies, as well as owning her own HR consulting business. Each stop along her career path has been an amazing part of her life-long learning experience. She is currently still close to home, leading human resources for Centauri, a high-end engineering, intelligence, cybersecurity, and advanced technology solutions company headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Human resources attracted me early in life when I was in college. As I studied all aspects of commerce, I quickly learned that a business could not be successful without the right people with the right skill sets who are motivated to make positive and profitable things happen.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?

When I first started my career, a senior vice president of HR invited our company-sponsored softball team to his home to enjoy his family’s pool on a hot summer evening. The offer was completely unexpected, and so we cordially accepted his impromptu invitation. It took us some time to get comfortable standing around his backyard in what was to the team an unlikely social setting. After all, this was a senior executive who spent all his time in meetings and came to work in a suit and tie each business day. And yet, he couldn’t have been nicer, hosting this wayward group of softball players and introducing us to his family. He won us over with that one gesture, and there wasn’t anything after that we wouldn’t do for him at work. We had a great time and many of us who were there that evening still keep in touch and remember the events of that warm summer day with a smile.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think it’s often overlooked, but sincerely connecting on a personal level with your coworkers will help them go that extra mile. It’s the simplest gestures that can make all the difference in the world. Treating people right never gets old, never goes out of style, and never gets forgotten.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

Every project to me is exciting because I have the opportunity to participate in shaping a more agile, strong and efficient organization. Centauri’s unyielding commitment to our employees has provided me with the opportunity to dig deep on strategic initiatives tied directly to enhancing employee engagement.

It’s exciting working for an organization that’s growing. So how do you foster that excitement in an organization? It may feel like catching lightning in a bottle! Being able to coach and mentor new hires is a huge responsibility for me and the organization. Connecting new hires and interns with mentors has brought a lot of excitement to our workplace and helps shape the up-and-comers destined to carry on our good name. This “carry the torch” mindset is important to our less-seasoned employees who are eager to learn from those that have gone before them and to put that knowledge to work.

Fantastic. Let’s now jump to 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?

Beyond the baseline credentials and skills an individual should possess in order to be considered to fill a position, these are five important techniques that help me separate the good candidates from those who are truly outstanding:

1. Assess their ability to problem solve.

2. Determine whether they are a team player.

3. Find out what makes them tick or what motivates them.

4. Chat with them about how they spend their time outside of work.

5. Let them talk about what their ideal job would look like.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

A lot has changed in HR. Today, companies focus on what the “employee experience” is like and being known as a progressive employer. The onboarding experience we provide employees — from the time we first meet them to the end of their first 90 days with the company — ensures we are developing a solid relationship with our newest employees while earning a positive reputation within our industry. It’s rare when a company can create a warm and welcoming onboarding process, but the best ones commit to it, and outstanding talent finds its way to these companies. Offering outstanding benefits is a must, and to potential talented employees, it is non-negotiable. And most importantly, offering interesting work assignments that support a mission and vision that is compelling is crucial to enticing the brightest minds to your company.

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

1. Be transparent and sincere.

2. Provide a comprehensive rewards system that is meaningful to employees.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

I like how you emphasize the importance of communication. In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

Over the years I’ve seen trends come and go like “bring your dog to work” day and Casual Fridays. Trends are fun to follow, but it’s the fundamental and sound HR principles that never go out of style. When you provide the basics to employees, like meaningful work and opportunities to grow, no matter what trend an organization wants to follow, the goal should be to show your employees that you value them.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

In today’s world, we all wear multiple hats at work and at home. Flexible work schedules, including the opportunity to work remotely, offer a benefit that is highly valued and greatly appreciated.

You are a person of great influence. 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 help others realize that becoming an expert in a particular subject or field that interests them, whether in life or in their work, is both fulfilling and rewarding. No matter what your interest, your professional and personal interactions will benefit greatly from the curiosity and passion inherent in an ongoing drive for that “inch wide and a mile deep” subject matter expertise.

Wonderful advice. What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The tale of the tortoise and the hare is as relevant today as it was last century. For me, getting somewhere quickly has never been as interesting as taking my time along a windy path that allowed me to slow down and experience a million things in detail. I am a better person for it — both at home and at work.

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 love to have lunch with former Oakland Raiders head coach and football legend John Madden, because he managed to bring together what many in the sport described as “a bunch of misfits” to become a high-performing team that would eventually win the Super Bowl. Coach Madden was able to get the best out of each of his players individually while also helping them understand the value of team collaboration. His inherent understanding of human nature coupled with his leadership ability is something I will always admire. Coach Madden had a clear vision, and the entire world, including a seventh-grader from Reston, Virginia, got to watch that vision unfold each week.

Great to see John Madden get a mention here. Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!

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