How to Hire, Nurture and Retain Top Talent

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Attracting and retaining top-notch talent is an ongoing challenge that South Florida human resources professionals continue to face. And with unemployment at an all-time low,
companies increasingly bemoan the dearth of talent needed to grow their organizations in the tri-county region’s competitive landscape.

A panel of HR experts highlighted the winning strategies they use to lure top job candidates, successfully onboard them, and then retain them at an HR Roundtable held Sept. 21 at
Randstad Professionals in Fort Lauderdale. The discussion, moderated by Editor-in-Chief Mel Meléndez, is part of the Business Journal’s ongoing Roundtable Series, where CEOs, CFOs
and HR directors shed light on salient topics of interest to our readers.

Internal referrals a winning tool for hiring good fits

Cultural fit remains a big concern for companies, as it’s an essential ingredient for a new hire to succeed on the job. But employers can increase the likelihood of onboarding applicants that are a great match for the office culture by seeking candidate referrals from their staff.

Take accounting firm Kaufman Rossin. More than 50 percent of its hires last year resulted from internal referrals, Director of Human Resources Joy A. Batteen said. And those employees tend to stay on longer because they’re working with their friends, she added.

“Internal referrals are a huge source of talent for us,” Batteen said, noting that the company has a referral bonus program.

The company invests time daily to reach out to internal employees. It used to be more reviewing the candidates who were applying to the company.

“It’s looking for those passive candidates, which have always been there,” she said. “What we spend the majority of our time doing now is luring the candidate to us, instead of just picking the best that are coming to us. That’s the big difference I’ve seen in the past five or six years.”

Hill York Air Conditioning Services & Energy Solutions’ Human Resources Director Monique Estevez said most of her recruitment efforts stem from positive word of mouth by existing and former employees.

“They already know what the organization is about, what our culture is about,” she said.

Hiring is not solely the responsibility of the HR department, said Estevez, who involves managers in the search-and-hire process.

“It’s not just us [feeling] the pressure of recruiting,” she said. “It also allows the managers to feel comfortable with recruiting.”

Advancement opportunities are also a top priority for most job applicants, and can be a key selling point when promoted company employees are reaching out to friends and colleagues looking for other job opportunities.

Traci Wilk, The Learning Experience’s senior VP of people, said considering internal mobility for those looking to move within the organization is a top priority at her company.

“One of the things that I’m focused on is how to get a better sense of who we have in the organization, and what their next role will be,” she said.

Rewarding employees for key referrals can also pay off.

Julie Palmer, Suffolk Construction director of people and culture, aid her company has a robust referral program. There’s a backlog of candidates who want to join the company because of its culture and competitive salaries.

“Both of those things help us be successful when we need solid candidates to apply for our positions,” she said.

Interviewing candidates in today’s competitive landscape also requires more players.

The Learning Experience opts for panel interviews, which serve a number of purposes, Wilk said. It avoids candidates having to respond to the same routine questions over and over again, and applicants get a better sense for the company’s culture, including how the leaders in the room interact with others.

“Oftentimes, you have someone who’s a new leader, and they get to sit on a panel interview where they’re learning from their peers or others who have been doing this for a little bit longer,” she said.

Suffolk doesn’t conduct panel interviews, but it applies a divide-and-conquer approach where job candidates meet with at least four or five interviewers, each with a specific purpose.

“One will take the operational perspective. The other will take a leadership perspective,” Palmer said. “We then meet as a team and we calibrate to talk about whether this is someone who’s going to be a fit for us.”

Early talk of salary and benefits key to sealing the deal when hiring

Ask several HR experts what the most challenging aspect of the hiring process is, and the responses are typically the same: Sealing the deal.

This is especially true in today’s job market due to record lows in unemployment, where more companies make counter-offers to hold onto their employees.

The panelists emphasized various factors that make closing the deal and hiring a top candidate challenging.

Body Details’ Human Resources Manager Karen Lichtenberger said one mistake employers make is waiting too long to make an offer.

“I try to push my managers,” she said. “I try to stay on top of them.”

She stressed that, when a position remains open, the company is losing revenue. Body Details, which provides laser hair and tattoo removal and skin rejuvenation, tends to hire quickly. It focuses on salary and benefits early in the hiring process to avoid wasting anybody’s time.

“We do it fairly quickly, but that’s because we have a set salary compensation [scale],” she said.

Clear communication early on in the process is essential so a company has a concise understanding of a candidate’s priorities and whether they are truly interested in coming on board, said Jeane Hah-Garnett, Mount Sinai Medical Center’s director of talent.

“You should know exactly where they stand and what their expectations are [before making the offer],” she said.

Bayview Asset Management also talks salary and benefits early in the process with candidates, and moves very quickly due to the competitive job market, said Jay Dotson, the company’s assistant VP of talent acquisition.

“Their time is very valuable; so is our hiring manager’s,” he said. “We’re very transparent with where we are and what we’re looking for, and hopefully … our candidate reciprocates.”

Once hired, effective onboarding efforts will ensure a candidate succeeds in the new role.

Monique  Estevez, human resources director for Hill York Air Conditioning Services & Energy Solutions, said her managers follow up within two weeks to see how the new employees are doing.
Conversations continue until the official 90-day review.

At the six-month mark, employees evaluate their managers.

“I want to see if there’s a disconnect [between the manager and employee],” she said. “I find that  it’s extremely beneficial because the managers aren’t [always] communicating.”

As new hires adjust to the company, it’s essential that managers continue to communicate career  path and leadership goals with them, which shows the company cares, said Julie Palmer, Suffolk
Construction’s director of people and culture.

“It may not be called onboarding, but onboarding never stops,” she said.

Benefits and programs are key to retaining employees

As millennial workers enter the workforce, companies have had to adjust how they do business by creating the type of job opportunities and work environments that will help the employees grow and the companies retain them, HR experts say.

Developing strategies to hold on to these workers is essential, as research has found that millennial workers change jobs often.

Julie Palmer, Suffolk Construction’s director of people and culture, said it’s important to provide millennial workers with a mentor, a flexible working environment, a space for them to speak and be heard, and benefits that help them feel valued.

“Right now, we’re looking at a student repayment program, so it’s captivating them with benefits that are meaningful to them,” she said. “I enjoy very much working with them.”

It’s also crucial to ensure that they know their work is meaningful to the organization and the impact that they’re making. Palmer said she pulls them aside to talk about the company’s career start program, and how they’re in the program because they are tomorrow’s leaders.

“They love that [and] they run with it,” she said.

It’s all about finding ways to keep millennial workers engaged.

Monique Estevez, human resources director for Hill York Air Conditioning Services & Energy Solutions, said managers can do that by explaining to young employees that they have a future with the organization – before they decide to leave. In her experience, they tend to respond well to flexibility.

“If you are micromanaging, they struggle with that,” she said.

But as much as employers need to employ specific strategies to help retain millennial workers, they also need to balance that with efforts that ensure all employees feel valued.

“They want to feel when they come to work every day [that] what they do matters,” said Traci Wilk, The Learning Experience’s senior VP of people.

Exit interviews can also be a valuable tool for implementing the type of strategies that help retain workers.

As departing employees participate in the exit interview, it’s in the company’s best interests to pay close attention. That’s because employees typically offer honest feedback when leaving, which companies should be using to adjust or enhance their retainment efforts.

“As a leader, it’s important to understand your people and how to make them feel better,” Wilk said.


What’s the biggest misconception about human resources?

Batteen: [That] HR is really more pro-company and less pro-employee. We really work for both, and I’m lucky to be at a place [company] where they see that.

Palmer: Sometimes they may see us as blockers to things that they want to do. They don’t understand that we have a responsibility … to ensure that people are being treated correctly and fairly.

Hah-Garnett: That we are either all for management or all for the employee. But both sides should understand that we are actually professionals who do both.

What’s your proudest moment as an HR executive?

Hah-Garnett: An associate referred to me as “the heart and soul of this place.”

Palmer: I had an executive say: “Thank God Julie is in the room. She balances us.”

Wilk: My former colleague and business partner from three jobs ago asked me to come on as head of HR. He’s a leader who understands the value of the role. So, it was a wonderful call to get, and I couldn’t be happier.

What aspect of your job is the most challenging or stressful?

Dotson: Recruiting, changes in some government regulations, immigration and visas.

Estevez: Recruiting. Recruiting is definitely the most challenging part.

Lichtenberger: Engaging the millennial generation can be challenging [at first]. But once you understand that [and adapt], you can get them to engage.

What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career?

Estevez: My mentor told me: “You’re your No. 1 advocate, so advocate for your yourself.”

Wilk: Be self-aware, understand your strengths, and figure out how to leverage them in your own unique way.

Palmer: If you have trust, you have everything. If you don’t have trust, you have nothing.

Batteen: Not to take things personally. Once I figured that out, it really changed the way I reacted to and handled things.

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