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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the April 7, 2004
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Who’s Hiring? HR’s Busy Bees
With 2,500 people in Princeton, Educational Testing Service is number nine on the top employer list, exceeded only by two universities, two big pharmaceutical companies, three hospitals, and Merrill Lynch. Most employees work on the Rosedale Road campus of ETS, and the word "campus" does apply. ETS has always been known as an insulated haven for academics.
But CEO Kurt Landgraf, hired from DuPont, needed to streamline ETS to get it in the black. For the top HR position, he picked someone from a for-profit firm. Yvette Donado had worked in Manhattan for 26 years, helping to grow a privately held company from 35 to 1,000 employees.
"Simply by chance," says Donado, "my former company used a consultant also used by Frank Gatti at ETS. The reason why I made the decision to leave is that I met Mr. Landgraf. He was very compelling in describing ETS’ social mission." She joined ETS in 2001 as vice president in charge of employment, promotion, professional development, and benefits programs.
"After you have worked as many years as I have worked," she says, "it is critical to move from success to significance. As he described the challenges – and they were huge – it seemed like a great opportunity to make a difference in an organization doing very important work."
Many of the new hires, like Donado, are making the switch from the for-profit arena to the not-for-profit world: "The relationships are collegial, and the common theme causes the interaction to be different. It’s not cut-throat, not `You have got to meet these numbers and make this profit.’ We don’t have to respond to shareholders, and we don’t have that kind of pressure."
"We attract people who work very hard, but they are driven by different values. They appreciate that there was an `edge’ at their former company that they don’t have here. Here we are working toward a mission, and this improves the quality of life in the workplace."
Quality of worklife has been Donado’s lifelong concern, and she learned it from her father, a union leader. "My father was courageous about proper treatment in the workplace and would walk out if he was not treated with respect," Donado says. "Even though he had four daughters he walked out of many jobs. He taught me that it is not about the money, and that left a real impression.
"As a young person, I assumed that it was important that everyone be treated respectfully, and the best way to influence that was to be in a position of authority. My driver is not to need control or authority but to influence the quality of the work life."
Of the 2,700 ETS employees, 2,500 are on Rosedale Road and in Ewing, and 200 more are in satellite offices. The jobs Donado hires for are 55 percent administrative, 20 percent technical, 15 percent in finance or research (people making up tests), and 10 percent in executive positions. Information technology hiring is outsourced.
On average, Donado and her team hire 30 people a month. She does get a number of unsolicited applications, and all applications are acknowledged. About 85 percent of the applicants use E-mail. "We like working electronically, it’s very useful."
Donato describes ETS’ recruitment process in this way: "When a job is available, we post it on our website, on appropriate electronic boards, and occasionally take out ads. Sometimes we go to colleges or professional associations.
"The number of interviews required depends on the level of the job," she says. "Sometimes we can get it done in two rounds, sometimes it can take three rounds, with as many as three people involved in the interview process – the human resources screener and two folks from the division."
Her best advice: applicants should do the work of understanding the job and follow the instructions.
Her favorite method of taking applications: targeted E-mail from the website.
Her least favorite applicant: "Someone who randomly sends E-mail with no notion about what they want to do and they are not exactly sure who they are directing it to. They sign their name somewhere and ask us where they might fit. They did not do their homework, did not advocate for themselves, and did not adhere to procedure. When those E-mails come in randomly, the recipient has the option of forwarding it to the recruitment center. Typically the reply is, `Thank you very much. Kindly look at the website, tell us what is of interest to you, and get back to us.’ It is very irritating, but you still try to be polite."
Even worse is a paper application. "That is also very irritating. They find your name and decide to write a letter, a canned letter that says, I am fabulous and you should hire me."
New hires get benefits right away, she says, but there is a 90-day introductory period so the new person can get to know their job and ETS. The terms of engagement are consistent, she says, and ETS expects new hires to succeed. "We tend to hire seasoned individuals."
How to get an edge: "If you see a relevant article that shows you have a particular edge, send a note saying ‘As I was reading this, I thought more about our interview and here is how I would apply this data to the job.’ That shows how you would stay connected," says Donado.
The flashiest pitch she’s received: Someone with a laptop who respectfully asked if he could go through a PowerPoint presentation, and he also left a hard copy. "He used that as a way of explaining why he was the right match for the job. That was OK; it was his way of giving himself an edge."
The least typical jobs at ETS, the ones that people would not think of applying for? "The facilities jobs, building and grounds," she says.
Donado and her three sisters grew up in New York City. "From my mother, I learned many powerful spiritual lessons," says Donado. "Her generous heart taught me compassion. Her choice to work with disabled veterans showed me courage and the meaning of human dignity. She raised four women who are now engaged in work that touches people – one is a school psychologist, one raises funds for the disadvantaged, and one is a job counselor in the labor department."
"She taught me not to be attached to material things, that you shouldn’t necessarily keep anything too long. I would find that my favorite blouse wasn’t there, and she would say ‘You have had it long enough,’ and she had given it away. What was phenomenal about that teaching was that I learned that I did not need to surround myself with material things in order to have self esteem. The more you have the more you should share."
Donado majored in sociology at Queens College and has a diploma in Human Resources Studies from New York University. She also has a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Management from Harvard University and took classes at Cornell/Boston University, where her coursework included labor relations and conflict resolution.
Donado spent most of her career at Donovan Data Systems, known in the global advertising market. Among her early accomplishments: she reconfigured the health care policy – reducing expenses, saving premium dollars, and making Donovan more attractive to recruits. Later, along with other senior officers, she helped reinvent the company, resulting in a one-third increase in overall client satisfaction and enhancing internal career-path opportunities. Most recently she was senior vice president/director of human resources at Donovan.
Donado has made plenty of changes. "It was fortunate that ETS was beginning to do well under Kurt’s leadership," says Donado, "but there was still lots of work to do internally, and it was important to honor the honorable history of the past.
"My objective here is to make sure people feel empowered, honored, and listened to," says Donado. She has introduced the entire staff to several books, including "Who Moved My Cheese."
The name of her department is the result of extensive planning sessions, including team building and mission and vision committee meetings. "We changed the name from HR to strategic workforce solutions. We felt we needed to be partners in a strategic way, since all issues are connected to people."
ETS did not have a real learning and development department, says Donado, so she established a learning area and hired a chief learning officer.
"We also changed the complexion of the Strategic Workforce Solutions division so it mirrored the model of ETS, to have functional centers of excellence – such as client relations, benefits, and recruitment."
Diversity is a prime goal. "ETS has always been concerned with diversity but now we are more strategic and are paying very specific attention to it. We hired someone who had specialized in diversity, and as we developed strategic staffing plans for each division, we had self-imposed targets and mechanisms to attract diverse candidates."
"I really think diversity is the work of all of us. You have to raise awareness and agree on what we are trying to accomplish," says Donado.
ETS’s strongest selling point for new recruits is not the mammoth Christmas party that is now a Donado trademark, but its mission. "It depends on the position, but I believe that the social mission is very attractive. We are viewed as a good employer and our benefits package is a generous one. Given what is happening in the marketplace, our benefits package is good to employees," says Donado. "For wonderful folks who have accomplished a lot academically, we are the world leader."
The right resume might get you in the door, says Caroline Sieber of Merrill Lynch. But she tries to look past the resume to find out what you bring to the table. "We might hire someone who doesn’t have the technical skills for a particular job, but does have the emotional intelligence to figure it out."
Sieber hires for Merrill Lynch at its new Hopewell campus. With 6,000 employees in Central New Jersey, Merrill Lynch is third on the top employer list. About 4,000 work in Hopewell, and the rest are at the Princeton headquarters on Scudders Mill Road or at the Private Client Group on Roszel Road.
In a typical month her department hires from 65 to 120 people for the Hopewell campus, plus another 50 for Scudders Mill. "My group covers Hopewell recruiting – global private client services and technology, including the call centers in Hopewell and Jacksonville, Florida. The majority of our positions are for the call center," says Sieber.
The call center positions often attract the person who has a stockbroker’s license and a good background but just can’t stomach sales. "Many aspire to be salespeople but not everyone is cut out for it," says Sieber. "Maybe you are looking for other ways to use the license."
This entry level job, which pays from $30,000 to $32,000 per year but is considered a great steppingstone in the financial services industry, also attracts those who are downsized from financial jobs in the tristate area. "Lots of people will do this temporarily so they don’t have to move, and then they move in about two years," she says. "We have hired back quite a few people who were reduced in force." Typically former employees get the more coveted hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A successful applicant probably has a college degree and some customer service experience, since they will be fielding calls from existing Merrill Lynch customers who have questions about their accounts. "They must understand they could be working as late as 8 or 9 p.m. and have some weekend work," says Sieber. "They need basic computer skills, and excellent communications skills. Most of the time, they have gone through stockbroker training and have their licenses."
What’s the process? "As soon as recruiting gets the position from the business group, we post the job within 24 hours."
If you are not qualified, you get a letter. If your qualifications match a job, you get a telephone call. After that first call, if you come in for an interview, your application is saved for seven years. "We have electronic tracking, and it is less advantageous to use snail mail," says Sieber.
For call center positions, it generally takes two weeks to identify a new hire and make an offer. "But extensive background checks take time."
"We do heavy phone screening to prequalify the applicant," says Sieber. "We check that the license has not expired. We make sure the person really wants to do this and really wants to do it in Hopewell. Then we meet with recruiting person and at least two rounds of managers, and a decision is made soon after that."
After the applicant passes the phone screening, about seven out of ten applicants are offered a job. Once hired, you’re hired. There is no trial period.
Her preferred method of getting applications: Through the website (www.ml.com). Almost all – 98 percent – of the applications are filed this way. "Apply for a specific job," she says.
But unlike ETS, Merrill Lynch does welcome general applications. "If you do not see a job that you prefer, put your profile into the Merrill Lynch system for when we do a general search."
Sieber’s father, a Navy pilot, flew P-32s on the Intrepid. She went to school in Mississippi, majoring in business and graduating in 1987. Then she landed a fellowship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It was during the Apollo and Challenger era, and first she worked in public relations and then in personnel. She explains why she switched out of PR: "Quite honestly, the personnel department was a neat facility where it wasn’t just NASA, but where there were other federal organizations."
Moving to New Jersey, Sieber worked in Manhattan for nine years as a human relations generalist at Alliance Capital Management Corp. "I had two children and wanted to work closer to home," she says.
The strongest selling point in hiring at Merrill? Great benefits and a distinguished name on your resume. "We are very involved in the community," says Sieber. "It is a prestigious company and a great location if you live in the area. It is a way to get involved in a prestigious company without having to commute far from home."
The right fit is more important than a graduate degree or an Ivy League diploma. In fact, Sieber sometimes doesn’t hire the person with a master’s degree or an MBA if they take the attitude that "I have my MBA so I deserve this job."
As for the college record, "we are shooting for people with a 3.0 average or better," says Sieber. Where you went to school doesn’t matter, she says. Unspoken is the assumption that if you have an Ivy League degree, you are probably going to want to be in the more competitive arena of Wall Street.
Sieber has learned to trust her instincts: "Living all over the world, I grew up in so many different cultures, knowing a lot of people that are different. I learned to go with your gut – or go past your gut. That what somebody looks like doesn’t mean what they are."
Newly hired Lucille Mason knows just what attracts recruits to the Princeton Healthcare System: "The employees and how they seem to have such pride in their organization."
Just two months ago Mason began working in Princeton. "On my first interview I was very excited. By the time of my second interview, I knew this was the place for me. I stopped by the cafeteria, and people were warm and open.
"Employees come here because they see the excellent care that we give for the patients. They have the sense of a job well done at the end of the day. They have helped a loved one, an elderly person," says Mason. "They definitely have made a difference."
Now she is in charge of human resources in a system with 2,700 employees, including those at the University Medical Center of Princeton, Princeton House Behavioral Health, Merwick Rehab Hospital and Nursing Care, Princeton Homecare service, Princeton Surgical Center, Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center, and the foundation and community education divisions of the system.
Mason grew up in West Philadelphia, and at her mother’s instigation she took the trolley past two high schools to get to the better one. Her mother, who worked on the wards at Philadelphia General Hospital, "was a very smart lady and very strong willed," says Mason. "She taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. The strength I felt she had has gotten me through a number of challenging times."
Mason majored in education at Temple University, intending to teach elementary school, but now the only real teaching she does is with a junior high school class at her church. Instead, her first post-college job was an administrative one at the supermarket chain Food Fair, and later she earned her master’s degree from Antioch. Mason lives on the Main Line with her husband, an investment banker who commutes to Manhattan. Her daughter is in her second year at the University of Virginia, and her stepson, a Harvard graduate, is working in California.
After 25 years in HR, Mason has a whole string of successes and innovations. Promoted to assistant director of human resources at the supermarket chain, she developed policies for consistency and implemented a training program for new managers. Then Food Fair relocated to Florida, and she went into healthcare, working at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and at Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, where she was HR director for 4,800 employees. She moved to the Main Line Health System at Lankenau to be close to her home, and then to Thomas Jefferson system’s headquarters in Bryn Mawr, where she conducted the first system-wide employee survey done on an annual basis.
An annual employee survey is now high on her list of priorities here. "The employee survey and the exit interview data help to strengthen an organization and are useful retention tools," says Mason.
She also wants to focus on management development. "With all the changes that take place in healthcare, one of my goals is to have continuous enrichment programs. It is a cascade process, from managers all the way down."
Communications, she feels, is one of her strong points. "In an environment where there is constant change, the rumor mill can start working. You give the employees information, or they will fill in the blanks."
In a typical month, Mason is going to have to hire from 80 to 85 people, counting full-time, part-time, and per-diem staff. "Although there are open positions in the nursing area, it in no way compares to the challenges we had in Philadelphia. The retention here is very good and they do stay."
In addition to the nursing and allied health jobs that the hospital obviously needs to fill, Mason is also hiring drivers for offsite parking shuttles, clerical support positions, coders in the medical records department, and administrative positions for staffing and record keeping. In fact, she sees a dearth of medically-trained administrative applicants.
She is also a fan of job fairs, and notes that a recent job fair was very successful because it more attracted more than 60 people.
"I am a realist, but I try put a positive spin on whatever I say," says Mason. "From a management role I clarify the policies, but I am an employee advocate as well."
The ability to look at both sides of the situation came from her mother, she says. "One of my two older sisters used to pull rank on me; she felt I should take her direction all of the time."
"I picture my mother coming home from work. My sister and I would try to see who would get to her first. She would say, ‘Just wait until I get settled and after dinner.’ After dinner, and after reviewing homework, the problem never seemed to be as bad. Now I realize it was her strategy – so I try to sleep on difficult issues, or just take more time to think about them."
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