An Update from Ashley

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of taking a break to recalibrate career and personal goals. After managing this blog and keeping up with social media for years, I needed a mental break so I could find renewed passion for what I was doing in the HR and recruiting industry.

But, apparently, I never came back from that break. Oops.

It’s been nearly four years since I wrote that post. Four years since I stepped away from the hectic life of balancing a personal brand with work and everyday life. Do I regret it? No. That break allowed me to focus on other things that made sense for this stage of my life.

So, what’s been going on with little ol’ me these past few years. I’ll tell you!

Ch-Ch-Changes

  • Bye, Boston: Boston was an amazing experience, and I appreciated the threeish years I lived there. Being surrounded by so many smart people and having the chance to work at big tech organizations helped me fast-track my career. But city life was never for me. In the fall of 2016, my husband and I decided it was time to move on. We scouted out a bunch of new and exciting places, many on the West Coast.
  • Hi, Charleston: Funny enough, we’re back in Charleston. I swore up and down I wouldn’t come back. We moved away for a reason, and if I was going to move again, I wanted it to be somewhere new. However, my husband, a Sr. Site Reliability Engineer (DevOps, Cloud), got a really good job offer in Charleston. It was hard to pass up. Within a week of being back here, I realized it was a good move. Not only is it affordable, but it had all the things we missed while living in Boston.
  • Becoming a Homeowner: In Boston, we were eager to buy our first home. Despite both making a decent wage, the pricing in and around the area was ridiculous. We had high standards for what we wanted in a house–which I’ll blame on being spoiled by the cost of living in Charleston–so it was hard to swallow the prices and what we could get. Within a couple of months of being back in the South, we took the plunge. Not only did we buy our first house, but we built it in a neighborhood we loved the first time we lived here. It was a long and stressful six months but we’re so happy with the end result. This house is 100% ours.
  • Traveling the World: We were lucky enough to have lived by a major airport while in Boston, which kicked off our international travel. Being back in Charleston with its affordable living has allowed us the luxury of continuing this travel regularly. Just in this past year, we’ve traveled to Iceland, Austria, Prague, and multiple places in the United States. I’m always looking for the next adventure.
  • A Focus on Writing: Clearly, we all know I love writing (hence the blog). But this blog was a career move for me. Back in 2012, I had struggled to land a solid job because the economy was still recovering after the recession. I started this blog to show my passion and knowledge of HR/recruiting. It was basically an extension of my resume, and it ultimately landed me a pretty awesome job. However, my true passion is fiction. These past few years, I’ve written five novels and one novella with no plans of slowing down. I secured an agent in April 2019 and currently have manuscripts on submission. My goal is to become a hybrid author, so I’m in the process of self-publishing my first book while I wait to hear from traditional publishers. Thankfully, a lot of the skills I learned about personal branding for my career has helped me a lot with author branding.

Whew. That’s a lot of stuff. But I guess I should give you an update on my career too, huh?

A Career Transformation

In the winter of 2015, I landed my first job as an employer brand strategist. The role was brand new, with zero strategy behind it. I came in and built it from the ground up. It was exciting and a bit scary since it was all on me, but it was a great learning experience. I played around with strategy, built new marketing skills, partnered with other departments to produce content, and worked with vendors.

A year later–almost to the day–I was laid off due to a company acquisition. However, I had already secured a role with my current employer (a cybersecurity company in Boston) because knew it was coming. The new job was the same deal. I was tasked with building the employment branding function from nothing. I guess that’s my thing now. This is the third role I’ve been placed in that didn’t exist before me, which is kind of cool.

Thankfully, I’m still at this job more than three years later, which means I’ve had a lot of time to see how this role could grow and shift with the changes in marketing strategy and candidate markets.

About My Role

I’m the sole person in this role, and I do it 100% remote from my home office in Charleston. This means I not only have to think big picture (strategy), but also perform all the duties needed to keep it going (program management). It’s a lot, but it’s nice to own it. I’m doing everything from:

  • Strategy
  • Content development
  • Social media marketing
  • Events
  • Website & digital presence
  • Advertising
  • Photography & video production
  • Analytics
  • And more… much, much more

Working in an ever-changing role and competitive markets such as tech and cybersecurity has required me to be agile. Looking back on what the program was to what it is today is something that makes me proud. I’ve had to test new things, iterate, adjust, and replicate into new markets. This flexibility has not only allowed me to build skills quickly but gives me the freedom to make our recruiting efforts a success.

That said, I’m writing a ton for my new role. Everything you see on #LifeAtCB is pretty much me. Therefore, I will likely not write on this blog much anymore. However, if you are interested in connecting about all things employment branding/recruitment marketing, I encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I had so much fun connecting and learning from you all over the years, and I appreciate those who have read this blog!

4 Tips for Becoming a Great Remote Employee

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Curious about taking a remote role? Already working virtually but want to improve your success? Check out my latest blog on VentureFizz for some tips!

Click here to read more.

Finding Your ‘Culture Fit’ During the Job Search

Job fit isn’t the only thing you should focus on during the job search. Even if the job sounds right, knowing a company’s culture can help you determine if an opportunity is truly right for you.

What does culture fit mean and how can you identify it during your application and interview process? Learn more in my recent blog found on VentureFizz. Click here!

#UCFBizChat: Uncovering Company Culture through Social Media

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A former colleague of mine recently reached out to ask if I would host a Twitter chat for her students at University of Central Florida (UCF). As a career center advisor, she was excited about the prospect of her business students getting exposure to seasoned recruiting professionals and the opportunity for them to get sound advice when it comes to careers after college. Of course, I was honored to contribute to the conversation, especially since the topic focused on investigating the company culture of prospective employers via social media.

Not so long ago I was in their shoes, aggressively looking for work at an employer I could feel excited about and one that seemed to match my personality and values. During my search, I discovered how informative social media was when trying to uncover that culture fit. Even after I finally landed a job, I often tell those who come to me for career advice about how important this research could be in terms of finding an employer that’s right for them. And for both students and experienced professionals, this should be a major part of the job seeking process. Digging deep with multiple resources allows a candidate to get a better sense of what the company is all about and may limit any surprises if they end up landing a job with the company.

As I’ve gotten more involved with things like employer branding, I’ve seen the hard work employers put in to try and provide valuable insight into their organization and jobs. They’ve really incorporated a ton of information about their culture, perks, videos, “a day in the life” campaigns and images of events or daily happenings. Although employers go through great lengths to provide a detailed and positive image for their companies to attract talent, I also know there are external factors that play a big part in the full employer brand, including news resources and employees themselves. Job seekers should incorporate this information too to ensure a more realistic and well-rounded view of the organization.

So, some simple research tips I suggest are as follows:

  • Career sites: Career sites are always a great starting point and may provide more information than just a job board. This is a place where employers can include updated information about the organization, specific roles and locations. Be sure to click around and review things like their videos, blogs, benefits details, corporate social responsibility and so on. Also, see if there are any external links to review, such as their social media sites.
  • Social media: Try to find career-focused social media sites for the company or their main social media sites if they don’t have it segregated. Review their postings, see how they interact with people and even investigate some hashtags they are using. This could help you discover current employees that are also using the hashtag to promote life at the company. It could provide you some more candid insight than what the employer shares on its own. Usually Twitter and Instagram are great for researching these things.
  • Google search: Performing general Google searches or setting Google Alerts can allow you to stay current with what’s going on at the company. Press releases, blogs, new jobs and news about the company keeps you updated with both good and bad. It could also help you get a feel for the direction the company is going in before you decide to apply to jobs. After all, you wouldn’t want to accept a job offer for a company that has been experiencing major lay-offs or is being acquired by a company that has a completely different culture. This can help protect your decisions.
  • Social networking: As I mentioned earlier, social media allows you to discover hashtags and current employees. If you’re really interested in a company, social media could be an easy way for you to connect with employees and get some real feedback about what it’s like to work there. If possible, I would also suggest trying to find an employee that either works in the location you’re looking at and/or an employee who might work in the same role or department. This can give you a direct look into the working conditions and culture of that particular office or role. Just because a company is tooting its horn for having an awesome company culture doesn’t always mean this trickles down to each location, department or role. It’s best to hear it straight from someone who knows.

School might be getting out, but doing your homework during your job search can save you a lot of headaches! Make sure to research on multiple platforms to ensure you’re getting the full story.

For those interested in this discussion, be sure to join #UCFBizChat on Friday, October 24th at 11:30am EDT.

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How Working at a Startup Could be Good for Your Career

While in college and early in my career, it was beat into my head that startups were not a viable choice as an employer. My peers and I were taught that startups were unstable and hard work. We were told that they couldn’t offer the desirable things that big corporations could, such as career growth, benefits and a retirement fund. But as years went by and people within my social circles matured, I’m now suddenly surrounded by individuals who have/are creating startups, work for one or have a desire to work for one. And by learning from them and comparing corporate experience against startups, I’m starting to wonder if we were all taught wrong.

Yes, startups are hard work. As some have told me, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to working at a startup. There are times where one day things are going great and then the next day you could be out of a job. Long days and late nights are common. Also, let’s not forget the anxiety of the daily uncertainty that comes with working at a startup. However, despite all of it, these individuals still prefer that environment over a corporate one… and for good reason.

Startups can be a great experience for recent grads and young professionals who are still developing themselves. Even if you have 5+ years of experience working in an established company, an experience with a startup might not be a bad thing to consider. In fact, the experiences one would face at a startup might be the very things that help you progress in your career faster than in a traditional setting. Here’s why:

  • You learn to be resourceful and independent: Unlike in established organizations, things in a startup aren’t neatly mapped out for you with standard operating procedures and extensive training. Additionally, you may not have experienced professionals to turn to if you have a problem or need help. Even though this might seem like a negative, it can actually be considered a positive because you’d have to learn how to be resourceful through research and self-education. Being independently resourceful, working closely with others and experiencing trial and error can boost your critical-thinking skills more than learning through traditional training. Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are among the most desired skills by employers, even more so than actual job experience sometimes.
  • You’re exposed to new job functions: Because a startup is typically in a development, maintained or growth state, organizational structure might not be set in stone yet. Also, many job functions may not have been established yet due to lack of capital resources to put towards those full-time salaries. It’s not uncommon for people in a startup to wear multiple hats in order to keep the company afloat and progressive. Because of the blending of roles and the fact that multiple departments will work together, you could be exposed to new skills and knowledge. Diverse skills can help you become better-rounded and understand business on a deeper level. Also notable, it might boost your engagement because you aren’t strapped down to a monotonous job function. Consistently being challenged is very important when developing yourself professionally.
  • You learn a sense of accountability and loyalty: Since startups are generally small or mid-sized, there tends to be a level of transparency in the organization. Not just about the company details but also how your contributions make an immediate impact. Some of the laxed atmospheres of startups also allow people to voice opinions and suggestions and work to make them happen. Having a voice and seeing how your work directly impacts the business can create a sense of accountability and loyalty. Suddenly, you know exactly how you’re making a difference and that can be something to be proud of. You can see how you’re valued. In larger organizations, it might be a bit harder to get that feedback and see how you are helping the company. Also, some might feel like they can be easily replaced because the lack of transparency.
  • You have more control of measuring your results: Going off of accountability and seeing your personal impact, this can also help you measure your results better. Because you’re deeply involved in processes from start to finish, you can have better insight into measurable results. This can not only help you improve processes but also gives you a better look as to how you are progressing in your role. Having control over this and truly understand how it’s being measured may offer better feedback than a traditional performance review.
  • You can keep your integrity: For me, this one is a big one. We’ve all seen it in the news; major scandals in large corporations; employees being mistreated; leaders stealing from pensions; unethical business dealings… just to name a few. Competition can get the better of companies and suddenly they’re overpromising to secure business and end up under-delivering. Boosting bottom lines can mean compromising the moral fiber of the company and then these leaders expect their workers to support those skewed values. It’s a pretty terrible feeling to compromise your own integrity just because the company culture has shifted into something lacking basic values. With startups (at least good startups that haven’t been tainted), people still believe in the greater good. They’re working towards something that matters. Yes, making money and staying afloat matter but egos, pressure and cockiness seems to be less present.

Of course, the aforementioned isn’t true for every startup or every traditional organization. The key is to be sure to do your research. There are plenty of types of startups out there, from small to mid-sized, shipping to funded and more. It’s important to know what your basic needs are to support your livelihood and understand what qualities you respect in an employer. Knowing these things can help you find the right startup culture for you and hopefully that can help you build the skills you need for a stronger professional path.

Looking for a job at a startup? Check out StartupHire.

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Sometimes, Culture Fit Overrides Job Fit

As some of you know, company culture is one of my favorite topics to discuss. So, in light of a current situation, I felt that today’s blog post should discuss this. Recently, an individual was referred to me for some career and job seeking advice. Of course, I jumped all over this because I absolutely love helping people figure out what they truly want and how to be proactive about getting it. As I provided some advice to her, I recalled some important lessons I learned while job seeking myself.

This woman told me about some of the job roles she was interested in and how a couple of the companies she interviewed with seemed to have great opportunities involving this type of role but the company in itself left her feeling uninspired. She also happened to know a few people that previously worked at these companies and she was able to determine that the company culture didn’t really seem to match what she valued.

Of course, the fact that she mentioned personal values seemed to pique my interest and we hashed out these details. After learning what seemed to be important to her and what she really was passionate about, it was easy to see why these companies left her feeling uninspired. The companies had nothing to do with any of that. And after thinking about it, I recalled the time when I was aggressively looking for work. I was so set to get my career going in HR that I accepted jobs with companies that didn’t match my personal values. Or what’s worse, I found that their culture and ethics were awful. Needless to say, I was happy to land a role in HR but I was miserable, I learned nothing, and I really felt like I gained nothing from working there. Before I knew it, I was looking for work again because I desperately wanted to get out of that less than ideal situation.

As I considered these situations, I realized that sometimes finding a job in a company that has a culture that matches your values could be more important than struggling to get your foot in the door for a role you’re targeting. I wanted to be happy and I wanted to find a company that made me want to stay with them long term. I realized that perhaps starting in a position that wasn’t necessarily what I was targeting might be the way to go. I knew that if I was happy with the company, I wouldn’t mind taking a little extra time to work my way up to where I wanted to be, career-wise.

Sometimes it’s not enough to just be involved in the role you desire if the company in itself isn’t ideal for you. If you’re a job seeker, it’s important to research the culture to ensure you don’t end up in a bad situation that leaves you scrambling for a new job and company that is better suited for you. Unfortunately, changing jobs so quickly doesn’t look great to recruiters.. It looks better if you stick with a company longer-term and progressively move your way up.

Spend that extra time to do your research and really dig deep to make sure the company you’re accepting employment with is going to offer you more than just a job title and a couple skills in your field. You spend a good portion of your time at your job so finding an overall fit might be the better choice when it comes to finding a long and lasting career.

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Stretch Projects to Increase Development and Engagement

Recently, I came across something pretty inspiring. I learned that a department manager has taken the time to learn the individual needs and passions of each of her subordinates, regardless of how insanely busy she was in her own role. She regularly takes the time to speak to them one on one to learn what their career goals are, what skills they want to develop, and address any concerns. Although that is impressive in itself, she doesn’t stop there. She takes the time to find opportunities for her employees to develop the skills in order to work their way toward their personal and professional goals. Since she started doing this, the increase in engagement has been phenomenal.

If you are a manager that’s looking to increase engagement in your workplace, consider trying this:

  • Regularly schedule one-on-one talks with your employees in an open atmosphere.
  • Make sure you talk about your employees’ career goals so you can get a feel for what they’re looking to accomplish.
  • Discuss some of the tasks and skills they would like to develop.
  • Talk to other managers in your organization to learn of different tasks or projects they’d need assistance on.
  • Discuss these opportunities with your employee to see what they’d be interested in pursuing and what would be feasible for them to do on top of their current workload.

The extra work involved in this might seem overwhelming but the benefits are worth it:

  • Employees will feel more accountable and appreciative to have a chance to develop themselves.
  • Engagement and morale will increase.
  • Turnover may decrease because employees will feel like they have professional and career growth opportunities within the organization.
  • Employees will develop skills that can help them become more of an asset to your company.
  • Departments using the employees for their projects may be more efficient with the extra help.
  • Opportunities like this can allow departments to build a stronger bond and work better, cross-departmentally.
  • Employees can gradually work their way into a role or even determine if the role or career path fulfills their passions as much as their originally had assumed.
  • It can bring in new perspective and fresh ideas.

Sometimes extra training or promotion might not be feasible in your organization due to budget, financial, and hiring issues. But, in the interim, this could be a great way to keep your employees engaged and happy while working there. It promotes continuous learning and in a way they are truly passionate about. This can create a stronger and better workforce.

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How are you Maintaining Your Culture?

 

As I’ve been going through the book, “Benefitfocus: Winning With Culture”, I’ve thought about what made their culture so successful compared to other companies. After thoroughly considering this question, I realized that some of the issues companies have in regard to creating and maintaining their cultures are because they don’t follow through. So many times I have witnessed companies state that they had a certain mission, culture, and vision and yet, some of their branches/locations or maybe even the company as a whole did not practice what they preached. So how can companies expect their employees to maintain the culture they specified if seasoned employees are teaching them something entirely different?

The reason why Benefitfocus can have bragging rights about their culture is because they actually practice what they preach. They defined their culture, they put it into play, and then they ensured that they kept up with the culture so it didn’t die throughout the years. Maintaining culture is all about consistency. If you want to be sure that your culture will live on and have more glory days, you need to be sure that every current and new employee who works for you knows what your culture is and what their duty is to play the part in making your company’s the best. Benefitfocus found a way and this allowed them to have endless employee testimonials raving about how the work environment is great, the reasons why it’s amazing, and the reasons why they are proud to work for the company.

Do you honestly believe majority of your workforce would feel that way? If not, then you need to consider some options on how to create and maintain the culture you originally wanted:

  • Get feedback from your employees: they’re the ones who are going to keep this culture going. The easiest way to ensure they’ll happily do so is to create a culture that not only has the company’s best interest at heart, but also one that takes in account the employees’ values. It is a lot easier to promote a culture if it involves things that relates to your employees’ personal values.
  • Create your backbone: based off of your company’s needs and the feedback you received, you should be able to define a clear list of what the culture should be. This will be the foundation of your culture and also will define your employer brand.
  • Create a plan of action: decide on what course of action you will need to take to make this list into a reality. After all, the issue that companies deal with is the fact that they say they’re one thing but never really do anything to prove it. Thoroughly determine what steps the company and employees will need to take to build the culture.
  • Set up a maintenance plan: maintaining your culture will take continuous effort. Be sure to appoint people in the organization (even a rotation of people) to gather feedback, encourage, and troubleshoot. To maintain the culture, it must always be in the front of every employee’s mind. It must always be practiced.
  • Celebrate: give your employees reasons to want to maintain this culture- don’t just tell them to do it and then forget about it. Culture should always mean a reason to celebrate and promote a good-feeling, overall. Get your employees into the habit of correlating their efforts to maintain the culture into something positive.

The culture of the company is the core of the company. It defines who they are to customers and to employees. It determines if the company will attract quality talent to lead the company to success or not. Benefitfocus has endless pages of positive employee endorsements – maybe if your company follows these steps, it could, too.

Benefitfocus Culture

Benefitfocus:Winning with Culture

Has Bad Culture Got You Down?

Yes. This will be another post about the importance of culture (because it’s important!). However, this time I’m going to write about the flip-side. Normally, I spend time talking about the importance of good culture, mainly because it has a lot of business benefits. On the other hand, it is also important to educate people on bad culture and the negative effects it can have on your workforce and company as a whole. Thankfully, a few individuals took the time to speak to me about their bad company culture experience and those conversations have allowed me to compile some key points.

What can bad culture mean for your business? Read on:

  • Lack of productivity and quality of work: if your workers are unhappy, their work will suffer. Bad culture can reduce morale, which could reduce motivation. Reduction in motivation means productivity will slow down or even come to a standstill.
  • “Poison to the well”: negative employee experiences and emotions can spread fast like an aggressive infection. If an employee is dealing with the effects of bad culture, they could start to spread the word to others about their experience. This could result in current and new employees to start to have these perspectives. At that point, your staff is compromised.
  • Lack of dedication and commitment: if your employees feel like they can’t trust the company, then don’t expect them to stick around or to work like they will be there in the long-term. Their minds are most likely thinking about where they’re going to apply to next or how much they dread being there.
  • Lack of commitment means high absenteeism and turnover: what do you do if you dread going to work one day? Most people take a “sick day”. What do you do if you dread going to work EVERY day? Take as many “sick days” as you can (at least, that’s what the individuals in a bad culture had told me). Additionally, turn over will be high and most people will want to get out of that situation as fast as they can that they may not even give a proper two weeks notice. That means you’re down an employee and you have no one even in the pipeline to potentially back-fill that spot.
  • Your employer brand will suffer: your employer brand is everything in terms of attracting quality talent. If you aren’t attracting super-star candidates to your company, you will be left with the average-Joes. Slap the average employees into your workforce and your products/service quality will be negatively affected which means that you could start losing clients to a competitor that does it better.

The above points are every human resources professional’s nightmare. More importantly, it is extremely hard for a company to bounce back after it gets to that point and some maybe never will. It’s important to notice the early signs of a culture going bad to ensure you can turn it around early on. Otherwise, this may be an uphill battle a company may never win.

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Make Sure Your Candidates Have a Great Experience

 

A few months ago when I was job hunting, I was applying to companies that had a well-known brand, were large, and seemed to have the culture and stability I was looking for. Naturally, I assumed that my applications would go unanswered or that a few months later I would receive a generic e-mail letting me know that they’ve gone with someone more qualified. Unfortunately, this has become the new norm for job seekers and to be quite honest, it is not a great experience. Recruiters are flooded with e-mails and alerts in their ATS systems that it can sometimes be hard to respond to candidates even with the generic e-mail. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I had a great candidate experience even for a position I was never interviewed for.

One of the areas I was targeting was the west coast and many of my dream companies were located out in Silicon Valley. These were top companies and majority of the time my applications and LinkedIn e-mails went unanswered. Then one night, I received a phone call from a company I applied to—Netflix. Many people are well aware of Netflix and may have even used it before. Other individuals know a ton about their company culture (I learned about it in a few classes during my college days). I seriously wasn’t expecting to hear from them, let alone receive a phone call from their recruiting department. The recruiter simply called me to let me know that they received my resume and was impressed with my experience, but didn’t have a position open matching that at the time. She also told me her e-mail address and insisted that I connect with her on LinkedIn so we can stay in-touch for any future opportunities. And that was that. A simple phone call made quite an impression.

Experiences like this can benefit a company:

  • It can increase customer referrals: Needless to say, I told many people about my enjoyable experience with them. It really meant a lot to me to have someone reach out to me even if they didn’t have anything at the time, especially a company that would have a large volume of resumes coming through. It also meant a lot that the recruiter made it easy for me to have her information and stay in touch with her. By telling others about this experience, it gave Netflix good PR. Word of mouth is amazing for marketing and advertising.
  • It can increase talent referrals:  Because this recruiter gave me her contact information, I was able to connect talented workers with her. A couple even landed interviews and offers. Also, I told these individuals my experience which made more of them eager and excited to apply to Netflix. Engaged candidates can lead to engaged employees if hired.
  • Rapport: This recruiter and company impressed me so much by this simple act that they gained my respect. This has made me want to build a rapport and relationship with the company and even help them find other talented individuals if they contact me for help. Building this rapport helps the recruiting department have mini-strategic partnerships with people they’ve spoken to.

These little things really go a long way with candidates. Finding jobs are hard and dealing with no-answers or generic answers can really wear on a candidate’s confidence. Taking that extra time to personally reach out to them can go a long way to a point where they would be extremely grateful. In turn, their gratitude could make them want to return the favor in any way they can. Positive candidate experiences are more important than businesses realize, so be sure to make the effort if you can.

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Netflix Website