Guest Post Archives - upstartHR

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The Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Building a caring work environment and increasing talent density: compatible or mutually exclusive?

If you’re reading this entry for an answer, skip ahead to the comments section, because you definitely won’t find it here. The question is of critical importance to where we are as a company and I’m actively debating it in my quieter moments. People – their collective personality and their performance – are our differentiator in a tough tech market.

caring work environment

Is building a supportive environment a goal of your organization?

A little background: our company culture is built on integrity, ownership, simplicity, service and balance. We’ve strictly held to our core values in hiring decisions, resulting in a place that people enjoy working because they get to work with intelligent, driven and truly amazing people they care about. Our people also know that HR, the Leadership team and our co-founders care about them on a personal level, which is both a key to retention and to recruitment.

But to build a successful company that scales, we need the most talented team possible. Talent attracts and retains talent and builds a better product. There’s the idea that winning teams succeed because they have the best players on their team. Successful sports teams cut fan favorites to upgrade their roster and aren’t slow to trade away players when underperforming. It’s all understood as part of the business of winning. But it also feels very impersonal and at odds with the familial culture we’ve built.

Is there a happy medium? Can a company truly care about its employees while remaining committed to increasing the level of “A-players” on the team? How does one handle the model employee that just isn’t up to the task at hand?

As I shared, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it’s possible for a company to toe the line by investing in “coaching up” struggling employees, being clear about expectations and where the gaps are, and making a genuine effort to get people to where they need to be. To be sure, this requires a genuine commitment from the top of the organization and far more effort than any alternative, but I think it can and should be done.

There will always be cases where things just don’t work out. Treat departing employees with dignity, respect and honesty. Ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” Others in the organization will know if you gave the departing team member a fair shake to keep their job, and will take note of how you treated them on the way out. If you can navigate this maze, I think you can have both talent density and a caring corporate culture. Who knows what success awaits from that point forward?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Social Media Recruiting (Guest Post)

One of the highlights of my early career days was a year spent in a group called NMU–NASHRM Mentor University. I learned much, developed some amazing friendships that I still appreciate to this day, and got to participate in a pilot program to improve the career prospects of local HR professionals. This year the group is still going strong, and one of the assignments was to create a blog post and have it published online by a known HR blogger. Donna Quinney, an HR pro from Huntsville, was paired with me. Her first ever blog post is below. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Donna!

Social Media Recruiting: Should You Believe the Hype or Not?

I had the privilege of serving as a Mentee with NASHRM Mentor University program this past year. As part of the program, we were asked to prepare a 30 minute Powerpoint presentation, present to the class, and develop a blog post from that information. My presentation was titled “Social Media Recruiting: 7 Good Benefits Every Recruiter Should Know.”

Much to my surprise, I found that there was less negative and more positive information out there on social media recruiting. I’ve heard a lot about the security risks associated with having too much of your personal information hanging out on the internet. That’s it…the only negative I could find on social media recruiting. But I must say, that one negative could potentially cause some major problems for you, your financial state, and most importantly your family. So be careful with that!

But, on the flip side, there are several positives for implementing a social media platform in your recruiting strategies. Here are just a few that I discovered:

  • Cost Saving – Post positions on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s basically free!
  • Improves Talent Pool – Connects you to the largest active and passive job seekers!
  • Fill Positions Faster – Compared to traditional approaches: newspaper ads and/or job boards!
  • Increased Candidate Diversity – Helps widen your search options even further!
  • Company Branding – On-line presence gives candidates a glimpse into the company culture/ environment!

Now that you are up to speed on a few benefits of social media recruiting, are you ready to jump on board and recruit your next new hire via LinkedIn or Facebook? Are you convinced that social media recruiting is here to stay or is it just the next big hype? I’ll let you decide!

Thank you NASHRM Mentor University for a great year…and the yummy cookies! I’ve officially been HR stretched!

Improving Hires in Two Easy Steps

Today we have a guest post from Mary Ila Ward, a local HR/OD ninja. Enjoy!

Put first things first:  2 Steps to Improve Hiring

Ben had a great post this week about defining corporate culture.   Incorporating corporate values and culture is so important in making hiring decisions. I’m currently helping a client review and revise their selection procedures.  One of the things that I’ve noticed in helping them is that their job dimensions, and therefore the criteria they use to select people, have never been connected to their corporate values.

Any time I engage in a client project, I seek to link what we are doing with their strategic mission and values, so it was imperative for us to help them link job dimensions to value dimensions.  Here’s how you do it…

2 Steps to Improve Your Hiring Process:

  1. Know what the job requires and what tasks are involved for the job.   In HR or I/O speak, do a job analysis. I know this sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many companies have position descriptions, but do not review them regularly and do not analyze the job to make sure what they are requiring is even accurate.  This requires an actual observation of someone doing the job.

I advocate, like Ben does, picking a superstar and documenting key characteristics they exhibit as well as the skills they have that make them a superstar.  However, I’ve found a lot of value in looking at a low (you’re just about to show them the door type) performer and an average performer for comparison purposes.  This has really helped me define several key dimensions.

 An Example

With this client, I saw a huge contrast in the way the low and high performer handled complex, stressful issues.   The high performer had a sense of urgency, but a sense of calmness with that urgency in fixing the problems.   The calmness came in rationally deciding what caused the problem, which aided in fixing it so that it wouldn’t happen again. The low perform, on the other hand, exhibited almost neurosis panic when something went wrong.  He had a sense of urgency, but combined with the panic, it made things completely worse instead of better.  He could not tell you why the problem happened, and did not want to understand what caused it.  You can see how this dimension could be defined more accurately than just a sense of urgency in order to make a wise hiring decision.


  1. Match job requirements to corporate values or culture.  If you haven’t defined your corporate values or culture, then follow Ben’s step to do so this week.  If you already have, examine your job requirements against your values.   By and large, your job requirements should be an easy match to value dimensions.  If they aren’t, you may need to add more values or eliminate selection requirements from your list.

 An Example

One corporate value my client has defined is “Courage”.  This value is defined in several ways, but one thing that sticks out to me in this definition is “be responsive and flexible”, and “do the right thing”.   Another is “Ownership” defined as “be proud of your work”, “be responsible for your actions,” “operate with a ‘can do’ attitude”.  I love this value!  You can see how we defined the job dimension described above to tie to these values:

  • Ability to alter one’s behavior in a calm manner in order to respond to unforeseen problems (courage).
  • Desire to understand why equipment or machinery has caused manufacturing issues and the ability to respond appropriately in a prompt manner (ownership).

What job requirements do you have that are tied to your corporate values or culture?

mary ila wardAbout Horizon Point Consulting, Inc.: Horizon Point Consulting, Incorporated’s mission is to provide career, leadership and workforce coaching and consulting that leads to a passionate and productive workforce.

Mary Ila’s passion is helping others create and maintain passion in the workplace.   To learn more, visit the company’s website at: or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Grow Young Professional Employees Who Create a Calm Company Culture

As a manager, it\’s important to create an environment in which all of your employees can thrive. You should strive to develop employees that are positive and proactive—from day one. For your young professionals, the most coddled generation in our nation\’s history, it can often be tricky to dance in the uncomfortable and very necessary space between walking on egg shells to avoid uncomfortable situations and instigating unnecessary conflict.

Here are a few ways you can work with your youngest employees to help them adopt and sustain a possibility-centered mindset so that they—and the rest of your employees—can do their best work.

Reframe Conflict

Let your young professionals know first and foremost that conflict is normal and that when it emerges, it\’s important to address it quickly. For the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we usually associate with conflict often occur more when we are thinking about the possibility of conflict than when we are actually acknowledging and moving through it. Show your young professionals how to separate fact from fiction in the stories they create about the situations they find themselves in. Help them to give other people the necessary space to speak their perspective without getting defensive. And most importantly, help them develop the skills to focus on how to move forward with others in mutually-beneficial ways rather than rehashing old grievances.

Bring in Some Old-fashioned Forgiveness

When conflict occurs, it\’s important to keep your young professionals moving forward. The only way to do this is if they forgive all parties involved in previous problems—most of all themselves. Encourage them to see forgiveness as the act of unhooking from the story they created about themselves and the other people involved in the problem. Forgiveness is as much a choice as a practice. In addition to letting young professionals see the many health and performance benefits of letting go and moving on, help them to stay in the forgiveness zone by focusing on how they want to feel when they have forgiven…once and for all. Encourage them to recreate this feeling in their bodies until it eventually sticks and their dress rehearsal becomes their final performance.

Kill Fear Mongering

No employees work well when they live in fear. While you may think it\’s benign or perhaps even a good thing for a young professional to believe that a missed deadline could be grounds for termination, fear is a lousy motivator and it makes a really great performance killer. If young professionals direct focus toward speed at the expense of turning out a high-quality product, you might be training them to make underperformance acceptable and habitual. Let them know that you are there for them when they are having issues with an assignment, and encourage proactive, transparent conversations so that you can co-create solutions.


Alexia Vernon is an author, speaker, International Coach Federation (ICF) certified coach, trainer, and media personality who specializes in helping organizations recruit, retain, educate, and grow their young professional workforce. In her book 90 Days 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance, Alexia demonstrates how to achieve the goal of getting new employees oriented, integrated and trained within 90 days of their employment. As a member of Gen Y and with her unique approach to talent development, Alexia has been featured in hundreds of media outlets including CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, CBS MoneyWatch, FOX Business News,,,, and  To learn more visit and connect with Alexia on Twitter @AlexiaVernon.

Do Resumes Go Into a Black Hole? 3 Ways to Get Noticed

The Top 3 Ways to Get Your Resume Noticed in an Applicant Tracking System

In today\’s competitive marketplace, applying for a job can be an exercise in frustration.  The endless resume submission process can feel like a black hole when you don\’t receive a response. What can you do to get your resume past the gatekeeper and increase your chances of getting an interview?

As more and more recruiters are leveraging technology in their recruitment processes, here are 3 noteworthy tips to help get your resume reviewed faster!

  1. Tweak Your Resume

In the old days, that gatekeeper was often a secretary or maybe an HR hiring manager. However, many companies are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to find the best candidates and eliminate manual processes like sorting through a pile of resumes. Before your application reaches someone in HR, it will first be reviewed through this ATS software.

Luckily, once you understand a few key elements of applicant tracking software, it\’s not as daunting as it might sound. The truth is, if you include all of your accomplishments and relevant past experience in your resume, the applicant tracking system can pick up on your skills and show you as an excellent fit for the position.

  1. Show Your Results

Every resume is stronger when it is results based.  Showing that you raised your department’s sales by 12% over your tenure shows sales and marketing skill—important for a sales and marketing position, which the ATS software will likely notice.  If you are applying for an entry level position and may not have past results to include, perhaps mention results from a significant club event you organized.

  1. Make Sure You Fit the Requirements

If the position calls for someone with 5-7 years of experience and you have 3, the software will pass you over.  For that matter, so will the HR manager; therefore, make sure you fit the requirements as closely as possible and remain realistic in your job hunt.

The use of applicant tracking systems to help with the hiring process is continuing to grow in today’s corporate world. ATS software is designed to help both the recruiter/hiring manager and the candidate by streamlining the hiring process to allow for open positions to be filled more quickly. By applying a few of the key tactics outlined above to your resume before you hit the “submit” button, you\’ll help ensure that your application will make it past the initial screening process and onto the desk of a hiring manager.

This guest post comes from iCIMS, which offers web-based applicant tracking system (ATS) solutions  for business of all sizes. iCIMS provides employee onboarding software to help streamline the hiring process in order to save time and reduce cost-per-hire. iCIMS’ talent management system can be tailored to fit your HR or recruiting needs. To learn more, visit their website or follow iCIMS on Twitter @iCIMS.

7 Steps to a Successful Performance Appraisal

The old adage tends to be true: you get out of things what you put into them. This advice applies well to employee performance appraisals. Managers and employees tend to complain about them and their value, but sometimes, putting in a little bit of effort means you’ll get better results.

You may think you\’re a “superhero” employee and as such, can coast through your next performance appraisal. After all, you\’ve met all your goals, perhaps even exceeded them, so what do you need to prepare? A lot in fact.

Think you're awesome? Prove it.

It\’s not just the responsibility of your manager to prepare for your performance appraisal meeting. You play a role in ensuring the meeting is productive and that you and your manager have a detailed discussion of your accomplishment and future career goals.

With that point in mind, here’s a list of suggestions we put together to help employees prepare for their next performance appraisal, so they get more out of it.

1. Gather Information on Your Performance and Development

Start by getting out your job description if you have one, and your last performance appraisal. Review your job responsibilities and the goals, competencies and development plans set out for you. Then gather any regular reports or notes on your performance that you’ve been keeping (e.g. weekly status reports, monthly summaries, project status reports). Next, get any letters, emails, certificates of recognition, awards, etc. that you’ve received praising your work. Finally, pull out any certificates of completion from any courses you’ve taken.
Review all these items in preparation for step 2.

2. Prepare a List of Your Accomplishments

Using your job description, goals and competencies for guidance, prepare a list of your accomplishments over the last period. Make sure you cover the whole period, not just the most recent weeks or months. Relate your accomplishments to your goals and to higher level organizational goals – how did you achieve your goals and help the company achieve its goals. Make sure you capture “how” and not just “what” you accomplished.

Also include any challenges that limited your abilities to succeed, as well as any support you received from others.

Your goal is to give your manager a summary of your accomplishments and any background information they need to understand and evaluate your performance.

3. Complete a Self-Evaluation

Even if your company doesn’t formally do them, it’s good idea to complete a self-evaluation. Use the official performance appraisal form if you can, and rate your performance on competencies and goals. Be honest in your ratings, and provide specific examples of your work to backup your ratings.

The goal is to reflect on your performance, so you can share your perceptions with your manager.

4. Prepare a Development Plan

Using the work you did in steps 1 through 3, identify any areas for development. Identify areas where you struggled or where others noted your performance lacked and make note of these. Reflect on areas where you would like to expand your skills/experience/expertise as part of your career growth and progression. And think about your learning style and how you best learn.

Then, do a bit of research into the training/development offered through your organization, professional associations, industry associations, etc, and make a list of potential learning activities that would help you improve your performance and advance your career. Don\’t forget to include things like reading lists, volunteer activities, work assignments, etc. Learning isn’t always done in a classroom.

5. Draft Goals for the Coming Period

Take a proactive approach and draft some possible goals based on your job description, your department or the organization’s higher level goals, your skills/experience/abilities, etc. Look for opportunities to expand your duties, broaden your knowledge, or take on more responsibility.

6. Share Your Preparations With Your Manager

Now, share your list of accomplishments, your awards/thank yous/certificates, your self-evaluation, your ideas for development and your draft goals with your manager. This will help them prepare for your meeting more effectively and will encourage a better dialogue between you.

7. Prepare an Open Mind

Finally, it’s important for you to prepare an open mind. Often we come to our performance appraisal meeting feeling a bit defensive. We’re bracing ourselves to hear criticism, or we’re jockeying for ratings/positioning that impact our compensation and advancement in the company.

Unfortunately, when we’re defensive, we don’t listen very well. Prepare yourself by trying to relax and let go of any defensiveness you’re aware of. Your goal should be to listen deeply to the feedback your manager provides you, as well as to their perspective on the goals and development plans they assign you.


It’s your performance appraisal, and your career! By putting some time and effort into preparing for your performance appraisal, you set yourself up for a successful review, and open up a meaningful two-way dialogue with your manager about your performance.

About the author: Sean Conrad is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Senior Product Analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of performance management software. For more of his insights on talent management, read his posts on the Halogen Software blog.

The right people in the right seats

We talk often about having the right people in the right seats. However, the step that is commonly skipped in that metaphor is what to do with the incumbent workforce. In this guest post for my buddy Glenn at the Young CXO blog, I talk about the three options for making talent fit a priority. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

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