A job seeker came to see Nicole Griffin recently after making a careless mistake — one he didn’t even recognize at the time.
The mistake was leaving a temporary position at a large, well-known firm two weeks before his contract was up because he didn’t like the environment and the job wasn’t quite what he thought it would be.
“I said, ‘you kind of ruined all the work you did there for several months by leaving before your assignment ended,’” said Griffin, president of the employment firm she launched in 2013 as Griffin Staffing Network. “That was a teachable moment. I said, ‘you have to make the most of your opportunities. Now you’ve closed your door for a reference. Plus, while you’re there, you’re supposed to network.’”
He quickly realized he’d burned a bridge he was two weeks away from crossing, and he regretted the decision. But he learned from it, and was planning on interviewing for a similar position the day after Griffin sat down with BusinessWest to talk about her company’s client-focused model, its growth over the past five years, and a recent rebranding with a new name, ManeHire.
“It’s nice to have a company in your name — it’s easy for people to recognize who you are when they walk through the door — but I want to let my employees who work internally shine,” she said. “I don’t want the whole focus of the company to be about me, so I’m taking me out of the name and highlighting all the talent we have.”
With physical offices in East Longmeadow, Springfield, and Windsor, Conn. — and a reach well beyond the region — Griffin wanted a new name that evoked lion imagery, for a reason. “I like the lion — it represents strength and courage and resilience, and those are some of the key components you need when you’re looking for employment.”
Griffin put all three attributes to work when building her career. While working at MassMutual as a financial underwriter — providing analysis, sales, and marketing for the company’s products — she became a certified interviewer and started a small nonprofit on the side, called the ABCs of Interviewing. There, she consulted with other nonprofits, companies, and individuals, helping them with interviewing skills.
While volunteering at a MassMutual Community Responsibility event at Western New England University, helping high-school students through a Junior Achievement employment-awareness program, she was struck by some teenagers’ total lack of understanding of how to act and even dress in a job-interview situation, and that soon became a passion for helping people position themselves for employment — a passion she exercised when she left MassMutual to open Griffin Staffing Network.
As the CEO of an agency for temporary, permanent, direct-hire, temp-to-hire, and executive-level positions — placing people in administrative, medical, financial, professional-services, hospitality, insurance, and information-technology jobs — she strives to understand the big picture in the regional employment landscape, while recognizing it’s made up of many small pieces.
“It’s still the same soft skills — showing up to work, the little stuff. Some people don’t realize the value in those things,” she said, again evoking the individual who walked away from his contract, and other, equally cavalier decisions people make.
“Some people don’t realize the weight that has — decisions made in the moment that have a lasting impact,” she said, such as taking time off with no warning on multiple occasions. “There’s a process. You don’t just call out an hour before you’re due to work. You have to be very mindful of the decisions you make.”
Through her work helping client employers find talent, she’s also helping job seekers not only access those jobs, but learn the skills necessary to keep them. In so doing, she knows she’s helping to change lives.
“We impact the family unit,” she said. “Of course, when you offer someone a position, it has an immediate impact on them, but it also impacts the whole family. It’s generational.”
An MP in the Army National Guard in her early 20s, Griffin originally thought her future was in correctional or police work, and she was offered a third-shift job at Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, where her father worked as a correctional officer.
But she wasn’t crazy about the work, as it turned out, or the hours. A friend at MassMutual offered to put in a good word for her there, but warned that’s all she could do — the rest was up to Griffin.
She admitted she wasn’t qualified, but made enough of an impression to get a job offer.
“I learned the value of having someone else speak for you, and how impactful that is,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s what I want to do for other people. I want to help them find opportunities that may not be reachable by themselves.”
And that’s what she does — but securing an interview is a far cry from nailing down a good job. “You have to do the work. And if you do get a position, you have to maintain it.”
To help people do that, Griffin originally conducted free weekly workshops for applicants to hone their skills on the interview process, proper dress for an interview, business etiquette, and other soft skills. Today, instead of classes and workshops, that training is built into the application process for each job seeker who walks in the door.
“In the interview, we talk about your skill set, but also how we can mentor you. I tell my staff, ‘stop for a moment and really dig into why they left their last place of employment. What is the teachable moment in there for them?’”
Some applicants have walked out of those meetings in tears, shocked at what they didn’t know. “Some are just thankful — ‘no one’s ever told me that; no one’s ever corrected my résumé to tell me about the mistakes are making and why I’m going to all these places and not being selected.’”
Sometimes those tears are necessary, she went on. “I think honesty is key. You have to be honest with people and speak their language.”
Still, while the soft-skills gaps Griffin encounters aren’t surprising, they can be troublesome. Moreso are applicants she encounters who lack even the basics of financial literacy — who don’t know how a checking account works, or wonder why that account shows just a tiny balance after a direct deposit on payday, only to be told by the bank that the account had been $500 in the red. She recalled one woman who brought in her mother so these concepts could be explained to both of them.
“Financial literacy is passed down from generation to generation. It’s real for people. Things we take for granted, they honestly do not know,” she said. “We can make an impact by finding gainful employment for you, but if you’re not understanding how that money works…”
She trailed off, knowing there’s no good conclusion for that sentence — except to keep doing the work she’s doing, helping people gain the skills, knowledge, and wisdom they need to secure and keep good jobs.
“At the end of the day, we want you to be gainfully employed, whether through Griffin Staffing or another employer. We mean that, because it impacts the community.”
That community is living through a historically solid economy right now, Griffin said, with Springfield the beneficiary of a string of good news, from MGM Springfield’s opening later this year to CRRC ramping up production of rail cars; from MassMutual and Big Y bringing new jobs to the City of Homes to a wave of entrepreneurial energy in the form of scores of successful startups — hers included.
“It’s a really exciting time for both employers and employees,” she said. “It’s one of those times when the opportunities are there; you have to seize the moment. I’m excited to say I’m from the city of Springfield.”
For those still in the job market, however, it can still be a challenge to find well-paying, satisfying work. A relationship-focused business model, one that digs deep to make the best matches, is appreciated by employer clients who have stuck with Griffin from when she first opened.
“We’re very client- and applicant-focused. Relationships are huge for me,” she said. “Someone may have the hard skills and soft skills, but do they fit into the culture of the company? We look at an applicant as a whole instead of just as a skill set.”
That’s a lesson she learned from MassMutual, when she was hired not necessarily for her raw skills — what they saw on her résumé — but what she brought to the table as a whole person. And it worked out; she was promoted four times.
In seeking to understand the whole person in today’s applicants, she’s come to recognize that young people value flexibility in a work situation as much as — or more than — the salary, which is useful for employers (at nonprofits, for instance) who can’t pay as much as they’d like. In short, today’s young job seekers will often sacrifice in the pay department to gain work-life balance. They also want a clear picture of where they’ll be in a few years, and how they will fit into a company culture, add value, and grow.
When the unemployment rate is low, she added, employers obviously find it more difficult to secure workers with the skill sets they need. “So what we’re doing is going after passive candidates — someone who’s currently employed but may be open to new opportunities.”
Over the years, Griffin has leveraged the skills of her staff to provide recruiting opportunities and career guidance to current and graduating students at area colleges and universities, was recognized with the Community Builder Award from the Urban League for helping meet employment needs in Springfield, and was named to the BusinessWest 40 Under Forty class of 2014 — and then won the magazine’s Continuing Excellence Award last year.
She also serves on the boards of YWCA of Western Massachusetts and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, and partners each year with the New England Farm Workers Council to hire a summer job applicant. “It’s very important that we give back to the community because we live here too, and our children are growing up here.”
That’s why she sees her work as making the community a better place to live, one job at a time. She’s especially gratified at the success stories that advance far beyond entry level, like a marketing intern who advanced to an executive role in an insurance company, and someone who went from working in a local warehouse to managing it.
“That’s so cool. That’s what empowers me, to see people grow in their positions. That’s so exciting,” Griffin said. “I love what I do. I don’t feel like I work. I get to get up and do what I love every single day. And I want people to wake up feeling the same way I do.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org