Griffin Staffing Network Goes Extra Mile to Help Job ApplicantsLike many people working in the broad realm of staffing and human resources, Nicole Griffin identifies employees as every company’s biggest asset.
But a moving experience several years ago involving a young boy changed her life, giving her deep understanding of just what is needed to create a true asset.
Griffin was participating in a MassMutual Community Responsibility event at Western New England University, and helping high-school students through a Junior Achievement (JA) employment-awareness program. She would spend the first day teaching students everything she knew — business etiquette, interviewing rules and tips, how to dress for success, and more. The second day was for mock interviews, and one of the students — told to dress appropriately for the occasion — showed up in jeans and a tilted ball cap, slouching himself in a chair.
Offering positive criticism, Griffin suggested that he might have chosen slacks and a button-down shirt, and left the cap at home.
“His response was, ‘look, lady, my parents don’t work, so I don’t know what that looks like,’” Griffin told BusinessWest. “The impact that statement had on me … he’ll never know. It was a pain in my heart, because that was his environment, and in order to be an example, you have to see an example, and he had never seen one.”
That’s when Griffin knew she had to do something more, because she understood there were many more people in that same situation, and unless they were provided with such positive examples, their opportunities for meaningful employment would be slim to none.
With that young boy always in the back of her mind, she exited MassMutual after 12 years as a financial underwriter, providing analysis, sales, and marketing for the company’s products, to work at a regional staffing agency, focusing on meeting the need that became apparent to her at that JA event — a need for helping people position themselves for success in the job market, and life.
That position, and two consultant businesses on the side, led her to launch her own venture, Griffin Staffing Network, last fall in Springfield’s South End, practically across the street from the site of MGM’s proposed $800 million casino.
Excited about the impact of that very large employer that she can help staff, as well as those businesses that may lose their current employees to the casino, Griffin is now the CEO of an agency for temporary, permanent, direct-hire, temp-to-hire, and executive-level positions, and offers placements in several fields, including administrative, medical, financial, professional services, hospitality, insurance, and information technology.
“My background in financial underwriting was really analyzing how much risk an applicant would be for a company, so I would look at their application, background, medical history, and evaluate that person based on a risk factor,” she said, adding that she’s doing pretty much the same thing in her new role in staffing.
Elaborating, she said there are risks associated with a company taking on an employee, even one from a staffing agency, and her assignment now is to reduce that risk, and her agency does so by giving back and helping clients become job-ready.
“To reach as you climb — that’s what my husband and I have always been told is important to do, because some people don’t; they reach a certain level of success and don’t give back,” said Griffin. “Once you succeed, you reach back and pull somebody else up with you.”
For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked with Griffin about this notion of reaching as one climbs, and how she believes it will not only help in her efforts to grow her company, but also assist the region’s businesses as they struggle to fill openings in many sectors and at seemingly every level.
The Job at Hand
An MP in the Army National Guard, Griffin thought her future was in correctional or police work. But after marriage and having children, her priorities changed.
“I called a friend who worked at MassMutual and said, ‘can you help me get a job?’ And she said, ‘to be honest with you, I can get you the interview; the rest is up to you,’” Griffin explained. “And that stuck with me all my life because it’s true. And that’s what I want to do, get a person’s foot in the door; what they do with the opportunity is up to them.”
But after years of volunteering and working in human-resources positions, time and again she realized that for some, there was a need to acquire basic skills that they just didn’t have, or else opportunities they were given would end up in disappointment.
Still in her position at MassMutual, she attained qualifications as a certified interviewer and started her own small nonprofit, The ABCs of Interviewing. Griffin would consult with other nonprofits, companies, and individuals, helping them with interviewing skills, but many of the individuals were unemployed, and payment was an issue.
“I loved the interviewing-consultant work, but after that, there was nothing more,” she said, “and I knew I had to do something more.”
Her something more turned into a new position at an administrative and accounting staffing firm in the area, where she quickly learned that, due to company policies, there were potential employees that weren’t making the cut.
“They were falling through the cracks,” said Griffin. “They would come in, we would interview them, evaluate their skills, and then mark them ‘unemployable.’”
She saw that those same young kids at the JA program were now adults, and had the same issues. And no one was telling them, “you can’t consider capris and flip-flops professional attire,” said Griffin. “It was literally an eye-opener for many; they just didn’t know.”
Her current agency is an expansion of Griffin Consulting, permanent-placement firm for the insurance agency that she formed while working at the temp agency. Licensed with the Employment, Placement, and Staffing Agencies Program within the Mass. Department of Labor Standards, she obtained her certification as a Minority Business Enterprise/Woman Business Enterprise (MBE/WBE). That certification, a lengthy process in itself, was approved in November 2013, just a month after Griffin Staffing Network launched.
“Someone helped open the door for me at MassMutual,” Griffin continued. “I will do the same, so now, if someone comes into my agency and they are not job ready, I’m going to make sure they leave here with a skill they didn’t come in with.”
With two forms of placement experience, her business plan calls for a commitment to community by offering free workshops for applicants on Wednesdays to hone skills that are lacking. Griffin offers tips on the interview process, proper dress for an interview and at a particular job, and business etiquette, and she uses a consultant (who also donates her time) for résumé improvement, an important piece of this exercise that is often overlooked.
“Employers have one moment to glance at your résumé, and that’s the only impression you have,” Griffin noted, adding that the document must highlight skills and accomplishments, not simply list previous jobs, while also being concise. “So you have to make a good impression without a lot of words.”
As an applicant for an employment position comes in, Griffin reviews his or her skills, testing scores, and reference checks, and evaluates how much of a risk that applicant will be for one of her clients and, ultimately, her agency.
“We’re committed to finding the perfect match,” Griffin added. “I would never place someone at the agency with someone that I had not met with directly, because our model is that we are a business partner with the employer.”
Part of the process to engage new partnerships includes community involvement, something that has been embedded in both Griffin and her husband (Richard Griffin Jr., who works in the Springfield Economic Development Department). Once a week, she meets with a small-business owner to broaden her network, but also to give them feedback, based on her own experiences, and educate them about resources that they may not have known about.
“Yes, I’m giving back, but as a staffing agency, hopefully they’ll grow to need more employees, and that’s already happening,” Griffin added.
But her main focus is on individuals and on helping them realize their potential, be it as an employee or employer, she said, adding that this mindset helped spark creation of a new workshop she calls simply “Chasing the Dream.”
Scheduled for Jan. 18, it was inspired in part by commentary offered during the recent National Assoc. of Professional Women (NAPW) event staged in Springfield, where speakers, including keynoter Star Jones, a lawyer and one of the original co-hosts of ABC’s The View, focused heavily on dreams and what’s needed to realize them.
That workshop, to be staged at the agency’s 1145 Main St. location, will offer the steps and tools needed in a process that is informative, interactive, and fun, to aid attendees on their personal dream journey.
As for Griffin’s dream, her short-term goal is to increase the network’s name recognition and to grow the firm both regionally and nationally. With her foundation built, her ambition is to increase clients with entry-level and mid-level placement opportunities.
She sees the casino project as an opportunity for her business and many others, and for the region as a whole — “it’s a win-win for the City of Springfield,” she said — while acknowledging that there is considerable work to do across the region when it comes to making effective matches between employers and individuals looking to join, or rejoin, the workforce.
While Griffin does not know what became of that boy who changed her outlook on employment, she does know that there are still many more like him, and that simple fact drives her to continue to reach while climbing.
Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]