As the staffing and recruiting company she launched in 2013, the MH Group, celebrates 10 years in business, Nicole Polite explained that her path wasn’t always in the employment world. But she quickly found a passion for it.
After serving as an MP in the Army National Guard, she thought her natural progression would be into law enforcement, as a police officer or a correctional officer.
“My dad was working at Ludlow at the time, so I went to my dad and said, ‘can you give me a job?’ — like all kids do with their parents. And he did just that,” she recalled. “But after I received the job offer, I was having second thoughts. It was third shift; I didn’t want to do that. I was a new mom as well. And it just wasn’t the career path I thought I wanted to take.”
So she shifted gears and landed a job at MassMutual, which was a valuable experience — starting right at the interview process, when the woman who perused her résumé said something that has stuck with Polite to this day.
“She said, ‘you know what? You’re not qualified for the position we have open in my department. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do — I’ll get you the job interview.’ At 23, that was the first time someone told me I wasn’t qualified, but that was good to hear because she was correct. And it really stayed with me.”
It also spurred her to study and prepare rigorously for that interview, and she got the job. “And that led to a 10- or 11-year career. It completely changed my entire life.
“My takeaway from that was that someone sat at a table I was not privy to and put my name forward and granted me the opportunity to have a career that lasted all those years. So that was fuel to my fire, my passion in life. I want to go back and be able to do the same thing for other people.”
“That was fuel to my fire, my passion in life. I want to go back and be able to do the same thing for other people.”
While volunteering at a MassMutual Community Responsibility event at Western New England University, helping high-school students through a Junior Achievement employment-awareness program, Polite (then known as Nicole Griffin) was assigned the task of mentoring a young man and teaching him how to interview for jobs. After two days of career and interview prep work, she invited him back for a mock interview. And he showed up wearing jeans and a baseball cap.
“After the interview, I said, ‘you did a very good job, but you’re not really dressed appropriately for an interview, especially with a baseball cap on.’ And I’ll never forget his response. He said, ‘look, my parents never worked. I don’t even know what that looks like.’ And that was like a dagger to my heart because that was his reality. And I said, right then, ‘I’m going to help people in those situations and see how I can make an impact.’ And it grew, like a burning desire.”
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.
From there, she made the leap into entrepreneurship, leaving MassMutual in 2013 to open Griffin Staffing Network.
The company would change names twice: the first to ManeHire about five years later. As she told BusinessWest at the time, she wanted a new name that evoked lion imagery. “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.”
Today, she still likes the name, but explained why a change to the MH Group was in order. “It was fierce — empowering women. That was the goal of the name with me and my marketing partner when we came up with it. But it lost some of its brand and became a little confusing. People were confusing the name as ‘man hire,’ like a job-ready type of employment firm, and we are the complete opposite; about 70% of our jobs are direct-hire. So we dropped that and just go by the initials, which is the MH Group.”
Getting to the Next Level
The MH Group’s recruiting and staffing work focuses on the nonprofit sector, as well as healthcare, insurance, and manufacturing.
But it does so in a way that ensures that matches stick, and that goes back to Polite’s experience landing that job at MassMutual. For instance, the firm conducts workshops to teach people how to interview for a job.
In addition, “I teach my staff and train them that, when you have someone in front of you, you mentor on the spot. And that’s from entry-level to C-level positions. If you have the opportunity to tell someone about something that could be answered in a better way, or just give them some pointers on their résumé, things to highlight and things not to highlight, just mentor it on the spot.
“And then, in terms of employers, we do a lot of vetting up front. So you’re getting an applicant from the MH Group that has been highly vetted and has had some training as well.”
That’s especially important at a time when employers in most sectors are struggling to attract and retain sufficient talent — which gives job seekers more leverage than normal.
“I have clients that have really met the needs of the applicants and employees. They’ve changed their benefit structures, their PTO time, their flexibility, their hybrid schedules. I would say employers are really trying their best to meet the needs of the workforce.”
“It’s a very competitive market — and the workforce knows that it’s competitive. So they’re asking for things they’ve never asked for before. They’re pushing back in ways they’ve never pushed back before; they’re really going through benefits, medical benefits, with a fine comb to make sure it’s something that is valuable to them and their family structure.
“But I will say my clients are meeting their needs,” she added. “I have clients that have really met the needs of the applicants and employees. They’ve changed their benefit structures, their PTO time, their flexibility, their hybrid schedules. I would say employers are really trying their best to meet the needs of the workforce.”
As part of its 10-year anniversary, Polite is also launching the MH Cares Foundation, which uses the power of mentorship to help underserved populations achieve fulfilling careers.
“Most people in HR and CEOs can understand this: you post a job position, and you have hundreds of applications — and, out of those applications, maybe a few that qualify. And you wonder, ‘why is that? Why do so many people apply for positions that they may not be qualified for?’”
Playing off the saying ‘no child left behind,’ Polite sought to create a program where no job seeker is left behind. So the foundation matches job seekers with mentors, using a curriculum to help that job seeker get to the next level.
“It’s more than just applying for a job. We’re going to put you with a mentor who can actually mentor you through that process, whether it be helping you with your résumé or coaching you on interviewing,” she explained. “And then, the second component is giving you volunteer work within that industry or that field and having you work there so that you can gain some experience. The goal is to make sure that we are meeting job seekers where they’re at and bringing them to the next level.”
The foundation will host a kickoff event this fall, and in the meantime, volunteers who want to be mentors to job seekers can visit www.mhcaresfoundation.org and register to be a volunteer.
Polite notes that “a core philosophy for the MH Group is the need for both roots and wings.”
For her, those roots run deep in Springfield, as her great-great-granduncle was Primus Parsons Mason, a Black entrepreneur and real-estate investor who is most well-known as the namesake of the city’s Mason Square neighborhood.
Active in the community, she has served the Greater Springfield region on multiple nonprofit boards, such as the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s Dora D. Robinson Women’s Leadership Council, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission council. She has also served as a business advisor at the Entrepreneurial & Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford.
Because of her success to that point, she was selected to BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty class of 2014 and then won the magazine’s Continued Excellence Award (now known as the Alumni Achievement Award) in 2017. And she was only getting started.
“This has been extremely gratifying — for one, to take such a huge risk of leaving a very good company with great benefits, great structure, great financial standing, and to launch out into my own business … and then just to still be here for 10 years, is very gratifying,” she said.
The MH Group provides staffing for companies from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., and Polite believes it has the potential for a national reach. But locally, she wants to continue outreach to the community, including partnering with local schools to teach job-readiness training.
“We can reach them at a younger age. Then, one day, I hope this will be a part of the curriculum … because job readiness and career readiness is something that’s taught, but not taught the level it should be.”
Polite told BusinessWest she attended its annual 40 Under Forty event this past June and felt emotional seeing many people her company had helped to find employment.
“That’s very gratifying to see them all really excel within their fields. We have people we placed in entry-level positions that are now in management, vice presidents, heads of corporate compliance. It’s amazing to look back and to see people’s growth.”
She’s also encouraged by the many employer clients who have remained partners since the day she opened her doors.
“That makes my heart extremely happy. They’ve grown into family,” she said. “It’s like a dream sometimes — like, pinch me, I’m dreaming. I didn’t think this dream of mine could grow to where it’s at today.”