Roadrunner TableTalk connects human resources students to field experts

The Cahill Career Center hosted its latest in the Roadrunner TableTalk series last Thursday, this time focusing on the field of human resources (HR). Previous fields discussed include public relations and environmental science. Taking place in the cozy space of the Career Center office, a sizable crowd of students experienced two parts to the event. The first was a discussion panel with guest speakers in the HR field who were all Ramapo alum.

The speakers included Teresa Gustafson, a reward lead for Reckitt’s North America operations, Francisco Montes, senior people generalist for, Briana Rodriguez, associate director of communications at Global S&P whose previous work included HR, and Erin Ventura, HR manager for Anywhere Real Estate. Senior Assistant Director of the Career Center Cynthia Gutiérrez Michalewski acted as the moderator of the discussion panel.

The first question involved asking the speakers more about their positions, their majors and how they found their current jobs in HR. A common thread between all of their stories is that none of them originally intended to find careers in HR. Gustafson was a global communications major who planned for a career in marketing, Montes was a sociology major who wanted to go into social work, Rodriguez was a communication arts major and an HR generalist previously and Ventura was a marketing major who grew to enjoy HR after helping out the HR department at the non-profit she previously worked for.

“I did not expect to be in HR,” Montes said. “I was actually pushed into pursuing social services… I still find myself helping people in the way I anticipated to help people, so I’m still doing what I wanted to do, just not how I envisioned it.”

Michalewski’s next question was geared towards asking the panelists to share more about their particular roles. Gustafson and Montes both responded, trying to show attendees how broad the field of HR is.

Gustafson’s focus as a reward lead is on compensation. She explained the numerous tasks that she and her team take on to support the 4,000 employees in North America that they support. Gustafson’s roles in her position include benchmarking, which is market research to see how Reckitt’s compensation plans and benefits compare to competitors, internal equity pay studies and supporting international transferees.

“A lot of it is your typical open enrollment and then benefit strategy on… what our benefits strategy is… like how we want to support young families and our parental leave,” she explained.

Montes’ areas as a generalist are primarily in employee relations and benefits, and are stationed in a warehouse in Cranford, NJ. As the main point of contact on-site for HR, he said he works to best support his employees and provide resources to help teams be more self-sufficient.

The next question focused on what people in the industry are looking for when hiring students. Rodriguez talked about project management skills, specifically the idea of “managing up” or managing one’s manager in a sense.

“From my experience, the managers I’ve worked with usually a direct report to a C-level suite type of person. So they’re extremely busy… So when you do capture their time, you kind of need to have everything laid out and ready to go,” she said. She elaborated further, explaining that you also need to let them know your expectations and find a way to balance their expectations.

Ventura spoke about the importance of “soft skills,” giving an example of an interview she had with a new hire who showed things like empathy and good communication skills during the interview.

“It’s really hard to train or to teach anybody how to practice empathy, how to practice professionalism. It is so hard to teach those things, near impossible in some cases,” she said.

Students were given ample opportunity to make connections with professionals in their future fields. Photo by Matthew Wikfors.

Other questions included the speakers’ experiences at Ramapo, the skills they learned and what changes they see happening in the field of HR. After a brief Q&A, the second half of the event began.

The Career Center used its space to set up tables for each speaker to stand at. Attendees were given a card with the speaker’s name and a slip of paper with a question on it. Each speaker had a stamp for their name they would put on a student’s card after the student came up to them to ask them further questions. Any student who received three stamps was entered in a raffle to win Ramapo gear.

Michalewski said the second half of the event was to help students practice their networking skills since networking can be challenging. With churros and hot chocolate being served, the Career Center created a warm and casual atmosphere for students to have their questions answered in a more personal way and to network.

The next Roadrunner TableTalk takes place virtually on Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m., focusing on the music industry with A&R professional Lauren Youngblood.

Featured photo by Matthew Wikfors