Reacting To The Job Market: The YoPro Way

Morgan Stephens

Age: 27

Job: Human Resource Generalist, YMCA of the Triangle

Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

Morgan and I have been friends for several years, beginning when she was my boss at YMCA's Camp Seafarer, and then later as a fellow Furman student. Not to mention, she is our intern Annie's big sister! In such a time of uncertainty for young professionals everywhere, I was eager to reconnect with Morgan to talk about what you should do if you're looking at switching careers and applying to jobs in our current state.

This is part of a month-long YoPro Know Series featuring young professionals as they share their tips on navigating their fields in the wake of COVID-19.

Give us a brief background.

It’s somewhat complicated where I’m from since I've lived a lot of different places. I spent most of my childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, and then lived in Vermont for quite some time. I currently live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and work for the YMCA of the Triangle as a Human Resources Generalist.

Did you start working for the YMCA right after you graduated college?

I graduated in 2015 and immediately started working for the YMCA of the Triangle, but on the program side, so I worked for a father child program called Y Guides as the program director for two years. In those two years, I also joined North Carolina Youth and Government, which is a YMCA-led high school mock legislative program, and worked for them for a year within that same role.

I wanted the opportunity to travel and since I had not taken advantage of that, I left after two years. I took a break and traveled for three months and then came back to join a recruiting firm in Raleigh. I started out on the accounting side with accounting principles and was a business development manager for them. I was essentially doing sales for a year, and though I really enjoyed the relationship-building aspects of that job, I felt that I was still being called back to the nonprofit world. I was really missing that mission-driven, cause-driven atmosphere that comes with a nonprofit and to be honest, I wasn't really good at selling things to people. From there, I went and worked for a nonprofit private school in Durham for students with diagnosed learning differences as their events manager.

While I was at this school, the position at the YMCA opened up and it allowed me an opportunity to come back to the Association, which I have always loved. The difference now was that this position would allow me to come back in a role that took some of the experience I had gained and apply it to serving the YMCA in this new capacity.

What do you like about working for the YMCA?

The YMCA is a nonprofit, so we have several grant-related projects. We actually worked with Elon University through an awarded grant to develop a prototype that would help us solve the problem of recruitment and retention of lifeguards, which is a huge national issue. I don’t think people often connect HR with grant work, but that's one of the really cool things about working for a nonprofit and working for the YMCA. In my role that I have now been in for one year, I’m able to work on grants and other projects outside of my day to day responsibilities, which is really cool to me.

What does your day to day look like?

It varies a little bit. The role that I play is kind of in two parts. I'm an HR generalist, so my role very heavily focuses on employee relations, which includes serving our employees in different ways, handling questions about benefits, assisting a team with an onboarding process, and handling terminations. Another big piece that I've been working on is a brand-new HR system we just implemented in December. That has been a major focus of mine for the last six months, so I spent much of my time developing the program, rolling it out to our employees, and training them. The role that I was brought on to do is to be an overall support for the YMCA on recruitment strategies and different ways to think about how we can approach recruiting and develop a pipeline.

What has been your biggest challenge since you started working?

I think based on my experience, you'll see that my biggest struggle is figuring out exactly where I fit in in the young professional world. I've done a myriad of different things. In every role that I've played, I've been in somewhat of a serving role, but I think the hardest thing that I’ve experienced is trying to figure out where I fit in. I often question what the right environment is for me or what the right kind of work is for me. I've made a lot of different jumps, but every single move that I've made has helped me grow professionally and develop for the next position that I've been in. I don't feel like I've ever taken a step back; I've only taken steps forward. When you look at that on a resume, I worry sometimes that people might think it’s flaky, or that I’m not dedicated and loyal, but that has never been an issue. And that's coming from someone in HR!

As a result of COVID-19, what should young professionals be doing right now when applying for jobs?

There are a couple of things, which I’ll list out for you.

1. The first thing that I would encourage everyone to do is to understand the current state of the actual state that they might be applying to. There are a lot of different state-mandated requirements for COVID-19 on both the federal and local levels. Understand the role of the employer as it is being mandated by the state and the country.

2. The second thing that I would recommend is to continue applying for jobs. If a job is posted, continue to apply for it. I would encourage you to be understanding that the company might be on a freeze and it might be taking a little bit longer, but they are likely still going through the process, just may not be able to hire for another two months. This is an opportunity where we have some more time on our hands, so take advantage of that. Do your research and understand more about the job, but recognize that there's a lot of uncertainty as far as hiring is concerned. Some businesses might be trying to bring in as many new hires as possible right now because they need all the support that they can, and others might have to actually rethink how they restructure and reallocate responsibilities. In reality, we’re all still trying to figure out and navigate what this new normal looks like as far as recruiting goes. At the YMCA, we have some divisions that we are continuing the hiring process for and there are other positions that we've had to put completely on hold because we can do that work by pulling other resources.

How does this impact candidates with fewer years of experience?

Although the experience level is different between someone like a college senior just looking to fully enter the professional world or someone in their late 20s with several more years of experience, I would say the same thing to them. I would encourage them to continue what they're doing, but remember that networking is still key and be strategic about how you network now. It's going to be a lot more phone calls and virtual networking versus in-person networking now. When you apply for a job, reach out to someone at that company and connect with them. Again, there's going to be a lot of grace given during this time because there's so much uncertainty and major priorities that could be pulling someone (who was recruiting you) in another direction. Be okay with that, but continue to network.

I also would recommend not discrediting temporary assignments, if that is an option for you. Contract work is such a wonderful opportunity to get your foot in the door with a company to make a name for yourself and to get professional experience. Just know that if another position comes up or a full-time opportunity presents itself, you can go for that. Contract work is something that I don't think enough recent college graduates take advantage of, but the people who hire you for these roles are recruiters and they're going to network on your behalf down the road if you impress them.

Any last-minute words of advice?

One of the biggest things for me is networking and continuing to maintain relationships, despite everything going on. I worked for the YMCA right out of college, so when I left to work in other places, I maintained relationships and kept up with my contacts there. The other thing that I’d like to share is being okay with a little bit of uncertainty. I'm proud of the moves that I've made and I've learned from each of them. Through each of those moves, I've also discovered what I don't like. I think a lot of times we talk only about what we want, but being able to go back and know what you don't want helps you even more.

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

- Now is the time to get strategic with networking

- Every career move prepares you for the next

- What you should do if you're applying for jobs right now

- We have more time on our hands than ever before, so take advantage of it and do your research

- Maintain your relationships despite our new normal

Check it out: YMCA of the Triangle, Camp Seafarer, Y Guides