Chief Talent Officer
Kerry Griffin, Chief Talent Officer at MERGE and first generation college graduate, is paying it forward with workforce partner CareerSpring, serving as a student advisor, Board Member, and employer of current first generation students. Read on to learn more about how MERGE is rewarding their ability, agility, and humility.
Tell us about your current role and company.
I lead people and culture as the Chief Talent Officer with a full-service digital marketing agency called MERGE. Here, we merge storytelling and technology to bring health, wealth and happiness into the world. We have offices across North America, and are headquartered in Chicago.
What was your first job and how old were you when you started working?
I've worked since I was in 5th grade. I've had to pay for anything I ever wanted, including college. My first paying jobs were working as a receptionist in my church rectory and babysitting for families in my neighborhood in Dubuque, Iowa.
I have a real appreciation for the crafts that people bring to the business and for the challenges that they face, day in and day out.
What has your career progression looked like?
I've spent nearly 30 years working in advertising and marketing agencies. I started out at the bottom as a Communications Coordinator and rose up in Account Management pretty quickly. Along the way, I got married, had a few kids and ultimately had a hard time keeping up with my clients.
Our employees are critical to our success, and we will continue to build and foster a diverse and unique culture.
I reflected upon how I could add value to the organization, and decided that I wanted to shift to Human Resources. I have a real appreciation for the crafts that people bring to the business and for the challenges that they face, day in and day out. Pivoting to HR has been great for me. It has been the perfect marriage of my experience, skills, and passions.
What is MERGE hoping to achieve in the next few years?
We are on the path to growing MERGE into a $250M+ with over 1000 people annual business by expanding our digital offerings, getting deeper into our core verticals, and continuing to invest in geographies that matter to our clients and talent.
Life experience matters, as does perspective, motivation and problem solving skills.
Our employees are critical to our success, and we will continue to build and foster a diverse and unique culture. All of this aligns with our vision of merging storytelling and technology and helping our clients achieve success. As the business grows, we have more opportunities to expand the diversity of our staff.
Why is it important that you source diverse talent?
At MERGE, we define diversity as our differences. Having a plethora of voices on our teams is important because when people have different specialties, backgrounds, and experiences, they bring unique ideas to the table. That's how we develop the most innovative solutions for our clients.
Tell us about some of the ways that you build diverse teams.
Internally, we work diligently to ensure that we are presenting a variety of diverse candidates for hiring teams to assess. Also, we’ve provided our teams with the understanding that within their assessment, they need to consider more than the experience on a resume.
Our recruiters often use LinkedIn as a main gateway to find talent, but with CareerSpring we can access a network that is broader and deeper, and consistently provides a diverse pool of candidates.
Life experience matters, as does perspective, motivation and problem solving skills. HR is not making the hiring decisions. Instead they are working with our teams to help them understand how to factor in the whole person.
How do you work with CareerSpring, and what has made this collaboration so special?
CareerSpring is an organization dedicated to helping first generation and/or low income (FGLI) college students. CareerSpring fosters career readiness and connects employers seeking diverse talent with FGLI students seeking high quality employment.
We have been working with CareerSpring for a few years now, and they have essentially become an extension of our recruitment team - finding and vetting talent from their network. They understand our landscape, and know our talent needs and expectations. Our recruiters often use LinkedIn as a main gateway to find talent, but with CareerSpring we can access a network that is broader and deeper, and consistently provides a diverse pool of candidates.
As a first generation college graduate myself, I am personally drawn to work with CareerSpring because of the palpable care and unmatched quality of the resources that they provide to students. The team’s passion is so inspiring that I couldn’t help but dive in further. I sit on CareerSpring’s Chicago Regional Area Board of Directors and serve as an advisor to students on the platform.
Everyone needs help finding their way. It’s rewarding to lend a hand to those who work so hard in life to make it farther than the generation before them. They deserve for the community to wrap an arm over their shoulders and to guide them toward open doors that lead to opportunities.
I've had the privilege to advise several students through the CareerSpring platform, and am constantly blown away by the quality of the candidates. It's not just their professional experience–it's their dedication, confidence, hunger, hustle and humility. I'm so impressed. And I'm reminded that everyone's path is different, and that's special.
What are examples of entry level roles at MERGE?
We often have openings for junior talent within our finance, account management, performance marketing, media and creative departments. Additionally, we are putting together certification pathways for various software platforms, like Marketo, Salesforce, and Sitecore. We are invested in helping staff attain certifications as they work on the job.
The theme here is that if you work hard, ask questions, and throw your whole self into the work, then you will be very successful at MERGE.
What qualifications do you require for these positions?
Many of our junior-level roles do not require a college degree. Mostly, we're looking for somebody who aligns with our values of ability, agility, and humility, and someone who showcases curiosity.
Can you give examples of hires from CareerSpring that have worked out well?
Now I’m going to brag! A recent graduate named Wesley asked me for an advisor appointment late last year. After talking with him, I encouraged him to join MERGE’s job shadow program in early January. He did, proved his passion and commitment, and that led to a full-time offer with our marketing team!
It is important that we expand our definition of what success looks like beyond a traditional internship experience.
Last summer, MERGE engaged Adoree, a recent first gen grad, as a design intern. She made her mark throughout the summer, and that led to a full-time offer. I connected with her last week, and she told me she has no doubt that her summer internship changed her life.
Another intern I’ll never forget is Rafael, who accepted our offer as creative intern in the midst of COVID. During his capstone presentation at the end of the summer, he showed a picture of an empty subway train at 5 am. He explained that he took this picture while on his way to his previous job stocking shelves at a big box retail store. He was very emotional as he shared that this opportunity changed his life. His contributions also led to a full-time role with the creative team. I’m happy to say he’s continued to grow with the team over the years.
How, if at all, do you think Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing inequality in Chicagoland neighborhoods?
The best way that we can contribute is by opening up avenues within our junior roles. We need to broaden our own perspectives and hire based on potential versus proven experience. It is important that we expand our definition of what success looks like beyond a traditional internship experience.
How has your experience as a first generation college student helped you to empathize with CareerSpring students?
None of us would be where we are today, if it weren't for those people who gave us a chance early on and those who’ve helped us find our way. There were many people along my path who did those things for me. Whether it was my professors at college or recruiters who gave me guidance for interviews, I remember the moments where people helped me along my journey. Because of that, I almost see it as a responsibility to help junior folks find their way. I get as much satisfaction out of mentoring students as I hope they do.