Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Career Advice from Greg Giangrande, Executive VP at Time, Inc.

Greg Giangrande (WSC '84, Steinhardt '86) went to NYU for journalism, but in the midst of an early career move, discovered his love for a different field of communications; human resources. 

As is often the case, Greg found his passion unexpectedly. Years later, he maintains that one's career choices should never lose sight of what really matters--being happy.

In April of last year, Greg was named Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Time, Inc. He also writes a column for the New York Post called "Go to Greg," where Greg offers career advice on issues that are encountered in the workplace.

What do you remember most about your time at NYU? 

Greg Giangrande: I spent 24 years at NYU as a student and Adjunct Instructor so there are lots of memories. I remember my tuition being $6,000 my first year and not knowing how I was going to come up with even that much! I remember waiting in long lines that wrapped around Washington Square Park signing up for courses where student enrollment was marked by hand on index cards and if the card for a particular class was full when you got to the front of the line you had to quickly choose another class from the catalog.

But mostly I remember the feeling of never wanting to leave - that NYU was a microcosm of New York and all of the possibilities this city has to offer. I remember sitting in Washington Square park on graduation day and thinking that I was officially about to fulfill a childhood dream - of earning a degree in Journalism from NYU.

Were there any particular lessons that stuck with you and helped you get to where you are today?

I regret not living on campus and the connection to the school community that affords. As a result, I had to work harder to create opportunities for myself. I also learned that being a hot-shot in high school doesn't automatically transfer to college. That you find yourself sitting with other former high school hot-shots who don't care that you were senior class president, editor of the newspaper and the lead in school performances because they were too, and more. That was humbling but good, it made me work harder.

Can you talk about how you became interested in human resources as a journalism student?

After starting a local newspaper and then working in broadcast journalism in production and writing - I considered embarking on a career as on-air talent. I love the art of story-telling and connecting with an audience. But I soon realized that for me - success in that career could only be defined by one achievement - and that was to be on a major network in New York City. But that road starts in small towns and small markets with constant moves to larger markets over years. Knowing that I wouldn't be satisfied until I returned to NY - and knowing those were very long odds - caused me to think about transferring my skills to a different medium like book or magazine publishing. I never considered a career in HR - which was called Personnel at the time. I didn't even know what Personnel did other than hire and fire people. I was networking for different jobs in media and had an interview with Random House. The HR Director offered me a job doing college recruiting in the HR Department as a way to get a foot in the door. She thought my background and experience would enable me to relate well with college students interested in pursuing a career in publishing in New York, and I could learn the company and network inside from the job until I eventually found a more creative position. Well one thing led to another and more than 20 years later I'm still stuck in HR!

What is it like to manage HR and talent recruiting for a media company? Do your strategies differ in any way from HR in other industries?

It is no coincidence that my entire HR career has been in media. It is what I love. I'm a voracious consumer of all media and I am stimulated by the diverse talent of the people drawn to the industry. They are creative, smart and quirky. I saw an opportunity to change the general reputation of HR because I come from that side originally and I am more like one of them than the kind of person who was traditionally drawn to the HR profession. Working with such talent in the industry that generally doesn't like to conform to prescriptive rules or tolerate bureaucracy is a challenge for most people - particularly those practicing traditional HR like you might experience at Pepsico. Not that there is anything wrong with that - it just isnt a cultural fit for more creative and "loose" companies. So I feel like I've carved out a niche in this industry by demonstrating that I get and know how to handle "talent" and apply HR practices in creative (read minor rule bending) ways.

What is the most challenging aspect of your position?

As the head of HR - virtually every decision has important consequences because you are dealing with some of the most sensitive personal and legal aspects of employees and the business. There are many fun challenges relating to how you attract and retain talent and nurture a culture that makes your company an employer of choice. But by far the most difficult challenge is participating in decisions about terminating someone's employment. Except in the rare circumstance where the conduct is so egregious that the choice is really made for you - most terminations are reminders of just how tenuous careers can be and the impact such decisions can have on a person's life is something never to be taken lightly. Even when most termination decisions aren't made by HR - making sure that people are treated with dignity and respect is our responsibility.

Do you have any words of wisdom for alumni who are interested in a career in human resources or journalism?

Yes. I know it seems important, interesting and glamorous - but trust me HR is hard work too! Seriously though, regardless of whichever career path you choose - there are similarities in the qualities that are required for success in either. You must be honest, credible and trustworthy. You need to know how to connect to people - understand your audience and what matters to them. You need to have depth and breadth - be a generalist with the ability to think quickly on your feet and be resourceful to solve problems. And each is a craft too that requires subject matter expertise and talent. You can't fake talent over the long haul...

Cliched but so important that it bears repeating every single opportunity there is to do so: follow your passion, please. Do yourself a favor, I've seen too many people suffering too much regret because they made career decisions for the wrong reason. You don't have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. The journey is the career - not the end. Make choices along the way that make you happy and I promise the rest will follow.

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