An Interview with HR Manager Terrilyn Gibson
By Tom Carroll
Terrilyn Gibson, MA, is a former FBLA member and presently serves as an HR Manager supporting a sales group at Daiichi Sankyo, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. Ms. Gibson was recognized last year on a Professional Division membership survey as a person who made the most of her FBLA experience, landing co-ops and internships at Regions Bank and Mercedes-Benz, and ultimately an internship and three-year job at Johnson & Johnson.
Terri’s job at Johnson & Johnson was recently impacted during a round of layoffs in March so she’s been going through quite a balancing act — searching for a job, planning a wedding, starting a new job, and preparing to relocate after the wedding!
This interview tells her story and demonstrates how Terri is applying skills she learned in FBLA to navigate these choppy waters, including landing a job offer in less than a month.
Terri, how were you introduced to FBLA and how did you know it was for you?
I entered a cooperative education and work program my senior year of high school. I still remember my teacher, Mrs. Marion Powell. She introduced us to FBLA. She helped us research and prepare for competitions and went with us to the district and national events. In our program, we received coaching and training on how to go into the workforce, including how to prepare resumes and interview for jobs. Once we landed our positions, we received continued coaching and support from her.
What were those first competitions like for you?
We spent a lot of time preparing. We learned about the background of FBLA and its purpose. The experiences were fun and helped us bridge our high school coursework into real life. We were expected to interact with actual business leaders and learn from them how to apply our skills on the job.
Mrs. Powell brought valuable learning materials into the classroom and made the process fun. To pay our way to competitions, we had lots of fundraising activities that were fun, too.
At the time, could you see how those experiences might later help you in your career?
Yes, it was all so valuable. Even the process of selecting which competition I wanted to enter was helpful. At the beginning of the class session, I was offered a co-op job at a bank, and had opportunities to interact with the bank human resources (HR) manager. Through that interaction, I began to understand what her job entailed and I became really interested in the interview and career exploration processes. It was this interest that led me to the FBLA interviewing competition.
How did all this impact the way you participated in FBLA?
I became very interested in learning more about HR so I used FBLA resources for connection and discovery. I used them to research the business world and learn about the different types of businesses and positions that were on the market. This helped to shape my aspirations even more. Because of these experiences, when I was a senior in high school (age 17), I decided I wanted to be in HR and I’ve never wavered since.
Did FBLA influence your college career?
Well, I always wanted to go to college. Getting a chance to begin my career through the co-op program and learning more about the career path through FBLA was instrumental for me. It shaped the focus for my major in college and helped me realize that I needed to have an internship to really get into the field.
After my high school internship, I knew I wanted to intern in HR during college and start working as soon as possible. Because of my success in the FBLA interviewing competition, I looked for a program at the University of Alabama and landed an internship through my college internship office. This added focus to my major and my internships and by the time I graduated, I was able to land a position in Human Resource Management with experience.
What was your internship history?
I worked at Regions bank and also on campus while I was getting my bachelors in business management. After that, I worked at Mercedes Benz U.S. International, Inc. During my masters program, I completed an HR internship at Johnson & Johnson, which led to full-time work with J&J after receiving my masters.
How did FBLA help you with the internships?
FBLA helped me really focus my efforts in school on a career path. This really made me stand out amongst my peers when I was looking for internships.
What would you suggest to a junior or senior in high school to help them get a head start on their career?
One of the most important strategies in looking for or building a career is networking. FBLA allows like-minded students to network with each other and it also brings students together with prospective employers and other people working in the corporate world. Networking with these people can help you focus your efforts after high school.
You’ve used the word “focus” a couple of times. What does “focus” mean to you in the business context?
Whenever you’re thinking through decisions — like where to go to college, what to major in, what kind of internships you’d like to seek, what types of student organizations you’d want to be involved with in college — “focus” helps you be decisive and get the best out of college. Your choices and the experiences they bring you turn out to be very relevant and impactful when you’re putting together a résumé. Those choices develop your career aspirations and the experience helps you to ensure that you are pursuing a path that matches your interests.
Did you know that your early activities would do so much to help you build your résumé?
I don’t think I was considering that. I simply had a teacher who made the activities we were doing really fun and relevant. This helped me become excited about business. The excitement helped me focus on a career path and also helped me select related activities throughout college.
What’s your best advice for a high school senior about networking?
Looking for internships and side jobs while you’re still in school can be very difficult, especially when everyone is applying for those jobs. You are just a number. But when you get involved in professional organizations, and you get to know people who are already doing what you imagine yourself doing in the future, they can help guide and coach you. They know about opportunities you might want to pursue and can steer you to people able to help you learn more about what you need to succeed in your field.
Four things you must always do:
- Be open to opportunities presented — seriously investigate them and follow through on good recommendations.
- Listen carefully.
- Ask lots of questions with the intent to learn.
- Learn from the people who are already out there doing what you would like to do.
It seems like mentors played an important role in your career development. How did you approach those people?
Being positive and looking for a human connection with other people is something that really helps. I always asked people for their recommendations and suggestions. I’ve found that professionals are willing to provide their advice if you ask. It helps to be very confident in yourself and your skills and to be excited about the career. This allows you to present yourself in a way that gives others confidence in you.
Do you think of yourself as a “leader,” Terri? How did your participation in FBLA influence that?
Definitely. In FBLA we put together committees and decided how we would represent ourselves in district and national competitions. We decided how we would organize our fund-raising. I found myself emerging as a leader in those activities and those experiences helped build my confidence as a leader.
Your position at Johnson and Johnson was recently eliminated. How did you use your FBLA experiences to find a new job?
Well, J&J began making lots of layoffs and decided to downsize HR in the Consumer Division by more than 50%, including my position.
I searched and interviewed almost daily for three weeks and ultimately received an offer from a Japanese pharmaceutical company called Daiichi Sankyo.
It’s so common now for people to be laid off. Because I’m such a strong proponent of keeping your résumé current and building a strong network, I felt the pressure to get a new position quickly. I’m always the one giving the advice or interviewing people in my job, so I felt pressure to do what I always advise other people to do and have some fruit come from my labor.
Was the layoff a surprise
Well, management let us know a few months ahead of time that they were going to be laying off approximately 50 percent of the HR employees in the consumer sector. I knew that every position was being considered. Of course you don’t want to believe it could be you until it turns out to be you! The news was a total shock to me and the people who I supported.
I had supported a client group through a round of layoffs they were going through in December — going over benefits, explaining severance, and all of the resources that were available — and the very next month, I found myself on the other side of the table!
What’s the first thing you did right after you heard the news?
Actually before I got the news, I had prepared in my head how I was going to respond because I didn’t want to react in a way that would embarrass me later. I thought: “If I’m told that my position is not eliminated, which questions do I want to ask?” And “What questions do I want to ask if my position is eliminated?” It’s hard to think through what you want to know and want to say in an emotional moment. I didn’t want to look back later and regret not asking a question when I had the chance.
When I got the news, I asked my questions. I was very professional. I told them that I understood. They told me that I could go home for the day to allow myself to wrap my head around what happened and deal with it. I took them up on that and took the rest of the day off to process the event.
What were your next steps?
I received my 60-day notice on Friday. On Monday I began searching for jobs online. I sent emails to colleagues who might have other contacts seeking someone with my skills. I reached out to people from my past and current jobs, updated my LinkedIn.com profile, and updated my résumé. As a practice, I keep my resume updated, so I just needed to add a couple of bullet points like position end dates and very recent accomplishments.
When I called or emailed people and they told me they knew someone who had an open position, I was ready with my resume and sent it right away.”
How did you get the interview for the job you just landed?
I actually bid online for the position without getting connected through anyone in the company. A former co-worker had told me that this company was nearby and that she had a neighbor who worked there and always talked about how wonderful it was. I did some research online about positions they had open, what the company was all about, their financial status. And then I just bid online.
Most of the other positions I got interviews for were through networking and knowing someone who had some insight about the opening. My experience this time was different — it was totally online.
Okay, so which online resources would you recommend for job finders these days?
My company offered an outplacement service. To learn about the most current career searching strategies, I attended the orientation session and met with a consultant. For my search, I used:
Indeed.com allows you to get pretty specific about what you are looking for and then pulls together results from a number of job search sites.
The other tool I used was LinkedIn.com. People post positions directly on LinkedIn. Recruiters actually comb through LinkedIn and reach out to you directly. It’s important to update your résumé and make sure it includes keywords for your field. I had recruiters contact me directly through my LinkedIn inbox. On the site, I also sent messages to colleagues asking for job leads, contacts, and recommendations. It’s easy for people to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn.
I even had a recruiter reach out to me through Facebook. I was surprised by that one. I also reached out to colleagues on Facebook for advice and to provide them with updates.
When I reached out to my network, I didn’t say, “Would you please help me?” or “Would you please do something?” I told them my position had been impacted in the layoffs and that I was looking for other opportunities. I asked if they had any recommendations for me for next steps — anything that I could be doing to find good opportunities faster. At that point, sometimes they would volunteer, “I can reach out to so and so” or “How about checking into this?” or “Let me send you a contact.” I didn’t want to put any pressure for them to do something for me.
What did you do during the face to face meetings/ interviews that you had?
I had a positive attitude. I felt very confident that I would be getting something soon and very positive about the opportunities. I know sometimes that it’s hard when you don’t know where and when the next job is coming, but it makes people feel more comfortable when you remain positive. I even had comments from people like, “You seem to be very optimistic, motivated, and excited about what’s next.” When they sense this, they’re much more willing to help.
So this is your third week in your new position. What tips do you have for new employees to get up to speed quickly in a new position?
Before I got there, I’d researched online quite a bit about what the company has been doing. I looked at the new articles that were out, mentions in the press, the financials. I started meeting with people right away to find out what is their role and what’s important to them. What are they looking for this position to contribute? Where/how do they see me fitting into this organization? I’ve been doing a lot of listening and asking a lot of questions.
Is your new position similar to your last one?
Yes. It’s nearly identical. Some people use the opportunity when they’re laid off to think about changing careers. From my perspective, it’s easier to get into a company when you bring a successful track record applying a certain set of skills. Once you get the job, you can prove yourself in that role and make the move to a different position. I was looking for the same position, so I could speak to my accomplishments and my history in the previous role. I had worked in the pharmaceutical section of J&J in a recruiting role, so I was familiar with both the industry and had previously held an HR Generalist role.
What about this experience do you most appreciate?
I’m very excited about my new company. The people are a delight to work with. The company is strong financially and growing.
Although this was a stressful and challenging experience at times, the journey truly helped me to continue to hone my career development skills, expand and strengthen my network, and embark on an exciting new experience.
Tom Carroll is the owner of Evolutionary Learning (evolutionarylearning.com), an instructional design and delivery company focused on helping clients to improve performance by learning from the best and sharing with the rest.