Meet this month’s ‘foiler – Jennifer Akoma, Airfoil human resources director.  She is responsible for day to day operations of the human resources department, overseeing more than 60 professionals between the firm’s Detroit, Silicon Valley and New York City offices. She’s an integral player in the agency’s growth through her work designing and activating an annual professional development program that drives the business closer to fulfillment of its yearly objectives and three-year strategic plan. 

Here, she shares how Airfoil is hiring for growth, seizing non-traditional talent opportunities and mining the wealth of talent right in its own backyard.

How is Airfoil leveraging smart HR practices to drive its growth?

In 2012, Airfoil launched a strategic plan to transform the agency by investing more heavily in its core asset:  people. We’ve realized great success in terms of client satisfaction and revenue since that time.  A cornerstone of this success was an HR plan that included a training and leadership program customized by function; mandatory, agency-wide training of our new measurement process; targeted university recruiting efforts; infusing our professionals with digital skills; global professional development to support the firm’s global expansion; and culturally appropriate incentive programs.

As Airfoil has grown over the years, how have your criteria for candidates changed? 

In the midst of the recession, when we could have viewed candidates through a narrow lens, we did the opposite – we opened ourselves up to a larger pool of prospective talent. With the goal of providing our clients with more well-rounded programs fueled by a variety of perspectives, we began seeking people with diversified backgrounds and skill sets. 

For example, when I first began recruiting in Michigan years ago, one of our objectives was finding people with technology experience. But once we broadened the way that we recruit people – not focused exclusively on technology experience, but rather a profile of behaviors and experiences that would make them a good cultural fit for Airfoil – we were open to a greater candidate pool and it resulted in some of our most exciting hires. 

We’re now complementing our professionals who have strong, traditional PR experiences with employees from different educational, professional and personal and backgrounds, from MBAs to video and graphics design professionals.

Does a technology business in Michigan have any challenges when it comes to finding strong local talent?

Well, it wouldn’t surprise those of us in the state, but I know that many people don’t think of “technology” when they think of Michigan. But increased investments in Michigan’s tech economy infrastructure, combined with world-class universities, have made it easier to find talent with hard technology skills and high technology passion. 

In Michigan, we have been fortunate to attract candidates who are passionate about technology, but not exclusively those with direct experience in the industry. If you’re looking for a cool job in technology, you don’t have to write code or be a network specialist, or even live on one of the coasts – you can be creative and expressive on behalf of some of the most exciting technology brands in the world right here at Airfoil’s Michigan headquarters.

We also have an office in Silicon Valley, and I love that I have the chance to work in two equally dynamic, but different, job markets.  Silicon Valley is obviously saturated with tech experience and the competition for talent is stiff among tech agencies and start-ups. While we have great brand awareness in Michigan, now we’re seeing a similarly competitive environment for candidates in this market, too.  It’s a good thing, though – it means that technology brands are investing in the region, which is a win for everyone doing business in the state.