As I am so accustomed to interviewing entrepreneurs, I was interested in the path of a Human Resources professional for such an international corporation with over 500 employees. So, I’m happy to present an interview with Katia Solano the Director of Human Resources for Mossack Fonseca & Co (MF).
Established in 1977, Mossack Fonseca is a leading global company which provides comprehensive legal, trust and accounting services.
Katia’s been at the company for more than 20 years. She’s moved through many different positions, learning different skills along the way, from reception to filing and then as the personal assistant to one of the founders of the company.
“I worked with the founder when MF was a pretty small company; we were around 30 employees at that time. Later, I worked on accounts receivables and payables, and then I came to the human resources department.”
Give me an overview of the work that is done in the human resources department.
“Human Resources is a company-wide department, so it has to do with the human resources policies for the entire MF group―the hiring process, candidate selection, training and development, performance evaluation, benefits and salaries, internal communications, leadership development, deployment, cascading goals, the company culture, and induction, amongst others. I work closely with the CEO and the management team. I deal with all the managers of the different offices around the world. I have a team of six employees.”
To what degree do you keep your finger on the pulse of hiring?
“I meet at least once a week with the Recruitment and Selection Specialist―she reports directly to the Human Resources Coordinator―but I meet with her once a week because the recruitment process is a key process in any organization. However, I don’t interview candidates unless we are going to hire someone for a key position, like for example a lawyer or a management team member―somebody of a high level―whether here in Panama or in any of the offices abroad. In Panama it is very difficult to hire good people because the labor market is so tight.”
Katia, what do you do to recruit qualified employees, whether in Panama or abroad, when faced with a shortage of available talent?
“Well it is very helpful that we have a well-known, highly respected name here―so lawyers, in particular, want to work at MF; I’m always receiving resumes in my inbox or through LinkedIn. We usually advertise our positions online. Plus, we are involved with universities―we maintain close contact with them and they always refer people to us for internships. We do the same thing with high schools―we usually have maybe 15 interns that are about to graduate from high school, so they do their internships here―many times when they finish their degree programs they apply to work here. In addition, we try to be involved in all the job fairs.”
Your internship program with students from high schools and universities sounds like a great way to evaluate talent.
“Definitely, because when they come to intern with us we really do make an effort to teach them as much as possible. I insist that all our managers make sure to give them as much training and experience as they can handle. There are many companies that simply have their interns do menial tasks; however, I insist that we don’t do that with ours. At MF, the interns learn about the company, its mission, culture, and values, and usually they like it and they go back to school or university with a good impression. They share that information with their friends and we usually receive some resumes from other students of the same schools that want to do internships with us. Also, there are many professors who know that we really train their students and they refer candidates to us.”
How important is it keep personally connected to the process of adding new personnel to the MF team?
“It is very important because our recruitment process is integral to the future of the company―so to me recruiting talented people is directly related to the strategy of the company because we offer our clients specialized services so we really need to have talented people to be able to provide our clients with excellent service. ”
Do you have any hard-fast rules that are followed in your own selection of team members or those who will be working close to you?
“Selecting a new employee is kind of tricky because it is not only that you want to have the person with the perfect profile, but you need a combination of skills and attributes―you need somebody who has the capacity and desire to do the job they have applied for―somebody who has a clear vision of what they want in the short and long term―and they have to be a good fit with our company.”
Do you have an anecdote or philosophy to share that comes to mind that would sum up your thoughts about hiring?
“To me, attitude is everything. You may have a good candidate with the perfect academic background and experience, but if the person does not really want to do the job they are applying for, then we are wasting our time. Usually I hire people with little to no experience and then we train them; they appreciate that and they tend to stay for a long time.”
Katia’s priorities and methodical approach align with Hiring Truth 1: Be diligent, not desperate from my book The Naked Interview: Hiring without Regret. She is ensuring the candidates are carefully selected and that they are cared for with training to help them stick.
“Now, I know that millennial are different. I have millennial on my team and you have to know how to manage them to keep them interested and motivated. One way I do that is by assigning them various projects―you needs to work differently with them.”
“We keep them interested and motivated by offering them attractive benefits, continuous training and education―and the opportunity to move laterally (to work in a different department) and up―depending on the individual’s skill set and our company needs. Another advantage of MF is our multicultural and international environment where they can work and interact with our colleagues and clients all over the world.”
“Everything is different now. I mean the usual human resources process is different now because you cannot plan their careers anymore; they have their career already planned and they evaluate the company to see if the company meets or exceeds their expectations and in particular, what the company is going to give them, so everything has changed.”
What is the best interview question you have ever used?
“I use a combination of questions. When you are going to interview a candidate, you have to be clear about what you or the manager needs, and of course, what the company needs. Sometimes you need to help the managers to identify what they need. When I am doing an interview I pay attention to everything and usually I write down everything they say, so I will ask questions like: How do you see yourself (as a professional) in two years? ― What do you want to do? ― Why? ― What kind of company are you looking for? ―What would be your ideal job? I ask about previous bosses and companies to get an idea of what type of boss and company culture they like―or dislike.”
What has driven your personal success at Mossack Fonseca Group?
“I like to serve people. I am proud of being a member of MF and also of the human resources department. I feel that we support MF―its management and reputation. I tell my people every day that we are service providers. To me, it is critical to be willing to serve our internal and external customers, and to maintain the highest professional standards.”
Interview by David Lee Jensen