As the Chief of Human Resources Officer at L’Oreal, Stephane Charbonnier’s primary focus is one thing: his employees. And with over 10,000 employees nationally, this is no small task.
“I’m responsible for driving leadership, learning initiatives, and developing talent,” Charbonnier begins. “But I’m also building an HR strategy for the organization and a strong HR team with an employee-first mindset and a very strong employee centricity.”
Born and raised in France, Charbonnier began his career in HR in his home country, working mostly with Fortune 100 companies. He made his way to the US with his family 13 years ago.
“I would say I’m a good mix of both cultures,” he said. “My wife and I are raising five kids on both sides of the ocean and they range from 17 to 23 years old. Two of the five have special needs, so, that’s influenced my commitment to do some philanthropic work in my life that has helped keep me balanced in the way I work.”
Work-life balance is important to Charbonnier and that shows in his approach to HR, where his focus is on creating an environment where a culture of togetherness is a priority and his employees feel comfortable and excited to grow within the company.
Ladders News sat down with him to get his insight on how to put your best foot forward in this new, virtual job market.
What has changed about your hiring and onboarding process this past year?
First of all, we have access now to a lot more people remotely and we also have access internally to a lot more senior executives, because now any executive or even our CEO is just one click away.
It makes it much more convenient than having to align agendas, make sure when you are going to fly the candidate that everybody is going to be here, etc. So, there is a degree of convenience that this situation has provided to us. Again, I think everybody is very digital and is able to show up virtually. So, that’s a good piece.
On the other hand, it is true that the hiring we’ve done in the last year and continue to do, it’s been virtual. And it’s tough because any type of change in a career or in life is hard to do, but when you have to go through that virtually, it’s even harder. You don’t know the people and we are an organization where our culture is based on togetherness that people have not had (in the last year). So, our challenge is to reinvent the way we offer more visibility to the people that are outside our company culture through virtual technology.
We are also thinking about virtual reality tools that could help people understand more, what does it mean to work at L’Oreal virtually, what is the culture, and what does that looks like. I think it provides an opportunity, but at the same time, the notion of creating culture together and being part of that has some limitations.
What advice would you give to those who are searching for jobs in this current, virtual environment?
From a candidate standpoint, it’s tough, because you are entering the economy right now in a very turbulent time where the labor market is very tight. We know that the pandemic has affected, disproportionately, the women in the workforce and it’s a very tense situation right now.
My piece of advice to the people that are looking for jobs is to be patient. Don’t lose hope, because you are going to get one, two, three no’s. It’s a challenging moment right now but in moments of change, there are opportunities to reinvent the way we connect with organizations. Make your (LinkedIn) profile visible. Don’t hesitate to leverage the opportunity to reach out to individuals, to companies that you want to work with, and work for. That’s the beauty of the moment right now, I think.
What qualities really stand out in candidates right now? Are there things you are looking for now that you weren’t looking for pre-pandemic?
What we’re looking for right now are, obviously, those candidates that are fully ready to be offline and online in a way. Those that are going to be very comfortable in this environment, collaborating in person, but also virtually, reaching out and feeling very comfortable navigating an environment that is changing, that is very fluid, and that is unpredictable.
What we’re looking for are people that will be very resilient, because it is true that it can take a toll. We’ve seen the mental health toll that the pandemic has taken in 2020 and probably, we will only see the full effects in a couple of years. So, we need people that have a sense of balance and a sense of perspective in how to manage their energy, where to spend their time, and how to resource and recharge to make sure that they’ll be able to navigate a situation that, frankly, there’s no blueprint for.
We also need people now more than ever that are empathetic of the people around them. Given what we’ve been through in 2020, and certainly, we continue to go through from a society standpoint, you need to have some strength, yet be empathetic with the situation and the people you are interacting with. I think for me, what’s really going to mark a strong evolution is that you’ll see some very authentic leaders emerge with an even stronger voice.
No matter what station in your career you are, people more and more want to work for companies, but also individuals, that they feel align with their purpose in life. The more you have that authentic voice that will make space around them for their team will make people feel safe to express their opinion and bring their whole self to work, the more engagement and the more energy you will harness in terms of aligning those purposes.
What would you say is the most important thing candidates can do to prepare for their upcoming interview?
The good news is that a lot is available online. The very basics are doing your homework and research beforehand on the people you’re going to speak to and on the companies, you’re interviewing for. But also, you have so many resources in terms of learning and articles, that you need to be ready to come up with your point of view on pretty much any topic, thanks to all of the resources that exist out there.
Also, even with virtual, you should come as a well-prepared professional from any angle. There’s an old saying that says, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Basically, my piece of advice is don’t be mistaken by the virtual world today and show up as your best as opposed to showing up casually. That’s the piece I would encourage people to think through. Make sure you do your homework, but also show up in a very strong way.
Do you have any special strategies or tactics when interviewing candidates? Any specific questions you ask?
There are some questions, but more broadly I think what’s important for me is to understand the values and character of an individual and see how those values and preferences will be fitting within the culture of L’Oreal. Obviously, I want people to feel comfortable in our culture. I want people to thrive and continue to develop whatever career they want here, because we have so many opportunities.
But at the same time, I want to have a sense that they’ll be comfortable navigating in a culture like ours and I think that’s the most important piece that I’m trying to figure out in an interview. There’s no specific question, but I want to learn through their experience, life, and what they’ve been through, will they fit and will they be happy in an organization like ours.
Things evolve so fast right now that someone who wants to learn will be able to learn. We’re looking for people that have a strong willingness, a strong interest in our industry, of course, and want to grow in our organization, but the cultural piece is extremely important in our organization.
What do you think is the biggest thing holding people back from getting the job they want?
There are so many things, but if I had to boil it down, I think there’s a fear factor that prevents people sometimes from feeling comfortable going after things. If I look back in my career, I think the moment where I was probably the most comfortable is the moment I stopped worrying about if I was going to get (the job) or not. It is totally understandable (to be afraid), especially when you start your career.
You want to do good for yourself, you want to find an opportunity, but that fear factor of not landing anything, as soon as you can put that behind you, or at least be aware of that factor and limit the impact it will have on how you show up, after that it’s open.
The second piece is don’t hesitate to come up with new ideas and suggest those new ideas. We’ve seen many innovations come from being an entrepreneur, so don’t hesitate to go outside of the frame sometimes and challenge things. That’s how the magic happens.