True Grit

A belief in hard work, resilience and passion leads to growth and an exceptional company culture

There is a reason ALKU has ranked as a Best Staffing Firm to Work For nine years in a row: its exceptional workplace culture.

Regulatory and Scientific Sales Manager Arthur Billotti can personally attest to the ALKU difference. In a previous role as a project manager with a construction company, he notes, the staff were all friendly enough, but no one could be described as jolly. They did the work they needed to do every day, then clocked out and went home. “That isn’t ALKU,” he says warmly. “Here, everyone is laughing and joking as they work. There’s true joy in people’s eyes. People make genuine connections and friendships as opposed to strictly professional relationships.”

Billotti understands that staffing is a tough job, one that demands grit and determination from each person. The right people for the role, he says, all have the same three traits. They are hardworking — able and willing to put in the effort and reach for success every single day. They are resilient — able to build their book of business from the ground up and bounce back from rejection. And they are passionate — they love the nature of the work and find joy in what they do.

Finding talent with these three traits is more art than science. “I don’t have a playbook for internal interviews,” Billotti explains. “Actually, try to scare them out of the job!” He is brutally honest with everyone hoping to earn a spot on his team, describing the nature of cold calling and sales to gauge their reactions. “I’m as open as possible. And the ones who say they’re up for the challenge are the ones I have a good gut feeling about.” But if someone shrinks away from his forthright description of the life of a recruiter? Billotti says it does happen, and he appreciates their honesty. “If the candidate says it’s not for them, well, then we’ve saved a lot of time on both ends.”

Digging Deep

Vice President Andrew Bull agrees wholeheartedly that hiring people who want what ALKU has to offer is what cultivates such a positive workplace culture, noting that an unpleasant work environment can exacerbate an already stressful job. To ensure that his hires have the right stuff, it isn’t enough to learn that a person is hardworking.

He digs deeper: How does that manifest? How old were they when they first started working, and what pushed them to seek employment? What motivates them to work hard? Are they the type of person who can make their own way in the world? But it isn’t just the answers that candidates give that Bull evaluates — it’s how they give those answers. “It’s hard to gauge the whole measure of a person in a 30-minute interview,” Bull explains. “So the main thing I look for is, are they easy to talk to, and did they expand on my questions and go beyond them?”

Billotti and Bull put such an emphasis on hiring the right people because the organization’s teams need to mesh well in order to function as a unit. ALKU comprises many teams with smaller sub-groups, but thanks to the thoughtful talent selection process, everyone in the organization has the capacity to connect with one another.

When the right people are added to ALKU’s internal talent pool, they fit right in from the start and many team members become close friends — or at least are friends in the making. “Just today, I had lunch with someone I’d never spoken to before and we bonded instantly,” Billotti chuckles. “When we have big open meetings, like the yearly kickoff meeting, we get randomly seated with new people. You can see the likeness among everyone — positive attitudes, willing to make new friends.”

Bull agrees, adding, “Our motto is, ‘have fun working hard.’ When you have a whole bunch of people who come in every day with the same mindset wanting the same things, it doesn’t matter what you do for work — it’s fun!”

Energized for Growth

ALKU’s perpetual hunt for exactly the right internal talent is a testament to the company’s growth. Headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts, with six other offices nationwide, the company currently employs about 220 full-time staff, plus 30 to 50 interns at any time who are hoping for a permanent place on the team.

But when Lauren Pacella joined the company eight years ago, ALKU only comprised about 30 employees total. At the time, Pacella was a recent graduate with no clear idea what she wanted to pursue as a career. A Facebook friend in her college network posted about opportunities at ALKU, so she applied — and when she was brought in for an interview, she liked what she saw right away.

“Everything they told me about the potential and the growth opportunities was appealing,” she recalls. “And then I toured the office; they were blasting music and throwing stress balls!” Remembering a previous office internship where the quarters were cramped and the people typed away in complete silence, Pacella couldn’t help feeling energized by ALKU’s fun atmosphere.

She joined the payroll department in an administrative role, and it wasn’t long before she began requesting more opportunities and responsibility. She was promoted first to payroll and billing manager, then to director. Now, in her current role as senior director, Pacella oversees payroll, HR, and personnel services on the corporate team. “These days, I have managers below me who are managing managers,” she says. “I’m seeing these knowledge transfers between myself and my people, and that makes me proud.”

As ALKU continues to grow, many of the roles it hires for are new. “It’s a huge opportunity to own benefits or own HR, as opposed to just being a face in a department,” Pacella says. And that’s where new hires are the most beneficial — those coming in fresh are able to be trained and molded to fill very specific needs within the company. ALKU’s training and development team takes great care of new hires, making sure they settle in well and feel at home during their first weeks with the organization.

During orientation, senior managers tell their stories and talk to the new faces about how each one fits into the company plan. Each new hire has lunch with an internal recruiter on their first day and lunch with their manager on their second day to ensure they’re not overwhelmed and can begin making connections with their new teammates. No one at ALKU is a face in the crowd; even CEO Mark Eldridge makes a point to know each person by name.

Since ALKU is in such a big hiring push, Pacella adds that she’s especially glad for the company’s many awards and accolades because it increases visibility and attracts more people. “Once people get in the door and see the growth here, they think it would be crazy to go anywhere else because the growth just keeps happening!”