Anna Papalia - Founder & CEO, Shift Profile - Charmer

An Interview With Anna


inerview with anna papalia

Can you tell me a little about your background?

I've been on my own since I was 15. By all accounts, I probably should’ve ended up as a high school dropout. I lived on my own, paid rent and put myself through my senior year of high school and was determined to succeed despite all the obstacles. I studied psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted on the spot during my admissions interview, in part because I told the story of how I moved out and supported myself. At the time, I thought they made a mistake. I was just some kid from Maine who did what she had to do. But in hindsight, getting into Penn was a turning point for me. I waited tables for five years to finance my education. It was there that I met all my best friends and started taking an interest in organizational development. I was a senior server and I would complain to the managers when they were making bad hiring decisions because, as someone who trained the new employees, it affected me and the morale of the staff. So, one of the managers said, “Fine. You interview everyone.” And that’s when my interest in psychology and hiring intersected.

When did you know you wanted to work in recruiting?

I got an HR generalist job out of college and the recruiter was overwhelmed, so she asked me to phone screen some candidates and, from that moment on, I was hooked. I loved talking to people. (Previously I had wanted to work as a psychologist, so it was a perfect blend of my interests and experience. In a lot of ways, you are a psychologist, asking questions to candidates, trying to find out if they’d be a good fit for the role you are looking to fill.) I loved it and I realized that if I wanted to really learn to recruit that I’d have to work for a recruiting firm.

So, I left corporate HR to work 100% on commission. I did that for two years, learning the ropes at a small boutique firm run by two former accountants who had become recruiters after getting burnt out from the crazy hours at the big firms. I learned a lot there. I learned how to cold call, how to recruit, how to prepare candidates for interviews and how to persevere. I also learned how to handle rejection and how to coach clients when they got rejected. I learned that not all companies interview and hire the same way and I learned the principles of interviewing. But probably the most important thing was I learned what successful candidates do – how they differentiate themselves, what they wear, how they act, how they answer questions, their attitude, their body language – the whole package. I learned what hiring managers like and I taught my clients how to do exactly that.

I was then hired to be a corporate recruiter for what was then Commerce Insurance Services, and later became Conner Strong & Buckelew. It was a great opportunity because it was such an entrepreneurial atmosphere. We had a lot to do in becoming a new company. Recruiting for a brand new company allowed me to really make a mark on what type of talent we wanted to attract because the people you attract ultimately create your company culture. I was promoted quickly and, as the director of talent, my job was to partner with executives and oversee hiring for the entire organization. I created an internship program to solve our entry-level hiring needs and built a pipeline of fresh young talent. I loved my time there, but one day I was interviewing someone like I did every day and I had this thought: “If she just answered the question this way, it would sound better.” I spent a lot of time on phone screens with candidates, helping them with their resumes. I realized that I wanted to teach people how to interview. A lot of my time was spent wondering why people wrote the resumes the way they did, why they acted the way they did. I knew that the only way to have a bigger impact – a legacy that I would be proud of – was to teach the skills I knew.

You’ve been a career coach for the last six years but recently you came up with a quiz to determine someone’s interview style. Can you tell me more about that?

After I left Conner Strong, the dean of the risk management & insurance department at Temple University, where I had hired all my interns, called and asked me if I’d like to prepare the students for interviews because, as the school’s number one hiring manager, I knew what the students were doing right and wrong. So, after recruiting their students, I started preparing them. I loved recruiting and interviewing, but coaching offers the added element of helping people. I was free to give my clients the advice I always wanted to give on the other side of the table and I got to see the results – it’s so rewarding!

I had just finished up my sixth year coaching Temple students and consulting with insurance and finance firms. I had worked with over 3,000 clients at this point and I realized that there was a pattern to the way people interviewed. I thought back to my days at Penn studying psychology and wondered, “What if there was an assessment tool to determine someone’s interview style that could give them tailored advice?” That’s how the Interview Style Profile was born. I created a scale and tested it and tested it and tested it some more, then following mock interviews with clients, I asked them questions about their style, and I created 12 profiles based on my research.

The profile someone receives is backed by thousands of interviews and lots of research and advice that comes from a career in HR and recruiting. I want to teach people how to interview because I know it’s a skill that everyone gets better at with practice and often the thing standing in someone’s way is just not knowing what that thing is. This profile breaks down your approach and style and gives you thought exercises while teaching you how to craft great interview answers.

How would your clients describe you?

Some of them say that I’m intimidating because I am direct, I am no bullshit. But I feel like people come to me because they need advice and they need to find out what’s getting in their way, and the best way for me to provide clear direction and good advice is to be honest. If you didn’t prepare for an interview and you are giving lousy answers, I will tell you they are bad and I will teach you how to fix them. If it’s going to hurt your chances of getting your dream job, I will tell you and teach you how to fix it.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud that I have helped thousands of people get the jobs of their dreams. Whether it was hiring them as an in-house recruiter, or teaching them as a career coach, or now with the Interview Style Profile, I’m fully confident that I can help anyone. Interviewing is a really valuable life skill that everyone should know – and I’m proud to be able to teach others how to do it.

What is your biggest weakness?

I am incredibly impatient. I am Type A, I am a natural leader and I drive to succeed. I have the highest sense of urgency of anyone you will ever meet. I will never be late, my projects get done on time, I make shit happen, but it’s an incredibly frustrating experience for me because I have learned that not everyone else is on my same expedited timeline. Life requires patience that I don’t have. The dough needs time to rise. The seed needs time to germinate. All the best things in life come in good time and I am learning how to handle that, but in the mean time I will never be late.

If you were an animal, which animal would you be – and why?

Ha! A personality question, well, I know how to answer this. I would be an elephant. They are wise and have a great memory. They are protective and strong. They live in a supportive tribe and care for each other. And talk about confidence, elephants are so bold without saying a word. Have you ever seen an elephant that wasn’t impressive?

Want to learn more about Anna? Download her resume.