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Relationships are the key to a long and successful career
This month I had the honor of interviewing Adenna Huggins. Adenna is a Mortgage Mastery Coordinator at DHI Mortgage based in Austin, Texas. Her role is to recruit specifically for the Mortgage and Title Mastery Program. She seeks out and recruits recent college graduates to help them build a flourishing career within the mortgage industry.
“If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.”
– Sheryl Sandberg
There are so many things that are important when choosing a career. One of the most vital is to choose something that you love and are passionate about. Many people wouldn’t initially think of a career in the mortgage industry. But when they do, they come to understand that it is a career of helping people to succeed and realize their dreams and that can inspire a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Adenna is passionate about the mortgage industry and its contribution to her community. She utilizes that passion in her role recruiting young people who are finishing their formal education and making one of the most critical decisions in their lives. They are deciding what kind of work they want, what their career goals will be and where that is going to take them.
Adenna believes that strong relationships are the key to a long and successful career. Relationships are crucial; they need to be nurtured and maintained with thought and care. Networking is only the beginning of the process. Holding on to important and beneficial business relationships through communication and willingness to learn helps when, and are the key to, fulfilling a successful career in our amazing mortgage industry.
Adenna, please outline how the concept of the Mastery Program started and how you approach it. How long have you been involved in this program?
AH: The program started about 10 years ago in our company, DHI Mortgage. During that time, it has evolved and become more specific and targeted about who we approach and our method of guiding them into our industry as they close out their formal education years.
We provide a high-level overview of our industry. We explain who we are, what we do and how all the pieces of the mortgage puzzle work together. Our goal is to provide them with a roadmap of a successful and a rewarding career in the mortgage business, and what they will need to accomplish to get as far as they want to go.
Please tell us how you got into the mortgage industry.
AH: I had worked in other areas of the financial industry for a few years. I was in banking lending first and then transferred into the mortgage side of finance. It was truly a whole different world with a language all of its own. I was intrigued by learning another type of financial work, but recruiting has always been my ultimate career goal.
I have had the great fortune to be employed in some of the roles that I recruit for, and it has given me a wealth of experience to draw from when I am talking to potential new hires. I feel like I can sit down with them and paint them a true picture of the position they are seeking and may also have an easier time explaining roles they never thought of applying for previously.
What skills do you consider important to have a successful career in the mortgage industry?
AH: The number one most important facet of a rewarding and successful career in this industry is a genuine interest in financial services. That may be more of a mindset than a skill, but it is essential. That must be coupled with a desire to help people with their financial decisions and transactions.
You can learn the financial skills through your schooling and being trained by the company you end up working for, but having the ability to guide people through the complicated process of purchasing a home or a property they need for investment or business is something that needs to be innate and that you are passionate about.
Adenna, what have you found is a great way to onboard and bring new people into our industry?
AH: I firmly believe in setting expectations properly and being transparent about working in our industry. The key to recruiting and retention is being up front and honest with people who express an interest.
You will either love or hate working in this industry, so letting new hires discover for themselves how they feel about financial services goes a long way to retaining those who have or develop a passion for the business and not wasting time with those who would be better working in another sector. I also make a point to let the latter know that if they discover this is not the industry for them, that is completely okay.
Another vital factor to successful onboarding and retention is having a good, solid, and thorough in-house training program. New hires need to come in feeling secure and supported as they go through the onboarding process. Giving them a clear roadmap with an honest overview of how their career can progress means less turnover and happier, more productive staff.
New hires need to come in feeling secure and supported as they go through the onboarding process.
I have a saying I like to use. I tell those who come in eagerly stating that they want to be the CEO in two years that they need to practice “professional patience." I make sure to help them set reasonable expectations for their career path that includes pointing out the steps they will need to complete to continue to progress and not become impatient and frustrated. I have found that young people right out of school want to move quickly and have big dreams. I want their reality to be acceptable to them even if the time it takes is longer than they might have anticipated.
That brings me to a question about Gen Zs. How do you communicate with them and what do you see that is different from dealing with other generational groups?
AH: I see change as positive. And bringing in a younger age group with a different energy level and expectations is a good thing. But it must also be balanced with the current staff and their expectations.
There are challenges associated with mixing generations in one workplace and one industry. Younger hires bring a huge energy and drive, but also a set of expectations that has been tempered by their experiences with technology and the changes in the world as well. They have an eagerness to learn, but may have a lack of patience when it comes to setting goals and reaching targets in a way that is slower than they feel is necessary. It is all about learning and experience.
Different generations have a different approach to the work ethic as well. Neither is lazy or unproductive, but they may look at the workday in dissimilar fashion. Gen Zs may feel that overtime is not a necessity and will head out at five to socialize with their friends as opposed to staying at their desk slogging to get their work done.
I find older employees tend to work more overtime and take the completion of tasks as more of a time-sensitive issue. They see overtime as a necessity of their job as opposed to younger workers who value their downtime and view it as valuable to be more productive in a shorter number of work hours. Between the two groups, the diversity makes the organization stronger.
I have had the great fortune to be employed in some of the roles that I recruit for, and it has given me a wealth of experience to draw from when I am talking to potential new hires.
Adenna, what do you think about when you hear the word “Trailblazer”?
AH: When I hear that word, I think about someone who is paving the way for others to follow. Trailblazing is one piece of a larger puzzle, but a critical one. It is a big title to have, trailblazer. But I think it is so important to have someone to set the expectations and precedents so that others can benefit from that and have a smoother path to walk on as they work toward their goals.
The trail I feel I am blazing in our industry is recruiting and retaining talented people, with the emphasis on the retention. It’s one thing to hire someone who is a good fit for the employer, but it is another thing entirely to be able to keep that person with the organization and have the employer benefit from a long-term and valued employee.
I want those who are following the career path I took to look at what I do, and how I do it, and learn from that so they can succeed and avoid some of the tough lessons I had to learn on my path.
What changes have you seen in our industry in terms of collaboration and people being more open to change as a result?
AH: I have seen teams collaborate and grow as our industry has joined the march toward diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think it is like the “good, better, best” mentality. We’re good today, we’ll be better tomorrow, and we are always striving for our best. Collaboration and teamwork are the lynchpins of growth and when you add in the differences in the generational makeup of workers and their shared goals and experiences, it is a recipe for greater success.
Keeping knowledge and experience to yourself helps no one. Sharing that wealth and helping others to climb the ladder with you is key to team success and to making sure that valuable and invested people are retained and kept motivated and moving forward.
Being open to change and flexible is so crucial to succeeding in this industry. My personal story started with me wanting to be in recruiting, but beginning as a loan processor. You must start where you are and work your way to your dreams. The titles and promotions will come, but only with a willingness to work where you are needed and learning the industry from many different angles.
It was important to me to be with a company I can be loyal to. I understand where my new recruits are coming from and how eager they can be to move ahead at a breakneck pace. I am not just handing résumés to hiring managers, but I am actively working to get them the best fit for their needs and for the new hire to be successful in the role they are applying for. All those pieces must work together for a strong and lasting employment.
My success as a recruiter came from learning the industry from different roles and viewpoints and that knowledge and experience is now paying off for me and for the people I hire and hire for.
Doing something you love is so important to success and fulfillment in a career. What advice do you give to people looking for those attributes in the mortgage industry? What kind of questions should they be asking in an interview to ensure they are going to be a good fit and feel they have made the best choice for themselves?
AH: I want people to understand how important it is to ask good questions in an interview. Questions that will help them decide what is best for them and what is going to make them happy and feel valued and respected. The interviewer is going to ask a lot of direct questions about skills, attitudes, and tailor those questions to the needs of the employer.
Asking questions about company culture, workplace health and safety protocols, expectations for work hours and other similar issues should be clarified prior to agreeing to accept a job. The applicant has a right to understand what will be expected of them and in what way they may be personally affected by the work environment.
The person being interviewed should remember that their questions are important and deserve consideration and preparation. Even simple things like benefit packages, sick leave and vacation allowances are things that should be discussed prior to making any important career decisions. Those items can directly impact family and life outside of the work environment and can be crucial to determining if the role and the employer itself are a good fit for you.
What was going on in the mortgage business during COVID?
AH: The one word I would use to describe what our industry maintained during COVID was resilience. The mortgage business was booming in that period, and we had to learn to work harder, smarter, and faster than ever before.
My sector of the business was constantly short staffed. We all had the challenges of learning to work remotely and over video instead of in person. It was tough and the learning curve was steep.
What we all had to learn the most was how important teamwork was in the face of the overload of work and the need to get the job done for our customers. Having that common goal and being able to focus on that while collaborating and pushing through the logistical difficulties presented by the pandemic was both exhausting and invigorating.
I am very proud of the work we have done and the fact that we maintained and even exceeded the expectations of our customers during such trying times. We got the job done and discovered that the teamwork has paid off for everyone.
How do you see the role of women in our industry today? And where do you see it heading in the next five years in terms of women in leadership roles in the mortgage industry?
AH: I see the sky is the limit for women in our industry. Women have climbed so many mountains within the last few years and it is inspiring and empowering for all of us.
I feel strongly that the most important thing women in business need to do is be seen and represent our gender with professionalism, pride, and strength in the face of tough circumstances when they arise.
I have been approached many times by people who want to tell me how wonderful it is to see a woman at the top of her field speaking to and championing other women who are working their way up the corporate ladders. So many people don’t know just how important women are to the mortgage industry until they are presented with the examples of those who have made the climb and are visible.
We want our industry to mirror the community it is living in. That means having both men and women in important roles, offering guidance, experience, and meeting and exceeding expectations in equal measure. I see the idea of inclusion and diversity being more ubiquitous in our society today and in business. That makes me hopeful that we are moving in the right direction and will see true equality sooner rather than later. Women in business are asking themselves what they need to do to be in a leadership role and are following through with programs and taking the initiative.
Adenna, could you speak a bit about mentorship in our industry?
AH: My company has a mentorship program already in place specifically for new hires. There are so many benefits to mentorship — both for the mentor and those they are offering their experience and guidance to — that it is hard to narrow it down.
I wish I had been able to have a mentor early on in my career. Seeing the effect that having a mentor has on our new hires, I realize how much I could have reaped that benefit, but I am so glad we are in a position now to offer it.
Being a mentor is a wonderful experience for the mentor as well. Mentors can learn from their young charges and grow in ways they hadn’t imagined. As I spoke of earlier in the interview, being open to new ideas and collaborating across generations is an exercise in strengthening the organization as well as helping individual employees to grow within the industry and on a personal level.
When you started as a loan processor, did you speak up and tell the person hiring you that your goal was to be a recruiter?
AH: I did speak up. I was very transparent about my goal to be a recruiter and I told the guy who was hiring me that someday I would be helping him do his job. My manager wanted me to be a team lead loan processor, but I was clear about where I wanted to go in my career.
I have been with DHI seven years now and I am doing my dream job. It is extremely gratifying, and I am very happy with the role I am in today.
What do you like to do for fun outside of work, Adenna?
AH: I love to travel. And while I do get to travel a fair amount for business, getting away with my family is more fun. My family is from the West Indies, Saint Vixen Grenadines. Traveling to the islands is like going home in many ways and I greatly enjoy my time there.
Collaboration and teamwork are the lynchpins of growth and when you add in the differences in the generational makeup of workers and their shared goals and experiences, it is a recipe for greater success.
I am also an avid outdoors person. I love walking, hiking, and running. I also really enjoy outdoor water sports. I am passionate about volleyball. It gives me an outlet for energy, frustration, and keeps me healthy.
That’s awesome! Next question: Adenna, if you had to choose one takeaway for our readers what would it be?
AH: I have learned that our relationships, whether they are professional or personal, are the most valuable thing we have in our lives. I believe that networking and relationships are symbiotic. Networking begins the relationship and communication and teamwork keep it strong and healthy. Having a good, equal business relationship makes it more likely that when you need help, the other person is going to pick up the phone when you call and be willing to assist.
You need to be a team player to make that relationship work. It is not a solitary activity and if it becomes too one-sided, the relationship is guaranteed to fail. Taking the initiative to approach someone and ask to get to know them is something that many people fear, but overcoming that fear and growing your network of contacts is vital to a flourishing career.
It is important to treat your relationship with your employer as you would any other relationship in your life. There needs to be mutual respect, open communication, and a willingness to listen and learn with an open mind. There are going to be good seasons and bad ones, and it is crucial that you treat the relationship with attention and kindness to make sure it stays strong and intact, no matter what the business climate on any given day.