Cynthia Augustine had a successful career practicing employment law for leading companies like the New York Times Company and Scholastic. But a decade-and-a-half into what she thought would be a lifelong vocation, Augustine NLAW’82 was dispirited by the constant antagonism between management and employees that she was trying to resolve. So, she entered the profession of corporate human resources, believing that she could preempt much of the hostility through promoting, early on, communication and an understanding of expectations for both employer and employee.

And Augustine has been proven right, working for many top companies over the past 20 years. Today she is the global chief talent officer for FCB (Foote, Cone, and Belding), a global marketing and communications agency with 8,000 employees working in 80 nations. She knows a thing or two about what it takes to get a job and whether a candidate is a good fit for a company.

RUTGERS MAGAZINE: As a human resources executive, you have more than 20 years of experience interviewing job applicants. What advice would you give new Rutgers graduates?

CYNTHIA AUGUSTINE: The resume should be on one page, listing the Rutgers education first. It should also have a professional email address and a LinkedIn link (to a professional page with relevant organizations followed). It’s important to list internships and other substantive employment; volunteer experience; positions in school organizations, especially leadership roles; any relevant technical skills (beyond Word). Leave out high school experience and lengthy descriptions of college coursework.

Highlight the skills and experiences from internships, Rutgers, and jobs that are most relevant to the employers’ needs and specifications. Carefully read the job posting and make sure your resume has keywords (those words that appear frequently in the job description) that match the job posting. Software is likely to do the first screening of your resume, so it needs to “see” matches between your resume and the job. You may need to tailor your resume for various positions you apply for.

RM: You graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. How did you know what you wanted to do from there?

CA: I had an incredible professor there who taught constitutional law. He was the one who made me think that I wanted to be a lawyer.

RM: You went to Rutgers Law School in Newark. How was that experience?

CA: I liked the school—I really enjoyed the law clinics—and I was coming into my own. What I loved most about the experience of going to the law school and being a lawyer was the discipline it imparted on how to think a certain way and how to learn to not personalize business decisions and to see both sides of an argument.

RM: You practiced employment law after graduating, right?

CA: I had wanted to pursue environmental law, but I got assigned to employment law at my first job. It worked out because it led me down the road to human resources.

RM: Why did you leave the legal profession for employment in human resources?

CA: In practicing employment law, I always had the sense that I was too late. When you are doing all this legal stuff, the parties are at such odds that you are never going to get them to a place of understanding. I always felt that if I could only have been there earlier, maybe they could have communicated better. Maybe their expectations could have been explained better. This could have led to avoiding such an adversarial position. But it was usually all too late.

RM: Was making the transition difficult for you?

CA: I had worked hard to pass the bar. I had trained to be a lawyer. I got automatic respect being a lawyer. And there was a lot I liked. So, I asked myself, “Am I really going to walk away from all of this?” But I thought I would be happier doing something else. I thought I would have more of an affinity for human resources.

RM: You went from the New York Times Company’s human resources department to heading up its broadcast group, then on to Time Warner and Scholastic and, finally, to FCB, where you are the global chief talent officer. That’s a lot of movement with some well-regarded companies. What was your strategy for facing challenges in new work environments?

CA: When you make job changes early in your career, you move to a new opportunity with some trepidation. But after you have done it a couple of times, you realize you can go to a new place and be successful. I would tell myself, “If I work hard, if I pay attention, if I really try hard to learn, I will be able to do the job.” There are so many benefits to moving, though you don’t want to move too often.

RM: You interview scores of people. Generally, what are you looking for these days when people no longer can or want to have a long career with one company or two?

CA: We expect people today to have made many more moves, and we welcome it. It shows that people can adjust to new cultures, can bring different ways of looking at things and solving problems. I learn how people do things in different industries and in different jobs—aside from whether they are right for a job that I am interviewing them for.  If I use the interviewing process correctly, it’s a real intelligence-gathering exercise.

RM: You have worked in companies undergoing rapid change. When you were at the New York Times Company, the newspaper was making the very disruptive transition from a print to digital publisher of news.

CA: There was a big emphasis on “change management.” How do you help people understand that the world that they were used to living in was going to be incredibly disrupted? How do you get people to develop a different skill set? How do you get them to accept the fact that their work and habits and compensation were all going to change? The thing that I let people know is that they would be able to do it. People have a fear that they are not going to be able to learn something.

RM: Easier said than done.

CA: It’s important for people to be continuously learning because the pace of change today is so rapid. It’s pretty much mandatory. •