Real-world advice from a corporate talent scout
Story by Erin Chesnut
Dexter Anoka (’10) spent his college years playing both basketball and football for the Skyhawks, staying active in his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter and putting himself in positions to gain as much real-world work experience as possible. Now, as a senior talent acquisition partner with Credit Karma, he can look back and see the vital roles these decisions have played in his career since graduation.
“I’m a recruiter by nature and by trade, and experience is everything,” he said. “Your academics mean something and, I think that, as a hiring professional, we look at your education as it proves that you can start something that you will finish. However, when you’re competing in the workforce and you’re looking at hundreds of other students, … what separates you from any other student that graduates … with the exact same degree that you’re graduating with?”
Anoka stresses the importance of pre-graduation internship positions as footholds to build work experience before walking the commencement stage, a lesson he took to heart during his junior year.
“I was part of a college-life-to-corporate-life initiative through my fraternity, and through that initiative I got an offer (to intern) with Wells Fargo in Des Moines, Iowa, where I worked in the central loan and approval office processing and underwriting home loans,” he said. As a result of his performance in that position, Anoka started his senior year of college with seven separate job offers within the Wells Fargo corporation and had his pick of locations across America.
While his UT Martin degree is in human health and performance, that Wells Fargo internship opened doors into a world that, fortunately for Anoka, fit well with his natural talents.
“I’ve always been someone who had the ability to recruit people. I was helping with recruiting on the football team. Then when I came to do my internship (with Wells Fargo), I did a lot of campus recruiting, … and I was a student ambassador for the organization and the internship program,” he said. “That allowed me to bring new prospects into the organization as it related to the internship program. And so that got me a start into the field, and then I came to understand that recruiting and staffing was only a part of the umbrella of the human resources discipline.”
After accepting an opportunity to work with a Wells Fargo retail banking outlet in his hometown of Atlanta, Ga., Anoka eventually transitioned into a position as a talent strategist with CareerBuilder.com, which further established his love for the human resources field. He then spent several years working as lead recruiter for Duke Energy in Charlotte, N.C., where he led hiring initiatives for the company’s nuclear division before moving into a leadership position with Bank of America.
“Stay true to yourself, and do what’s necessary to be a great student and a great person in that community. Get involved in organizations at the university, and the experiences that you gain will always be helpful as you continue to grow within your career.”
“I had an opportunity to become the vice president and head of recruiting for Bank of America’s compliance division, where I recruited for a department staffed with more than 5,000 employees and about 8,000 contractors globally in Singapore, London, Brazil and parts of the United States,” he said. In March of this year, Anoka made another transition into his current role with Credit Karma, where he is helping the company build a new division on the east coast.
“I got a call to become a talent and acquisition partner with Credit Karma’s new tax division to build out their division in Charlotte, N.C.,” he said. “Credit Karma is located in San Francisco and it is considered a ‘start-up organization,’ but … they are building out a new product – which is their ability to do free taxes – and they are building up that team in Charlotte, N.C., where I’m on the ground. I have close to 50 people at this point, but we’re in the process of hiring close to 150 people in the Charlotte, N.C., area. So I’m actually leading that charge here and doing hires for mostly software engineers and tax professionals.”
While Anoka’s personal dedication to his profession has aided his climb up the corporate ladder, he looks back and attributes his start to lessons learned at UT Martin.
“I think being a quarterback on the football team really helped me from a leadership perspective. That and my service through the fraternity at the university definitely gave me the ability to recruit people to those programs,” he said. “The skills I gained as an athlete definitely pushed me and my competitive nature to go on and try to win the talent to the organization. I got that from playing sports and from athletics.” He says a perfectionist streak hasn’t hurt either.
From the perspective of a professional talent scout, Anoka outlines a game plan for other up-and-coming professionals to help each graduate make his or her own mark in the world.
“Your freshman year, you should finish off very strong. Then, going into your sophomore year, you need to be applying as much as you can for internships. Then, when you get them, stay in good standing within the organization that you work with,” he said. “No summer should be spent ‘fun in the sun’ when you’re a college student. I think at least nine or 10 weeks out of the summer you should be working some kind of internship and getting either paid or unpaid experience because you can graduate and have a job offer going into your senior year.
“That internship gig (with Wells Fargo) was a definite springboard to get me moving into the next direction of my life and starting that chapter without any hiccups or lag time,” he continued. “I stress the importance (of internships) because, not only did I do it, but I’ve also been mentoring other youth to try and make sure they intern as well.”
Anoka is far from finished with his corporate journey, but he looks back on his years at UT Martin with appreciation for the experiences he took with him – both personal and professional. When speaking with Campus Scene, he ended his interview with the following advice for current students:
“Use the opportunity that you have at UT Martin as a place to grow as an adult. Love your university; grow while you’re there, but never forget who you are,” he said. “Stay true to yourself, and do what’s necessary to be a great student and a great person in that community. Get involved in organizations at the university, and the experiences that you gain will always be helpful as you continue to grow within your career.”