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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How Finding a New Passion Helped This HR Expert Pursue the Right Career Path

Cierra Johnson, the Employee Experience Manager at Teaching Strategies
Cierra Johnson, the Employee Experience Manager at Teaching Strategies.
| Courtesy of Cierra Johnson

As a college student majoring in information systems, Cierra Johnson thought she had her future career all figured out—until she realized there might be something better in store.

“One day, while sitting in one of my required courses, I had an epiphany: I did not want to head down that road,” she says. “While I was pretty good at it, it was boring and I found no joy in it.”

A friend who was majoring in management with a track in human resources mentioned a few of her courses to Johnson, which piqued her interest. She added that as a second major, which led to a career in human resources. Today, Johnson is the Employee Experience Manager at Teaching Strategies, which builds tools for early childhood development.

In her five years at the company, Johnson has been promoted three times—a testament to the company’s focus on professional development. “Having a seat in HR, I can see how everyone is given the opportunity to develop and grow, whether it be through promotions, transferring to other departments, or training opportunities,” she says.

Here, Johnson shares how new hires are set up for success from day one, what roles the company is currently looking to fill, and why she loves having autonomy over her work schedule.

What led to your job at Teaching Strategies, and how did you know the company would be a good fit?

In my role previous to Teaching Strategies, I didn’t have great work-life balance and didn’t see myself at the company long term, which prompted me to begin searching for a new job. I saw a listing for “HR and Facilities Assistant” at Teaching Strategies and applied on a whim, with no previous knowledge of the company.

Prior to my interview, I researched the company and was impressed by what I could gather from the website. When I went to my interview, I was amazed by the office. (This was pre-COVID, so in-person interviews were still a thing.) And through my conversations with the team, I knew I would love this company and the people. Everything just felt “right”—and their mission is so easy to get behind.

You’ve been promoted three times since joining Teaching Strategies. How does this exemplify the company’s approach to employee development?

Teaching Strategies genuinely loves to see employees develop and provides them with the necessary opportunities to do so. I’ve been here for five years and have been given the opportunity to grow, gain exposure to employees at every level of the company (including senior leadership), and learn an abundance of things.

The company offers a tuition and professional development reimbursement program for all employees. I took advantage of this to further my HR knowledge, which allowed me to learn even more about being an outstanding HR professional. It also provided me with new and creative ideas to bring back to the company to impact our employees.

We also provide a mentorship program and other trainings for all employees through third-party vendors such as Lean Six Sigma. Additionally, we have leadership trainings for our people leaders, which is a great way to collaborate with others across the organization that you otherwise may never work with. 

What are you responsible for in your role?

In a nutshell, I am responsible for enhancing the overall employee experience at Teaching Strategies. I support employees through their entire lifecycle. This includes involvement in our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, shaping our company culture to provide a high-performance and engaged workplace, and implementing programs to increase job satisfaction. I love being able to collaborate with employees across different teams and ensuring that our people feel like Teaching Strategies is a great place to work.

What types of roles is Teaching Strategies currently trying to fill?

Teaching Strategies is a high-growth SaaS company, so we are always looking for smart, technical people to join our workforce. Some of our current openings are positions such as product managers and directors, QA engineers, software and DevOps engineers and architects, and scrum masters. We are excited to continue to expand these teams to provide our users with best-in-class solutions. 

Along with our tech and product teams, we are continuing to grow our sales department. Those who are interested in impacting children by getting our solutions in the hands of educators can expect to see roles such as account executives, strategic account managers, partner success managers, and sales leaders. (Head here to see current job openings.)

What stands out about the candidate experience and new hire onboarding at Teaching Strategies?

What stands out about our candidate and new hire onboarding experience is that we continue to evolve them to ensure we are providing an outstanding experience. I think back to when I first interviewed with the company and was so delighted. I had great conversations, the questions were very intentional, and I walked away with a true sense of expectations for the role. Fast-forward to my first day, when I felt immediately welcomed and enjoyed that my manager took time to create a true onboarding plan for me. Additionally, I was assigned a peer, who was super helpful in getting me acclimated to my role.

As time has gone on and we’ve continued to shift, our candidate and onboarding processes have improved. Teaching Strategies strives to set employees up for success from the moment they apply. Our HR team has explored innovative ways to ensure candidates have a streamlined application process. They are flexible and intentional about scheduling, now that we are in a remote-first environment with virtual interviews.

When it comes to onboarding, we send new hires a welcome swag box to get them excited before their first day. Starting day one, employees are assigned a peer to be there as another level of support as they transition into their role. We also schedule periodic HR check-ins to ensure new hires are getting the support they need from their teams as they progress.

Why should a candidate be excited about joining Teaching Strategies?

Those who are inspired by making a difference in the world will thrive here. Our topmost focus is impacting the lives of children. We believe that all children deserve a high-quality learning environment and we ensure our solutions give our educators the tools to provide that. 

The company is very intentional in ensuring employees have a wonderful experience here. They provide wellness and engagement activities such as salsa dancing, as well as access to licensed clinical social workers, unlimited PTO, and a company-wide winter break. The company also offers a competitive compensation package and great benefits, and every employee is eligible for equity.

Our CEO conducts monthly pulse surveys to make sure he always understands the needs of employees so he and the leadership team can address any issues. Additionally, we are a remote-first workforce, which allows for a great work-life balance. The company has been awarded several Cultural Excellence Awards by Top Workplaces over the past several years for work-life flexibility, employee well-being, values, compensation, and leadership.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career and how has working at Teaching Strategies helped you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career was a battle with imposter syndrome. I often lacked confidence and felt like I wasn’t ready or worthy to be in some of the positions I’ve had the opportunity to experience. As someone who is often the youngest person in a meeting, sometimes you need that reassurance that you belong.

I love that Teaching Strategies recognizes people for their contributions. Through my experiences and challenges, along with the support of my team and senior leaders, I’ve been able to break out of that shell and find my voice within the company. The amount of support I’ve received through the years is unmatched.

I was recently a recipient of our peer-nominated Diane Trister Dodge Award, which is given to an employee that embodies the character of our founder and the values upon which the company was built. This is the top award given, and while it’s peer-nominated, the recipient is affirmed by our senior leadership team and CEO.

How do you maintain work-life balance?

Teaching Strategies is a remote-first company; we are given autonomy over our work, which allows us to be flexible with our schedules. As someone with two small children, sometimes I have to work unconventional hours. However, my manager and team trust that my work will get done and understand that sometimes, life happens.

I also love our unlimited PTO policy. It feels good to simply be able to manage your time and truly be respected and treated as an adult. Working from home can make it hard to disconnect. To help combat that, the company hosts wellness activities such as Zumba, yoga, and mindful breathing throughout the workday to remind us to take a break. I love how intentional those sessions are and find great value in them.

What are you currently reading, watching, and/or listening to?

The bulk of my time revolves around material related to children. I love that as an employee at Teaching Strategies, we get the perk of having free access to our products. My children specifically love the FarFaria app, where they can explore all types of books electronically.