Macy’s, Inc. HR exec on how to prepare to go to work

By Lottie Watts
Published Mar 11, 2021

Macy’s, Inc. Chief Transformation and Human Resources Officer Danielle Kirgan reflects on more than two decades of experience for this episode of “20 Questions.”

Here are a few of the questions submitted by undergraduate students nationwide – along with Kirgan’s answers.

What three skills do you think are most important to have when working in retail?

First, you have to have a passion for service. You have to love the customer, love working with other employees and, in general, get your energy from people and want to serve.

Second is you have to be a little scrappy, and what I mean by this is you have to be resourceful. No single day is like the one before, so it constantly requires reinvention and approaching solutions for first-time situations that come up all the time.

And lastly, I would say a transformation mindset. The challenges and opportunities within the retail industry in today’s environment requires that we are nimble. We’re constantly thinking about how to approach what is next and how to grow the business in different ways.

What did you do in college to help you get to where you are today?

I absolutely believe that the most important contribution in my preparation was the fact that I worked throughout college. I carried two jobs. I worked close to a full-time schedule while being a full-time student.

It taught me a lot about balancing priorities and juggling multiple things. It gave me such real-life experience and it gave me examples where I was surrounded by people that were professionals. They were in a work environment and I could observe and really pick up on how they get work done. I also made a lot of great connections – people that provided important guidance and advice to me as I was finishing up my education and getting ready to launch into my career.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I’m a big believer in transparency. I think you have to have straight talk. You need to do that with care. You need to do it authentically, and we have to be comfortable with being accountable. If we don’t achieve our results, we have to hold ourselves accountable.

How I engage with my team is all about having direct conversations, measuring our results and making sure that we’re getting better. I challenge my teams to not be perfect but to know the important stuff and to be all over their business and the details related to their work.

For virtual internships, how do students gain the same knowledge, insight and experience they would if they were interning in person?

It’s true – it’s not the same experience to have a virtual internship, but there’s still a lot of value in these internship opportunities. You can still gain the relationships and the connections – having these real-life experiences and being able to observe and understand how things get done. I think there’s a lot to be said for that learning – understanding those interactions, the decision-making process and the information that needs to be contributed into a particular decision.

I also think there’s a flip side to this, too. In a virtual internship, there’s another experience related to communications and meetings that students get to add to their toolkit of how to work remote. How do you juggle the interactions online and how you manage that work and that collaboration – I think there’s a lot of positives that we will soon see.

What do you believe is the most important skill for a professional to possess?

I think this applies to work, but it also applies to your personal life. I think the most important skill is the skill of listening,

So often when we’re in conversations or in meetings, we are so focused on thinking about what we’re going to say next, and how we’re going to respond or what we’re going to add to the conversation with our own thoughts, that we actually stop listening. We might be hearing what the other person is saying, but we’re not really taking it in, and you miss the non-verbal cues. You miss the connection. And you miss the true opportunity to be able to understand what somebody is saying.

In addition to our on-demand conversations with retail professionals, NRF Foundation All Access includes an updated job listings page to connect students with retail recruiters offering full-time roles and internships. Check out the opportunities here.  

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