Graduate Spotlight: Crystal Montoya, MS in Human Resource Management

USC HR Ambassador Crystal Montoya
Photo: Crystal Montoya

Even in high school, Crystal Montoya, MS, SPHR, already knew that she wanted her future career path to focus on positively impacting lives. I had a passion for seeing others succeed and being able to help them along the way. I guess you can say that I wanted to pay it forward,” says Crystal.

More than a decade later, Crystal is the Human Resources Manager at ADA Carbon Solutions, a chemical manufacturing company that delivers solutions to control contaminants for industrial customers. The organization is growing fast and Crystal is excited to work with talented employees who are passionate about improving peoples’ lives and growing revenue. Crystal focuses on the people-side of the business by developing strategic enhancements that elevate the employee work experience, and thus, business outcomes.

Crystal recently graduated from University of Southern California’s Master of Science in Human Resource Management program. We caught up with her a year following her graduation to discover more about the evolution of her career and her take on the role of the Human Resources Manager within organizations today.

How did you get started in the field?

My first field experience in HR was as a campus recruiting rep for Disney’s internship programs. At that time, my career aspirations were to go into PR & marketing until a few years later when a student approached me and thanked me for coaching her and helping her prepare for an interview with Disney. She’d been trying to get hired for a couple of years and she finally received an offer after three years of applying. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to continue developing students and adults, so I continued to take advantage of career opportunities where I could develop programs focused on enrichment and engagement.  

What has been the most rewarding chapter of your career so far?

When I worked at El Paso Electric (EPE), one of my areas of oversight as an HR Business Partner was developing and leading the company’s internship programs. I had the opportunity to create meaningful employment experiences in an industry that isn’t known for being glamorous or trendy. My methodology was simple: create an impactful work experience by leveraging our culture and passion for empowering the lives of its customers. The programs’ learning outcomes stood on competencies that I believed made the most well-rounded successful employees.

Executing programs and hiring for these competencies translated to diverse hires, which created valuable work experiences for the company and therefore, its bottom line. The structure of this program raised the bar for employers in the El Paso community and recalibrated the expectation of what “intern” work truly is. I always strive for strategic outcomes and sharing the success of this initiative opened countless opportunities for me to work and build relationships with people throughout the company and beyond. I moved the needle in a space that often gets overlooked and being able to do this with a passionate and talented HR team made the experience that much more rewarding.

What are some hurdles that you have faced and how did you overcome them to be successful in your career?

Speaking everyone’s language to build buy-in. I struggled with this early on in my career to a point that it was beginning to damage my relationships with coworkers and leadership. My boss was incredibly patient with me and invested so much time in coaching me and empowering me by giving me ownership over the solution. I noticed how she built relationships with others and learned that I don’t need to have all the answers or be the expert – I just need to trust my team and focus on motivating others. This is a muscle I always continue to exercise as my career evolves and have been able to turn that weakness into a strength.

Crystal Montoya Public Speaking

Crystal Montoya conducts a training session as HR Business Partner, while at El Paso Electric. Photo: Crystal Montoya

How has the role of Human Resources Manager evolved within the organization?

The workforce is noticeably changing and companies have had to shift their people strategy to realign people needs with business needs. Now, the HR Manager role has grown to various people-centric roles such as “Change Manager,” “People Manager,” “Diversity and Inclusion Manager” and other such titles each of which exclusively focuses on capitalizing on people needs. If you see companies with these types of titles, that’s indicative of its understanding and investment into its workforce and certainly something other organizations who don’t, should take note of. While the transaction function of HR is still important, HR is evolving into a true organizational business partner designed to bridge the relational value between strategy, structure, process, work, people and rewards.

Changing gears, what would you say to someone considering the USC Master of Science in Human Resource Management program?

The program requires dedication and commitment – to the field and to the experience. You will get what you put into it but in the end, it’s worth it because giving it your all translates to stronger networks, robust knowledge and applicable experience.

How did the MS in Human Resource Management program advance your career?

This experience changed my life, professionally and personally. The MSHRM program made me a better professional, a more thoughtful leader, and a stronger practitioner, more confident in my abilities to cultivate meaningful change in the business and in the community. The program prepared me to guide organizational development and change management initiatives in my business unit area and enhance my abilities as a consultant to the business.

Within 4 months of beginning the program, I was promoted into a business partner role and then promoted again at the end of my program because of how successfully I’d been executing my partnership with my business units. I also earned my SPHR soon after finishing the program and am now a member of the HRCI SPHR community.

A common theme for you is the importance of being able to coach and mentor others to help them succeed. After graduating, you became an Ambassador for the MSHRM program. What did this experience mean to you?

I truly enjoyed being able to connect with prospective students and talk to them about their goals and motivations. I was able to do this as an Ambassador and it was my small way of giving back while championing a program that I truly believe in.

What excites you most about where the Human Resources field is heading?

I’m most excited that the world at work is shifting and that organizations are starting to recognize the power of tapping into its workforce and investing in development opportunities that feed and motivate intellectual capital. This shift is bringing out the human element of the work experience and organizations are looking to HR to lead this.

In addition to pursuing a master’s degree, what steps should an HR professional take to advance their career in Human Resources?

Build genuine relationships with coworkers, be trustworthy, never stop learning, ask questions and bring strategic, sustainable solutions to the table. Some of the best colleagues I admire are customer-centric, lead with integrity and respect, make work fun, strive for continuous improvement and go where needed.

Learn more about the MS in Human Resource Management program.

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