After Sonoma County Wildfires, One Out-of-Work HR Director Finds Jobs for Her Colleagues

When the wildfires roared through Santa Rosa, California, it burned the picturesque Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel, perched high on a hilltop, to the ground.

One hundred and thirty jobs burned up with it — including that of Lenora Olson, the hotel’s human resources director.

Lenora Olson, on left, at job fair held in 2016. (Credit: Lenora Olson via CNN)

Lenora Olson, on left, at job fair held in 2016. (Credit: Lenora Olson via CNN)

But she still went right back to work: finding jobs for her out-of-work colleagues.

“They’re talented people. I can safely say because I handpicked them,” Olson told CNN.

‘Reverse recruiting’

Just days after the fire, she gathered her displaced and distraught colleagues. They met at a competing hotel. She invited that hotel’s HR director to join the meeting – and started finding work for folks.

Next, she posted all the skilled jobs her colleagues once held — and now need — on her Facebook page, Instagram and Linkedin accounts. Room attendants, cooks, front desk attendants. The list goes on and on.

She called it “reverse recruiting.”

Getting results

She says a thousand people (many of them recruiters who had competed against Olson for skilled hospitality workers in the tight labor market) reached out with possible jobs.

“Part of the HR role is to be empathetic, to be their voice, to help them grow in their career or find the best place to be,” she said.

To date, she knows of 11 workers in new jobs – with several more set to be interviewed for openings this week.

“Some people got to work a couple days later so it’s fantastic. I ran into one of our cooks, she said she got a job and so did her husband!”

Olson also helped people get their resumes together.

“A lot of these people haven’t had to do much job searching for their careers. We had a woman that’s been at that job for 30 years as our comptroller.”

‘Feeling optimistic’

The local tourism bureau asked Olson to come to a meeting.

“They told me that 9,000 people alone in Sonoma County are out of jobs.” By then, she had enough employment leads to share.

“I said, ‘If you create a page, I’ll put all these jobs up there.'”

As for her own job prospects, Olson says, “I’m feeling optimistic.”

In the meantime, this mother of two and grandmother of two says helping her former colleagues is the least she can do.

“I can’t cook, so this is what I know how to do.”