This ‘people connector’ knows the value of empathy

As the pandemic took hold last spring and millions of workers were sent home, companies around the world had to pump the brakes on a vital piece of their talent pipeline puzzle: summer internships. Interns looking forward to their experience at Maxim Integrated, a San Jose, Calif.-based manufacturer of analog devices, weren’t disappointed–as the HR team created a robust virtual internship program, in part thanks to the ingenuity of John Klein, Maxim’s talent acquisition & staffing manager.

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Klein, who himself once had the unpleasant experience of having an internship offer rescinded, says he knew the importance of finding a way to maintain the program–both to support students at a pivotal time in their burgeoning careers and to retain the long-cultivated relationships with university partners. However, some managers initially resisted the concept of virtual internships, especially given the engineering focus of the program.

In partnership with Amber Willits, senior HR analyst, Klein sought out managers who had already supervised remote interns, leveraged external survey data about student opinions on virtual internships–their primary concern wasn’t the format but rather the potential of losing the opportunity if it was rescinded–and created a proposal for a virtual program that executive leadership immediately bought into. Klein and Willits wrote and rolled out training modules and reimagined every internship event into a virtual setting.

They also built out a curated intern course list in partnership with L&D to give interns a broader portfolio of training and development opportunities, Klein says.

The team saw a number of new benefits from the virtual transition, Klein says. For instance, interns could work together across geographic barriers and be matched with mentors that were the best fit, regardless of location. Also, CEO TunÁ§ Doluca was able to meet virtually with groups of three interns multiple times a week to solicit feedback and hear about their experiences.

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Ultimately, the program, which included 150 interns globally, was named to WayUp’s Top 100 Internship Programs list for the second year. The job offer acceptance rate among interns after the program, Klein adds, was 94%–the highest it’s ever been.

“We took the initiative by driving this program forward in a virtual environment, and it was a major success,” Klein says.

Klein himself joined Maxim, which employs about 7,000 people worldwide, in 2016 after participating in the internship program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in international relations and affairs, global finance and economy from Yonsei University in South Korea, where he was elected president of the school’s Graduate Student Association. That role laid the groundwork for his career in HR.

“I immediately clicked with that type of leadership role,” he says. “I really liked working with a close team and seeing how they develop and learn and also providing support to the student body.” Friends at the time would often call him the “people connector” for his aptitude for introducing random groups of friends and having them hit it off, he says.

Back in the States, he further developed those skills pursuing a master’s in HR management and personnel administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, paving the way for his entry to Maxim.

He joined the staffing operations and university relations department before becoming a senior HR analyst and then moving into TA, shifts that have allowed him to become more involved in strategic HR projects.

For instance, Klein analyzes entry-level hiring data annually to assess the company’s effectiveness at attracting diverse talent into engineering, particularly by gender. Last year, working with Dino Anderson, executive director of inclusion & diversity, L&D, Klein developed an “Inclusive Hiring” training for his recruiting team using a “Small Wins” approach–six stated parameters designed to enhance inclusion and diversity, such as inclusive language in job requirements and more diverse interview panels. He also built out an “Inclusive Hiring” scorecard to track progress on the project, on which he also worked with HR analysts Ivy Dela Cruz and Gracie McCall.

There was little pushback from managers, Klein says, even though requirements like multiple finalists could extend the time to fill. Executive buy-in for the program was essential in developing that support, he says, as was the evidence-based framework that was developed in partnership with Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

“Our managers knew we were using research-validated interventions and they were iterative, technical changes, so I think that allowed us to be really successful,” Klein says.

The project is among several that have given Klein a well-rounded HR experience, allowing him to expand beyond talent acquisition to areas like learning and development and compensation.

“I’ve had a really broad-based experience at Maxim that I think will be a crazy good asset; that flexibility has given me a lot of exposure [to other parts of HR],” he says. While he envisions a future as a TA leader, he also is eager to put his data analytics skills to use.

Working in an analog semiconductor company, Klein’s own interest in engineering has also been piqued; outside of work, he dove into robotics and 3D printing. Most recently, he developed a robot that tracks his dog and launches her treats. His next challenge is building a self-balancing robot with two wheels.

“It’s a pretty fun little hobby for anyone curious, willing to learn and willing to watch a lot of YouTube videos,” he says.

That passion for learning has fused well with his passion for working with people at Maxim, says Rising Stars judge Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of PILOT.

“He leverages data, has a keen sense of change management, deploys technology smartly and brings nuance and thoughtfulness to complex challenges like DEI,” Brooks says. “John stands out for his creative and innovative approaches, thoroughness, inclusiveness and situational awareness to drive his award-winning HR initiatives.”

For Klein, the attribute that most acutely powers that success is empathy, which he says is embedded in the culture at Maxim. Personally, his own experience with dyslexia has allowed him to become a more empathetic leader.

“While I struggle with spelling and repetitive tasks, I consider it a major asset at work now,” he says. “My personal challenges with dyslexia have allowed me to cultivate a deep level of empathy for others, which I think is a core business skill. [Dyslexia] helps me cherish and attach a high degree of value to what makes other people special as well.”

It’s also enhanced his patience, made him appreciate how people learn in different ways and, since he processes information different than most, has enabled him to see largely invisible patterns and, thus, generate out-of-the-box ideas that wouldn’t be obvious to most people.

Working for an employer, and directly for manager Thomas Nam, executive director of talent acquisition, who values his unique strengths and supports him when he needs it has been a game-changer, he notes.

“At Maxim, I’ve had a great opportunity to work at a company whose culture allows anyone, regardless of level, to make a significant impact,” he says. “I’ve always been able to bring my whole self to work every day and the cool thing is I feel like the company celebrates all the things that make me unique.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at