Sarah Khu – CAPREIT
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Andrew Melson
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
CAPREIT encapsulates its outlook and mission in three words: integrity, relationships and results. Relationships with renters are essential for the real estate company that owns and operates apartment communities throughout the nation.
Relationships are equally important to its senior vice president of human resources, Sarah Khu, who joined the company in October 2016 with 15 years of experience handling recruitment and human resources. She’s built camaraderie and a sense of family amongst her HR team of six, who work with CAPREIT’s approximately 400 employees across 70 offices and properties.
The importance of establishing a welcoming, inclusive and supportive workplace culture is something she learned from her father, who worked for the U.S. Army in South Korea. He became such an integral part of creating a community and culture for the soldiers there that the Army brought him and his family to the U.S. when Khu was four.
She has brought that same energy to every one of her roles, including this current one. For example, a recruiter new to the field came in around the same time as her, so Khu conducted a lot of one-on-one training to share her experience and knowledge. She then also brought on her human resources manager, with whom she’d worked before and trusted.
To continually strengthen that trust and bond, Khu meets with her team regularly. During COVID-19 work-from-home orders, she had everyone meet at least once a week through Microsoft Teams, during which they’d discuss work but also participate in scavenger hunts or other light-hearted exercises she’d created.
“I am so appreciative of my team and of being surrounded by competent, engaged employees,” Khu says. “It’s all about building trust—and having fun together.”
Onboarding in a click
Khu and her team are adding efficiencies and building trust not just with those currently at CAPREIT but with candidates, even those who don’t initially get hired.
Before, when a position was filled, Khu was often forced to discard applications, which she felt was a missed opportunity. So, in 2022, she helped purchase a better applicant tracking system for her team. Made by iCIMS, the system retains information about candidates, which Khu says has saved recruiting and hiring managers valuable time in filling positions. The system allows the managers to share candidates between branches or keep them on file for future openings.
“This way we don’t simply lose out on an excellent candidate or have to waste time starting the search process from scratch—and that’s just one of the things the applicant tracking system does,” Khu says.
Since its rollout, Khu and her team have combined the applicant tracking system with ADP’s human resources information system to streamline the hiring process. Now, once a candidate is hired, they can access the system and plug in a start date.
On that date, ADP’s system will automatically pull the applicant’s information to create a digital onboarding package that includes tax withholding selection, I-9 documentation and emergency contacts.
Before iCIMS and the ADP onboarding module, Khu or someone on her team may have taken a week to enter information for new hires, due to busy schedules and or having to tackle more urgent matters. Now, the process can take as little as a few minutes and has the added benefit of eliminating human error, as the ADP system ensures that the candidate has entered the needed information.
“It has been a game changer and, most importantly, it immediately tells new hires about our culture here, one of support and ease,” Khu says.
Free to act
Now, Khu has more time to oversee daily human resources and payroll tasks for the company. This includes ensuring people are paid the right amount at the right time and managing employee relations, benefits and career development.
She also can spend more time facilitating annual employee engagement surveys. In 2022, she says more than 80 percent of employees participated in these surveys. CAPREIT received almost unanimous positive feedback for implementing company-wide mental health days in 2020, where the company shut down so employees didn’t have to make up work upon their return.
“Employee surveys are something I brought over from my previous jobs as I feel like they’re a great barometer for how we are doing as a company—as well as letting us know what needs to change or evolve,” Khu says.
She and her career have also evolved. Khu says she often uses things she learned when earning her degree in elementary education from the University of Maryland.
“I suppose that I use some of those concepts when I train my employees, but mostly that part of my life is in the past,” she says with a laugh.
After graduating, she became a staffing specialist and administration manager at the software company Synplicity from 2001 to 2006. She then worked for over a decade at Equity Residential. She had no plans to leave as it was one of the largest residential managers in the country until she received a call from a headhunter, Bill Whitlow, who described CAPREIT to her.
“I fell in love with that family feel—everyone matters,” Khu says. “It all goes back to building trust and a welcoming culture.”
Moreover, CAPREIT Cares focuses on giving back to the community. This resonated with Khu as she’s been the “team mom” for her son’s high school football team.
As for the success she’s attained in her career, she credits the people and resources that have surrounded her.
“A highly functioning and engaged team as well as resources, like outside counsel or the right technology, have made this easy—and I’m excited to continue bringing in amazing talent to CAPREIT,” Khu says.
View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.
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