Changing Paths

Poonam Kahloon on transitioning to a different work culture

Poonham0003 Res

Before moving her entire life some 7,500 miles, POONAM KAHLON first changed career paths.

Today, she oversees the CastleBranch human resource department as director of talent development. But that’s not anywhere near where her professional journey began.

Kahlon was born in India, where she studied computer applications.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a software developer,” she says. “As part of my masters (degree), we had hands-on training, like an internship, when I was working for a communications company.”

At the communications company in Punjab, India, she designed and developed a prototype for its human resource information system.

Soon after, one of the largest universities in India offered Kahlon a job. There, Kahlon quickly received many promotions, eventually becoming the HR office manager, by marrying her expertise of computers and software with her love of people.

Then, she celebrated another marriage, when, in 2012, she wedded her husband, also from India, who had already been working in the United States.

“I guess I’m living in the U.S. and left India to go and move with a boy,” Kahlon says with a laugh. “I did not know what to do with myself when I left my career behind.”

She worried that her lack of “formal” training in human resources would limit her, since she had moved into the field having a decidedly different degree.

“At that point, I decided to invest in myself . . . and went to get an MBA program,” Kahlon says. “I learned so much from my time at Clemson (University).”

When Kahlon began working in the United States, she noticed an immediate difference in the work culture.

“People thought I wasn’t approachable,” she explains. “I didn’t realize it was good to have a conversation (at work). I just thought, ‘this is my work,’ and my conversations were more on the operations side.”

Now, she’s become much more comfortable with networking. Over time, she also noticed a difference in workplace power-dynamics.

“In India, senior-aged people were automatically given the authority,” Kahlon says. “That was not the case with what I saw here. People were more open—they were not afraid of hearing younger people’s opinions.”

After some U.S. field experience—and adjusting to a new work environment—in 2019, Kahlon moved from South Carolina and began working at CastleBranch, which provides screening solutions such as customizable background checks, drug tests and more.

“What drew me and keeps me excited in HR functions is my strong belief that humans are the biggest asset of an organization,” Kahlon says, “and the heart of CB are its people.”

After more than twenty years, innovation is still deeply rooted in the CastleBranch work-life, Kahlon explains.

Her motto has always been “learn and adapt to win.”

And that attitude has certainly come in handy this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges to the CastleBranch staff.

“It really completely shifted the landscape with not much warning sign to prepare,” Kahlon says. “I feel good about how we (CastleBranch) reacted. We stayed calm. We came together in new ways.”

Understanding that they were not the only company concerned about their staff, CastleBranch quickly developed a product called COVID-19 Compliance Solutions, to screen the health of personnel.

“It’s our way to support the community we live in,” Kahlon says.


To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

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Categories: Women to Watch