The Seven Habits of Highly Successful (and YOUNG) HR Pros

I hear it all the time, “We’d be so screwed if we had a normal HR person. I’m so happy we have you.”

Not really. You’d just be screwed if you had someone who wasn’t a real person, trying to manage real people.

I’ve worked my way up through this company from an HR Assistant to the HR Director, I’ve traveled around and spoke to large audiences about HR, and I’ve been recruited by companies that would blow your mind. I’ve done all of this, and I am only 33-years-old.

I’m not being braggy. I just want to tell you what I’m doing is different. Seriously, you can roll your eyes at me, and say you’ve heard this all before, and that you’re different, too. But, maybe, just maybe, one of the things will help you get ahead in your career or get that raise you deserve!

So I’ve asked around the company, and this was the feedback I received about why I am different than other HR Pros.

1. Don’t be a sucky person.

Hey, Meredith! What did you do over the weekend?

Oh my gosh. We had so much fun! Shaun and I went to Chicago and partied like rock stars! Have you ever tried an Irish Car Bomb shot?

That? Probably isn’t the water cooler conversation you’re having with your staff.

Why aren’t you like this? Why aren’t you being real with them? Are you too good to admit that you, too, like to let your hair down once in a while? Why are afraid to say it? Are you better than your employees?

Because when you act like a prude, you come off like you’re better than everyone. And that’s a fact.

Is your position in your company somehow better than theirs? If you say, “Yes!” to that question, please call me right now so I can tell you why you’re a sucky person. My cell phone number is (419) 266-0966.

2. Look the part.

OMG. I see so many frumpy HR Pros.

Stop it. Stop it right now.

It sucks, but this is a shallow society. So you cannot keep wearing that sweater with fuzz balls all over it. You will never be promoted if people overlook you because you’re blending in. So dress like the job you’d like. Each culture is different. So if it’s jeans at your work – you wear jeans with the best shoes ever. If it’s business attire – you wear a suit.

Ladies, you put on make-up. Men, you stop wearing white socks with dress shoes. And everyone needs to iron their clothes. Ain’t nobody got time for people who look like they just rolled out of bed!

3. Move mountains for them. All of them. You move all the mountains for all of them.

I know how we love to enforce all of the rules in HR. But sometimes, people have a special circumstance. Sometimes there is a grey area. Sometimes you do things for your people that neither of you ever discuss again.

What are you doing with an ex-employee who ran out of COBRA, is too sick to work, and is still waiting for his Social Security hearing? How can you legally get rid of that woman-over-forty-who-no-one-likes?

Finding the answers to the hardest questions set you apart.

When you find ways to be creative and get the REAL job at hand done, and you stop telling people, “That’s impossible,” you become beyond valuable to your people, your managers, and your CEO.

4. Promote from within.

Nothing gives people more hope than the hope of a better opportunity. Create better opportunities for them. It is your JOB.

When I began at the dealership, our turnover rate was 66%. SIXTY-SIX.

To stop this, I began promoting from within. This suddenly became a place you wanted to work. No longer do the employees worry that they will wind up with a manager who doesn’t understand our culture (and fires them all to bring in his own staff).

The employees are now letting me know if they’d like to be promoted. When they let me know they would like to move, I put them into a mentorship program. This way, when it is time, they are ready.

Today our turnover rate averages around 8% per year. EIGHT.

I’d say it’s totally working.

5. Stop spending money on dumb crap.

I know some of you have gigantic budgets. Big, huge, budgets.

I used to have a big budget. And then, in 2008, the auto industry took a big dump. We were hit pretty hard, and I had to figure out how to do more… with less.

Today, I could have a big budget again if I wanted it, but I won’t do it. I refuse to waste money. You just never know when that money, you spent on some software you didn’t really need, will save someone’s job.

And I know you feel like you neeeeeeeed all the latest and greatest things. You neeeeeeeed to have 50 people working in your HR Department. But I promise you, and I would know, you don’t. You just don’t.

Be valuable to your company by finding ways to save them money.

6. Be honest. And say you’re sorry when you mess up.

I make a lot of mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes.

Let me list some of the for you:

  • Sometimes… I have a hard time seeing both sides of a story.
  • I am forgetful if I don’t write things down.
  • I get a little too passionate at times, and this makes me rant.
  • I tend to assume the best in people. This makes it hard for me to see them for what they are, especially when it is time to kick them off the bus.
  • I’m impulsive, and I want to fix problems right away, sometimes before even gathering all the facts.
  • I hate listening to my voicemails. Like, I hate it with a passion. So sometimes I just don’t.
  • I don’t deal well with girl office drama. I have been told I am “too direct” in these situations.
  • I can’t hire someone with yucky teeth.
  • I have a hard time saying “No,” to everyone’s stupid HR committee (even though I know I will never show up to the meetings).
  • I procrastinate.
  • I’m late to all the things. All of them.
  • I think meetings are dumb. So often I blank out and answer emails on my phone.

Wow. I make a lot of mistakes. Maybe this isn’t an article I should be writing.

But when I make these mistakes, I say I am sorry. And I tell my boss right away so he can give me advice and help me clean up the mess. There’s no sense in hiding your weaknesses. Everyone sees them. So just be accountable. And stop trying to make things work that are not working!

7. Don’t overcomplicate it. 

Seeing you should not be a hard thing to do. Talking to you should not be a hard thing to do. Seeking advice from you should not be a hard thing to do. Laughing with you should not be a hard thing to do. Having lunch with you should not be a hard thing to do. Changing your tax deductions should not be a hard thing to do. Collecting the correct paycheck should not be a hard thing to do. Understanding your health insurance should not be a hard thing to do. Enrolling for the benefits should not be a hard thing to do. Talking to your CEO should not be a hard thing to do. Understanding your company’s financials should not be a hard thing to do. Adding value to your business should not be a hard thing to do.

You work for two sections if your company. You’re in a weird spot. I “get” it. It is your job to bring management and employees together. So make that process as easy as possible FOR THEM.

Make things easy-peasy for your customers (HR Customers: Applicants, Employees, Managers, Owners).

Now it’s your turn! Share with others how you became successful in your HR career! Let’s help each other out today!

FOT Background Check

Meredith Soleau
Meredith Soleau was supposed to be a famous country singer, but her parents made her go to college and major in something “real.” She graduated with a B.S. in Business from the University of Toledo, and landed a gig as a Human Resources Director at a large car dealership in Ohio. After eight years of HR at a car dealership, she burned out, decided to sell cars herself, and has since launched her agency, where she specializes in finding blue-collar workers. Clearly she has plenty of stories. But the best stories are probably about Meredith, herself. Read them on her personal blog,, where she holds nothing back. Follow Meredith on Twitter. Become her friend on Facebook. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


  1. laurie says:

    These are all good, M.

    When I worked in HR at my LAST OFFICIAL HR JOB in 2007 — which is really the last time I worked hard at anything, mind you — you know what I heard?

    “We’d be so screwed if we had a normal HR person. I’m so happy we have you.”

    I think your advice is right. Don’t suck. Don’t be frumpy. But also don’t be a fool. People flatter HR professionals when they want something they haven’t earned and don’t deserve. Whenever someone came to me instead of one of my older and more seasoned colleagues, I knew something was up. I didn’t just fall off the pumpkin truck, yo. And I made a decision to move mountains or not based on two factors:

    1. Is this person asking for something reasonable?
    2. Would this person be a dick to me if I were five years older and didn’t have blonde hair?

    Wait, there was one other factor:

    3. Am I being interrupted while buying shit online?

    Because you don’t interrupt LFR when she’s shopping for shoes on the company intranet.

  2. Erin says:

    YES YES YES and YES.
    I wish I could send this to all the people who don’t follow FOT–they need it the most. (and it turns out you and I have similar weaknesses, although my guess is you dress better than I do).

  3. Kathy says:

    Some of us not-young HR Pros are hearing this comment as well.

  4. JoAnn. Corley says:

    What can you say but amen!!!

  5. Amanda Boone says:

    Great post!

  6. Deb McClanahan says:

    Meredith, You give me hope for the next generations of HR professionals. Thanks for your point of view and sharing your experience.

  7. Kristina R. says:

    OMG. Yes and AMEN. I had a manager of security at a plant that I worked that would routinely wear cargo pants and a man’s pocket t-shirt w/a paint stain on it , who didn’t understand why no one (including her own employees) repected or liked her very much. Dress for the position you want–no matter your size. And I’m with Erin, I WISH I could send this article to those that need to see it.

  8. Graeme Creed says:

    I live by one rule
    “Don’t make yourself hard to love”

  9. HRKat says:

    So…I think your my HR soulmate. Your piece spoke to me, reminded me to be real at work, that it’s okay to get mad (how many times do I hold myself back from telling people they’re a-holes?), and that I’m doing my job when I call someone on their sh*t or tell them to wo/man up. There’s a professional creed all up in your manifesto.

    I’m sending you a LinkedIn request right now.

  10. Shannon says:

    This is a tough one for me, because I’m edgy and a boundary pusher (taking my nose ring out for my current job broke my heart!), but I also feel that we have an obligation to set the example. Even though I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy, I don’t want to get a “verbal written warning” for making the joke I want to make, so I often hold it in and then explode when I get home.

  11. Kristin Purdy says:

    Well, I graduate (finally) in September 🙂 I think I’ll do just fine in the HR world, I can’t wait!!!

  12. Amy says:

    Thank-you Meredith!! You said what so many others are afraid to say and I respect you for that. HR plays a tough role and wears many different hats. I admire your list of mistakes, because at the end of the day, we’re all human and we make mistakes….even HR people!

  13. Vidal F. says:

    God Lord, that was refreshing!
    I see lot of myself on the text (yeah yeah yeah roll up your eyes) started when I was 18 as an intern – it’s been 15 years now. Have gone all the way up, and still climbing the HR ladder. Lived in over 7 countries and I’m only a 33 years old South American guy.

    I try to share as much as I can with young HR pros, especially the ones I see potential, as I truly believe I have to give back somehow and that the best way to learn is to share.

  14. Terryl Bronson says:

    This is awesome. Great post

  15. ShaunK says:

    Great article! I’ve grown tired of frumpy, stuck-up, stale HR type people. In my previous HR role I would regularly be told by my employees that they had never heard an HR person be so “real” with them. I guess I was lucky in that I had very limited exposure to “HR” prior to getting a job in HR. So my expectation was that we were there to help people and companies be successful… apparently that’s not a universal viewpoint. It is refreshing to read your article and the rest of the FOT crew’s opinions. I wish I had found you guys earlier in my career.  Keep up the good work!

  16. Tami says:

    So it turns out that the mistakes you make are the EXACT same ones that I make. I thought it was just me!!! I’d add one more. I hate it when people cry in my office for what I consider dumb reasons. I understand if you had a tragedy and you need time off, or you’re struggling with something heavy, but please don’t cry because Suzy told you she didn’t like your spreadsheet. Know what I mean?

  17. Caroline Higgins (@123Kiki) says:

    As an ex recruiter, I dreaded speaking to the “HR Manager.” Always a tyrant, and reminiscent of my 3rd grade teacher. Thanks for giving the title a burst of fresh air.

  18. Tatiana Beale says:

    I love this post! I especially think it’s important to be yourself, relate to your employees, dress the part, and promote from within. You’ve brought up great points and I hope other HR pros out there take your advice and start making a noticeable difference in their organizations.

  19. Grammar Police says:

    You’re nicked!

    You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say may be recorded and held against you in a court of grammar law! (We also deal with the grave crime of bobbled jumpers)

  20. Edmarie says:

    Hahaha This is awesome thanks for all this …Im new at this HR Clerk world and this helped me not to feel bad about all my mistakes. I’ll do my best to be better everyday !

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