Coasting Through Your HR Career

FOT Note: This post comes straight out of the FOT vault. Every now and then, we like to re-run golden nuggets of insight to keep the message alive. What you’re about to read is one of them. 

There is only one HR Director at your company. She is in her late 40s, has worked there for nearly 20 years, and she’s not budging.

What do you do if there are no additional HR opportunities at your company?

This is a common situation around the world. I know so many HR professionals who are in their mid-30s and early-40s. They are smart, they are talented, and they have to pay their mortgages. Many of them feel that they must leave their companies in order to gain more responsibility and earn more money.

But even the job market is bleak. For every one HR Director position, it feels like there are hundreds of qualified candidates. The higher up the food chain, the more you feel the law of supply and demand.

I think there are a few options to address this career impasse:

  1. Fight like hell to make the case for an internal promotion.
  2. Build a network and acquire new skills so you’re ready when an opportunity presents itself.
  3. Coast.

The first optionfighting like hellis tough. You must be a master of market data. You should be ready to tell your executive leadership team how your company wins if you assume a new (and more expensive) role. You don’t have to show dollar-for-dollar ROI, but you must make the case that your expanded role will help the company increase its productivity, reduce its overall labor costs, and expand its margins.

Good luck with that. The problem with most senior-level HR roles is that they are a luxury. All things being equal, they could probably do without a Director of HR. The CFO or the COO can do that job. And while you might have a persuasive business case to prove that you’re ready for a bigger job, it’s incredibly tough to prove a correlation between your promotion and a company’s improved performance. I am not saying it can’t be done; however, most mid-level HR professionals lack the sales capabilities to sell the idea of a promotion to an executive leader.

And fighting like hell means that they tell you no and probably won’t entertain the idea again. It’s a risk. And HR people are notoriously afraid of riskboth personal and professional.

The second optionbuilding the capabilities required for a senior-level HR role and waiting for an opportunityis an easier path. It’s not without its own challenges, though. Just because you are capable doesn’t mean that your company needs your skills. And while you’re waiting around for someone to bestow a title upon you, other HR professionals are out-hustling you in the job market.

So if you’re in a role that is going nowhere, I like the third option the best: coasting.

You could do worse than to model good behaviors when it comes to work-life balance.

Coasting isn’t about being lazy. You should present. Be accountable. Do good work. But go ahead and take that vacation. You saved up all those PTO days and you have a ton of miles. Why not extend a holiday weekend and take the wife to Paris?

Coasting at work doesn’t have to be mediocre, either. It can be a sensible and pragmatic response for a mid-level HR professional who isn’t lighting the world on fire but isn’t half bad.

We have this myth in America that high-performing talent is young, brash, and pushing itself to the brink of exhaustion. If you are not emotionally drained and wholly invested in a brand, you are doing it wrong.

I think you might want to ease off the gas for a little bit and figure out what’s important. Nobody likes the guy who is pushing for an outcome that won’t happen. And you’re probably never going to get promoted. So maybe you should take it easy, coach your son’s baseball team, and gain a fresh perspective about your career.

And while you are spending time outside of work, try to meet cool people who are doing interesting things. Chances are that your next HR opportunity doesn’t come from your current employer, anyway, but is waiting for you through someone you already know.

In the meanwhile, I will see you on that long weekend in Paris. Let’s have a banana Nutella crepe under the Eiffel Tower and take it easy for a few days, okay?

FOT Background Check

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.


  1. B. Weems @iglooosensei says:

    Lets be real. The uber driven professional seeking to usurp a coveted senior-level distinction won’t perceive solace from this perspective. They ain’t having no parts of this. On the other hand, the career H R open to transformative relationships (all relationships), continuous learning for the long haul, and personal brand investment might just mine a nugget or three from this piece. Your brand needs care – and it’s hard to top a more intra-personal act than Standing Still. The wisdom in Standing Still is sound. Point blank. As we nurture our ability to be aware, present, and available – we anchor ourselves and achieve a sense of weather resistance. Then, when we pursue our passions, purposes, and callings – we are truly prepared for the Universe to greet us with its blessings and stretchings.

  2. Angie Caro says:

    This is awesome and I completely agree!

  3. Cara Carroll says:

    I am HR, just little ole me. So there is really no use fighting (#1) because titles here are irrelevant, besides I get raises. For me it isn’t about the money at my current company but it is about not being challenged and not having a whole lot of HR to do. #2 I am and have been doing, in addition to volunteering and applying online. Also, #2 just makes good sense to do even if I weren’t looking for a new opportunity, without the applying. #3 is what I have decided to do at my current company till something else comes along. I do my work and I think I do it well, but why beat myself up when I know there is no room for movement. Great insights thanks Laurie!

  4. Scott Lupo says:

    Preach it Laurie! Happiness is the key to life and nothing makes me more happy than balance. Being that Steady Eddie at work allows me to pursue so many other things that interest me: ice climbing, triathlons, being politically active, volunteering, school, reading, etc. That is the spice of life. Too much emphasis is put on climbing the corporate ladder, making more money, or pursuing a reputation in today’s world. I say take it easy, do great work, and enjoy your life.

  5. Joel Kimball says:

    This is funny and awesome. Pretty much like Laurie Ruettimann. And all our HR Director types are in their 50’s, but we’re a huge company, so PLENTY OF ROOM FOR EVERYONE! We just eliminated all the “developmental” opps in the downturn.

    You want me to do the same job again, for the third time? GREAT! I can do it in my sleep, and in forty hours a week! No promo – no problemo! See you at Autorama – I’ll be by the Rat Rod exhibit. Or, if you’re a masochist, you can keep trying to be moar awesomer and get the same stock and bonus. Whatever. “Teambuilding is for Suckers!!”

  6. Sally Mitchell says:

    I really like this. Have made the decision to move on myself recently to an HR role but with more of a commercial focus. A risk as current company is good and I get good benefits but a new challenge awaited.

  7. Tyler says:

    I’m currently working as HR and it wasn’t easy to get this job. I went trough at least 30 interviews before I got accepted. Either I didn’t like the company, or they weren’t satisfied with my experience. After I used this great tool it started to look better for me. So happy at my current job.

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