I don’t know about you, but I would have killed for someone to sit me down when I started my career in HR and simply tell me how to be successful. Of course, success means different things to most people. For me, starting out and in grad school—it was about making money! And if I’m honest, it was about making more money than my boyfriend who had a degree in finance. Some say I’m competitive.
Over the next 20+ years, I learned success in my chosen profession was about much more than money (although it always remained in the top 4). It was about how I felt at the beginning and end of each day.
Here’s what I would say to anyone looking to ensure their success in HR—or frankly any profession:
- Get Dirty. Never ask your team to do something you haven’t already done or are willing to do side-by-side. Get in the weeds now and then and validate processess or look for ways to improve the basics. Hammer out a spreadsheet or two. Stay late stuffing the RIF packets. Source for a tough-to-fill role.
- Develop Thick Skin. You will inevitably work at a company that thinks HR sucks. You’ll be thrown under the bus. Relatives will question what you do all day. Jokes will be made at your expense. So what? It happens in every profession. Be tough, learn how to laugh and repurpose the negativity to your advantage.
- Don’t Compare Your Paycheck to Others. You can. You will. Nothing good will ever come from it.
- Go Beyond HR. Intellectual curiosity is the key to progressing in HR. As such, you need to branch out and learn something complimentary to HR. Project management for example. I promise—at some point you will be given a system implementation, an employment branding task, or an integration project that will require more than knowledge of Excel.
- Just Say No. To party planning, facilities management, policing any sort of dress code, to owning payroll and to blue pantsuits.
- Learn How to Recruit. I will be honest. I underestimated the importance of this particular skill in HR when I first started out, probably because I was an HR Generalist spending half my day recruiting yet yearning to do more “important” work like comp surveys. I know. I was delusional. Finding, attracting and landing talent is an organization’s oxygen. Without it, you’re dead. It is THAT important.
- Be Proud of What You Do—Or Get the Hell Out. I actually interviewed somone recently who bagged on the HR profession for most of our conversation. Finally I asked him why he’d want to be associated with something he had such a low opinion of. He couldn’t answer me and our discussion came to an abrupt end. If you can’t get excited about what you do and why you do it, go figure out something else to do.
Success will take many forms over the course of a career. A meaningful career in HR is definitely about evolution and adaptability, but it’s also about these basic elements we often discount.
Do a newbie a favor and don’t talk about “seats at a table” before thinking back to how you started out and what made you feel successful at the end of your day.
Kathy Rapp is the CEO of hrQ where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent for permanent or project roles across the country. Prior to joining hrQ Kathy booked more than 15 years of diverse HR leadership experience working in F500s and start-up organizations. A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent insights can be gleamed from the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen and AC/DC.