Moving Ahead in the HR Field

You Learn by Doing: Eight Steps to Get Ahead in the Human Resources Field

Human resources is an exciting and dynamic field.  It is common to see a high potential employee from sales or marketing or operations rotating through HR to gain additional experience and leadership insight.  Conversely, there are many up and coming HR leaders who end up rotating through different departments to broaden their background and gain extensive business knowledge.  It follows that Chief Human Resource Officers serve as key members of the senior leadership team and report directly to the Chief Executive Officer.  As a result, HR leaders not only need to be insightful in the most progressive HR practices, but they also need to understand the business in order to effectively contribute as a member of the executive team.

 

As a younger member of the HR community, you might find yourself asking, “What can I do to set myself apart and get ahead?” Follow these eight steps for a rewarding career in HR:

 

  • Seek diverse assignments:  Serve in both generalist and specialist roles, including supporting a business unit as a generalist.  Perhaps, take on a talent management role in order to gain compensation experience.  The goal is to diversify your skills to build a better career.
  • Go outside your comfort zone:  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  You gain strength and confidence through your experiences with fear and uncertainty.  Try volunteering for upcoming projects at the office or accept a global or ex-pat assignment.  It is a global world and the more experience you have in understanding other business cultures, the wiser you will become in supporting your business.  Say yes to new experiences, it has the potential to lead to wonderful things and a more fulfilling life.
  • Raise your hand:  Success does not come to those who wait.  Make sure to volunteer to serve on committees or projects, especially if it involves cross-functional teams.  You will continue to learn, build relationships, and get noticed.
  • Build relationships:  It might sound obvious, but take the time to get to know your HR colleagues; you will need each other along your journey.  In addition, build relationships across the business and at all levels.  The more you go out of your way to help others, the more it will come back to you in spades.
  • Be open to taking a side step:  Sometimes there are limited promotional opportunities within your company and it might feel as if you are slowing down.  If so, can you take on additional responsibilities?  Do not just tread water or remain stagnant, keep learning.
  • Gain diverse industry experience:  Just as you want to diversify your skillset, you want to select the companies and industries you work for carefully and deliberately.  Ensure you are working at companies with strong, strategic leaders who can help you grow.  At the same time, don’t be a job hopper.  Too much movement is a turn off to most hiring executives.  Think through your career moves wisely.
  • Remain positive:  Remember that energy is contagious.  When you remain positive, you will find yourself being more productive and others will seek you out for advice and counsel.  Be one of the “can do” people.
  • Work on your interpersonal skills:  Seek out and observe the most successful managers.  Notice any recurring themes?  Most likely, they will have excellent communication skills, both speaking and listening.  The most authentic, caring managers tend to be the most effective leaders.  Learn from them and practice what they do well.

 

In the end, serving as a key member of a human resources team can be a rewarding career path.  If you are focused on the business and support its growth or changes, you will be ahead of the curve.  It is important to learn by doing, to read about the interesting things that are happening in the field, and to talk to inspiring leaders.  These steps will help round out your business experience and make you an effective manager that others want to work with and for.  Developing and honing these skills will get you noticed by others within and outside your company, propelling you into a more successful career.

Sally Stetson
Sally brings more than two decades of experience as an executive search consultant. She has worked across diverse industries including life sciences and pharmaceutical, healthcare systems, manufacturing, telecommunications, non-profit and professional services. The Philadelphia Business Journal named Sally as one of its "2006 Women of Distinction", and as one of SmartCEO Magazine's 2010 BRAVA! Women Business Achievement award winners.

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