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The Best Career Advice I Ever Received

Having worked in recruiting and HR for as long as I have, I typically get asked for a lot of advice from people when it comes to all things resumes, job search and careers.   The questions typically range from what to put on a resume to how to find their “perfect” job. I try and do my best to advise and point people in the right direction.

Career Advice Image

The challenge, of course, for most people, is that when they are asking me for advice, it is often because they have either just lost their job and need a new one, or they have just graduated from school and need a job or they have reached a breaking point in their current job and need to make a change – ASAP. The problem is that none of these circumstances are ideal for giving and receiving great career advice. Quite often at this stage people are looking for a magical pill that will enable them to find a great paying job immediately. Believe you me, if I had that kind of pill or capability I would have patented it and became a millionaire by now!

Seriously though, what I wanted to share with you in this blog post was the best career advice I had ever received so that you can then apply this advice in your own personal and professional lives. I try and relay this advice to anyone that cares to ask/listen if they serious about their career development and truly want the best advice they can get. Here is the tricky part though, the best advice I have ever received is very simple in its message, yet very complicated in its application. It goes like his:

Many years ago I was lucky enough to find a great mentor. He was always very generous with his time, advice and coaching. Early on in my career, just shortly after graduating from university, he gave me the best career advice I had ever received. To this day, I have never forgotten his words and I still apply this in my professional life today. What he told me was this: You need to be continuously managing your own career and your personal brand – no one else is going to do that for you.

He was trying to instill in me a sense of career ownership and to not expect a company or manager to do this for me or expect them to “promote” me into a job, just because it was something I was interested in or wanted. As my mentor, I will always be grateful for him driving home the point with me about needing to manage my own brand. To this day, I advise people that they need to make decisions in the best interest of YOUR NAME INC. When you look at potential career opportunities or paths, you need to decide if it is in YOUR best interest to pursue it and will it add to your own personal brand. Each career decision you make is all about building your professional portfolio of knowledge, skills and abilities. The more you invest in this, the greater the value of your professional brand.

Here is the crazy part, the concept of continuously managing one’s career is often a foreign concept for most people. The majority of people that I speak to don’t typically give this any thought until, as mentioned above, they actually need a job. Here is the irony of this – the best time to be managing your career is now, this instant (when you are hopefully employed), as in start doing it now!

What I mean is that you need to be having career discussions with your manager now. You need to take control of this situation and drive the conversation – don’t wait for your manager to come to you and offer you a promotion or even ask you what you want to be when you grow up. Your manager is probably pretty content, and rightly so, to have you continue to do good work in the job you are in now – as that makes their life easier! You need to identify what you want, then ask your manager what it will take to get you there.

At the same time, you also need to take control of your career and invest in your personal brand. Not on LinkedIn…? Better join now – it isn’t some fad that is going away! Join some groups, participate in discussions. Do you have great ideas? Then why not start a blog? Get out and network. Reach out to former colleagues that you haven’t spoken with in some time. You will find they will be more receptive to your phone call (yes, I said phone call) if you aren’t hitting them up with “I need a job.” Volunteer, get involved with a cause you believe in. Invest in your network and you will find there is an ROI when you need it most. The bottom line is this; there is no better time than now to start managing your own career and your personal brand. Remember, if you don’t do it, no one else will. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net



8 Simple Secrets to HR Success

HR Career adviceIn my ongoing campaign to help equip and support our current and upcoming HR Pros, I wanted to share some simple ‘secrets’ that I hope will help you/them in your/their current and upcoming roles within HR. At the end of the day, much like many professions, what you “know” in terms of your HR expertise can be learned. In fact, the interesting thing about HR, is that people with many diverse educational backgrounds can and do “learn” HR. Now this doesn’t necessarily make them “good” at HR, the same way that someone who has a degree/diploma in HR doesn’t automatically become “good” at HR either.

In my experience though, there are a handful of things that HR Pros can do to realize success in their careers and it has nothing to do with your (direct) HR knowledge. Here are some simple secrets to HR career success:

  1. Continuously build relationships – as an HR Pro, your organizational influence goes as far as your internal network and relationships that you have built. To that extent, you need to always be building and nurturing relationships – at all levels. Whether it is with your boss, the head of the organization, departmental heads, line staff or most importantly, the receptionists and admin assistants…you need to build those relationships!
  2. Discretion and confidentiality – if you can’t maintain these two things and/or be known for your ability to be discrete and confidential, you won’t have a long career in HR.
  3. Always be learning – keep learning about your company’s products and services. Keep up to date on your industry, your competitors and the governmental landscape. Of course, it goes without saying, keep up to date in the changes in your profession. As an HR Pro, if you aren’t learning, you aren’t relevant.
  4. Find trusted advisors – whether internal or external to your company, you need to have a small network of folks that you can go to for advice and to act as a sounding board for you. Without breaking confidentiality, you need to be able to go to some key folks for counsel, to throw ideas against the wall and to get some advice of your own. Make sure you build this into your support network.
  5. Find a work buddy or two – HR can be a lonely place. You don’t want to be seen as the company stooge and nor are you the employee advocate. You need to balance the two interests. To that extent, HR can be awfully lonely sometimes. Find a workplace buddy or two that you can decompress with. This should be someone at your level or above. Again, nothing that betrays confidentiality, but someone you can talk to, to show your human side. Your mental health will thank you for it.
  6. Be present and available – in terms of your dealings with staff and managers, you are ALWAYS being watched and judged. That is, staff is looking to see if you are being genuine and interested in their concerns and issues. You need to actively listen and have a vested interest in what they are telling you. The quickest way to NOT have employees talk to you – show them you are not interested (bored) in what they are saying. Once employees stop talking to you, you will no longer have the pulse of your organization.
  7. Hang out with the smokers – no seriously, I learned this one early on in my career and one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sackett, has reinforced this idea as well. I am not telling you to start smoking or inhale 2nd smoke, but the more smokers you know and talk to, the more you will know about your company and what is going on. At the very least, if you are a manager, make sure one of your HR employees does this. I once had an HR Manager work for me who was a smoker and I tell you, I was NEVER caught off guard with what was going in inside our organization!
  8. Be known for getting sh*t done – this can be done in a variety of ways, but you will realize a lot of organizational success if you can be known as the HR person that gets stuff done. “Stuff” can be as simple as making a decision. No kidding – take ownership of something and make a damn decision – your employees and managers will love you for it. Don’t be known as the HR person that has to run EVERYTHING up through 3 layers of management – they could do that themselves. Make a decision, remove an obstacle or facilitate something. Be the HR Pro that knows a bit about setting up a basic website, or setting up audio equipment or troubleshooting some basic IT issues. I am not kidding – having a bit of knowledge in some other area not related to HR instantly boosts your credibility and organizational utility.

What about you? I would be interested in knowing what other secrets you have that have allowed you to realize HR success. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My Advice to New HR Grads

For most universities and colleges, spring graduation season has now come and gone. Hopefully many of the recent grads have been able to find work that is linked to their field of study. Over the past few months, I had the privilege of being able to speak with a few upcoming HR grads as they prepared to enter the workforce. A lot of them were experiencing a bit of angst about getting their first HR job and just as importantly, they wanted to know what they needed to “really” do to be a good HR “business partner.”

GraduateI probed a bit to find out what their understanding of the term is and was as anytime someone, especially a junior HR Pro, uses the words “business partner” the hair on the back of my neck stands up a bit. You see, I believe as a profession, HR people have been adding silly labels and heaping on ridiculous amounts of self-deprecation on our profession over the past 5+ years. You know what mean, people in HR always saying that, “everyone in HR needs to be strategic in their role.” “HR people all need to be sitting at the table.” (*groan*) and most importantly, everyone has to be an “HR Business Partner.” There are no more HR Generalists, HR Coordinators or HR Consultants (unless you are independent). We have got it drilled into our profession that you immediately have to be a “business partner” as in that is your title vs. something that you do as part of your role.

Depending on what and who you read, this definition of HR business partner has a variety of meanings. Some HR folks make it out to be the ultimate catch all HR role/title – but mostly it means you are playing some incredible strategic role in your company whereby you are developing revolutionary people strategies and programs that result in leading edge turnover and engagement scores. Simply put, if you aren’t a “business partner” than you ain’t much. I have previously blogged about this topic before so I won’t go on an additional rant; however, I think bloggers like Laurie Ruettimann (please check out her blog) provide a really good perspective on what it means to do good HR, which then means you are adding value. Simply put, be ethical, be transparent, make sure people get treated with respect, make sure they get paid fairly, represent your company honestly and understand the environment your company operates in so you can properly advise. (i.e. labour laws, human rights, etc.)

All of those things are the basic tenants of good HR. In other words, if you do that and your people are getting paid on time you are keeping the proverbial trains running on time and that is how you are adding value. Not everyone gets to be strategic and drive the vision for the company for the next 20 years. However, good HR work (like I mentioned) adds A LOT of value, more so because, for some reason, many in our profession overlook this work that they do as being valuable. So why do we feel the need to label ourselves as business partners? Has anyone heard of a “Marketing Business Partner?” An “I.T. Business Partner?” What about a “Finance Business Partner.” Believe it or not, if you Google those terms, those titles do exist, but not near to the extent of HR Business Partner. Additionally, these groups also don’t seem so fixated on the term and presenting themselves as such as compared to what HR is doing to itself.

Here is the thing, anyone that provides enabling support to their company has to be a business partner in some capacity. So new HR grads, here is the best (free) advice you are going to get:

  • Focus on doing the things I mentioned earlier in this post so that you can keep the trains running on time. If you do this, please take solace in the fact that you are doing GOOD HR WORK! We need people like you in all organizations that are focused on this.
  • Don’t get caught up in the labels that exist that current HR Pros have been creating and placing on their own kind. Don’t worry about the title and status of “business partner.” If ever in doubt, refer to the bullet number one.
  • If you want to add value and be seen as a true partner, than the first thing you do is to volunteer for a project in another department. Don’t worry if it isn’t “HR related” on its face. Ultimately, it is all HR related (that is a professional secret you must keep to yourself). Immerse yourself with another department. Help marketing out with an upcoming campaign. Volunteer to assist with their social media strategies. Lead and support Engineering’s technical briefing sessions.  Develop the change management plan for I.T. as they rollout a new operating system. It doesn’t matter, the best thing you can do for your new career is attach yourself to a non-HR project.

Bottom line, by simply stepping outside of the HR Dept. (and your comfort zone) and immersing yourself into the challenges and problems of another department, you will be adding value. You will gain the respect of your operations clients. You will, in fact, be a true business partner…just don’t call yourself that, let your operations clients call you that, if they feel so inclined. Remember, you are an HR Professional. Be proud of that and let’s all agree on one thing as HR Pros – that is, to stop making all of this so hard for our profession. As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

Find Your Passion & Fuel your Profession

The reality for far too many people in the workforce today is that they feel trapped in their jobs. They want to do something else, they feel their skillsets aren’t being fully utilized, or overall they feel a disconnect with the company they work for. If you read enough career management articles and blog posts, most of them will tell you to find something else, quit your job, make the change, you only live once, etc. The truth for a lot of folks is that they simply can’t do that. They can’t (or maybe won’t) for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The job provides a nice work/life balance
  • Their current commute is very manageable
  • The first two points are important to them as they have parental or elder care responsibilities
  • They enjoy the people they work with (not necessarily for)
  • They have been with the company a long time and don’t want to give up their pension or other accrued retirement benefits
  • The medical plan is great and it supports their current personal situation
  • They are scared of change and “starting over”

FlamesI know that at first glance, some (or all) of these reasons may look like excuses from the outside looking in. The truth is that without fully understanding a person’s circumstance, these may all be very valid reasons to not change jobs and no, that isn’t a cop out. People reach certain major milestones in their lives (student debt paid off, 1st child, sick kids/daycare, 1st child to college, aging parents, etc.) that drive a lot of their career decision making.

Here is the thing, it is my opinion (and it is only that, an opinion) that in most cases, there is no such thing as a perfect job. There is no ultimate job and company were you get to use your full skillset day in and day out AND you have a great boss that gives you autonomy and independence but provides a great level of coaching and guidance AND the company has a super inclusive benefits package AND you have a phenomenal work-life balance AND you have the most awesome co-workers ever AND you are paid top of market wages. Usually one or two of these things are a bit out of alignment or have some imperfections, so we all have to figure what the most important things are to us. The great thing about going through is exercise is that the final outcome or decision might not be that your job sucks or that you have to change, it is that once you realize what is important to you, you may realize that your current situation might not be that bad!

Here is the real beauty of all of this – there are ways to make your current job better and it is something that you can fully control. I am a big believer in aligning yourself with your profession (assuming it is your chosen profession). So, if you find your overall job is not giving you everything you need, it may not be a matter of moving on, but of finding your passion and fueling your profession. What I mean, it that you need to find ways to get more involved with others in your profession. Perhaps it is via professional development lunches, dinners and other networking events. It could also be through chamber of commerce events, via a volunteer board of directors or even start out by connecting via social media. Get out of your comfort zone and your office and look beyond the four walls of current office. There is a great big world out there that you can be a part of that will enrich your overall work experience. Think of all of this as building and enhancing your professional brand.

Other ways to give back to your profession, that you can own and drive, include doing things like speaking and presenting at the aforementioned events as well as at conferences. Do you have something to share? Then speak about it! Give back to your profession. Align with your profession. Fuel your profession by finding your passion! Take all those great ideas you have and things you want to try and speak about them. Position yourself as a person of knowledge and ultimately influence in your profession. Develop your brand and accelerate your exposure through LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Start a blog and write about some of these things. There are many great ways to move beyond the mundane if you are feeling trapped. Take control of your career. Remember, you own your career and your profession – fuel them! As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Photo courtesy of arztsamui/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My Advice to new HR Pros

I recently had an exchange of emails with one of the readers of The Armchair HR Manager who also happens to be a LinkedIn connection of mine. She wrote to me about a recent post on my blog that had triggered some serious career introspection on her part. She is a young, up and coming, HR professional who is still in her first HR job since graduating from school. She was experiencing a lot of different emotions about her career, specifically about what she was doing (in her job/career) and who she was doing it for. I was fortunate enough to be able to provide her with a bit of advice about expectations and evaluating current and future positions, which I think set her in the right frame of mind as she began to consider her next career move.

The entire exchange, I thought, was fantastic as:

  1. I always enjoy conversing with my readership, LinkedIn connections and any HR Professionals.
  2. It provided me inspiration for this post as I really got to thinking about what it was like when I was first starting out in my HR career and you get to that point when you begin to wonder about making a move.
  3. It inspired me to think of what advice I could give new HR pros and what I would have wanted to know when I first started out.

AdviceSo I got to thinking, in the spirit of helping out the new(er), up and coming HR Pros, what advice could I give them that I would have wanted 17 years ago? First of all, I think it is reasonable to expect that after a year or so in your first HR role, it is normal to start to feel the need to move on or want a change – this could either be from the company you work for, although that may not always be the case, or the actual role you are in.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need/should move on, but the feeling is normal and it is cause for some professional and personal evaluation. Remember, it never hurts to dip a toe in the water to see what is out there. As well, just because you interview for another position, doesn’t mean you have to or are going to take it.

A lot of recent HR grads usually get their first role in some sort of HR Coordinator type role, or they cut their teeth in recruiting. For those in coordinator roles, they often quickly outgrow the administrative nature of these roles. If you are an HR Coordinator in a larger HR department, this type of role probably allowed you to get oriented on how HR is done in the ‘real’ world vs. what you learned in school/case studies. In your first HR role, you learned about corporate culture, bad managers and transactional HR work. It is now normal to want to spread your wings and try something new as your confidence has increased a lot over a year and you are probably feeling underutilized in your current position – these are all normal feelings at this stage in your career.

For those in recruiting roles, it is pretty normal to want to make a shift into an HR Generalist type of role early on in your career. HR grads that start out in recruiting learn pretty quickly if they want to make a career out of being in the talent acquisition world or if they want to broaden into more of a generalist role dealing with talent management, payroll/benefits, employee relations, etc. There is nothing wrong with staying in one area or the other, it is just pretty normal to want to move from recruiting into HR within the first year or so of it being in your first job after school.

It is also normal after a year or two out of school, and in your first HR role, to want to move on from your current organization. Often, after graduating, you are so happy just to have a job, things like the company you work for and/or the person you work for are irrelevant to you. You need a job and want experience, so where and who you work for fall down the list of importance.

After 18 months or so on the job, you can get a good feel for those elements and start to incorporate them into your next move. You are now able to better define what you want in your next move in terms of role, company, culture, etc. Keep in mind, it is hard to replace getting some solid HR experience on your resume, so you have to strike the balance in this area (of role vs. company). Remember, most organizations out there aren’t Google’s or Microsoft’s in terms of what they offer!

Working in ‘difficult’ organizations and/or dealing with difficult situations early on in your career is a great resume builder. Having had exposure to things like terminations, layoffs and re-structuring, policy development and performance management in the early stages of your career are great foundational experiences. You can port them from job to job and industry to industry. In the early, formative years of your HR career, it is all about building up your HR toolkit and gaining exposure to as many areas of HR as you can. Once the toolkit has built up, you can be more selective about who hires you to utilize this toolkit!

The last piece of advice I would give new(er) HR Pros, and that I wish I could have given myself 17 years ago, was to make sure you are always working on your professional brand and building your network(s). Your professional brand requires a lot of work and it is of the utmost value to you. How you network, develop yourself and interact with your HR colleagues and operations clients is all part of your professional brand. Now with the substantial role and influence that social media has in our lives, your online presence makes up a huge part of your professional brand.

For the up and coming HR pros, you have an incredible opportunity to build your brand through tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Keep in mind, everything you do (personal and professional) formulates part of your brand. There is no division any more between the two – personal IS professional and vice versa. Always be mindful of how you represent yourself – your brand is your most valuable commodity. It is my hope that some of this resonates with the new(er) HR Pros out there and that it serves as some high level guidance for you. I welcome and other questions you may have and as always I welcome any of your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am challenging myself to be a better HR Pro in 2015

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions. Personally, I feel that they are often just emotional, generic statements that we say/write down in order to make ourselves feel going into a new year. You know, “I resolve to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, meet new people, volunteer, etc. But hey, that’s just my opinion based on personal experience! However, in terms of my professional life, I am a firm believer in establishing some short to mid-term goals that help me focus my energy and efforts so as to make me a better HR Professional.

ChallengeFor example, at the end of 2011, I had established a goal of increasing my social media presence on Twitter. I wanted to do this so as to expand my network of professional contacts, give back to the HR community in terms of content sharing, help promote my personal brand and increase my online recruiting ability/presence. My mid-term to longer term goal for 2012 and into 2013/14 was to start my own blog as a means of sharing my voice (writing) with the HR community and as another way to give back. At the end of each year, I have felt pretty good about what I set out to do and where I landed.

For 2015, I was having a real tough time deciding on what professional goal(s) to set for myself. Then it hit me – I need to focus on becoming a better overall HR Professional in 2015. When I look back on the last year or so and did some self-reflecting, I feel that I have been a bit too complacent as an HR Pro. No, wait that might be a bit too harsh. Let’s say I have gotten a bit too “comfortable” as an HR Pro. Looking back as well as ahead I have determined that I need to stretch myself more as an HR Pro. I really want to challenge myself more within the context of my profession. Whether or not you believe in New Year’s resolutions, goals, statements or whatever you want to call them, who is with me in thinking that we, as HR Pros, can all challenge ourselves to be better HR Pros in 2015?

Personally, here is what this will mean for me:

  1. I am going to focus on improving my presentation and public speaking skills. I always thought I did a pretty good of this (speaking & presenting), but having been asked to speak more and more within the HR community last year AND having experienced first-hand good speakers, I realized I really do need to improve in these areas.
  2. Speak/present more to non-HR groups. I realized during the latter stages of 2014 that if I truly want to enhance the value and visibility of the HR profession, I need to stop hanging out so much with HR people! Now, I don’t mean as an absolute. I love my HR peeps and love talking shop (HR geek alert) with anyone in the profession; however, I feel as a member of the HR community, I have a responsibility to promote the value of the profession to non-HR folks. Therefore, my goal is to speak/present more to other professions, industry groups and associations that are NOT focused on HR professionals.
  3. Get out of my office more. I didn’t realize how focused I had become on my own “HR work” in 2014. With trying to balance so many projects, deadlines and deliverables, I had become a slave to my office. In previous years, I had always made it a point to get out and speak with staff in their office/cube, work setting, etc. I had also met with many industry colleagues at their place of work or at a coffee shop – just to touch base and talk shop. In 2014 I had gotten away from that and in 2015 I intend to change that. I think a huge part of being an HR Pro is to be ‘seen’ out where the work is being done. Employees and managers need to know that you understand them and their business challenges. That all starts by being out where the work is being done. I “resolve” to get back to doing that again!

There you have it, three short term goals for 2015 that I think are do-able do’s. Hopefully as fellow HR Pros reading this, you are thinking, “yeah, I can do that to!” So, I want to throw the challenge out there to my fellow HR colleagues to see if we can all challenge ourselves to be better HR Pros in 2015 in our own individual and unique ways. Who is with me?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want to grow, you have to stretch

Career development is one of the more frequent topics of conversation I have with employees, potential employees, colleagues, friends and family members. It means different things to different people, of course; however, I have noticed a bit of a disturbing ‘theme’ permeating throughout many of the conversations I have been having over the past 6-12 months. For many people, I have found that their definition of career development is that it is a series of incremental steps that they have to take in order to get paid more money. I also have heard from folks that they view career development as taking on assignments that can showcase with skills. To both of those groups I say – wrong! If you are thinking of career development as ‘steps’ you need to complete in order to get more cash, then we need to get you into a better mindset in terms of career development and I am hoping this post might do that! However, if you view career development as a series of (progressive) opportunities, job assignments, etc. to help build and grow your knowledge, skills and abilities, than I think you are in the right place.

Stretch ImageIn good employer/employee or manager/employee relationships, this type of dialogue (around career development) takes place on a regular basis. Both manager and employee set developmental goals, the manager provides the opportunities for the employee and then success is measured and feedback provided to the employee. If you are moving your career (development) in the right direction, there are going to be times when those assignments, opportunities and experiences you have been tasked with can get downright scary! If it does, that means you are stretching yourself. What I mean is that if you are experiencing those feelings of discomfort because you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, then that is a good thing. It means you are learning and growing professionally because of the stretch assignment(s) or opportunity you have been presented and challenged with completing.

Let’s be clear – taking on new/different assignments that don’t cause you to sweat a bit, lose a bit of sleep or at the very least give you some heartburn are NOT helping you to grow your career or develop you professionally. When growing, and taking on stretch assignments, this means you are doing/learning/being exposed to things you have never been exposed to before. Perhaps you are now in charge of people? Or maybe you have budgetary accountability now? Or maybe even you have to speak/present in front of groups of people? All of these things are ways that you could be stretching your abilities and GROWING your career!

So, the next time the topic of career development comes up between you and your manager, make sure you are working from the definition above. That is, the assignment must cause you to stretch yourself in some capacity. If you are developing, you need to be stretching yourself at all times. Take on assignments that cause you to work and think differently, interact with different people and at a different level, communicate differently and that cause you to apply what you have learned differently. Step outside of your comfort zone and realize that what got you to where you are now may not get you any further in your career.

The key is that if you truly want to develop your career, then you have to make sure you are challenging yourself at each opportunity. You can’t mitigate all (career) risk by only doing things that you know 100% for sure you can successfully do. Sometimes you need to fail to learn. Think of the process as a career exercise: Stretch & Grow & Fail & Stretch & Succeed….then repeat…..over and over. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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