My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Downsized…

Job Search Human Resources Recruitment Career Concept

Well crew, I was downsized this summer. Ironically, my last post before this one was about the trouble in the energy industry and how employers in the industry are downsizing. The company I worked for is a uranium mining company and they are having a very difficult time in the current economic climate of the energy and uranium mining industries.

Sometime around May and June, things started getting, shall I say, very uncomfortable at work. My gut was telling me something unpleasant was about to happen soon.

Ultimately, my fears and intuition were accurate and I was sent packing along with approximately 20% of the company. They eliminated almost all of the administrative staff and several folks out at the mine. It was a rough day.

From what I understand, they are now down to a bare bones team to support and operate the mine. It was, in retrospect, something that needed to happen as the company has been struggling for several years hanging on and hoping the market would improve. We had even done earlier Reductions in Force.

Instead, the market continued to decline as the uranium spot price fell. It’s a great company with a lot of great people and I wish them the best and I really hope the market will improve soon!

Enough about my former company and on to the next phase of my life.

So now I’m without a job and looking for work. I’ve never been unemployed in my 32 year career. I knew exactly what I needed to do to find a job but I had never had to actually do it.

After taking a few days to lick my wounds, I brought up my resume, which I’ve been keeping updated every quarter, and wrote a cover letter. When I had these ready, I started my search by contacting several recruiters with whom I’ve worked with in the past. I searched on Linkedin, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and others as well as checking out the career pages of some organizations that interested me. I also contacted my network, who I’ve kept in touch with for years, and let them know my situation and asked them for help.

I was excited to get an interview right away with a tech company in the Denver area. They were looking for somebody with start-up HR experience. I built the HR function from the ground up at my former company so I was a prime candidate. I was thinking how great this would be to land a job within a month! No such luck. I went through the entire interview process and ended up a finalist along with one other candidate but lost out. Dang. Back to the drawing board.

My strategy is to apply to all the Senior HR jobs ranging from SR. HRBP to VP of HR. I’m applying for everything to which I’m qualified in organizations where I think I will be a great fit. I’m very interested in software and tech companies.

My thinking is that the more jobs to which I apply will make my resume and cover letter better as I refine and tailor each to the particular job description highlighting my experience and skills appropriate to that job. I’m also taking every interview in order to improve and refine my phone and face-to-face interviewing skills.

My initial resume and cover letter were modeled after a sample from a podcast that I think very highly of. Unfortunately, after getting only that one interview request out of the first 30 applications (a measly 3% return rate), I decided I needed to completely overhaul and re-tool both documents.

I did some online research and found some samples that caught my eye (key point) and modeled my new resume and cover letter from them. It was like night and day. From the 57 applications I sent out with my newly re-tooled resume and cover letter, I got 11 interviews (an excellent 19.3% return rate)! I kept refining this new version and finally hit on a winner as most of those 11 interview requests came through more recently and six of them are still active.

My philosophy is to simply jump in and start doing before everything is perfect. Before my resume and cover letter are perfect, before the perfect company has a job available, or before the perfect job pops up. If I waited for perfect, I would probably still be waiting. Instead, I learned from my mistakes, made improvements, and I now have six active interviews as of this posting.

I also learned that I’m a strong face-to-face interviewee but was a weak phone interviewee. Unfortunately, the phone interview is the screen for the face-to-face. I did poorly in the first few phone calls and was quickly rejected. So I changed and improved my phone interview technique after doing some research and tried out some new things. This resulted in several face-to-face interview opportunities.

Jumping in before anything was perfect and refining and trying new things until I got positive results are the best advice I can give you.  Don’t be afraid to put out something far from perfect (heck, look at this blog and podcast!). I can tell you the more you do it and work on improving as you receive feedback, the better the end result will be.

It’s a tough slog trying to find a senior level HR job. There are days when I feel depressed but I’m the type of person who has a natural positive and enthusiastic outlook on life. I just keep plugging along, working hard and knowing that I will find the right opportunity.

It keeps me going knowing I will find the organization that will be the right fit for me and for whom I will be the right fit for them.

Why I Sat for the SPHR-CA Certification Exam

HRCI_Purple-Red-LogoDuring the month of November and December, I was studying very hard for the SPHR-CA certification and was unable to devote the time I wanted here at HHHR.  In fact, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that I only posted a couple blog posts and released only one podcast!  Instead, I devoted the majority of my free time in the early mornings and after work to studying for the certification exam.

So, why in the world would I, an HR pro living and working in Colorado and Wyoming, decide to take the California SPHR certification?  My company has no employees in California and I don’t see any chance that we ever will. Why “waste” my time??

I have two reasons why I sat for the SPHR-CA certification.

First, I am a strong proponent of certifications, whether it is through HRCI or SHRM.  To quote HRCI, certifications “demonstrate relevance, competence, experience, credibility and dedication to human resources to your employers, clients, staff members and professional peers”.

I want to earn all the certifications I am eligible for.  I’m elegible for the SPHR-CA, so I decided to take it.  I would take the GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources) if I could but I have no international experience, making me not eligible, unfortunately.  I will also take the necessary steps in January to earn my SHRM-SCP.

Second, the CA certification gives me one more HR specific credential that I can leverage in the job market.  I believe each person is responsible for their careers.  You never know when you will be suddenly out of a job or a job opportunity of a lifetime presents itself.  You are responsible to be ready for these events.

In fact, what initially got me thinking about the California certification was two amazing HR executive opportunities that were presented to me through recruiters in 2013 and 2014.   Interestingly, both opportunities were based in Denver but had the majority of their employees working in California.  I explored both opportunities but, in the end, lacked the necessary California HR knowledge.

I love my current job, but as I’ve said before, I will always seriously consider and explore any great executive HR job opportunity.

So, with my decision made to take the exam, I purchased the study guide from SHRM this past summer and started studying.  I really hunkered down in November and December and sat for the test on the morning of December 15.  The test was just as difficult (maybe even more so since I have no CA HR experience) than the SPHR test.  It consisted of 125 questions and has a time limit of two hours and fifteen minutes.

The exam consists of four areas:

Compensation/Wage & Hour –  comprising 22% of the exam
Employment and Employee Relations – comprising 46% of the exam
Benefits and Leaves of Absence – comprising 20% of the exam
Health, Safety, and Workers Comp – comprising 12% of the exam

I memorized the definitions in the back of the SHRM study guide and I took and retook the quizzes at the back of each study section.  At the first of December, I put the book away and focused just on taking practice tests.  I took the practice test offered by HRCI and I found a great resource at HRCalifornia.  HRCalifornia has a great practice test and a fantastic and informative website.  I took advantage of their 15 day free trial and spent a great deal of time there learning things that were not covered by the  SHRM study guide.

Those of you who have taken an HRCI test, know that feeling of relief when the screen pops up telling you you passed at the end of the 2 1/2 hours!  What a great feeling!  As with the SPHR exam,  the California exam was so difficult, I thought I was surely flunking it as I was going along.  But its important to trust yourself and your preparation and be confident throughout.

So now I proudly hold the SPHR-CA certification.  There are only approximately 500 people in the US who do.  I don’t know if I will ever need it but but now I have it in case I do.  It gives me one more credential and expands my career opportunities should I ever need to look for another job or should a great executive HR job come my way again.

I highly recommend that you take the California certification for those who hold a PHR or an SPHR.

 

Funny Recruiting Experiences

Last year I was out on the road recruiting for candidates to staff our new uranium mine in Wyoming and thought it would be fun to share some of the funny and interesting things candidates said or did.

I received a phone message where the gentleman did not leave his name but rambled on about how he heard about the job. When he got to the end of his message, he instructed me to look at the caller ID on my phone to get his number and call him back…

I was interviewing a gentleman and a few minutes in, he asked to be excused to go to the bathroom.  I don’t know whether he had a medical problem or not but when he returned, after about five minutes, he proclaimed with a big grin on his face “Whew! That felt good!”…

I spoke with a young man and usually open my interviews with the question “What do you know about Ur-Energy?” (the name of my company – I like to see if they did any preparation work).  He looked at me funny and asked “Why the hell do you want to know about my energy?”…

Makes you wonder.

A Case Against “Industry Experience Required”

As HR leaders, we’ve all seen the job postings for  where we know we would be a perfect fit for the job – except for when we come across that dreaded statement: Industry Experience Required  – or something similar.  Despite the fact that we meet the required education, years of HR experience, certification, etc., they won’t even look at our cover letter and resume because we never worked in their industry.

I once heard an executive proudly declare at a meeting that his organization’s industry is “all about the people” – as if other industries are not “all about the people.”  I know he’s very proud of what he does and the industry he has worked in his entire career.   So that’s all he knows.

Most recruiters and executives think their industry’s human resource requirements are so unique that only HR leaders with experience in their industry could understand.  They have a bias against candidates who don’t have experience in their industry. 

I get it.  They don’t know any better and it’s just easier for them.

Having been someone who has changed careers and industries, I can tell you from experience, how valuable it can be to bring a fresh and creative perspective to the table. 

Now before getting into my case against Industry Experience Required, I can’t stress strongly enough about how important it is for HR leaders to know their business – I even wrote a series of articles about it here.

Here are two points that support the case against “Industry Experience Required”:

First, bringing in an HR leader from a different industry gives the organization somebody with a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes that can see past the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  Being able to offer a different HCM perspective to the organization’s strategic planning will set the organization apart from its peers and may help establish it as the employer of choice in their industry.  One that is different and more creative than other employers.

I came from the stores organization of a major department store chain and routinely planned and executed major hiring blitzes every Fall for the Holiday Season for my store.   In my new role in the mining industry, I was able to use that expertise when it came time to hire and staff our new mine in less than a month and a half.

Second, people are people when it comes to dealing with the HR performance and conduct problems. It does not matter if they are a retail sales or support associate or a highly educated engineer or scientist.  They all have their “issues”.   I deal with nearly the exact same problems with highly educated engineers and scientists as I did with retail sales and support associates.  People are people. 

So, I’ve defined the issue and given two reasons why I think Industry Experience Required for HR leaders is ineffective.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

In future posts, I intend to explore how we can overcome this bias.

Hard Hat Talent Management Strategy

One of the very first things I did when I started working as a Hard Hat HR Pro was to develop and install a comprehensive talent management strategy.  The strategy consists of a sophisticated and integrated system that helps create a culture of high expectation and excellent performance if executed correctly by HR and supervisors.

The Hard Hat Talent Management Strategy consists of the following elements which I will explain in more detail in future posts. None of this is theory. All of these elements have been used in the real world for many years and have been fined tuned – and will continue to be fine tuned as appropriate.  Some of the elements are pretty straight forward and some may surprise you because they are counter to conventional wisdom.

  1. Recruiting and Hiring Strategy
    • Recruiting
    • Interviewing
    • Hiring
    • Orientation
    • On-boarding
  2. Performance Management
    • Annual Performance Appraisal
    • 90 Day Performance Appraisal
    • Annual Objective Setting
    • Mid Year Objective Setting Review
    • Annual Talent Review Meeting
    • Succession Planning
  3. Responsibility Based Performance
    • Feedback and recognition
    • Reminder 1 and 2 (disciplinary system)
    • Decision Making Leave
  4. Training
    • Safety
    • Harassment Prevention
    • Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention
    • Understanding FLSA regulations

Recruiting Adventures

I’ve been out recruiting heavily for candidates to staff our processing plant in Wyoming this week and want to share some of the funny and interesting things candidates for the job do.  These are examples of what not to do.

I received a phone message on Monday where the gentleman did not leave his name but rambled on about how he heard about the job and when he got to the end of his message, he instructed me to look at my caller ID to get his number and call him back…

I was interviewing a gentleman and at about five minutes in, he asked to be excused to go to the bathroom.  I don’t know if he had a medical problem or not but when he returned, after about five minutes, he proclaimed “That feels much better!”…

I spoke with a young man and usually open my interviews with the question “What do you know about Ur-Energy?” (the name of my company – I like to see if they did any preparation work).  He looked at me funny and asked “Why do you want to know about my energy?”…

These are just a few funny examples of what not to do.  I have to say, however, there were many more candidates who were prepared and professional and a pleasure to talk with.

This is a re-post from www.RichBoberg.com