Life lessons from (almost) 30 years in HR

Highs and Lows are part of every career 

I wrote a post on my old blog back in January 2010 called Life Lessons from 25 years in Human Resources. I recently had occasion to revisit that post when someone reached out to me for some help in discussing a career change.  Apparently, changing jobs and posting the news on Facebook qualifies you as someone with wisdom and experience.

I referred them to this article, and I added some new thoughts from the last (almost) five years.

My career advice

  1. The kind of work you are doing matters a lot. If you want to be happy, you better be doing something you enjoy, believe in and feel passionate about. I’m not saying “do what you love”. Most people can’t get paid for surfing or shopping for Manolo Blahnik heels.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of giving everything to your work. Work is NOT everything, even though you may fervently believe that it is for you. You’re wrong. Work isn’t the most important thing. You don’t get back life moments though, and you should cash those chips in with great care.
  3. Where you do the work matters a lot. Make sure that the company you choose to work for has the resources and culture fit that will allow you to do your best work.  It’s a critical detail that often gets hidden behind a great reputation or an awesome salary offer.  And never ever pick a job based strictly on location

Here are my lessons learned.

1986 – How to deal with difficult people.  The value of innovation and compromise.

1987 – The danger of failing to have all the information required in making a significant life decision.

1988 – The value of working with professional HR colleagues.

1989 – The value of being an integrated HR practitioner.

1990 – That you should value the exceptional opportunity and work group more than your future career early in your career.

1991 – The secrets of meticulous preparation, and how that can both add and detract from conducting negotiations.

1992 – That managing people is challenging, and not always what you expect it to be.

1993 – That you really need to know what you are talking about before you open your mouth.  That if you open your mouth at the right time, amazing things can be accomplished.

1994 – That the secret to work/life balance is finding out that there is some sort of life out there beyond work.  Also, that a long business death is not something that I choose to be a part of.

1995 – That you really need to consider location as a factor when accepting a new career opportunity.   Location alone can make the grass look browner!

1996 – HR can have a seat at the head of the table, but if you want to keep it, it won’t happen via fear and intimidation.

1997 – Flexibility, agility, innovation and compromise are the keys to surviving in a business downturn.  If given a chance to re-invent your organization, don’t squander it.

1998 – That you can come back home again, and everything will be different while remaining very much the same.

1999 – That sometimes a job interview is just a job interview, and sometimes a job interview is a life altering experience.

2000 –  That sometimes you have to make negative change in the short term in order to generate long term positive change.

2001 – That it is a very difficult transition to make to a new boss when you had been working for the best boss you had ever had.

2002 –  Employees that are treated well will almost always choose alignment with the goals of an excellent company.

2003 – You can develop personal relationships in the workplace with colleagues and not have it be detrimental to your role as an HR practitioner.

2004 – Out of the most trying personal and professional times of your life, amazing new opportunities will arise.

2005 –  Even unemployment by choice sucks.  It requires some risk to reinvent yourself, but ultimately it is worth it.

2006 –  Developing a global perspective is an imperative for HR professionals.  Networking as well.

2007 – Building a culture of innovation, creativity, and fun is a difficult process, but ultimately worthwhile.

2008 –  Having expertise in social media and web research are career differentiators in human resources.

2009  – Influence is earned and can be wielded in many suprisingly different ways.

2010 – The evolution continues!

2011 – Getting involved in professional groups builds your network and opens doors professionally.

2012 – Take a different assignment outside your comfort zone if you want to grow.

2013 – Sometimes you have to go back to your roots to find your true path.

2014 – Laser focus on one key objective while embracing a multitude of paths leads to unexpected results. It’s the end game that matters, not how you get there.

2015 – The evolution continues!

The most powerful themes running consistently running through the past quarter century are as follows:

  • trust
  • agility
  • credibility
  • innovation
  • strong culture
  • flexibility
  • compromise
  • approachability
  • judgment

Bonus lesson: Don’t be afraid to recycle good blog content or career experiences! They can lead to new things.

Published by

Michael Vandervort

Creating Positive Workplaces Every Day

6 thoughts on “Life lessons from (almost) 30 years in HR”

  1. You’re quite a HR veteran! I tend to position myself as a HR expert, though it seems I was still a toddler when you were learning your first career lessons. Thanks for sharing, a great reminder not to view work as everything there is to life (although that’s easier said than done when you’re a business owner).

    Irene

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