Almost seven years ago, I needed a new receptionist. I interviewed half a dozen candidates, with many different skills and abilities from right out of school to years of work experience. The person I hired was a recent college graduate.
Yes, there were candidates with more experience. Why did I chose the way I did? When she sat across from me, doing her best to convince me to give her a chance, she didn’t tell me she would be the perfect receptionist. What she told me, with her eyes sparkling, back straight, and with great pride, was that she had drive and determination and would not remain a receptionist.
It would have been easier on me in the long run to choose someone who was seemingly content to be a receptionist long-term. However, I don’t believe that does the company (or the person) any favors. We were pretty small at the time, with about 25 employees. I knew we would double in size pretty quickly and we would need people in the wings to step forward and assume different tasks.
I can’t say it was smooth sailing, because it wasn’t. Our personalities are very different and we did clash often. Fairly or not, her coworkers initially thought of her as an airhead party girl. She was impatient, chomping at the bit to do more, make more, to simply move forward.
She went back to school while working for us full-time. She earned a Master’s Degree. Along the way, she mellowed a bit. She moved into a data-entry role. She paid attention to what was happening in the office, and studied the interactions of her coworkers. When an opportunity in our merchant relations area came available, she was ready.
Today, she is a Sales Executive. She is rocking her new role. She’s making a direct impact on our bottom line, and she’s having fun doing it. I haven’t been her boss in years, and thankfully we don’t clash the way we used to. I took a chance on the young lady with stars in her eyes when I hired her. I was looking to the future, and I’m so glad I did.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: April Kunzelman, PHR, is a Human Resources executive with a wide range of experience in many aspects of personnel management. Currently, she serves as the Director of HR for fatwallet.com, an online resource community for savvy shoppers. April launched the non-profit organization Chemo Cargo, aimed at assisting first-time chemotherapy patients. Connect with April on Twitter as @akunzel and @chemocargo.
A quick Google search nets dozens of lists with titles like “Nine Essential HR Skills.”
I’ve seen these lists debated from time to time and I don’t disagree that any of the of the frequently listed qualities are important. How can you argue with ethics, business knowledge, communication, organization and integrity? But most of the lists I see don’t include a number of traits that, after 15 years in HR, seem to me to be integral to an HR professional’s long-term staying power (not to mention mental and emotional health):
Optimism – Resilience – Persistence – Courage – Creativity
Some people work at such fabulous organizations where these qualities are less crucial. But the truth is that in many HR positions, in addition to witnessing fabulous successes within your organization, you encounter the underbelly or the dark side. You see candidates lying about their criminal past, employees faking injuries, people trying to get by doing the least amount possible, supervisors alienating their employees or turning a blind eye to employment laws, managers failing to manage and leaders failing to lead. And you are faced with an almost endless stream of ethical dilemmas and conundrums.
I work at a good company with an amazing CEO, yet I have to say that working in HR in my industry is not for the faint of heart. We’re a nonprofit faced with plenty of challenges. We employ mostly hourly workers, almost half of whom are first or second generation immigrants. They work around the clock at remote sites with a supervisor rarely present. Their work is important but not paid well by society. HR is not easy in this setting.
Within your own industry, you undoubtedly encounter different challenges and quirks. Regardless of your setting, if you work in HR, it helps to have:
Optimism. Remember what is good and right within your organization when things go wrong; 10% of people are probably causing 90% of your problems. Focusing too much on the 10% is a glass-half-full approach that may lead to you giving up, leaving your position or even abandoning HR.
Resilience. Have sufficient strength and flexibility to bounce back after disappointments and set-backs.
Persistence. Do not give up easily; when one thing doesn’t work, try 6 or 8 or 90 other things and don’t stop trying until you find something that does work.
Courage. It’s one thing to be ethical yet it’s another to speak up when you know something’s not right or when a response that is convenient in the short-run doesn’t serve the long-term interests of your business.
Creativity. Figure out how you’re going to address or communicate your concern or position without alienating the very people whose cooperation you need to succeed. Some may call this influence, and that’s certainly involved, but I’m thinking more of the mental processes like brainstorming, ingenuity, IQ and EQ.
There are a lot of qualities you must have or attain if you want to succeed in HR. But for long term staying power, you may need a few more. You need to have the drive to persist and the ability to maintain hope and creativity despite adversity and downright disillusionment.
I know you won’t all agree with my list 1o0%, so I’m interested to hear your rundown of the top essential HR skills.
photo by artfulblogger