Career Advice from Women of HR

As the year begins to wind down, we are in the midst of making lists, checking them twice and planning for the holiday season. While our immediate sights are set on the weeks ahead, we are also looking into 2012 <and beyond> at life, travels and career.

If someone asked you what the best career advice you ever received was, what would you say? Well, I asked the Women of HR to weigh in and this is what they said.

Trish McFarlane

Cindy Janovitz
Vicki Shillington
Bonita Martin, SPHR
Lois Melbourne, GPHR
Margaret Ward, PHR

Teresa Rennie

  Andrea Ballard, SPHR Shellie Sturmer, SPHR


Trish McFarlane • It may be simple, but early in my career someone told me to always just be myself. Sometimes that means that I don’t filter myself as much as I should, but as long as I’m being honest and not intentionally hurtful to anyone, I try to follow that advice. People seem to gravitate to others who are comfortable in their own skin. I would never recommend that someone conform to a job, supervisor or workplace if it meant going against who they really are.

Cindy Janovitz • I was recently told (and sort of already knew this, but it helped to hear it from someone else) that no one else is looking out for my career (generally speaking) and that if I want to keep moving forward, or up as the case may be, -I- have to do it and can’t wait for someone to come tap me on the shoulder with a great opportunity.

Vicki Shillington • I have a couple. One, that you should find a place to work where they want you there as much as you want to be there, and two, you are not what you do. Don’t let yourself identify so much with your job that it defines you – that way, if you have a bad day at work, or lose your job, things are still ok. I guess it’s another way of saying ensure work-life balance. You can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Bonita Martin, SPHR • Find a way to say Yes! This was specific to a career in HR. HR and legal tend to be the groups that say “No you can’t do that”. HR professionals need to better problem solvers by understanding the needs of the business and finding a way to help solve the problem. If the solution proposed is not going to work, suggest something else that might work. It can be difficult, but worth the time and effort!

Shandrika Combs (not pictured)  • Sometimes people will hate you and sometimes those same people will love you. I pass this piece of advice to every HR person I know. Because it’s our job to try and get organizations straight, that means there will be times the employees aren’t happy and there are times when management/leadership will be unhappy. However, there are just as many times when your answer will make those people happy.

Lois Melbourne, GPHR  • My late mother-in-law told us “You have to live like others won’t until you can live like others can’t.” This always struck me as meaning you have to put in hard work to get the reward. Not everyone will put in the hard work. Not everyone will take the big risks. But those that do, are likely to be rewarded.

Margaret Ward, PHR  • Very early in my HR career, I wanted to apply for a position that would have been a huge promotion for me but I didn’t have all of the credentials required by the position. My HR Director (at the time) and mentor told me “Never tell yourself no. Let them tell you no. Where you may not have all of the qualifications for a position, you don’t know who you’re going up against. You may have more than anyone else that applies. When a position is posted, the ideal qualifications are listed but that doesn’t mean that they will find somebody who has all of those qualifications”. This has always stuck with me. And by the way, I got that job!

Teresa Rennie • I have two I would like to share. The first was that I tend to be very direct, let people talk and you will get more information by listening. The second was from my son who exclaimed after taking on a paper route that “work is very hard” to which I replied that if you want to progress in life then you really have to “very hard” to achieve your dreams.

Michele Sparling • The very first HR job I had I was told by the then President of the company “When the job stops being fun (i.e. you enjoy doing what you are doing), it is time to leave” and “Sometimes to move ahead, you have to move sideways” … which means taking work in another area either within or outside your area in order to develop yourself to obtain the work you want … a career path is not perfectly straight.

Joyce Jordan SPHR-CA • The most eye opening advice I received early in my career from a seasoned and educated woman in the organization was “you are only an employee”. Reminding me that I work for the company, I did not own the company and I should take care of myself. And, she was right.

Andrea Ballard, SPHR • Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it for a living.

Shellie Sturmer, SPHR • A senior executive once told me that I needed to stop trying to be the manager that people above me wanted me to be and to be the leader that I am. While I think the two intertwine in today’s business climate, that encouragement to not lose sight of the big picture and to inspire and instill trust hasn’t left me.

And in 140 characters or less . . .

@DebbieJBrown • be yourself

@theHRmaven (Deirdre Honner) • best career advice? 1) while it might happen periodically, don’t count on shortcuts; 2) sometimes it’s just not about you

In Closing

There is nothing better than advice from those who have who have walked in your shoes and are willing share what they’ve learned. I have had the benefit of mentors and coaches over the years but the best piece of career advice I received was when I first starting out, frustrated that another colleague <obviously much less qualified than I> received a plum assignment I had my eye on. The advice went like this:

You are responsible for your own career. Stop thinking that if you work hard and do a good job people will notice. They are too busy working on their own careers. Uncomfortable as it may seem, tell people what you’ve accomplished, why it’s important to them and to you – and never forget those who helped you along the way. Give credit where credit is due but don’t minimize your own contributions.

Take a few minutes to share what you’ve learned either here or with us in the Women of HR LinkedIn group. It’s a manager’s choice discussion and there are more comments there. “Like” the comments you like, add your experience, complete a thought, blaze a new trail . . . go crazy.

Hey, we’ve got your back.

About the Author

Lisa Rosendahl

Lisa is an astute Human Resources leader with more than 18 years of professional human resources experience with expertise in leading people, inspiring commitment and managing change. A former Army officer, Lisa is also a wife, mother, speaker and writer and authors a personal blog at



I’m not sure if it is career or life advice but here are a few that are not new but have worked for me. Trust your instincts, Listen-then talk (if you must), Don’t be too concerned about what others think about you, Lead by example, Keep your priorities straight, Look for ways to help others, Have fun and laugh often.

P.S. After I read these again, I sound like a freakin’ Hallmark card! Oh well.


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