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10 Things HR Professionals Wish They Knew When They Started

Think back to the beginning of your HR career. What’s one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?

This month, we asked HR professionals that question.

Here’s the advice they gave:

1. Remember You’re Human

“Take your time, be accountable, and remember you are human. When I first started my career, I thought I was a superhero and could solve all the problems in the world. I quickly found that I had a lot to learn. I didn't have all the answers and would make mistakes along the way. That realization helped me grow and develop into my career today.”

— Adam Korbl, Founder & CEO at Amplify Ventures, Fill App, and iFax

2. Take a Seat at the Table

“We've all heard the old saying about securing a coveted seat at the table. As a woman in HR, I've learned to advocate for myself because a seat at the table was intended to be taken, not given. I didn’t wait for someone to ask my opinion and joined the conversation whenever I saw an opportunity, whether it was training supervisors or organizing a workshop. However, I wish I voiced my concerns sooner and more forcefully. I used to be so afraid of making mistakes that I passed up opportunities to make a difference. When you speak out against something that is wrong or unjust, you not only pave the way for others to follow, but also repay those who came before you.” 

— Kathryn Smithson, Manager at PathSocial

3. Soft Skills are Key

“One thing I wish I knew when I first started in HR was the impact of soft skills. These skills, like leadership, communication, and empathy, can be hard to define and increasingly difficult to assess during the interview process. However, they're often the differentiators when it comes to your company's success. These skills are also much harder to teach than technical or industry-specific knowledge, so focusing on these areas can make a huge difference.” 

— Dan Shepherd, HR Director at VEI Communications

4. Find a Way to Shine

“I believe that HR professionals usually get a raw deal. Due to confidentiality concerns, it can be difficult for them to showcase their hard work. On top of that, it's not always easy to measure what actually adds value to numbers when it comes to people. However, as HR has developed as a function, there are now ways to analyze this. For me, attending training courses and obtaining HR credentials has been invaluable because it not only enables me to keep up with HR trends, but also develop a network of HR professionals to whom I could seek advice. It has benefited both me and the organizations I have worked for.”

 — Sumit Bansal, Founder and CEO at TrumpExcel

5. You'll Almost Always Find Yourself Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place, But…

“As an HR professional, you are expected to maintain a neutral stance while making tough decisions and delivering messaging that will not always be well received. I assure you that it is not all doom and gloom! There are times in this job that make everything worth it. Early in my career, I made a job offer to an employee who had been unable to find full-time work. I'll never forget his face lighting up. He then cheerfully excused himself to call his mother and inform her of the great news. These are the moments that stay with you for the rest of your life, reminding you why you entered this profession in the first place—to help others thrive.” 

— Darshan Somashekar, Founder & CEO at Solitaired

6. Never Make Assumptions

“The biggest lesson that I think about now, almost 10 years into my career, is to never assume anything. This applies to HR practitioners everywhere and not just at the beginning of your career. I mean no assumptions about roles, departments, business practices, people's motivations, and personalities. Go into every role with an open-mind and willing to learn.”

— Dehan Matthee, HR Manager at EPOS Now

7. Hire For Potential

“Hire candidates with potential rather than focusing too much on getting ‘perfect’ ones. People have unique learning curves. As long as they are eager to learn, it only takes a matter of time for them to discover their inner strengths. Moreover, it pays off to invest in potential candidates and hone their talents. Candidates with potential tend to be more promising in their tasks and care about their progress and contributions. Believe it or not, they are the people who last long in the HR industry.”

— Jake Smith, Owner and Managing Director at Absolute Reg LTD

8. Take Care of Yourself

“As a new HR professional, I spent every waking hour trying to make sure everyone else was okay while pulling off a balancing act between employees’ needs and the leadership’s demands. As part of my job, I was involved in formulating employee wellness policies and assistance programs. But ironically, I wasn’t taking care of my own mental and physical wellbeing, which led to unexpected burnout. Be intentional when it comes to guarding your wellbeing so that your passion won't dissipate and your health won't go down the drain under the pressure of all these things.”

— Ben Lamarche, General Manager and HR Head at Lock Search Group

9. Thank Your Coworkers

“Always thank your coworkers when they approach you with a problem. It’s your job, but it’s also a privilege to be trusted with confidential information. In these situations, exhibit empathy, actively listen, and keep that information confidential unless it’s necessary for it to be escalated. In cases where it needs to be escalated, make sure you tell the employee what the rest of the resolution process will entail so they aren’t caught off guard.”

— Sara Bandurian, Operations Coordinator at Online Optimism

10. Find Your Own Lane

“Take the time to assess the different areas of HR (payroll, benefits, employee relations) and then figure out which one interests you the most. This is important because while your current role may cover a wide range of duties, there's a chance that another company you apply to has an HR team where duties are split up based on expertise. Make sure that you find your preferred lane, as it could make a huge difference for your career.”

Eden Cheng, Co-Founder at PeopleFinderFree

Want to learn how to take your HR career to the next level? Check out our blog post.

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