SHRM Student Chapter Helped Grad Prepare for HR Career

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 17, 2020
University of Tennessee

​Tell college kids how many career options HR offers to get them interested in the field, says Mary Jo Swearingen, SHRM-CP. The recent college graduate just started her HR career and wants others to know how much potential HR holds. Mary Jo Swearingen, courtesy of the office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury in Nashville

"There is a lot more to HR than people realize," she said. For example, "if you are interested in finance but don't want to become a financial advisor … you can look into compensation."

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) last month, she joined the office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury in Nashville. She serves as an HR specialist on a team with seven other HR professionals.

Swearingen holds a bachelor's degree in business administration, with a minor in international business. She studied finance and management in London for a month during her sophomore year. Another big part of her preparation for her career, she said, was her involvement with the student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) at UTK.

"I learned a lot about the past, present and future of the HR field, which helped give me the skills and abilities needed to succeed," she said. "Also, I was able to develop a strong network that I still rely on even after finding my first job."

In her role as vice president of membership development for UTK SHRM, she made an extra effort to recruit underclassmen in beginning management classes, telling them about the different career choices available to them under the HR umbrella.

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She advises student chapters to create events that offer career advice or work-related takeaways, such as the free professional headshots the UTK chapter provides at the campus's fall career fair. Another popular chapter activity is the annual three-course dinner that teaches students what to do during a lunch or dinner interview. The campus chapter advisor answers students' questions and helps them navigate social situations that, unless handled gracefully, could torpedo an interviewee's confidence. They are advised, for example, to refrain from ordering the cheapest or most expensive menu item, and to reconsider ordering that messy plate of ribs.

The catered meal takes place in the Haslam College of Business banquet room and is funded by the Tennessee Valley Human Resource Association (TVHRA), a SHRM affiliate. TVHRA members often serve as a resource to the student chapter, she said, by participating in campus-related panels and roundtables.

Swearingen also served on the student chapter's executive board, helping write the application that won SHRM's Student Chapter Merit Award for Tennessee and participating on the team that won the Tennessee State SHRM Conference Student Games.

"It was a great way to start studying for the SHRM-CP," Swearingen said. She earned her certification in January 2020. "We actually all memorized over 300-plus terms in order to prepare for the games!"

In 2020, she was one of nine UTK students working at the Super Bowl LIV interactive experience in Miami and behind the scenes during the big game "making sure the stadium was secure and safe." The annual six-day trip is headed by Debbie Mackey, faculty advisor to the UTK SHRM chapter. Mackey is a distinguished lecturer at the college in Haslam's Department of Management and Entrepreneurship.

During the trip, the students also met with the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff and Royal Caribbean cruise line staff to learn about different aspects of business in those fields. The coaching staff talked about how they recruit players, and an operations representative from the team discussed business development and analytics.

"It was not just [about] meeting athletes and coaches," Swearingen said. "The idea is to connect people."



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