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Director of Classification and Compensation, University of Arkansas
Michele Burns was a music education major in college, but a part-time job sparked her interest in business. When she took on HR duties at a manufacturing company, she realized she had found her niche. She was attracted to HR because it enabled her to work with an organization’s most important asset—its people. Plus, it allowed her to flex her analytical skills.
Burns is the director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Arkansas State Council. She previously served as president and certification chair, among other positions, with SHRM’s Western Arkansas chapter.
Even as she works on a doctorate in human resource management, she continues to educate others. She teaches a college class to help students set career goals and conducts workshops at SHRM conferences.
What has been your greatest challenge?
When I worked for an organization that was being acquired years ago, the new management left our HR team without the needed computer systems to maintain employee data. I was working about 100 hours a week. I was exhausted, but I did it for the employees. Morale was understandably terrible, and it was difficult for me to remain positive. I survived, and it was rewarding to see things fall into place at the end.
Although I consider this my most challenging situation, it’s also my greatest achievement. Many individuals would have left under those conditions. I hope my staying power makes me a champion in the face of change.
What are you passionate about?
As HR professionals, we have a vested interest in helping prepare high school and college students for their future work life. We need to reach out to encourage young people to consider HR as a career.
Why are you active with SHRM?
The No. 1 reason is networking. I have met individuals from all over the country who encourage me, challenge me intellectually and strengthen the profession. I hope my legacy will be evident in the lives of the HR practitioners I encounter.
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