During Cancer Recovery, She Focused Her Mind on Certification—and Success

By Rena Gorlin, J.D. Dec 8, 2016
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​Kimberly Hunter, SHRM-SCP

​In the fall of 2014, Kimberly Hunter, SHRM-SCP, of Charlotte, N.C., was making plans to advance in her career and take the first-ever SHRM certification exam when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"A year of my life was on hold," she said.

Determined to regain her health and still attain her professional credentials, Hunter used her time recovering from multiple surgeries to continue studying for the certification exam.

"It gave me a concentrated, focused goal," Hunter said. "I took lemons and made the exact flavor of lemonade I wanted." 

Studying Through a Long Treatment, Recovery

With 10 years of experience in HR but no college degree, Hunter was getting frustrated with how hard it was to prove her capabilities. "I wanted some form of validation to get ahead," she said.

At an HR conference, she found out about the just-launched SHRM certification program and read through the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge. The document elicited a spark of self-recognition:

"This is me. These are strategic decisions," Hunter realized. She had found her path to career advancement.

Hunter applied to sit for the SHRM-SCP exam and ordered the SHRM Learning System to prepare for the exam, paying for everything out of her own pocket. Certification preparation training classes were all lined up when Hunter received her cancer diagnosis and had to reconsider her next steps.

The first surgery was a double mastectomy, and complications forced Hunter to remain in the hospital longer than expected, followed by weeks of home health care. Hunter persevered—and kept studying.

"Everyone who visited helped me with flashcards. They asked exam questions, and we discussed the answers," she said. "When I wasn't sleeping, I was taking practice tests."

As her strength returned, Hunter attended some Saturday cert prep classes, where her trainer and classmates provided encouragement.

A couple of months later, Hunter had reconstructive surgery, which also resulted in complications. But the setbacks drove her to study harder. When she finally was able to sit for the SHRM-SCP exam, Hunter had doubts about her prospects.

"I'd had so much anesthesia and drugs, and I was on leave from work for so many weeks," she remembered. "Of course I wanted to pass, but I was surprised when I did." 

Getting Healthy, and a New Job

Attaining SHRM certification took away Hunter's fear that potential employers would consider her a risk because of her long convalescence. On the contrary, her persistence and focus during that difficult time paid off: Recruiter.com, a leading online career site and recruiting platform, hired her as its new director of operations. "They were looking for someone who knew details, processes, best practices, anything relating to strategy and how it all goes together," Hunter said. "They said, 'She's got it—she's SHRM-certified.' That was really awesome to hear!"

Having SHRM credentials means "knowing how all the HR puzzle pieces fit, not just knowing what colors they are," she said. "SHRM has the brand. If anyone was going to get the word out about HR professionals, this is how. SHRM invested all those years developing its certification so that it would be around for a long time and be recognized." 

Certification Works

As operations director for nearly a year now, Hunter makes sure information flows properly through the company's different teams and handles all of the company's HR functions. She is regularly called on by the CEO and other top managers to discuss a wide range of issues concerning both internal stakeholders and external clients. "They ask me, 'What do you think?' My opinion is respected. My opinion matters. Certification gives me the tools to assure management that they can always ask me things and that if I don't know the answer, I can find out from the SHRM-certified community."

[SHRM members-only network: SHRM Connect] 

The SHRM-defined behavioral competency Hunter appreciates most is Business Acumen. "It means you understand your business and business in general, as well as HR. That automatically puts you in a position to make an impact on your organization," Hunter said. "You're considered a subject matter expert. Your voice is heard; you can influence decisions."

Hunter said the best decision she made after her diagnosis was to focus on achieving her goals. "Whatever crisis you're dealing with—family, work, illness—it's important to step back, be quiet, and let your mind sort through things. Ask yourself what you want in the end. I wanted certification. I wanted health."

Hunter's hard work and focus during a difficult time haven't gone unnoticed. "People are impressed that I studied and took the test. It gives me 'street cred' when I explain the circumstances," she said. "I appreciate things even more. Now there's not too much I can't handle." 

Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

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