Recent Retiree Grows New Career as HR Consultant

SHRM competencies and resources are key to keeping clients—and oneself—satisfied

By Rena Gorlin February 22, 2018
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​"Sometimes you have to move to grow," said Deborah Covin Wilson, SHRM-SCP, who has imparted similar career advice to numerous colleagues and protégés as a mentor, innovator, advisor and administrator over nearly 30 years in HR. The Atlanta-area resident has also taken her own advice—"walking the talk," as Wilson put it—with outstanding results. 

After more than two decades at the Georgia Institute of Technology as director of career development, Wilson "moved to grow" to a higher-level post at Georgia State University. There, she was director of the HR unit responsible for training, organizational development and employee engagement for six years, leading a staff of five. She obtained her SHRM-SCP credential in 2015 prior to her retirement from Georgia State. "I wanted to be among the first to achieve the new certification," she said. 

Upon retiring, Wilson moved to grow once again, founding Covin Wilson & Associates, an HR consulting firm in Ellenwood, Ga., in 2017. Since then, she has had less stress, greater flexibility and more time for traveling. "I can't believe how busy I've been," she said. 

"SHRM certification brings a lot of credibility. When you're working for someone else, your credential tells your peers and managers that you're competent and knowledgeable regarding those competencies. Now that I'm independent, SHRM certification gives me credibility with people looking for my services." Wilson considers her SHRM-SCP "another stamp of approval to show potential clients. That's important if I haven't already had a previous relationship" with that person through a referral or a mutual contact, she said. 

SHRM certification has brought Wilson many new referrals for consulting assignments. "Most of my clients are people who serve others," she said, naming an international association and a government office as examples of her clientele. "I enjoy working with people to help them do better, so that they can help the people they work with do better."

Four Key Competencies for HR Consultants

Of the SHRM-defined behavioral competencies that Wilson has mastered as a SHRM-SCP, she cites a few as essential for success as an HR consultant. Foremost are Consultation and Relationship Management, which are "crucial to building relationships with clients. Consultation covers such skills as interviewing—how to find out what a client needs—and how to develop a plan to meet those needs. Relationship Management is more personal. It's about keeping clients happy." In the consulting business, these competencies must work together, Wilson said. "You need technical skills but without a personal relationship your efforts won't go anywhere."

Wilson has applied the Critical Evaluation competency to facilitate cohesion among a group of county employees. "I was called in to consult with a team that was experiencing conflicts. I used my proficiency in Consultation and Critical Evaluation to work with them to identify their problems and resolve the issues we uncovered." Over the course of a year, Wilson said, "the team has really grown and is now on the right track. The employees have more trusting relationships, their goals are gelling and they're meeting those goals." 

Leadership & Navigation comes into play when Wilson serves on boards, committees and volunteer groups. She is currently immersed in a competency-based learning project for an educational organization. 

The behavioral competencies were what most intrigued Wilson about SHRM certification when the program launched. "It looked to me to be cutting-edge, the wave of the future. In this day and age you need more than educational qualifications" to be an HR professional, she said. "You need to demonstrate something realistic and applicable to your work—beyond the academic." That SHRM requires its credential-holders to be proficient in HR competencies meets this need, she said.

Keeping Up, Staying Current

Another quality of SHRM certification meaningful to Wilson is the program's emphasis on being well-informed and alert to the latest developments in HR. "I wanted my SHRM certification in order to keep up with the industry. It's very important to me to stay current so that I can bring best practices to my clients," she said.

Accumulating professional development credits (PDCs) to maintain her SHRM credential has not been difficult for Wilson because of the wide-ranging consulting work she does. Still, she appreciates the reminders and resources that SHRM provides to make the recertification process easier. "Recently I was amazed to get a free pass to SHRM's eLearning Library to earn the last of my required 60 PDCs," said Wilson, who will complete her first recertification cycle shortly. "By making its resources freely available, SHRM is putting skin in the game. It shows how serious SHRM is about getting its credential-holders to keep up and stay current."

Wilson holds other professional designations—she is a CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance), RCC (Registered Corporate Coach) and LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker). The organizations that issue those credentials are, like SHRM, "good at letting people know when their certifications will expire, so if you're behind, you can get your credits in time," Wilson said. "The differentiator is that SHRM offers you the resources to help you get those credits." 

"It's very rewarding to stay on the cutting edge" as a SHRM-SCP, Wilson said. "It's the premier HR certification." 

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

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