Become Today What You Want to Be Tomorrow


By Martin Yate July 16, 2019
Become Today What You Want to Be Tomorrow

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I have been with my current organization for five years. I work for a great leader and enjoy what I do in HR. However, our organization is very flat. The next experience I'd like to tackle is either managing people or managing people who manage functions. I have talked with my business leaders and my VP of HR, but those types of roles don't exist at my company. They understand that I'd like to look for a new position outside of the organization and are willing to let me do that while still employed. 

I've never had to look for a job. I've gained all my positions through word-of-mouth and with recommendations from people who knew me. I don't know where to begin, except through job sites. But I'm finding that the types of positions I'm looking for aren't necessarily posted through social media or on job boards. How does one find a director- or executive-level position? 

You identified two options for your next career step: managing people and managing others who manage people.

These are two entirely different jobs, both more complex than individual contributor jobs, with the latter far outranking the former in deliverables, complexity, status and remuneration. The first of your proposed options, managing people, is a big step that requires knowing about employee selection, onboarding, skill development, staff discipline, motivation, dealing with troubled employees, termination and a range of other skills you may or may not have.

Your second option is managing others who manage people. This job puts you into the executive ranks, where the responsibilities are even more complex. At this level, you'd need all the skills of a manager, plus strategic planning skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. Critically important, you'd be responsible for the smooth operation of your reporting managers' teams, because you are responsible for your company's profitability. This is an extremely complex job. I don't think the leap from individual contributor to the executive ranks is a realistic next step.

Walk around the other side of the desk with me: You and I are senior managers about to hire a new HR manager, and we're conscious that how our chosen candidate performs will reflect on us as executives. We have two final candidates: One has been an HR manager for four years; the other is a very talented individual contributor in the HR department. Who should we hire? The one with a track record of verifiable skills required for the job, or the talented person with few or no managerial skills but who wants to have a go?

The reality is that companies hire people based on their credentials for the job, not perceived potential. That's the way it is.
So consider that you need knowledge of all HR functions in addition to these skills and experiences:

  • Hiring employees. If you don't hire effectively, you'll never manage productively.
  • Leading a team that will always have superstars, plodders and troubled workers.
  • Onboarding new employees and helping them be productive.
  • Developing employees' skills.
  • Complying with workplace regulations and laws.
  • Turning troubled employees around or firing them.

Like many people, you see a new job as an opportunity to get a promotion, though in your case you may not have the skills and experiences that such a promotion demands. Such promotions typically happen within a company where you are a known quantity, you stand out because you excel at your job, you're constantly acquiring new professional skills, and you've tried to develop the technical and leadership skills of management.

I think it more realistic that you either develop these skills in your current job or find a position similar to the one you hold now at a company with more growth opportunities. In either case, you can develop the skills you need by taking on projects that can give you leadership experience. If you go out of your way to over-deliver, to be a positive influence and to lead by example, this will make you stand out as a team player who works for the good of the company.

In other words, become today what you want to be tomorrow.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!


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