Struggling in New HR Position

Martin Yate By Martin Yate May 30, 2017
Struggling in New HR Position

​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 recently taken on my first role as an HR administrator. I don't have a clue what I am doing! I have been an administrative assistant at various companies for several years, but this is a such a new position for me. Is this just something I will have to learn as I go along? Are the classes I see on the SHRM website, as well as other websites and seminars, truly help me learn the HR world? I feel very lost sometimes, while other days I am excited with the learning process. I want to succeed in human resources. I just don't know where to begin.


Ask for Guidance

New jobs are confusing for everyone, so asking intelligent questions will build your reputation as someone concerned about doing a good job. Any boss would far rather you ask questions than make costly mistakes. Request a clear outline of your responsibilities and how their execution contributes to the smooth running of the department. Learn everything you can about the job, perhaps ask your boss to let you shadow someone for a day or two, and seek out a mentor to help you learn the ropes. 

If you see a colleague that needs a hand, step up and help. Work extra hours without complaint if necessary, and if you see something that needs doing, then volunteer to do it.

Each week during your first month, catch your boss at a quiet moment and request feedback on how you are doing, and how you can do better. Managers the world over appreciate an employee who makes giving constructive input painless, and who then uses the feedback to improve her performance.

In your second month, pursue these informal evaluations every other week. 

Develop Relationships

Take time to get to know others who also do your job, ask them for advice and then tell them thank you for the guidance they offered. Building solid relationships and working well with new colleagues will win you a great deal of support. You should also get to know the people whose work is affected by yours and seek their advice about how you can best become a reliable colleague who makes their lives easier.

Take notes on any advice you receive. Say "Please" and "Thank You"—appreciation goes a long way in creating allies.

Go out of your way to smile and introduce yourself to everyone, learn and remember people's names, and don't overlook lower-level staff—you can never have too many allies. Being respectful and cordial now will pay off throughout your career with that company and beyond.

Just as you need time to get to know the company, its services and its people, they need time to get to know you.

Do good work, own your mistakes and learn from them.

Never gossip or speak ill of any person or directive. Any unguarded critical, dismissive and derisive comments you make can work against you. 

Everyone Was a Newbie Once

Take the time to get your feet on the ground, learn your way around, get to know your colleagues and absorb the culture.

  • First and foremost, focus on becoming proficient in your job.
  • Help pick up slack on necessary but unpopular tasks.
  • Do enough homework to ask intelligent questions.
  • Know the names of everyone in the department.
  • Understand how the department works and why it works that way.
  • Find trustworthy colleagues and develop relationships with them.
  •  Get to know management one, two and three levels above you and address them respectfully by name.

 Watch, listen and learn as you demonstrate hard work, commitment and a willing attitude.

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.  

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