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How can you get your career moving? 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 lost my job as an HR assistant due to the civil war in my country, and currently I'm working as a freelance HR consultant and trainer. I have provided training courses in current HR challenges trends to startups and entrepreneurs, and I volunteer with two local nongovernment organizations as an HR consultant.
How can I develop my career path in consultancy? Do I have to take an assessment or attain a certificate as a consultant? How can I upgrade my level of proficiency to attract more organizations? Most of the time, a consultant is evaluated based on his or her years of experience. Is there any way to balance my strength (knowledge) against my weakness (years of experience)?
A mentor once told me, "If you aren't getting the right answers, it probably means you aren't asking the right questions." As I read what you wrote—"a consultant is evaluated based on his or her years of experience"—I saw myself starting out years ago feeling the same frustration. I completely empathize with your concern that you are not getting assignments because of inexperience and understand that you wonder if further credentials might help. That is always a sensible consideration, but there are additional options.
First of all, credentials without the experience that comes from their application in the workplace are not useful. You need to find opportunities for practical work.
As a consultant, you are a problem-solver. Your potential clients are looking for someone who understands their problems and contexts, causes and solutions. The defining difference between credentials and skills is studying about the theory versus applying the learning to the solution of real problems. You are at the start of your career, so build your credibility and visibility by gaining hands-on experience; do your job and then do whatever else needs doing. Among many considerations, there are five key criteria:
Experience. Do your work better than anyone else (look, listen and learn all the time), and then seek out the tasks that need to be done but are being ignored because they aren't glamorous. Do them anyway; this is a strategy referred to as the "vacuum theory of career growth," and it makes a real contribution to your knowledge and to the next two points.
Credibility. In every organization, there is an inner and outer circle. The inner circle includes the influencers and wielders of power. They will see you exceeding expectations and cleaning up messes, which will increase your credibility; you are building a reputation that will span your career. And, by the way, those people you meet and work with today are colleagues you will have for a lifetime as you gradually become a member of the inner circle of your profession.
Visibility. When you approach your daily professional life in this manner, your reputation grows slowly and steadily in the right ways and with the right people. Although you won't always work at the same organization or with the same people, you are going to know many of these people for the rest of your career. When you start a career, you become part of an enormous profession. But follow this advice and over the years that huge profession reduces to a much smaller community of dedicated professionals who all know each other or can make the necessary introductions. By demonstrating competence and treating senior leaders with respect today, they will nurture your growth over the years.
Packaging. Age does play a role, and it always will. When we are younger, we want to look and be older to be taken more seriously; when we are older, we spend the rest of our careers trying to look and act younger. In your situation of building a client base for your practice, using a resume as a marketing tool might be the wrong idea because it draws a lot of attention to your lack of experience.
You might want to consider creating marketing documents that sell the services you can deliver. Initially, this could mean using a bio rather than a resume. This will focus on the services your company delivers with examples of the kinds of projects you have worked on and their outcomes. Such a bio is similar to, but not the same as, the old-fashioned functional resume because it focuses on the skills you bring to the table rather than the chronology of your career.
Questions. The questions you ask a potential client are as important as the answers you give, because your questions demonstrate the depth of your understanding of the issues at hand. Never go to a meeting without first having thought through the questions and possible causes that can reveal the heart of a challenge. When the questions you ask show a superior grasp of the issues, you can do much to overcome the problems presented by your relative inexperience.
Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
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