Your Career Q&A: Move Down to Move Up

By Martin Yate Feb 2, 2016
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This week’s Career Q&A addresses growing your career by downsizing your title. 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 am an HR director for a hair salon company. We are a $6 million business and have 110 employees, and I am the ONLY HR professional for the company. I have my SHRM certifications, and I co-chair an annual volunteer event for the local SHRM chapter. How can I market myself to get to the next career level? I feel that due to my industry, I’m being overlooked and colleagues see me as a general manager rather than a human resources professional. Help!

Dana, Richmond, Va.

We have two issues here: Target job choice and industry concerns.

You hold a title of director but have no direct reports, and the next step up would be a vice president position. If you’re interested in joining a smaller company in a different industry, tapping your transferable skills should work effectively. But I don’t think landing a VP job is achievable for you at a larger company, when such positions usually require direct experience with hiring and firing, budgetary and financial performance, recruiting, benefits administration, compliance understanding, and management responsibilities for a team.

Perhaps a revised goal would be to join a larger company where you would be a smaller fish in a bigger pond. Remember the truism: A department manager at Microsoft or GE is a vice president anywhere else, and vice versa. In a bigger company, you will have more opportunity to spread your professional wings. And your prior experience handling every single HR responsibility and problem that came down the pike will soon set you apart as someone suitable for more challenging opportunities … assuming, of course, that you are quietly professional as you settle in and let your managers and colleagues discover this for themselves.

You also felt that your experience in the salon industry is causing you to be overlooked in other market sectors. But perhaps looking at your sector in a different way could open up a wide array of opportunities. You work for a hair salon company, which can also be positioned as a personal services, beauty products, self-care, wellness or, by extension, consumer goods retail company.

Let’s add to your list of potential employers by taking a walk down the aisles of your local drugstore or supermarket to see just how many brand names fall into the above categories; the consumer goods manufacturers you recognize could become target employers as well.

You won’t get attention outside of the salon industry by focusing your resume and your conversations on salon issues, but you will when you position yourself and your work within a different context. For example, you can frame the problems of a 10-unit salon chain as issues that plague every retail/customer operation. “10 Midwest salons” might become “10 Midwest retail outlets.”

As you broaden your definition of the market sector you work in, you also need to identify the similarities and differences between HR functions in these related commercial sectors. The connections you find can build bridges, while the differences give you the opportunity to consider how your experience can be seen as relevant. Also consider pursuing appropriate education and professional accreditation in areas of new expertise.

You are a member of SHRM, so you understand the value of a professional network. You might also consider joining local chapters of associations that focus on the retail and customer service industries. Membership allows you to get to know and be known by the most committed, connected and respected people within your geographic target market and in that industry sector. You can build connections in target industries and, when the time comes to make the transition, you’ll have access to that association’s member base. This gives you a wealth of valuable connections—and people rarely reject a connection request or refuse to answer a question from an association colleague.

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. We look forward to hearing from you!

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