C-Suite Exec Aspired to Work in HR as a Child

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek August 11, 2022
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third grade class

​Hockey player. Musician. Veterinarian.

Kids have all sorts of dreams about what they'll do when they grow up. As a third-grade student, Jessica Rush wanted to be an HR professional like her dad, who she said "had a deep passion" for his senior and executive HR roles.

Today, Rush is chief talent officer for Paradox, an HR technology company based in the Phoenix area.Jessica Rush, CTO at Paradox

"I don't think the typical third-grader in their 'All About Me' report says, 'I want to be an HR manager when I grow up,' " Rush said. "My father had a job he really loved and was passionate about and found it dynamic. I grew up thinking people loved their job, and that really framed my view of what a career would be like.

"I had pretty early exposure to the field of HR. I also had exposure to other different functions in the organization. Marketing, sales, operations—my dad talked about these functions at the dinner table, and I had an opportunity to learn about business from a very early age."

She saw HR, she said, as an opportunity "to work with all of these different functions … in interesting and strategic ways, … [with] people being the most important aspect."

Rush majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, believing it would be helpful in a number of career areas—including marketing and HR. She then earned a master's degree in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. 

She has spent most of her career in operations and marketing leadership roles at HR technology and recruitment technology companies. Prior to joining Paradox, Rush served as CEO at Recruiting.com and as its senior vice president of employer and digital marketing. She also worked in a number of capacities at Jobing.com, including as CEO, senior vice president of employer and digital marketing, and vice president of client experience. 

Rush shared the following advice for pursuing a career in HR:

Find a mentor. Aaron Matos, CEO and founder of Paradox, has been a great mentor throughout Rush's career. 

"He's consistently supported my career growth by entrusting me to solve different types of challenges across the business, providing candid feedback and having high expectations," she said. "My parents have also been tremendous mentors in my life. My values, my work ethic, my love for my family and my work is from their example."

Become an expert. "I'm a big believer in the growth mindset; we always have the opportunity to get better," she said. "Really become an expert in your craft, think of how you can raise the bar of the role in your [area]. … At the end of the day, there's an opportunity to grow within organizations."

Learn from others. "It can be great to have a formal mentor, but there can be learning opportunities from everyone we meet," Rush noted. "I [learn] from people I work with," such as the colleague who is exceptional at running projects. 

Capitalize on your strengths. "Think how you position yourself to do work that aligns with your strengths, where the need is and what you love to do," she advised. "Where do you find that sweet spot? What am I really great at, and where can I add the most value?"

Take time for reflection. "Make sure there's really good alignment to the mission, what the company's trying to achieve," Rush recommended. "For me, I had this deep passion for HR and the way people and companies connect. My first job was at a company that shared that passion, that mission."

Rush said she regularly asks herself, "Am I doing interesting work? Am I contributing in meaningful ways?"

Realize a career path is not always linear. HR professionals "all have different paths in how they got into their roles," she said. "Some of them started in recruitment; some of them stated as lawyers. Where you start isn't necessarily a straight line [to] where your career winds up."

Early in her career, Rush said she was at a crossroads in choosing between HR and marketing. Her first job intersected with both areas.

"I had this opportunity to really get to experience both of those functions and get to see it up close and personal."

Look for opportunities to add value to the organization. If you see something that's not being done or an opportunity to take on a challenging project, she advised, ask your manager, "Can I help with that?"

"Whatever you do, do it to your best ability and take every opportunity to maximize it, to drive the most value for the role, for the team, for the organization. I think that's the way to grow in a career. I'm a big fan of 'hand-raising.' "

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