Your Career Q&A: Finding Fulfillment

By Martin Yate Jan 19, 2016
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resumewritingservices.knockemdead-233x300.jpgThis week’s column discusses working your way into—and out of—HR. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, at right, 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 in retail management for over 15 years. I have an operations background as well as experience with the proverbial HR duties that come with being a general manager for big-box retailers. In every position I’ve held, without fail, I’ve taken total responsibility for managing daily HR functions. I want to transition into HR, and I’m feverishly working to rebrand myself to be more attractive to HR hiring managers, but they only see the title of the retailer. I’ve been a member of SHRM for 12-plus years. Any advice? I can't deal with retail anymore, and HR is a true passion. How can I break the stigma?
Scott, Orlando, Fla.

When reviewing job applicants, two of the initial evaluations hiring managers make are:

  • Does the applicant have the technical skills required for the job?
  • Does the applicant understand how our industry works and the language our customers and vendors speak, along with the problems they and our employees dump on the desks of HR every day?

The more you bring to the table in ability and suitability, the easier it is for you to sell and the company to buy. Your best odds would be to pursue an HR position within the world of big-box retail and, widening the scope of your search, retail chains and retail in its entirety.

Your general management experience gives you an understanding of bottom-line business considerations, and this is an awareness few other HR candidates will have. That empowers you to communicate about human resource issues with line managers on their own terms. Because you really understand the issues of profitability and customer retention in ways that most HR professionals don’t, I could see you becoming a strong candidate for an HR position within any department store or retail chain in need of an area or regional HR manager.

To support this transition, I would recommend association membership in retail-specific HR associations and online groups to learn and build connections within your target geography.

While working in the HR field at small companies for nearly 25 years, I have become increasingly frustrated. The legal and regulatory hoops HR staff must jump through across state and federal jurisdictions is becoming quite burdensome ... not just implementation but knowing when an actual law has changed or been implemented! So many cities are now making their own employment laws.

Then there are the unrealistic expectations placed on HR to be the problem-solvers for the entire company while, at the same time, planning all the parties and running all the fundraisers. How can I be taken seriously with "chief party planner" attached to my job description? Do you have advice for how to transition out of HR without having to start completely over—e.g., how to transfer skills, etc.?
Anonymous

Your description of the frustrations of working in a small HR department ring only too true, yet they might also be the key to your escape.

As you put it, being a “problem-solver for the entire company” gives you a great deal of knowledge about company operations. Consequently, you might find that labor-intensive businesses all have operations, customer service and general management job postings that feature skill requirements similar to HR roles. If those types of positions appeal to you, they could be an excellent match for your skills and experience.

Food for Thought

I can’t read these two questions together without noticing that both people want to leave what they see as a miserable job, quite likely to get into exactly the job that the other is desperate to escape.

Both are demotivated, frustrated and bored by the same old problems year in and year out. Like all of us, they need new challenges to sink their teeth into. As a result, both of these tenured professionals are contemplating a career transition that will possibly require a step back professionally.

Such decisions are fine if they make our lives more enjoyable. But if we look down the road, is it possible that when we make transitions like these midcareer, we will face the same boredom, frustration and demotivation once again in our new roles? We turn new jobs into successful careers by giving them our all in terms of time and effort. Too often, the result is that we become our job titles, and over the years the people in our social lives are frequently people related to our jobs. The result is no escape at work or at play.

There is another way of looking at this problem: How about, instead of working all day and then watching five hours of TV each night (Google the stats for yourself), we engage ourselves in our dreams and find fulfillment by using our leisure hours more actively? Maybe by starting work on that novel, training to bike ride a long distance, or taking music or painting lessons. The pursuit of passions can put joy, much-needed meaning and a sense of fulfillment back into anyone’s life.

When we have fulfillment in our lives from sources other than work, a job’s challenges and frustrations take a less burdensome toll. Me? I’ve been collecting junk from the Prohibition era for ages. Next year, I’m emptying the attic and opening an antique shop; it will be fun, and it could even be profitable. How are you going to put some juice back in your life?

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

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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