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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 been in HR practically my entire working career. I have over 20 years of experience, most as a high-level HR executive. I also served as an interim CEO during a merger. When I realized I had done all that I could do three years post-merger, I moved on to a smaller organization as the vice president of operations and then most recently served as the CEO of a small and struggling company that I turned around through a major cultural transformation. I am now finding myself managing operations and a large staff along with all the responsibilities of a CEO. I am primarily a creative and strategic professional who likes to use my creativity to solve large organizational problems. In my position now, I am dealing with day-to-day operations for the most part, and I am overloaded with these issues every day. This is not the best and highest use of my skills, and it is impacting me on a daily basis.
I want to return to a high-level HR professional position and become an HR consultant and coach for businesses where I can focus my attention on organizational development, transforming cultures, and providing coaching and consulting to business leaders. I am concerned that my experience as a CEO may create "roadblocks" for hiring managers and decision-makers at the companies where I want to work. How do I get them to not be suspicious of this desire to revert back to HR?
Any guidance and suggestions on how to successfully return to a field that I have a great amount of passion for would be so greatly appreciated.
You have a unique track record, combining highly unusual skills and performance credentials that can all support your goal. Knowing what skills and experiences you are going to sell, to whom and why is where it all begins. It will be a complex but exciting challenge to write the resume that tells the right story, but as an old neighbor on Long Island used to say, "Such a problem you should have." This is where you start:
With your breadth and depth of experience, your resume needs to be properly positioned for the right job. It should tell your career story in a way that displays the very special value you could bring to a company that recognizes the need to maximize human capital. And it must do so without confusing or threatening the people who would hire you. I believe that if you position yourself properly and target companies that understand talent to be their most important asset (fortunately, a fairly rapidly growing awareness), you can achieve your goal.
[SHRM members-only content: Start a discussion on SHRM Connect to network and share job search tips]
There are three major considerations that should impact how you construct your resume and target your search:
Look for industries to which you bring the most practical experience. When you've worked in a particular industry, you know its challenges and the language unique to that field.
Consider company size. For hiring managers, the ideal candidate is someone who has done this job with a company their size or larger, because that means she has likely handled similar problems the company is facing and will face.
Find out what life cycle stage the company is in. All companies have a life cycle, and most experience all stages: start up, growth, maturity, atrophy or turnaround, and merger, though merger can happen at any point in the life cycle. Your company life cycle stage (CLCS) experience is relevant because companies at each phase have evolving challenges and cultures. Most people stay with companies in one of these stages, but the wider your CLCS experience, the wider your job search opportunities.
All three of these considerations share two connected imperatives, and this I think is where your credentials and particular goals come into play. The imperatives for every company are:
These considerations come into play with your resume, the job search, and the way you answer questions at interviews and the questions you ask in turn. Integrating your awareness of these imperatives throughout the branding phase—in which you create the right resume and social media presence—and then in all the communications you will have in your job search demonstrates your steady, consistent hand at the wheel. When companies are hiring senior staff, that cohesion is what we're after.
Positioning Special Skills
You are uniquely qualified to impact profitability in a senior HR role, serving at the right hand of company leaders. Your experience implementing successful business strategy, coupled with the talent management credentials inherent in your HR roles, makes you the ideal connection between employees and operations to support ongoing growth, because you understand the talent management issues that stand between business goals and their achievement—you've been there and you've done that. With your technical abilities and grasp of the issues, you will be able to answer questions in ways that other candidates cannot because they simply do not have the frame of reference for them as you do. This is a big part of making the short list.
You then have the ability to break away from other short-list candidates because you know the problems each area of responsibility presents and how to deal with them to best support business goals. Happily, your experience suggests that you can do this for a company at almost any point on the CLCS continuum.
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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