Tag Archives: Career Advice

Essential HR Skills: Organization, Focus, and Negotiation

Recently I ran across an old article on “essential” HR skills. It was an interesting read, and I wanted to break it down and show how it’s true (and, in some ways, maybe not so much). Today we’ll tackle the first half of them. Here’s the original list:

  1. Organization
  2. Multitasking
  3. Dealing with Gray
  4. Negotiation
  5. Communication
  6. Discrete and Ethical
  7. Dual Focus
  8. Conflict Management and Problem Solving
  9. Change Management

Source: HR.BLR

Now I’d like to break these down individually and give some perspective on which ones are critical for the role of the HR professional. I’m framing this through the lens of a generalist, because that’s what I (and most of us, if I had to guess) do on a daily basis.


This is one of my weakest areas, but it’s also truly important to being great in this role. You’re balancing 50 priorities in different focus areas, and that doesn’t come easily. How do you know what is more important between a pending lawsuit that needs a response, 401k nondiscrimination testing, and handling a discrimination investigation? Whew. Be organized or be gone.


This one is on every list you’ll ever see for a “critical skill.” However, I think it’s less about multitasking and more about being able to shift focus quickly. Multitasking sounds like you’re trying to do 5 things at once. And in the end, that will just leave you with 5 things done in a so-so manner. Shifting focus at a moment’s notice to be able to handle a fast-moving priority IS an important skill. Multitasking can drop your IQ further than smoking marijuana, in case you were curious.

Dealing with Gray

Everything is not black and white, even in the world of policy creation and enforcement. You won’t think of everything, and that requires some level of discernment and backbone to make your job possible. If you are only interested in creating policies, adding amendments, and closing loopholes instead of using your brain, then this probably isn’t the profession for you. We have to work in the muddy areas frequently in this field, and it’s just part of the job description.


From handling compensation discussions to recruiting great candidates to working out your budget for the year, negotiation is something you need to work on if you plan to be successful in the HR field. In fact, I’d say the better you are at negotiating, the higher up the ladder of the profession you will go. The best and brightest HR pros I’ve run into over the years were not only unafraid of negotiating with vendors and management, they actually enjoyed the challenge! So put your negotiator hat on, because you have some work ahead of you…

Part 2: communication, discrete and ethical, dual focus, conflict management and problem solving, and change management

That’s all for today. We’ll cover the last half later this week!

How to be Excellent at Work

Earlier this month I was promoted to become the HR Manager at Pinnacle, which is a lot of fun. I’m doing work I love with people I enjoy being around, so I couldn’t ask for more. This week I was talking with one of our managers and discussing what makes people successful at Pinnacle. I think it’s probably the same as most companies, but sometimes it’s hard to tell with the significant differences between large and small organizations. I wanted to share some of those thoughts here, and maybe this will help with some coaching discussions as we head into the performance appraisal season…

How to be successful

As fast as I can rattle them off:

  1. There’s no job too small. You’re never too good to do anything.
  1. Treat everyone with respect. There’s always time to help people who ask to some degree.
  2. Become known as the expert in something (or multiple things). People will want your advice, and there’s a chance they will actually take it if they solicit it up front.
  3. Do your work with excellence, but also know a little about a lot of other areas. Otherwise you’re in a vacuum and relatively ineffective.
  4. Build others up whenever you get the chance, even if they don’t reciprocate.
  5. Learn to love things that others hate. More below on this one.

Loving what others hate

The easiest non-work example I have of this is running. I absolutely love running hills. Why? Because everyone else hates them. If I practice enough, I can easily be better than others in that area, and it ultimately serves my needs of wanting to run faster/stronger.

It applies at work as well. Have a software package that everyone uses but nobody likes? Take an hour to learn the ins and outs (at least at a basic level) and next time people grumble, ask if they’ve tried or solution.

Learn about the biggest challenges people face and try to determine how to solve them. Even if you don’t, you’ll still learn more about the tool and how it works.

In the end, the goal isn’t to make others love it. It’s to become an indispensable piece of the workforce.

Additional reading

If any of this struck a chord with you, then I highly recommend that you check out “How to Be the Smartest Person in the Room” and “How to Become the Go To Person at Work

How Stale Are You?

I’m edging into my three year mark with Pinnacle Solutions, and I’m thinking a good bit on growing professionally and avoiding a stagnant mindset, among other things. Recently my friend Krista published a piece on staying fresh. She made some great comments, and I want to spin off those today as a great tie in to the overall discussion.

  • How long is too long?  
  • How do you keep growing?

how long before you burn outJust to get us started, let’s check out some of Krista’s commentary:

I’m a little torn on this whole 10 years [at the same job] = stale idea. I’m not stale. You know what, I’ve known people who were stale in their roles after two months, because the truth is, they were never fresh. I’ve known people who moved from position to position within the same organization and are still stale with each incarnation. And… I’ve known people who honestly do stay too long and go stale in their roles.

So, if there’s a formula or idea on how to do it right, what is it? How do we answer the big questions mentioned above? Let’s dig in.

How long is too long?

We’ve all met those people. They are continuing to “work” and exist in the workplace, but they aren’t contributing anything of value. They are going through the motions and just biding their time until they can leave. They’ve been there too long.

In my own career, I have kept up one steady focus: grow or leave. If I ever get to a point in my job where I’ve stopped growing and learning and I no longer have passion for my daily efforts, then I start looking elsewhere. In the past, that could have been 1 year, 2 years, or more. It really depends on the manager, workplace, and other factors.

That has been my longstanding decision, though. And I stand by it. If you’re not growing and developing, you might as well find a place where you can.

How do you keep growing?

It might be a surprise to some of you, but growing requires effort. You can’t just sit back and have growth opportunities pour into your lap forever. Sure, when you pick up a new role or responsibility, you might have the option of picking and choosing from a multitude of growth opportunities, but eventually you’ll have to take the responsibility on yourself and seek them out.

As I discuss in the post on owning your own growth, you need to have a mindset change. Want to be more valuable? Make yourself more valuable. Want to develop new skills? Start researching ways to make that happen. We all have growth areas we can pursue, but the hardest part is often making the first move. Commit. Go for it. Make it so.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Wrapping it up

To turn it back to my own career progression, I’m approaching the three year mark at Pinnacle and still learning new things each week. I’m staying on top of trends, learning new software tools, and developing my daily skill set to prepare for future career opportunities (whether at my current employer or elsewhere).

Want the world to know that you are not stale?

Prove you’re not. Today and every day.

In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

Interview Tip: Be Able to Do the Job

This year I’ve had to don my recruiting hat more and more often, and I am astounded by the number of people who apply with absolutely no experience in the specific job, despite a specific set of required skills. However, I think it’s even worse when I receive a resume that lists those skills and abilities, yet when I’m interviewing I quickly determine that they have stretched the truth considerably or outright lied just to get an interview.

For the candidates

helicopter photoIt might seem like common sense, but be able to do the job if you apply for it. Don’t tell me “I just need a little training to get up to speed” or “I have a friend who says it’s not that difficult” or “I’m a fast learner.”

We aren’t a charity and we need to find the best person we can afford with our hiring budget. If you’re lying and I waste the time to bring you in to interview only to determine your resume is overblown and false, I will remember that for a long, long time.

Be truthful. Apply for jobs that you’re qualified for, and don’t assume that the employer owes you training or another benefit unless you have something very unique to offer.

For the recruiters

This was spurred by a combination of current interviews and a friend sending me an article about using a quick (and simple) coding test for software engineering jobs.

I love that, and that’s why I always have a technical expert in interviews with me. I don’t know enough about this stuff to always dig deep and determine a candidate’s claims of proficiency.

As simple as it seems, we should be trying harder to disqualify people for a lack of substantial job-related skills. We need to be doing sharing realistic job preview scenarios to ensure a proper candidate fit. Don’t feel bad for rejecting someone who isn’t qualified to do the job. Just because they are likable doesn’t mean they are the right person!

One interview I participated in several years ago fits into this discussion very well. We had an opening for an electrical engineer. We brought in a candidate who was very personable and had what seemed like a good bit of experience to fit our needs. However, when one of our guys gave him a simple electrical schematic to explain, he was unable to fulfill the request.

And I don’t mean he stumbled around, guessed, or made an incorrect assertion. He just sat there and said he had no idea. This was one of the key skills we needed out of the person taking the position. Whoever had the job would be creating, reviewing, and proofing these types of documents from day one. And this guy failed miserably.

Sometimes we like to pitch softball questions. We like to talk more about ourselves and the company than the candidate. We like to prompt responses instead of allowing the person to respond without help.

Let’s step back from that and try to incorporate job-related assessments (as in the electrical engineering example above) into the hiring process. It will make for better hires, fewer headaches, and a stronger workforce overall.

Getting into HR? This Carnival’s For You

This HR Carnival is focused on those getting into HR. The HR Carnival is a great opportunity to harness the brains of multiple people for a common purpose. This one is no different. For this edition, I asked each person to contribute an article that touches on some of the key skills, insights, and abilities for the new HR pro.

I realize that many of us are beyond those initial shaky steps in the profession, but I also think we need to do what we can to reach back and help the next generation of HR professionals however we can. With that in mind, let’s jump into the day’s content.

Six of HR’s best blogs sound off

  1. The team from changeboard blog  threw out the top 10 career tips from HRDs around the world. Let’s tap into the brilliance offered here, shall we?
  2. Melissa at HR reMix brings us the best advice for a new HR pro. (Hint: it’s never really about HR!)
  3. Shauna the incorrigible HR Minion tells us you can never be too much of anything. Absolutely love this and couldn’t agree more.
  4. Mark at Inflexion Advisors offers up the power of 7 simple questions.
  5. Naomi Bloom shares with us the model of a modern HR leader. Do you fit the mold?
  6. Amit from Young HR Manager asks the eternal question: can HR have friends at work? Wow. This one really hit me hard. I have plenty of friends at work of varying degrees, but I always have the vague thought in the back of my mind that I might have to be the one to end that on the company’s behalf one day.

As for myself, I’d love to kick in the Ultimate Guide to Entry Level HR Jobs. Lots of good info there and hopefully it continues to help the next generation entering the HR/recruiting workforce by answering questions, providing helpful guidance, and eliminating the ambiguity surrounding the profession.

What about you? Any additional words of wisdom to share?

HR-Maybe You’re in the Wrong Job?

One of the most amazing things about participating in an annual SHRM conference is the opportunity to talk with friends and discuss the core concepts of this profession. I hinted at a few of the ideas recently, but today I wanted to go in a different direction. It might be random and disjointed, but I think you need to read it and consider the question: why are you in HR?

A new and different role

key successful hr career

What’s the key to a long and successful HR career?

Sometimes it seems like I am preaching a version of HR that is radically different from the norm. In many places, it’s not uncommon for HR professionals (many of you, even) to be using paper applications to process applicants, working through an annual performance review process with your staff members, and handling a large amount of administrative tasks. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with those activities. Let me be clear. However, I do want to emphasize the fact that there are better ways to do them, if your culture and leadership support that. So a friend approached me about these things and asked:

“If we keep preaching these things and the core of HR hasn’t changed, should we be looking for another job? Are we defining a job that doesn’t exist?”

My answer to that? Maybe. As far as looking for another job, we need to work in places that support what we believe. You can work in a place you don’t enjoy or a place that has work that isn’t fun. Probably not forever, but you can at least do it for a while. However, if you don’t believe in what they do morally, ethically, or spiritually, then it’s never going to work. Get out while you can. As far as the defining a job that doesn’t exist part, that really intrigued me. I believe that there are companies out there for every type of attitude or culture fit. And if there isn’t maybe that’s a reason to start one. Many well-known and much-loved companies started because someone was unhappy or uncomfortable with a prior employer and struck out on their own. Now that we’re discussing beliefs, I ask that you take a trip down memory lane with me.

My inspiration

Think about what you know and believe about HR. You know, the foundation and principles that you rely on every day to make decisions and do your job. You’d probably think that the general beliefs for people in the same profession would be the same, but I’m not quite sure. What would you think if I said those basic principles that you rely one are probably very different from mine? We might share some tendencies, but the variables of where we’ve worked, who we’ve worked with/for, what we’ve learned, etc. can greatly influence that foundation. You might think it’s moot based on where you are in your career currently, but even those early experiences can still shape the direction and trajectory of your life for years to come. When I first jumped into HR, I latched onto two of the most innovative people I’d ever seen. Mind you, I had recently finished a degree in human resources management, so I assumed I knew what the heck I was doing. And then I found Chris and Frank. Chris Ferdinandi and Frank Roche were the authors of RenegadeHR and KnowHR, respectively. The things they were writing were revolutionary, bold, and (somewhat) scary. For someone with a degree in HR, I quickly realized that a large portion of what I knew from school was fairly useless if I wanted to be valuable in this profession going forward. Thinking back, I don’t know that there was a specific moment or article that helped to set me on my current path, but here I am and I can easily see how many of the principles and ideas learned from those men have helped to shape my ideas and career ever since. One interesting thing to note? Chris and Frank are neither one hardcore HR professionals. Chris is more of a creative/communications type guy, and Frank works for a communications company. Interesting that those types of professionals were sharing the most attractive and insightful ideas for a young and inexperienced HR pro. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had instead ended up on another website written by someone who thinks policies are the best thing since sliced bread and that we need to be counting every minute that our employees are sitting in their chairs during the day to ensure full “productivity” (ha!). What would I be like? What would I believe? How would my career have been different? I do know that it would have been wildly varied from what it is currently. My previous manager hired me after spending time with me in a mentor group and reading this site to learn my thoughts on leadership, culture, etc. If she had seen something in my writing or behaviors that indicated a poor culture fit, then I would never have had the opportunity to work in my current role. Yes, I’m talking about my own path here, but I want you to think back on yours as well. Whether you’ve been doing this for ten days or twenty years, I think it’s worth the time investment to occasionally look back on your career and take stock of the situation.

Coming back home

I mentioned earlier that I think there’s a company “fit” for everyone, it’s just a matter of finding the company. One of my friends works for a “traditional” HR department. The most important things in their mind are dress codes, attendance policies, and planning the office parties. What I talk about as far as revolutionizing the relationship of HR with leadership, tying into the business needs, and becoming a strategic player on multiple levels will not work with a company like that without a major shift in leadership. It’s embedded. It’s the culture (how things are done). And it won’t change without much pushing, pulling, and prodding. On the other hand, some organizations don’t ask for anything more from their HR team, because they have never seen any reason to do so. If you’re content with spending the majority of your time monitoring your employees for social media use or checking into how many breaks they’re taking, then keep that up. You’ll never disappoint, but you’ll never be great, either. If you want to do and be more as an HR professional, then you need to step up and make that happen. In one of my past roles I kept pushing and working to try and make my department better. I wanted to change “how things were done,” because they were obviously broken and in need of serious repair. I thought that others wanted to see things change as much as I; however, the friction of their unwillingness to change was what eventually drove me to seek employment elsewhere. I had two very young babies at home and it was a scary leap, but I wanted to find a company that actually wanted to hear what I had to say. It’s a very common, yet completely crazy, scenario. We spend all this time and money trying to recruit and hire people because we value what they can offer in terms of knowledge/skills/experience, but then we don’t want to listen to them if what they say isn’t palatable. I’ve noticed that problem is one of the symptoms of a broken workplace. Great leaders should hire people who are excellent, then let them work. Those people will help challenge each of the other staff to up their game (or hopefully they’ll leave and make room for another great hire). That’s how great companies work. Suppressing greatness is never going to lead to greatness. 

A moving target

I wanted to take a second to remind you (and me) that this isn’t a static conversation. Who we were yesterday isn’t necessarily who we’ll be tomorrow.We’re all constantly learning and growing (or we should be). My beliefs and values won’t change, but what I do and how I do it very well may. Once you understand what kind of professional you want to be, find resources to help you grow in that manner. Here’s a quick example: On the flight to the SHRM conference a few weeks ago I picked up a book from a friend to peruse. I had to put it down after twenty pages, because I had two pages of notes and nowhere else to capture my thoughts on the plane. The comments and ideas in the book align with mine, but they come from Broc’s world view, not mine. I get the benefit of his experience and education (informal and otherwise), and I sharpen my own skills and knowledge for the future. I encourage growth often. If you’re not growing, you’re becoming stagnant. It’s time to own your own growth.

Speaking of fit, let’s look up

One of the sessions I was desperately looking forward to at SHRM was “Keeping your Company Culture as you Grow.” That’s one of my fears–that we will lose our sense of identity as we continue to grow in leaps and bounds. One of the speaker’s comments is fitting for this discussion. “If you don’t fit with your CEO on 80% or more of the issues, leave and find one you can work with. You should push when necessary, but it’s not your job to change the CEO’s mind on every decision.” Does that mean that you should bail tomorrow? Probably not, but I do encourage you to re-evaluate your career through the context of the ideas discussed here today. Let’s recap:

  • Does your company need someone innovative or steady? It’s not a right/wrong answer, it’s a “what we need to move to the next level” answer.
  • What are the founding principles of your HR ideology? Are you comfortable with them and what they say about you?
  • Are you a fit with your current organization’s beliefs and values?

I’m hoping this is the beginning of the discussion, not the end. I’d love to see some thoughts on the topic from you and learn more about how I can support you in your role as an HR professional!

Business Communication Writing Skills

Business communication writing skills are incredibly powerful and effective, if used correctly. I’ve talked previously about my communication style at the office (Better Communication at Work). I think that only scratched the surface of my thoughts about the importance of written communication in the workplace, and I’d like to delve deeper into that today.

business communication writing skillsOver the course of the past several years, I’ve used persuasive writing on numerous occasions to encourage candidates to accept job offers, defuse tetchy situations, encourage managers, etc. It’s one of the tools that I use quite often in both my HR and recruiting roles, and it’s one that I would argue is critical for sustained success. Let’s backtrack and set a foundation for business communication writing skills:

Persuasive writing, also known as creative writing or an argument, is a piece of writing in which the writer uses words to convince the reader of his/her view regarding an issue. Persuasive writing sometimes involves convincing the reader to perform an action, or it may simply consist of an argument(s) convincing the reader of the writer’s point of view. Persuasive writing is one of the most used writing types in the world. via Wikipedia

How to use persuasive writing at work

Here are ten quick ways you might need to use some persuasive writing in the workplace. Over time, you can build your business communication writing skills through each of these scenarios. If you have more, please share in the comments below!

  1. Converting a candidate to a hire
  2. Getting a manager to see your point of view
  3. Influencing a policy change
  4. Getting your manager to give you a raise
  5. Helping your staff to step up to your expectations
  6. Increasing your initial offer acceptance rate
  7. Making new hires excited about their first day of work
  8. Reducing resistance to change initiatives
  9. Encouraging meetings to flow smoother/faster
  10. Negotiating with vendors for increased services or reduced costs

Essential elements of business communication writing skills

Now that you have an idea of how to use persuasive writing, what are the key elements to making it work?

  1. Passion-You need to believe in what you’re sharing, or others won’t want to believe it, either.
  2. Perspective-Write from the reader’s perspective. Understand what their ideal outcome is and try to align with that if at all possible. This is the most important of all. If you can do this well and understand your reader’s needs, fears, etc. as well as they do, you’ll have amazing success with these techniques.
  3. Explain-This is not the time to take the “I’m an expert, just trust me” stance. Instead, try to explain the situation as simply as possible.
  4. Emotions-Try to appeal to emotions, but try to stay away from fear if you can. Fear is a powerful emotion, but too many pushes on that button yield decreasing and unpredictable results.
  5. Logic-Use logic as well. Using all logic or all emotion in your writing will eliminage a large portion of your audience. Tying the two together with facts will help to reach the largest number of people.

Business communication writing skills exercises

This is where the rubber meets the road. Let’s look at a few examples. Feel free to write your responses below or somewhere private. Just think through the elements I mentioned and how you can incorporate them to influence the outcome in the direction you choose.

  1. Getting a raise: You’ve been going above and beyond your normal workload for several months, and it’s resulted in some key wins for your organization. You have the data to back up how you specifically contributed to the bottom line. You’ve decided to write a short exploratory email to you manager to discuss a raise in preparation for a face-to-face meeting. What do you write in order to sway the decision in your favor?
  2. Influencing a policy change: Your leadership team has been discussing a key policy change that will require all staff to be at work for “core hours” from 8am to 3pm Monday through Friday. You believe that there is a better way to ensure full coverage for customer issues while not forcing every staff member to physically be in the building for that period of time. You have indicated that you would like to challenge the policy change, and the leadership team requested a response in writing. What do you write in order to explain the significance of the change’s long-term impacts to the organization? 
  3. Reducing change resistance: Your organization has decided to change insurance providers in order to save money. There are no immediate benefits to the employees, and many are happy with the current provider. The leadership team has tasked you with explaining the change to all staff. What do you write in your company-wide message to minimize negative responses and encourage support for the change initiative?

Wrapping up

I hope I’ve convinced you that persuasive writing, if done correctly, can be an amazing skill to develop and hone. I’ve seen great success with it, and I try to get better every single day through practice and learning from my mistakes. Building business communication writing skills takes time and effort, but it’s wroth it in the long run!

I’d love to hear from some of you who have used this technique in your own career. How did it work out for you?