I still remember the first SHRM event I attended in my first days as an H.R. professional. I walked in the meeting room feeling a bit anxious. Would I fit in? Would I have anything in common with the H.R. people in the room?
We all seek connections. We all want to belong. But we are also prone to look for our differences rather than the commonalities we share. That’s what I did that day. I went into that SHRM event expecting to see how I was different. Truthfully, I got what I expected.
Years later, now at SHRM 2015, years away from my fledgling point of view, I believe that each of us has a unique story to tell. If we are willing to listen, we will realize that there is far more in common between us than there ever was different. What follows are five such stories.
I recently got the opportunity to talk with the five winners of the SHRM Foundation Annual Conference and Exposition Scholarships. Each of them came to the H.R. profession not unlike me and you – via a path tailor made just for them.
Cindy has been in H.R. for thirty years. After a number of successful years as a social worker, Cindy was informed that she would be laid off. Two weeks before she was to be unemployed, she was offered a position as the Personnel Director at a state school for intellectually disabled people. “After I stopped laughing, I said ‘Why did you call me?’ I don’t know a thing about the Personnel Office, well, other than that it is where you go to get an application for employment.” Her first day on the job, with no bona fide H.R. experience at all, Cindy was introduced to the seven people she would be supervising and shown a magnetic board filled with eleven hundred positions which she was informed she was now in charge of. Welcome aboard! “Oh and by the way, you have a grievance to handle in two days,” they told her. Talk about jumping in headfirst!
“Every day I would make five or six mistakes, if not more. The next day, I wouldn’t make the same five. And I went in to work two hours before everyone started on purpose so that I could make a lot of mistakes before anyone even started the day. And that was how I learned!”
Thirty years later, Cindy is the Director of Human Resources for the Institute for Health and Recovery, an organization committed to helping people with addictive behaviors. Throughout her journey, she has not only amassed a wealth of experience in the industry, but she has taught H.R. theory to young professionals and continues to thrive as a practical H.R. leader. When I asked her what the key to her success is, Cindy said, “I don’t know if I am truthfully all that good at it. I’ve been successful because I like it. God did not bless me with great looks or great wealth, but He blessed me with a great deal of common sense.”
Cindy’s story is far more compelling than I’m able to portray here. You have three days though. Find her and listen to her story. You’ll find that she’s quite a bit like you.
Jon came to H.R. when Fate handed him a surprise as well. A self-proclaimed Indiana boy, born and raised, Jonathan had a well-established career in food service. His first job was at the age of fourteen washing dishes, then fast food at sixteen and then pizza delivery at eighteen. Then, in his early twenties, he was the manager at a 24-hour diner when he was surprised with the news that he was going to be a father. “I woke up the next day and realized I needed to get a bit more serious about my life. And I certainly didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting for restaurant management jobs, so I went back to school.”
Jon had always wanted a professional role in business, and for him that meant his options were finance, marketing, supply chain or human resources. Far too much of a people-person for the first three, Jon found a good fit in the H.R. world for his talent and skills. He is now an H.R. Generalist II for the State of Indiana, assigned to oversee the recruiting function for all the state parks. Upon his return to work after the SHRM conference, he will be promoted to H.R. Generalist I for the Department of Health and be responsible for employee relations. Are you sitting down? Jon’s journey from wayward manager of a diner to successful H.R. Generalist for the State of Indiana has been 15 months (give or take a few internships at the beginning of his career). “Next up, I plan to go back to school for an M.B.A. I’m pretty driven and believe that every day is an opportunity to develop a skill and learn something new.”
I left my conversation with Jon curious to see what the road ahead has in store for him. If his natural sense of drive and passion for people continue to fuel his journey, I have no doubt that the years ahead will be just as fulfilling, if not more so, than his first 15 months.
The clock is ticking. Find Jon some time in the next three days and listen to his story. You’ll find that he’s quite a bit like you.
Edna Lugo’s story takes us in a completely different direction. But just like Cindy and Jon, Edna learned that life (and in her case love) has a funny way of taking you places you didn’t expect to go.
Edna grew up in the military. As you can imagine, she has therefore lived in a variety of different places throughout her life. Born in Puerto Rico, she lived portions of her life in Saudi Arabia, Florida, Louisiana, and most recently in Alabama. Her career path is just as varied.
With a degree in health care administration, her first job out of school was a combination of H.R. and payroll mixed with invoicing and billing. Her next role would be at Enterprise as a manager. That led to a role as an H.R. supervisor and then an inevitable promotion to H.R. manager. When her marriage to a military man took Edna to Louisiana, her next H.R. role would come from SHRM. The president of her local chapter hired her as an H.R. specialist with a focus on project management, a role that required her to take on a variety of H.R. related projects. But again, life has its twists and even more so, its turns. Her husband, Freddy, is in the Coast Guard, and has been relocated to Alabama. As has happened many times in the past, Edna is now starting a new adventure and a new job search.
Edna is passionate and driven. She has known transition all her life and has come to embrace it as part of life. By the time she had become a military wife, she had already spent a significant portion of her adult life developing her H.R. career. But a life in the military is a noble life of constant transition. It has certainly made her resilient and adaptable but it has also presented unique challenges.
It’s extremely rare these days for someone to stay in one job for 20 years. In fact, the average time span in a job for an employee is what – three to five years at minimum? Still, while this is true, we also know employers value stability in their employees. They can frown on a resume as seemingly varied as Edna’s. This often unspoken truth has made it a challenge for Edna to live a life so closely linked to change.
The truth is, with every new move Edna and Freddy have had to make for his career, Edna has been forced to vacate a job and start all over again. For someone as motivated as Edna, that makes developing a clear career path challenging. “When I have to start over, I never know quite how or when to reveal that I am a military wife. People tend to write you off as a short-timer when you tell them that,” said Edna. “But the military wives I know have doctorates and masters degrees and they are doing nothing because people won’t give them a chance. We may only be able to be in a job for a few years, but for however long we are there, we can contribute tremendous value to an organization that will give us the chance.”
I know you’re busy these next few days. If the opportunity presents itself, meet Edna and learn more about her journey. You’ll find that she’s quite a bit like you.
Not surprisingly, Jatisha Marsh’s journey into human resources began elsewhere, too! A native of Columbus, Georgia, Jatisha started her professional life with a degree in business management with a concentration in H.R. Her first job was not in H.R., though – it was in marketing. As it turned out, a life in the corporate world was not for her and she landed in education.
After seven years in the classroom, Jatisha’s journey took another unique turn into H.R. technology. I’m not talking about HRIS systems though. She was selected to be a National Teacher Fellow for the State of Georgia and worked with Oak Street Group, a think tank organization, on the development of teacher evaluations on the national level. Their purpose was to strengthen and otherwise improve educational outcomes through better teacher evaluation systems that could be utilized around the country.
Her experience as part of that think tank made Jatisha a natural fit for her current role. For the last two years, she has worked with Atlanta Public Schools implementing cutting edge evaluation platforms and processes throughout the Atlanta Public Schools system. The end goal of this project, if you will, is to improve teacher and leader effectiveness and student outcomes. Jatisha is responsible for managing the platforms, developing the processes and conducting the training associated with this important mission.
Jatisha is a bit of an H.R. entrepreneur. The work she is currently doing for the State of Georgia is fairly new and definitely cutting edge. She has been involved from the start and is therefore on the forefront of this unique H.R. technology. Her work, as data driven and techie as it seems, is contributing to the success of future generations of H.R. professionals and the teachers who develop them. Lest you worry that she has given up teaching altogether, in addition to the 30 training sessions she conducts on a regular basis on her leading edge evaluation platforms, she also teaches classes online. Needless to say, her passion for education has not stopped.
Jatisha is unstoppable. She wants to be Chief Human Resources Officer in an educational setting either at the K-12 or collegiate level. “I got into teaching because I like working with children. And I got into H.R. for a similar reason. I truly do love working with people. “
Yes, I know there are so many sessions to choose from. But you will need a break. In your down time, if your path crosses with Jatisha, get to know her. You’ll find that she’s quite a bit like you.
RONDA CRESS WAKEFIELD
Ronda was born and raised in the state of Montana. She came from a one-street town where people didn’t apply for jobs. “You just walked in, shook someone’s hand or were somebody’s neighbor’s friend and you got the job,” she said with a chuckle. Just like the four previous stories, Ronda’s story is unique and all about her personal drive to serve others.
Ronda’s professional career began at a Boys Town affiliate where she was the training evaluation coordinator and recruiter. “This was back when I didn’t even know what Human Resources was!” Her job involved behavior modification and treatment plans for children that had behavioral problems. That experience led her into the foster care system. Back then, in her early twenties, Ronda and her husband were the youngest foster parents in the state of Montana. They have since had 55 foster children! Her commitment to foster care led her into training other foster parents as well.
After years of dedication to the foster care system, Ronda’s journey shifted into Human Resources. She took on an H.R. job at a staffing agency and considers that her official entry into the Human Resources profession. “I went from helping children and families to helping and supporting employees and employers, a natural transition from Human services to Human Resources."
She moved from there to an H.R. role at a local restoration company where she built the H.R. program essentially from the ground up. Now, as the Human Resources manager at a manufacturing company in Kalispell, MT, Ronda told me “I’ve been so blessed to have been able to start off dabbling and playing in H.R. years ago, to now here I am in what I truly believe is my dream job. I wouldn’t change my journey at all.”
Ronda may have left human services behind, but her passion for service to others continues through her involvement with her local and state SHRM organizations. She is the president of her local SHRM chapter and, as if she wasn’t busy enough, she recently started teaching entry-level H.R. courses at her local community college.
“I don’t think you can learn enough. I love being able to help other H.R. professionals succeed in their careers, so I have to continue to learn myself in order to be able to help them effectively.”
This is a person who clearly has been influenced by human services. “You are responsible for your own destiny. Make it happen. At one point in my life, I was divorced, raising four teenagers and working three part-time jobs, and going to school! When things seem like they can’t get any worse, you truly can turn it around if you put your mind to it. Nothing is impossible as long as it’s within reason.”
Okay, okay! I know you’re raring to conquer the beast that is the SHRM conference calendar. Still, should you find a quiet moment and Ronda ends up sitting next to you, say hi. You’ll find that she’s quite a bit like you.
These are five people each with a unique and fascinating life story – one that is still being written. There are 15,000 other stories happening right this very second next to you at the SHRM bookstore. Near you at the General Session. Behind you in the Starbucks queue. In front of you down the convention center hall.
Each story, yours included, is worth being shared. Just like Cindy, Jon, Edna, Jatisha and Ronda’s, yours is a story that embodies the true heart and spirit of what it means to follow your passion, embrace change, tackle the unknown and, most importantly, make a difference.
Go for it. Tell your story and let others see that they are quite a bit like you.
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