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What if I Don't Want to be Strategic?

"So, where do you see yourself in 10 years?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know? You think I really have that much control over my own life LOL?!"

When I first started in human resources, I thought there was one career path. You start in an entry-level HR position, you move up to generalist or specialist, you become a manager, then a director, and then if you're really, really good at what you do, you become a Chief Human Resources Operator!

I remember being asked in a phone interview once, it was for a sole HR position at a law firm, and the current HR Manager was conducting the interviews to replace herself. She asked me if my career plan was more of being an HR Manager or an HRBP. I stumbled over that question. I answered honestly and said that I was open to either. Now, most interviewers would just moved on while silently rolling their eyes with the non answer they just received. But this interviewer pressed me again and told me that I needed to choose if I'd rather be an HR Manager or HRBP. And I stopped for a moment thinking, 'I wonder what the right answer is and then I'll just say that one.' I honestly can't even remember what I said but I didn't get a second interview.

I get what she was asking me. Do I want to be a people manager and oversee HR functions or do I want to be a business partner and strategize initiatives for the future of the company. While I know that I said I'd be open to either and I have experience with both of those sides of HR, I really do like the "HR Manager/Generalist" role. I like overseeing the functions, I like being a resource to employees and managers alike, and most of all I like to help employees. I always have an open door where they can come to my office with questions that I can answer for them. I have always said that I look at HR as a customer service role. An employee is upset, they can come to me. An employee needs a question answered, I'm their gal. A manager has an issue and needs some guidance, I'll do my best. Not to toot my horn, but I feel like this is where I really shine when it comes to HR - the customer service aspect of it.

Unfortunately, that's generally a lower level of HR -and I don't mean that in a negative way- it's usually not as compensated as other roles. But I like field HR. For the years that I've been in HR, I've come to realize that I have no desire to move into the C-Suite. I don't want to work at a corporate office of some huge corporation. I like seeing employees face-to-face on a daily basis. I also like money and unfortunately those roles usually don't come with a six-figure salary. When I get asked where I want to be in my career in five, ten years, my honest answer is, I want to stay right where I'm at. That doesn't mean I don't have ambition and it doesn't mean that I don't do anything strategic. I work with the chief's on selecting healthcare coverage. I propose new benefit ideas that are useful yet cost effective. I work with managers on handling a difficult employee or situation. I research and implement HRIS and payroll platforms to make processes more streamlined. I attend seminars and keep up to date on new policies and laws so the company stays compliant. I've been strategic with the way I've handled employee issues so they don't come back to bite us in the ass (the problem, not the employee).

But I just don't want to make those strategic decisions in a stuffy boardroom about how we can cut costs, who we can lay off, how can the company make more money, let's buy donuts for employees instead of giving a decent raise. You know, the people that send out the 5:00 p.m. emails saying how well the business has done this year and we couldn't have done it without you! Because of all your hard work, our key employees were able to get a 50% bonus this quarter!

OK, maybe I'm just being bitter. The "lower-level" HR positions are a thankless job. We work the front lines with little recognition. And if you work on the lonely island of being a sole HR person in a company, much of what you do probably isn't even seen. I'm sure there's been a hundred fires you put out before they spread, and because of that, nobody else in the company even knew there was smoke because of you. You may even be one of the few people that goes into the office regularly to check on things and do some work and no one else knows because they don't go into the office. When there's not any problems, it's because of you, but nobody notices until there's a problem. Oh, wait! I almost forgot that HR works for the company, not the employees! A reminder we get often.

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