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Monday, August 17, 2009

new HR coordinator without resources asks whether to leave

A reader writes:

I graduated in 07 with a BA. Since than, I’ve been working FT while completing my MBA in HR as well. I began my HR career working as a recruiter for a staffing agency for about a year, but soon found out that sales is not what I really want to pursue. As a result, since Nov. of last year, I found another position working as a HR Coordinator for a local company. As for my MBA, I will be done with it this Sept. My ultimate goal is to work in corporate HR.

Now, you may ask me what is the problem? Everything is sounding to be on the right track. Well… the problem lies with my current position. I accepted this position thinking that I would learn a lot from it and that it would prepare me for a future corporate position. However, to my surprise, that is not the case at all. I get no guidance from this position. Besides me in the HR department, there is only one other person and she is solely responsible for payroll. So as a result, I have to rely on myself to research on things. For instance, right when I started, I was asked to redo the employee handbook by myself. Everything that is going here, I have to research and figure it out on my own. Now I know some people will say that this is a good learning experience but I really don’t think so. There are so many aspects of HR and I would rather work for someone who’s experienced and not put the company at risk.

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to apply for other positions but have found no luck. I think the main reason for that is because my length of employment. I’ve only been at this position for 8 months and already I’m applying somewhere else. If this is the case, do you advice that I should stay with this position longer and apply later or should I continue my application? Does short length of employment really raise a red flag?

First, let me say that I'm not in HR and so I'm hoping that people who are will weigh in here as well.

For what it's worth, you wanted a position you'd learn from, and having to figure stuff out on your own is a damn good way of learning. There are a lot of people who'd love to have a job where they're given that kind of autonomy and responsibility. (Although I hope they're providing you with access to legal counsel so that you have someone reviewing your work to ensure you're complying with the law.)

Out of curiosity, did you realize when you accepted the job that there would be no experienced HR person working with you? I'm trying to figure out how this ended up being a surprise.

But in any case, if this really isn't what you want and you just aren't the type of person who wants to teach yourself (and you're not alone if that's the case), you can certainly look for other jobs. Yes, short stays are a red flag, so you'd want to make sure that you stay in your next job for a good long period. And obviously you shouldn't quit this job before you have another one lined up.

(I want to really emphasize that to everyone: Do not quit your job without having another one lined up. The economy is astoundingly bad. I'm advertising for several positions right now, and I've been blown away by the swarm of highly qualified applicants for relatively low-paying positions. You do not want to be jobless if you can help it.)

But I'd stay. It sounds kind of awesome to me, as long as your boss is willing to give you access to legal people when you need them. But maybe actual HR people are about to tell me I'm wrong, so stay tuned in the comments section.


DrJohnDrozdal said...

I have to agree with Ask a Manager that your situation sounds a little odd. When you say "local" company, I will read "small". In most small companies, the HR function is the last area that typically gets added as the company grows. Usually then the HR function gets assigned to the controller or chief financial person - whoever that may be - because the first HR activity that gets a person attached to it is payroll. The odd part is that when the company hires an HR coordinator (or some other designation) to lead the HR function, most companies will insist that the person have a little more experience usually in the form of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) certification since that person will be flying solo. My guess is that the company hired someone with less experience (that is, you) because they did not want to pay for a more experienced person - again a pretty common occurence in small companies.

However, you are in the situation you are in, so as Ask a Manager says make the best of it. Absolutely make sure you have access to a good employment law attorney and stay until you have another job in hand.

Pam Wilkinson said...

I agree with what's been said so far. You might also want to join a local or even online networking HR forum. That way you wouldn't feel like you were reinventing the wheel.

Just Another HR Lady said...

I would have to agree with AAM, it sounds like you have found yourself in a situation where they should probably have recruited an experienced HR Manager - nothing against you, it's just that you are not at a point in your career where you can just hit the ground running (and you recognize that).

That being said, your company must have seen something in your background that enticed them to hire you, so yes, network, network, network. Find a mentor in the HR Community, and make sure you have a good legal counsel to tap into for issues. Trial by fire is more common than you think, and HR's value is all about past experience, the more you manage, the better you get.

If you don't want to start out your career with trial by fire, I would suggest discreetly starting to job hunt, targeting companies with an HR dept where you can learn and grow from others.

Unknown said...

AAM, it sounds pretty awesome to me too. In my mind, it's an opportunity to build a fabulous resume and I'm sort of lost as to what exactly the problem is, other than not having someone more experienced to work with. I've worked mostly as an administrative assistant, and with very few exceptions that is how it normally works - you get hired, there is not someone more experienced on hand to train, and you figure it out on your own.

I would wonder if there is a bit of nervousness at having so much responsibility (which is perfectly reasonable and understandable) and not particularly liking having everything on your shoulders. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that affects your daily life. I am also curious how this came as a surprise, since that seems to be the crux of the whole deal.

Suzanne Lucas said...

Heck, I want that job. What a great, albeit, challenging opportunity. I bet it pays poorly, which is why they hired someone inexperienced.

I ditto the need for legal review and networking and keeping the job.

Kerry Scott said...

I'm an HR person.

I'm going to try to be straight with you without hurting your feelings. Sometimes I suck at that though, so I apologize in advance.

If I were hiring, I probably wouldn't hire you. Here's why:

1. It sounds like you got your undergrad degree, and then went more or less straight on to grad school. That tells me you're heavy on the learning (structured learning in a school, anyway), but light on the doing. That's not a red flag...more of a yellow flag.

2. You want a job where someone experienced is going to teach you stuff. I hear a lot of new grads say that. Here's the thing: people are at work. They're working. They don't have time to be your professor. If they had that kind of free time, they lost their job a year ago. In fact, an HR manager who DID have that sort of free time would likely hide that fact in this economy, so as not to be unemployed. When you say you needed someone to help you write the employee handbook...well, for me, that's a red flag. You're an MBA candidate. You need to be able to do a draft of a handbook all by yourself. If you don't know how, you need to know how to google stuff and check the SHRM site and use your network. In fact, that's how you find mentors--by networking. Not by having the company provide a part-time teacher for you.

3. You've been in this job for eight months, and you're leaving because it was a surprise that you wouldn't have a built-in mentor. The fact that this came as a surprise indicates to me that maybe you didn't do your due diligence in the interview. That's not so good.

You mentioned that you wanted a job that prepared you for corporate HR. I think you got one. Circumstances changing dramatically from what you expected? That's corporate HR. Having to figure stuff out with no support? That's corporate HR. People depending on you to figure it out and get it right? That's corporate HR. If you're waiting to have some bank of knowledge in your head that makes you feel confident in all situations, you're going to have a long wait. Even veteran corporate HR leaders have to google stuff, and use a template for an employee handbook (you know there's software that will create it, right?).

Plus, one thing about HR is that there are tons and tons and TONS of companies that put inexperienced people in charge of HR. Tons. HR is mostly about good judgment and knowing where to look for the information you need, so this isn't as bad as you think.

I think you're missing a tremendous opportunity here. I hope you'll stick it out, because the education you'll get in this job is WAY more valuable than anything you're going to learn in school. I had exactly this same sort of opportunity at the beginning of my HR career, and although it was really hard, it paid off in spades.

I hope you'll reconsider.

Charles said...

Ditto Evil HR Lady and Kerry;

I, too, want that job! As a corporate trainer it is often my job to write handbooks, research best practices, interview subject-matter experts, etc. - what's wrong with that? I love it! And, what company do you work for? I would like to send them my resume! ha!

Seriously though, in my opinion it sounds as if you have not transitioned from "full-time student" mode to employee mode. You might very well have the same feelings in any other position that you are having in this one. So, welcome to the work world.

I would recommend staying and getting the most out of this position. You will learn a lot, if you approach everything as a learning opportunity rather than a "goshdarn, I have to figure this out on my own" scenario.

If you think that you should be in a position where the more experienced person would be showing you the ropes, think again. More likely than not, the company that hires you to be the subordinate to a more experienced person is to help that more experienced person. You could, instead of learning a lot, be learning nothing except how to be someone else's gofer, handyman, etc. Count your blessings.

In my opinion, nothing would look better on your resume than to show that you have the experience to build a department. Why don't you try to stay until you have brought someone else in so that you get to be his/her mentor?

BTW, assuming that you do find work elsewhere; just what, exactly, do you plan on telling them why you are leaving? That you have to do all the work yourself? That you are not learning anything? That will NOT get you hired.

HR Godess said...

I have been in the original poster's shoes and I can tell you that it is what you make of it. All the advice on here is dead on, anyone can write a policy. There are lots of examples out there and it's easy to taylor it to your company. The "skill" that I strongly advise any HR person is listen to the people. A good HR person really has a connection to the people and can make decisions based on what is best for the company AND the people. I've met plenty of HR professionals who are annoyed with the people. Don't be one of those!

Every company I've worked for I've managed to forge strong ties with the people while supporting the company goals and vision. You can do both. If you have the people on your side, it's amazing how much more you can accomplish. Happy people make for a great work place.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,
Thank you for you inputs and "Ask a Manager" for posting my question.
First, to clear up the confusion about the "being surprise" part. It was really a surprise! Originally, the position I applied for was HR Assistant. So during the interview, I was told that I would be assisting in the HR department. However, right when I started, the duties given to me were more than that. That's why it's a surprise.
Secondly, I do recognize that it's a good opportunity for me to learn things on my own. But I guess the reason I don't like it is the fact that I don't have anyone to give me feedback on what I'm doing. I do like the fact that I'm having so much freedom to complete a project. Nevertheless, if at the end, there's no one more knowledgeable to let me know if that would work before it's implemented, I feel like I might put the company at risk.. Also, we don't have an employment law attorney at hand to consult with. What I've been doing is attending seminars and read as much as I can.
Thirdly, to Kerry- I did draft the employee handbook by myself. Later, I recommended to the owner that they should hired an employment attorney to look at.
So overall, I do see everyone's point of view and appreciate your suggestions but I hope this clarify your confusions as well!!

Kerry Scott said...

I'm glad you drafted the handbook yourself. That's valuable experience, and it's going to look great on your resume.

Two more things:

1. I understand that you're frustrated that there's no one to give feedback. However, that's true of most jobs. Only in textbooks do people get regular feedback...few managers do it in real life. They should, but they don't. That's one of the tough transitions between school and work: much less feedback.

2. One of the things they don't teach you about HR in school is that you're an adviser, and that people often don't take your advice. You've just lived one example of that--you wrote a handbook, you told them to have an attorney look it over, and they didn't. I've written 11 handbooks, and I've told each of those 11 companies to have an attorney look it over, and not one of them has. Someone told me early on that I'd better get used to having my advice ignored if I was going to work in HR. He was right. Your job as an HR person is to give them the right advice, and to not take it personally when they reject it. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make 'em drink...and HR is all about leading horses to water (and then listening to them whinny about how thirsty they are, and resisting the urge to say, "I led you to water! You should have taken a drink! Are you some kind of idiot?"

I think you're going to be fine (because you took all this feedback pretty well, and because you seem pretty smart). Welcome to HR.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I am in a position right now where I'm the only person who knows how to do my job and I absolutely love it. Not only am I learning how to do things I otherwise wouldn't have to, I'm really contributing to the organization and have made improvements to my department. It is going to be invaluable in the future as I am sure it will for the OP as well.

JW said...

I am currently in a similar situation and grappling with some of the same concerns.

I have to say that when I read AAM's response I was a bit put off, but then as I re-read it along with many of the other comments and I started to see my situation from a new perspective.

The reality is that when the honeymoon phase is over in your first HR job, it can be a shocker to realize that HR may not be what you thought it would be.

Thank you to all of you that took the time to respond - you've helped more than the original poster with this one.

The Engineer said...

Sounds like a great opportunity to me depending on the support your management gives you. If you are expected to perform like someone with years of experience and expertise then look for another position. However, if they acknowledge that they picked someone with "potential" and allow you to build the position (department) into what it should be, then celebrate the chance to put into practice all of the stuff you learned (are learning) in school.

While I have not written an employee handbook, I have done specifications. The reality is that specifications are largely written in response to problems. What new problems have prompted the rewrite? You won't be able to anticipate every potential issue, but you can look at what others have done. There are many public source materials than can be copied. You will find others in your field that can provide documents you can copy or use a pattern.

This really sounds like a great position. You just haven't experienced the alternative yet. I hope you never do.

adowling said...

I've been where you are, sort of. I was a one person HR department for my first ever job in HR. It was hard work but I wouldnt trade that experience for anything. There's great advice above. Use your network, if you arent on twitter and following HR people, well, you should be. Read blog posts, attend seminars, read books. I would recommend staying where you are and making a difference. When you update your resume, list the differences you made and how it saved the company money. My best advice, however, is have a life outside of the office. That role can be all consuming and you'll burn out fast if you dont have an outlet.

Charles said...


"First, to clear up the confusion about the "being surprise" part. It was really a surprise! Originally, the position I applied for was HR Assistant. So during the interview, I was told that I would be assisting in the HR department. However, right when I started, the duties given to me were more than that. That's why it's a surprise."

Yep, they pulled a fast one on you.

I was once in a similar situation where I applied for, interviewed for, and was offered an "assistant" job, only to find out that I was the "supervisor" instead. Okay, no actual permanent employees under me, it was all temps. But I had to deal with 5 to 20 staff and their agencies.

No complaints on my part though, I did most of the work (I mean, supervising!), except for contacting customers to get information from them; that I passed onto other permanent staff saying that it wasn't part of my job (I mean, department!).

Six months into the job, I went to my boss and asked for a raise, pointing out, of course, how I set up the department, trained and mentored new hires, negotiated rates with temp agencies, etc. I got the raise that I asked for (made me wish I had asked for more!); with my boss saying that I was the only one in the company that the owner granted a raise to without any objection or negotiation.

While it was not my ideal job, I did get a lot more out of it then just that raise. I ended up staying 3 years and now have "management" experience on my resume. Something that I was not looking for; but sure am glad that I did it.

So, yea, it sucks that they pulled a fast one on you. I suspect that even for those of us who would love to be in your position we would have negotiated a better salary knowing what all it involved.

I now understand why you want "feedback" - it would be good to have some sort of benchmarking on what works and what doesn't. But, don't worry about that too much because what works in one company might not necessarily work in another.

Just get what you can out of this position with your eyes on the next step. Good luck!

Rachel - former HR blogger said...

My best learning experiences have come from the past 4 months when I was leading HR alone. (I only have a Masters and 2 years experience.)

I'm really wondering if business is the right place for you at all. It does not sound like you have the confidence in yourself and that you'd rather be hand held than learn on your own.

I don't say this to be mean but look at all of the comments from people who say that they would love this opportunity. I think you need to look into why you don't.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone again for you suggestions!!! You all have truly enable me to take a different look into my situation.
To Charles- That's exactly what I'm going to do regarding asking for a raise. What I've been doing is keeping track of what I've accomplished for the company so that I can bring that when my annual review is up.
To Rachel-I hate HR- I am confident in myself. However, there's a difference in knowingly accepted a lead position in HR and not knowing what you've gotten yourself into. That's why I'm having second thought and reaching out for help.
To everyone else- Thank you again!! I now have another place to go to if I ever have any more HR questions and the best yet.. it's FREE!! =)

amsutton said...

I would definitely agree with what most of the commenters have said. I can't say enough about the resources available in good blogs.

There are plenty of people out there (HR Capitalist-Kris Dunn, Compensation Force-Ann Bares, Know HR-Frank Roche, Wally Bock) and others that ROCK they really know what they talk about and they share it with the rest of us (for FREE). Get on Google Reader or another RSS feed and sign up for their stuff -- this will help you know where to go for help... in addition to this fine blog and other resources like SHRM, etc.

That said, this is really a great opportunity. You get to make a lasting mark on this company and get in on the ground floor. There are lots of us who would appreciate that opportunity. Keep your eye on that and it will help you see the hard stuff for what it is - great experience.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Productivity Guy said...

Sounds like a great job... not sure what the poster is worried about.

Anonymous said...

I agree with AAM. I have been in this situation and let me tell you, if you stick it out you will become a very valuable person, both to the current company and any future company you hire on with. Yes, it can be VERY TOUGH and frustrating, but I think it's worth it in the end.