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HR Career Advisor

The struggling economy has prompted many to think about their careers -- sometimes by choice, often out of necessity. SHRM is launching a monthly chat series on advancing in the HR profession, where you can get feedback from HR and career planning experts. In this month's chat, Phyllis G. Hartman, SPHR, will field questions. A longtime consultant and speaker, she is a former member of the SHRM Workforce Readiness Committee and the Employee Relations Expert Panel; and is co-author of a book on career development for HR professionals to be published by SHRM this summer. Submit your questions now.


Moderator: Hi everyone. Sorry for the late start. Here at SHRM, we've experienced a power outtage in our area. There's a possibility that our chat may be interrupted because of that. If it happens, we will post the answers on Monday to many of the questions we receive today. In the meantime, let's get started.


Arlington, TX : Just venting: I wish more job announcements included salary ranges. For HR positions in particular, I have a hard time determining what level some of these positions are. Seeing the salary range would help. I find it aggravating that employers sometimes want me to offer full detail on my salary history, but won't even hint at what their job pays.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Sometimes there is a pretty broad range for a job and a company may not want to post that range. In other cases, they may not want their competitors' to know what they pay for such jobs.


Denver CO: My company is going to lay off about 1/3 of our workforce. My job is spared, but I'm thinking of resigning, partly in protest (and partly because I'm ready to go). Would quitting a job before I had another one to go to look funny to prospective employers?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: You always look better if you have a job when you are looking for a job. Remember any company wants someone who will be loyal and the current company may believe that they have good business reasons for the layoffs. It is a tough economy. I’d stay, tactfully express my concerns about the layoffs and start quietly looking. Surviving a layoff can give you some good experience in helpinh the other survivors cope, etc., which can look good to a new employer.


Pittsburgh, PA: Everybody keeps asking me if I have a FACEBOOK page. I don't, but a friend told me they can be useful in jobhunting. How can a Facebook page help? Can you provide any tips on what should be on a Facebook page if you plan to refer employers to it?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: A page on a social networking site may help you expand your network which is key in the job hunt. There have been concerns with the content of some sites so I’d make sure the site would be viewed positively by potential employers. We are seeing some sites like LinkedIn, which tends to be more business than social, that have “interest groups” that might help you connect with people in a particular industry or geography.


Olathe, KS: People always tell me to "network, network, network." But I don't feel comfortable doing this. I'm the only HR person at my company. I can't get to SHRM chapter meetings. Can you provide any pointers on how someone with a FT obligiaton during the day (my job) and at night (my young family) can network?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: On line networking is one option and can be done in off hours at home. Networking in person is very important for developing your career even if you are not looking for a job now. It is great to have a good network of other HR professionals when you are looking for ideas and help, too. A colleague of mine was not comfortable meeting new people but started doing it by using her “interviewing” skills to start conversations.


Phoenix, Arizona: I've been an HR professional for 15 years. I'm taking a closer look at my resume, which I haven't updated in years. Do yo think an "objective" statement on the top of the resume serves any purpose for an established professional?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: An objective can be a big help if it “connects” with the target company or recruiter. It can kill your resume if it is too general or says something they don’t like. It does indicate that you know what you want which most employers want but if what you want and what they want are not the same...


Austin, TX: Phyllis, I am a former VP of HR currently looking for employment in the Austin area. I have significant experience dealing with China. Any suggestion on possible consulting engagements?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: I would suggest looking for industries that are more robust right now, less affected by the recessionary trends. Look for an industry with international connections. Utility companies will probably ride out the recession better than other industries. They have a lot of international links. Energy in particular is something the whole world is concerned about. Because of the change of the economy in China, your link with that country may not provide the edge it once did. But, international experience will be a plus with an international company looking for people with experience beyond the U.S.


Boston, MA: If someone has a varied background (ie general HR, Training & Development) what is the best way to determine what direction to head in? If my most relevant experience is from two jobs ago, what's a good way to emphasize this in a resume?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: I’d first select the direction that you enjoy most keeping in mind that the market of available jobs should support it. You might consider a "functional" resume as opposed to a chronological one if you want particular experience or skills to show up. This would consist of an "achievements" or "skills" bulleted list followed by a section for "job experience" that would list job titles, companies, dates, locations, with little or no detail.


Charleston WV: I just received my PHR, what is the best way to get into a traditional HR role when so many are looking and there are few jobs available

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Since regular HR jobs may be less available, consider jobs where HR is part of the role, like a higher level administrative position for a small company where HR functions are part of the job. Also depending on your background of experience, you might look for a more limited job like recruiting in a larger organization that would have HR jobs when the economy starts to improve.


Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Some of you may be seeing some strange characters on your screen (e.g., I’d instead of "I'd". Our apologies for that. There's a glitch in our program. We will post a transcript with all of those fixed from the SHRM home page.


Arlington VA: I was recently terminated and because it was a wrongful discharge, am going through the legal process to deal with it. I don't want to tell a future employer this because , but I am at a loss as to what to tell them. I've been through two interviews and I cannot think of a good response when they want to know why after less than a year I would be looking for a new position.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: You need to have some kind of answer bacause no answer or one that later is found to be false is not good. If you took legal action and it is settled (or not) I'd ask your attorney how to respond so you don't jeapordize the situation. One way to handle it is to say that after a short time you realized that it was not a good fit for you and you left.


Boston, MA: I want to change careers but am afraid to because of the economy. Any advice? Should I just stay put until this whole thing ends?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: It is hard to say. Even in the worst economies there are still people hiring. I would research the "new" field and the potential there and then decide after making a good plan.


Plymouth, MN : I am currently an HR Assistant and am looking to advance to an HR Generalist position. What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate to companies? I have 4 years of experience in a small HR department and have a lot of experience doing Generalist responsibilites. I also am pursuing an MBA with an emphasis in HRM. Is there anything else I can be doing? Am I making too big of a leap trying to go to a Generalist position right away? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Your leap may be a little long, but people often start in a generalist role. You might want to look for a smaller company where you could apply your administrative skills, too. The other option is to look for something in a large company where there might be future opooirtunities. Finally consider a higher level admin job in the HR depoartment of a large cmpany. Looking for a job in a not-for-profit might be good if you are willing to take less money it can give you good experience and bring them knowledge they need.


Catch 22!: I am a finalist for a job. I'm being asked if my current boss can be contacted as a reference. To put it mildly, he is a psycho. I'm not sure what he will say about me or what my life at work will be like if he's contacted and I don't get the job. Would asking them to contact a coworker be an acceptable alternative? Or would that raise a red flag?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: I would probably decline saying you don't want to jeopardize your current position. If you can offer a reference for a former past supervisor or manager, that might satisfy them. When I do professional reference checks I always ask for a former supervisor since I want an honest assessment of someone who supervised the work.


MD: I have extensive HR Generalist experience, but am now a Nurse Recruiter for a Hospital. I am considering pursuing a HR Generalist opportunties, but I'm very hesitant considering the economy and job market. Please advise.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: You may be ok since healthcare is likely to be an industry where there will be growing needs and government assistance. Plus with an aging population might help this industry stay on track even in a bad economy. I'd consider using the healthcare experience to get into a generalist role. Suggest you study for you PHR certification to demonstrate your knowledge base and market the things you learned through the recruiting role that apply to a general role like knowledge of compensation, benefits and such.


Naperville, Illinois: My son has worked for a company for over 10years as a manufacturing engineer manager. The company is moving he has elected not to move out of state. They now want him on as a consultant, paying his travel expenses. He doesnt know what his consultant fee should be. How does he decide what to charge. He has a degree in Electrical engineering/computer scienc. Keep in mind that he has been underpaid over the years. I suggested that he triple the rate. What source should he use to determine his consultant fee? Thanks!

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: The general rule of thumb is to research pay rates for a regular job doign the same kind of work he would be doing in consulting. Then take that and double it. That is a good starting point. Consider the size and budget of the company too.


Westport, CT: Hello, I have been in my current role for 14 years. My title has been Office Manager throughout this time, and my responsibilities had been heavily HR-related up until about 2 years ago, when our company went to a new HR model. I have held the PHR certification for the past 9 years, however I do not have a bachelor's degree, but do have 30 years in the work force. When I have applied for positions on-line I am sure my application is not viewed as a strong candidate, since I have only an associate's degree. I plan on calling the businesses I apply to, but I know that many times it is difficult to reach someone who will speak with you about an opening. Do you have any other recommendations on how I might be able to get my resume viewed, or not labeled "not qualified" since most companies now use an applicant tracking system? Thank you.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: This is tough since in a down economy you are competing with people with bachelors degrees. Try structuring the resume so it is functional and points out your skills/knowledge. Also, send resumes to companies who don't just use scanning technology, typically smaller ones. Networking and volunteering with you local professioanl organizations will also help people get to know you and your value beyond the "paper."


Lansing, Michigan: I feel like I'm starting my HR career all over again. Do you have any advice on a particular practice in HR, or a particular industry, that offers the best growth potential?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Industries like healthcare, transportation (not automotive), and utilities seem to be doing ok as are some of the hightech companies. Also any companies that sell products or services to those industries are better bets. Different parts of the country are better, too. Some that didn't rise a high on the financial bubble are not falling as far or fast.


Raleigh, NC: Two part question Having a career that spans over 25-years and a MBA should I leave off some of my experience? I am getting few inquiries with no solid results. My salary was structured to be on call 24/7 with extensive travel, weekends and evenings. How can you let companies know that I do not expect what I was paid in my last position?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Try covering that in your cover letters. Make it cear that your reason for work goes beyond pay and it is the challenge, work itself, etc. In this economy companies that are hiring are taking some chances with former higher paid people.


Brooklyn,NY: I am currently at grad student at Brooklyn College in the Industrial Organizational Behavior program. We are told over and over to participate in internships. I am currently working full time at a CUNY college as a office manager and part time as a Residental Mental Health Counselor. I am 50 years old. I have experience in staffing, facilitation and training. My dilema is that I am not currently working in the HR field and my direct HR experience was more than 10 years ago as a secretary. With the market as it is and being a single parent of a out of state college student I am basically scared to leave my job(s). I know that I truly need to be aligned in my career track so I will not just have education but career experience. What is your advice?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Instead of "moving" now if you have a secure position. You might want to stay but start planning how you will move forward in the next year or two. Look for was to gain experience maybe through volunteer work on a not-for-profit board or get additional education or study for your HR certification or training certification to start going the right direction.


Atlanta, GA: I am an HR Assistant with only two years of experience. I was laid off a few months ago, and during a recent interview, the HR Manager asked me what the six disciplines of HR are. I was baffled by the question, first because I did not get its' relevancy, and secondly because I am not very experienced. I have typed that question into every internet search engine I know, but all the responses are vague. The SHRM website shows thirteen disciplines (not six), this only compounds my confusion. So, can you tell me if there are six HR disciplines and what they are, and maybe help me understand why a question like that might be relevant to and HR Assistant position? Regards, Lisa

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: The interviewer was probably referring to the "functions" in HR which are Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning and Employment, Total Rewards, Human Resource Development, Emnployee and Labor Relations, and Risk Management. These are identified in the HRCI Body of Knowledge and the basis for the PHR and SPHR certifications.


Ripley, WV: In our current economy... What advice would you give a Director of HR who has a Masters degree in HR but only 1 year of work experience and is not totally satisfied with their current situation?

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: I'd stay put for now but keep working on staying up to date on changes in the HR world and keep builkding your networks. Finally, I'd sit down and start making a plan for your future career!


Burke,Virginia: I am reentering the workforce after staying home with kids for 17 years. I have a Masters in Human Resource Management. What training do I need and what should be my job expectations? I am 48 years old. My only recent experience is 16 months as an office manager for a orthodontist. I was laid off after his business declined and I am now unemployed and looking for work.

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: Suggest you first do some self analysis. In those 17 years you did lots of "stuff" that could be valuable experience applied to the workforce. You possess maturity and can hanle problems and people. I'd look into an HR certification program or some additional professional development program in HR.


Clifton,nj: I am the sole individual who handles payroll,human resource related issues,health benefits ,unemployment and disability issues dealing with state and other depts for 1 company which owns 9 wendy 's fast food restaurants.I work a 3 day week about 26hrs.I have a bachelor's degree in sociology/psychology.from a Jesuit institution in India.Whatdegree or courses in human resources would you recommend for me.I am 56 yrs old and I intend to work for at least 25 yrs more. It could be online or offline and how much money am I looking at and the period of time. thanks, Corrine

Phyllis Hartman, SPHR: You might want to look at a masters in HR or at least some HR certification programs since your work has been in the HR functions. Studying for your HR certification (maybe even the SPHR with all of your experience) would be good. There are some good on-line programs offered by repuratable schools. Not sure of the costs but if you did it in stages or looked for scholarships that might help. Have you considered asking your employer if they would sponsor some educational assistance?


Moderator: That wraps up today's chat. We made it before the backup generators gave out! Thanks for joining us. Watch SHRM Online and HR Week for an announcement of our next chat. Thanks for joining us...and good luck with your career planning.


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