Your HR Career – The Biggest HR Career Mistake Just About Every HR Professional Makes


Many HR professionals are stuck in the old-school mindset that HR career success comes from following some kind of rigid, carefully laid-out career plan. Some companies have even taken years to develop carefully constructed “HR career paths” or “HR career ladders” for their HR folks.

This is all a bunch of bunk. And this is the biggest career mistake just about every HR professional makes.

That approach may have worked in the past, but it won’t in today’s workplace.

Talk to any successful Human Resources leader with 10-15 years of experience who is happy and satisfied with their HR career so far – including yourself. Ask them where they saw themselves at the beginning of their careers and a large number of them will tell you it was not necessarily what they are doing today. And it didn’t happen from following some career plan they put in concrete.

The truth is there is no ONE established career pathway to the top of the HR summit. You can get started anywhere in Human Resources. You can have an masters degree in IR from Illinois. Or an MBA from Harvard. Or an associates degree from a local community college. Or, like a boss of mine, start your career as a marketing analyst and find your way into HR. It doesn’t matter how or where you put your foot on the HR career path. But it does matter how you take the next steps, and then the next.

So planning some structured career path isn’t the way HR careers work anymore. Linearity is out. The human resources career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. Or a spider-web. It’s full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward.

The sheer churn and pace of change within businesses resulting from economic downturns, globalization, and increased competition creates so much ambiguity these days that you cannot manage your career with a set-out plan. No one can predict what type of businesses and career opportunities will be available in 5 years’ time and so trying to plan your career like you did in the old days is futile.

Here’s one thing you should do to avoid this mistake:

Be open and flexible. Instead of being guided by some rigid career plan develop an internal ‘compass’ to guide your career decisions and then build in some flexibility so that you can take advantage of HR opportunities that pop up. Rather than say “My next move will be to a plant HR generalist role in Chicago” then I’ll move into a “staffing manager role”, when there’s no guarantee that these roles will be open or if if it will even exists when you’re ready to take it.

Instead, make career decisions based on how it will increase your personal portfolio of HR skills and strengths…and the extent that it will give you a unique story or experience that differentiates you from rest of the HR pack. The point here is to make decisions driven by what you can do to make yourself more marketable, instead of trying to follow some overly structured career ladder that makes no sense in the ambiguous, ever-changing world around us.

This is one of many career strategies you should take to recession-proof your HR career during tough times.