Amber asked the following question:
Have you ever done a post about how you got started? I just searched and couldn’t find anything and I’d love to hear your story!
Thanks for reading and the question Amber! At first I was a bit hesitant to write this post. I’ve dropped snippets here and there about how I started in human resources and transitioned to consulting. But then I saw a tweet from Michael Long (aka The Red Recruiter) asking about best career advice. So I decided to combine both in one place. I appreciate you wanting to know, so here goes…
My start in human resources came from an unusual set of circumstances. I worked as a tour guide for a major theme park (Hint: they have a black and white marine mammal as their mascot.) It’s also where I met Mr. Bartender. After we got married (24 days after to be exact), we were involved in a pretty bad auto accident. I spent almost a month in the hospital and the first nine months of our married life in a full body cast. I temporarily lost all movement from the waist down and had to learn how to walk all over again.
When the doctor released me to return to work, I was still walking with a cane. My employer was awesome and facilitated a transfer to another department where I could use my skills and contribute…the human resources department.
Life in HR was really interesting. I was part of a five person team. In a matter of months through resignations, layoffs and transfers, only one person remained in the department…me. The theme park division was put up for sale and I got my first mergers and acquisitions experience.
After spending a couple of years on the edge of my seat wondering if I would still have a job, I learned my first piece of career advice: always be networking.
Over the years, I’ve held challenging positions at several terrific companies. I’ve been everything from a single person HR department to a regional director. There have been jobs where I traveled a lot and others where I didn’t travel at all. One thing about my work experience seemed to be consistent – I worked at places where human resources was perceived to be “broken” in some way. My mission was to fix it, hire my replacement, train them and move on.
It was during this time I made my first corporate relocation and learned my second piece of career advice: live where you want to live, then go find a job there.
It was this great advice from my father-in-law that made me learn more about consulting. Whenever I met someone who was a consultant, I would offer to buy them breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee/whatever and pick their brain about being a consultant. Even when I was offered an HR job in South Florida. People told me their greatest challenges, biggest failures and success stories. I still continue this practice today.
My last corporate role was vice president of human resources at an organizational consulting firm. Until then, all of my other positions were related to travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, etc. I wanted to experience working in what I considered a traditional office environment. It was a very successful firm with absolutely terrific people.
At this point I realized the other thing that’s been fairly consistent in my career was my low tolerance for boredom. I like having a very full plate and when I don’t, I usually end up getting myself into trouble looking for projects to keep me occupied.
So I resigned my position and started my own company, ITM Group. That was almost ten years ago.
When I first started consulting, I cast a pretty wide net when it came to services. Over the years, I’ve realized that most companies call for leadership training, customer service, strategic planning and management coaching. So our services have evolved over time to fit those needs.
I say “we” because what initially started out to be just me grew to the point where I needed help and Mr. Bartender quit his corporate job to be a part of ITM Group. His experience in sales, marketing and product development is a tremendous asset to the firm. We are fortunate to work on interesting projects. Our clients include global airlines, cruise companies, and Best Places to Work award-winners. It’s been a wonderful learning experience and I’m never bored.
And it’s where I’ve learned my third and probably most valuable lesson: support the people who support you.
As a small business owner, I rely upon other people to help me in the everyday operation of our business. It’s important to know the people we partner with have a true vested interest in our success. Of course, there will always be people who say they have your back and when you really need them, will disappoint you. Find out who your real supporters are. The ones who are there for you no matter what – regardless of your power, popularity and connections.
My thanks to Amber and Michael for asking the questions. I’ve always been very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had but there’s something about trying to encapsulate it into a brief blog post that makes you even more thankful. Cheers!0
The Lamb says
Hi Sharlyn, many thanks for sharing your inspiring story! I understood how you started in HR, but could you please tell us what kept you interested in HR all these years?
Alison Green / Ask a Manager says
What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it!
Geli Eldemire says
What an amazing journey. You let your hair down and took us on a magic carpet ride of pain and joy, love and hope. Thanks for the opening the door to share your love of Human Resources.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks so much for the kind words! What keeps me in HR? Hmm…here are a few things.
I enjoy the work. Human resources is always changing and I really like that aspect. Sometimes it’s a new law we have to implement; other times it’s a new program to increase employee productivity. Even when we don’t have something “new” going on…the dynamic is constantly changing. Take work/life balance for instance – a decade ago it was about job sharing. Today it’s about mobile workforces.
I enjoy the people. I don’t believe most employees are cranky / grumpy and have been very fortunate to work with great people. I also believe my involvement as a SHRM volunteer leader has strengthened my relationship with the profession.
Lastly, I’ve had the good fortune to be recognized for my hard work. Whether it was by my boss, my team, or my clients, it’s always wonderful to hear when you do good work. I remember one of my clients being acknowledged as a best place to work. I sent them a note congratulating them on the achievement. The president responded, “You’re one of the reasons we’re a best place to work.” How cool is that?!
If we really think about it, isn’t that what everyone wants? To do good work, with terrific people and be recognized for it at the end of the day.
Marsha Keeffer says
You exemplify the best not just in HR, but in business – generosity, curiosity, a dedication to service, and the continuous commitment to learning.
Thanks for always lifting the conversation higher! And kudos to you and Mr. Bartender. It takes deep love and maturity to work with your spouse.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks for the comment Marsha and the nice mention on your blog. I really appreciate it!
Delmar Johnson says
What a fascinating journey Sharlyn. I decided earlier this year to take my HR background and begin consulting/advising small business owners and look forward to all I have to learn over time. Thanks for sharing and by the way, I really like your blogs and how knowledgeable you are.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks for the comment Delmar! And congrats on your move to consulting.