Sarah Holliman Furman University

Rebecca Armacost '89

— Director of Center of Conflict Dynamics and Mediation at Eckerds College

I think one of the biggest challenges HROD professionals face is learning how to balance the needs of the people with the needs of the organization. HR professionals are a crossroads. If they want to be valuable to the organization, they must understand and live the challenges the organization is facing.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I started my career at a bank in Atlanta in a position that provided me with significant leadership opportunities, but limited creative outlets. After a six-year stint that included branch management and business development at a district level, I knew it was time to move on. Frankly, it was a great first job, but not one that allowed me to tap into the creative side of my brain.

I left banking to get my Master of Business Administration at the Anderson School at UCLA. The business degree allowed me to further develop the skills I’d need to make a radical career change.

My first role out of UCLA was in the financial services practice of A.T. Kearney, a large management consulting firm. I loved working with such a bright group of people and appreciated the fact that my “job” changed with every project.

After five years in consulting, I left the firm to raise my growing family, but was talked into coming back to help launch a technology startup out of the firm. This proved to be the most important decision for my current career as it allowed me to make a complete shift into marketing.

I built the marketing team for this technology startup and led all aspects of marketing. After 18 months as a stand-alone company, A.T. Kearney absorbed it back into the organization, where I continued to lead the marketing for the procurement solutions unit, which was the most profitable unit within the firm.

After a combined 13 years at A.T. Kearney (the last eight in marketing), I left for a brief opportunity to help a friend launch a dress design business, but ultimately entered corporate America again with my current company SIG.

I was recruited to build a regional event program, but ultimately took over the marketing team seven years ago. I currently serve on the executive team as the chief marketing officer and run the marketing team as a shared service to four separate lines of business.

What motivations fueled your career path?

Change, challenge and growth are my primary motivations. What I've learned about myself after 30-plus years in the workforce is that I am not the person who can stay in the same role for more than a few years without new challenges or growth opportunities. Boredom is not my friend and when I became bored, that was always the time I looked for something new.

I love change and helping organizations with change initiatives is when I feel most challenged and, ultimately, learn the most.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

There are so many professional development resources for human resources (HR) and organizational development (OD). I think which tools you choose will be dependent on your learning style and needs at the time. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Join a professional organization. The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Association for Talent Development (ATD) are great resources for both professional development.
  • Earn an HR certification. While I didn't do this until late in my career—and not having the certification didn't slow me down—there are a lot of benefits to certification (such as SHRM-CP or SCP), including overall knowledge base and preference for recruiting.
  • Get certified in psychometric assessments. I am admittedly an assessment junkie, earning certification in 10 different assessments throughout my career. Being certified in assessments has two quick benefits: It is a good tool for your own personal development, and makes you marketable to employers and recruiters. My all-time favorites and top recommendations for any HROD person's toolkit are Myers-Briggs, Conflict Dynamics Profile, Birkman Method and Strong Interest Inventory.
  • Find a mentor. Look for someone who is in a mid-level or senior level role in your career area, and ask them to mentor you. This can be someone who has a career, position, experiences, personality trait or skill that interests you. Contract with them to be your mentor. Very few people turn this down and it can be an incredible asset in your career development.
What are some challenges you face in your industry?

I think one of the biggest challenges HROD professionals face is learning how to balance the needs of the people with the needs of the organization.

HR professionals are a crossroads. If they want to be valuable to the organization, they must understand and live the challenges the organization is facing.

The most successful HROD professionals are those who develop business acumen. They know their organization in and out. They know more than just HR and OD. They learn the product, understand the strategic deliverables and become full business partners with the line departments implementing the work.

Unfortunately, many HR people don't take the time to learn this work. They don't realize that to be a true thought partner within the organization, they should learn that balance between taking care of people and taking care of the business.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

There are a few things I wish I would have known: careers, fit, and negotiation.

Careers: You can have more than one career in your lifetime. I believe that people should treat their career a bit like a liberal arts education. While yes, there are certain career choices that can be a bit more limiting, why do we have to decide on only one path to follow for the next 40-plus years?

Find what you love for a season and do it, master it, enjoy it and then move on. This could mean that you find new jobs in the same or related fields, like I did. Or it could mean that you do something completely different.

Now understand that I am not recommending that you job hop. As an HR professional, that would be bad advice to give. What I am saying is why not find something you love, do it, and then in five, 10 or 15 years—or whatever time makes sense to you—find the next thing that you love?

Work is too much a part of our lives to be in a position, company or industry where we no longer fit.

Fit: Fit is also something that can't be overstated. Fit for me is a huge motivation.

There have been jobs I've been interested in that seemed like dream jobs, but for some reason I felt that they were not quite right. Typically, that feeling is about fit. Maybe I didn't fit with the culture, or my personality or work style was different. Whatever it is, pay attention to it. I've had to coach so many people who are unhappy in a position or managers who are unhappy with a person all because the fit isn't right. The best job in the world will soon become the worst job in the world if you don't fit with it.

Negotiation: For most positions, you only get one opportunity to get the best package—when you are first offered the role. HR and OD people can be bad at negotiating for themselves. However, recruiters and hiring managers expect you to make some type of counter offer. They expect you to ask for a bit more.

Take this opportunity to tell them what you are worth. Don't be unrealistic, but do ask for more than what was offered. If you don't, don't expect to have another chance to ask later.
What additional education or certification is required/recommended?

There is no additional education that is required, but a lot of education or certifications that are recommended. Since human resources and organizational development is so broad, recommendation can vary. But here are a few thoughts:
  • Take an HR essentials course. You can find one in just about every city. It is a short course and will give you essential information about HR trends and fundamental information about HR and OD.
  • Attend a national HR conference. The Society of Human Resource Management and Association of Talent Development both have annual conferences. Attend one and go to as many of the seminars, keynote addresses and workshops as you can.
  • Get an HR certification. Certifications like HR Certified Professional or Certified Professional in Learning and Performance will help you learn more specific HR knowledge than what is taught in college and looks good on your resume.
  • Get certified in assessments. My favorites include Myers Briggs, Conflict Dynamics Profile, Birkman Method and Strong Interest Inventory.
  • Learn marketable skills. If you are interested in a specific part of HR or OD, find a class or certification that will help you become more marketable. For example, if you are interested in compensation and benefits, get certified in a job grading. If you want to do employee relations, attend a course in employee labor law.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

There is some similarity between a liberal arts education and a career in HR. With both, it is a requirement that you have foundational knowledge in many subjects.

Both require you to be able to juggle multiple pressures at the same time. I believe that because I have a liberal arts education, I've been able to move into different contexts, departments and businesses with ease.

Furman taught me how to learn the basics—and much more—about many different subjects. Furman helped me to build critical thinking skills that are essential for a career in HR and OD.

Because of my liberal arts education at Furman, I believe I am a better employee, leader, peer and HR professional.
What are other courses you took or you wish you would have taken that would also add value in your career?

I was singularly focused at Furman and didn't capitalize on the liberal arts education as much as I wish I had. If I could go back, I would take more classes in political science, religion and business, because these areas intersect with HROD on a regular basis. The following courses should be required for someone wanted to go into HR or OD: leadership, ethics, business, employment law and finance 101.

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