There’s a note on my desktop that many people find confusing. It reads ‘emotional resilience and composure’ and it describes the qualities I hope will help me become more effective as an HR practitioner. But it’s a reminder, too, that the skills I thought I’d need, and the career path I expected to navigate, when I was graduating and considering a future HR role are very different from the reality of working life.
As a practising HR professional for the past six years, there is plenty I already wish my younger self had known: principally, that I didn’t need to be in such a rush to get into my first role. I bought into the seductive promise of many graduate schemes – that after university, I would probably be a manager within a couple of years – but found myself consistently frustrated.
At interviews, I’d become very nervous and could never get my personality across. So after a few attempts, I found it more productive to start my career in an admin role. People asked why I wanted a position they might have viewed as ‘beneath’ a graduate, but I wanted to see where it would take me and felt that I needed to understand HR as deeply as I could – not just the processes and practices, but why the business did the things it did and how it might improve.
I decided to take admin tasks away from others wherever I could, making myself useful so I would be more involved in the business and might be offered opportunities to stretch myself further. And along the way, my managers became my greatest cheerleaders and gave me invaluable advice, as well as pushing me to improve myself.
I still had days when I couldn’t face another contract or tax calculation. But everyone in every role feels that sometimes and, if I had been fast-tracked past that stage of my career, I wouldn’t feel confident managing others today.
I’m glad I didn’t try and jump in at the deep end. But I still see many young HR professionals in too much of a rush, expecting to be offered the perfect career opportunity when, in fact, the only way to progress is to focus on the next level, identifying the gaps in skills and knowledge between your current role and your next one. Being able to tell people you feel ready – even if you haven’t yet done the role – encourages them to take a chance on you.
Resilience is probably the most useful attribute I have developed, and it’s one you need in spades in HR. I was, and am, an emotional person, but at work composure is the watchword. You’ll be put in difficult situations and you need to be resilient. People can tell you sensitive or personal things and you can’t be the one to break down. Your role is to make the best decision for both the individual and the business, while also ensuring you find a balance and remain human and real.
To build resilience, you need to identify the things that might trigger you to lose your composure or become too emotionally involved in what you are doing, and look at how to mitigate them – whether it’s taking time outside the office, working on your breathing or paying attention to your body language and how this might come across.
None of that can be taught in a classroom. And it can’t be learned in a hurry. I urge new HR professionals to take charge of their career, whatever it looks like and wherever they want it to take them, be patient and do the unappetising tasks in the knowledge that they will pay dividends in the long run. When it comes to HR careers, slow and steady wins the race.
Yasmin Boromand is people and talent manager at the Dorchester Collection