May 24, 2011

Lessons learned from a career spent working in Human Resources

My career started with a job as a Personnel Administration Specialist years ago and I have since spent the majority of it in Human Resources Management.  I have managed personnel in very large to small organizations, on four continents and across such diverse industries as medical, engineering, government, training, military, contracting, and consulting.  These have included for profit, nonprofit, privately held and publicly traded organizations.

It has been an interesting experience though like many careers it has included more than its share of challenges resulting in numerous successes and a few set-backs.  Overall I have enjoyed it and I have been fortunate to work with some terrific people and have assisted my employers in creating numerous positive outcomes in their organizations.

You would probably not be surprised to learn that I definitely did not grow up thinking that I someday wanted to be a Vice President of Human Resources or even a Personnel Administrator.  Rather, as often happens, I stumbled into the career by chance more than anything else.  At 16, I started college and was focused on a career in the hard sciences, but along the way, probably because of my age, I changed my mind several times.  After a couple of years, I realized that I needed to take a break from university life and see the world. This is when I decided to join the Army, which I probably selected after watching way too many MASH episodes on TV when growing up!

I took the Army’s career aptitude test and my scores were such that I was told that I could choose any field that “was open at the time” (the quotations are because I was told that not all careers were open at any given time). Even though I had the education, I decided against officer candidate school, as I wanted the enlisted experience like my parents.  I also knew, even at that time, that the military would not be a career for me but rather just a start to my professional life, whatever that would be.

I spent several hours with the recruiter discussing all of the “available” career options, and about half way through it was obvious to both of us that it was clearly a process of elimination.  Another couple of hours after that and I was discouraged because none of the careers that “were open” at the time appealed to me.  Finally, one of the last options that the then completely exasperated recruiter mentioned was Personnel Administration Specialist.  I was skeptical and asked the recruiter what the job entailed, to which he replied that it was an office job that involved the usual filing, typing, answering the phones, ad etc.  He also added that it included extensive interaction with people and that I would be involved in sometimes complex problem solving that goes along with it.  The last part of his response was the hook that interested me and so I signed on the dotted line, which in the case of the military is literally what I did that afternoon!

When I think back, I realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into! Since then, I have counseled many, broken up fights, mediated (literally), negotiated, convinced, listened, advocated, and endured (at times) just about every situation that you can think of that could occur in the workplace and some that you would not!  These include but are not limited to; promotions, bullying, interviewing, demotions, awards, deaths, restructurings, layoffs, job offers, collective bargaining, accommodations, workplace romances, and more.  I have had to help long term employees pack up their belongings, due to a bad decision or two that they made, and have tendered job offers for very large compensation packages and have sometimes been told that it was not enough!  Job candidates have also occasionally falsified their applications and one even had associates lie to cover it up!  Unfortunately, I also had to tell family members that their loved ones would not be coming home again.  On the positive side, I have developed employees and watched as they were promoted, mentored workers, and rebuilt and built Human Resource departments from scratch that supported significant organizational growth!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Human Resources is about managing people at work, and all of the good, bad, and indifferent aspects that are associated with it.  It is also about equity and perceptions about what is fair and, more often, what is not.  As an organizational function it is not a glamorous job, nor is it still completely understood or fully appreciated.  It is nonetheless important, especially when you are the employee who has an issue and needs assistance or when you are a supervisor trying to get the job done.

Since you are still reading this, I am sure your question is, that is all great but what lessons have you learned from all of this Anthony and can you really distill it in a few lines, because this is a blog and not a book after all?  My answer is, and you would expect no other, that yes, I absolutely can summarize the most important lessons learned and here they are:

  1. Three or more sides are common – This is why situations must be understood based on facts.
  2. The workplace is not a democracy – This is primarily because Employers are organizations that are focused on either providing services or making goods, ideally, as efficiently as possible.
  3. Laws are not just for others to follow – This also applies to policies and work rules as well and if they are not followed the result is disorganization, which is the opposite of organization!
  4. Some people actually enjoy their work – I have met many who do, so I know they are out there!
  5. Some bosses really do care – They usually do not advertise this and are often modest about it!
  6. Indecision is a choice and it is often the wrong one to make at work – Avoiding problems on the job frequently makes things worse!
  7. People are important – I could not have spent so many years in the field without believing this!

We all have lessons learned at work, whatever field you are in, but when your career involves people, as Human Resources does, the lessons learned are relevant for everyone!


  1. In my 30 something years in government human services I’ve experienced these lessons you synthesized so well. I find this list to be excellent. I hope people can read it and understand the value in each item.

    My version of one of your items was that there are actually six (6) sides to every story. Just like a cube, you can always see three sides but there are also 3 sides not visible (even to the discerning eye).

    I also think most people actually enjoy some aspect of their work. I wanted to add an element to Maslow; I think that seeking “competence” is actual a basic human need.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    Comment by Gerry La Londe-Berg — May 24, 2011 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for the lessons learned–they are applicable to all of us. I am not in HR–but as an academic dean at a public community college, I work with Human Resources extensively. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Patti Ross — June 2, 2011 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  3. Hello Dr. Anthony. Your seven lessons are excellent. I appreciate the concise and clear summary of what truly matters. I would add one more to your list:

    There is dignity in all work. Respect and value the contributions of everyone.

    Comment by Christopher Ziomek — June 4, 2011 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  4. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog this morning. I could camp out here all day and read, read, read. Obviously I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as clean as when I arrived.

    Comment by Russel Ray Photos — May 1, 2012 @ 5:25 am | Reply

  5. “These include but are not limited to; promotions, bullying, interviewing, demotions, awards, deaths, restructurings, layoffs, job offers, collective bargaining, accommodations, workplace romances, and more.”

    You’d fit in perfectly with Detroit.

    Especially the Police Dept! LOL

    Comment by Longshot — November 4, 2012 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  6. A lovely, rambling — and very lessons learned — career journey you’ve had! Thanks for sharing…

    Comment by carolburbank — November 4, 2012 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  7. Great lessons. I only wish I had this wisdom when I needed it. The most difficult aspect of my management career was doing performance evaluations. How I perceived a person’s performance never seemed to line up with the person’s perception of himself. (Not that is has to.) Gradually, over the years (35) I learned to be brutally frank in assessing a person’s performance. I felt I was being dishonest and would not do the person a favor by telling him what he wanted to hear. Review time was always a royal pain in the keester because telling the truth sometimes hurts the person hearing it.

    Comment by Grumpa Joe — November 9, 2012 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  8. When it is all said and done, you will be able to say you have truly lived! As you are probably aware, your experiences in the military and in the corporate world have helped you with your personal relationships, too! Nice summary… and thanks for following my blog, too! — Tony

    Comment by Tony — November 10, 2012 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  9. Excellent, concise points in the lessons learned.
    Worth printing out for ANY business!!!

    Comment by cstrohmeyer — November 18, 2012 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for sharing your experience in HR and your lessons learned! I really appreciate it since I’m searching for a job in the HR after my graduation at university. I’m excited about the things that are coming…

      Comment by natatie — February 14, 2013 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  10. Hi thanks ffor posting this

    Comment by Billy B — November 4, 2022 @ 12:48 am | Reply

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