7 Recruiting and HR Leaders Give Career Advice to Their 23-Year-Old Selves

September 17, 2018

Twenty-three is an awkward age for most. You’re definitely not a kid anymore, but not quite considered an adult either. You’ve got your whole life and career ahead of you—and that can be as daunting as it is exciting.

Navigating a career in the fast-paced world of recruiting and human resources is tough and missteps are inevitable. And who could blame you? At 23, the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for higher-level cognitive functions like decision making), isn’t even fully developed.

That’s why we asked seven of the most successful and influential leaders in recruiting and HR to reflect on their early days and share some advice on how to build a career and life in this industry. Here are their wise words:

John Vlastelica: Know the business cold

John Vlastelica, founder of management consulting firm Recruiting Toolbox, has more than two decades of experience in the field, and his advice is simple: “Get curious about the business earlier.”

John stresses how important it is for recruiters starting out to have deep knowledge about the business and how it functions. “I need to be able to engage with the business and demonstrate I understand their challenges and talent pain points as a way to build trust and confidence,” he says.  

Knowing the business not only helps you understand the needs of hiring managers, it also helps you engage top talent. “A-players want to know about the work, and sourcing and selling with a generic EVP and job description doesn’t work for that kind of talent,” John says.

John recalls a time in his early 20s when a candidate complimented him on his knowledge of the role. “During a phone screen, an engineering candidate said, ‘Wait, are you the hiring manager or the recruiter? You’re the recruiter, right? Sometimes I can’t tell—you clearly understand what engineers do so well, and I’m not used to that.’ Made. My. Day.”

Lars Schmidt: Give your time and energy to helping others

Lars Schmidt is not only the founder of executive search and talent strategy agency Amplify, he’s also led talent acquisition and employer brand strategy for companies like Hootsuite and NPR. His advice to greenhorns in the field? Be selfless.

“Give freely of your time and help others as often as possible,” Lars says. “Share your mistakes, and what you learned from them. Elevate others over yourself.”

In addition to being generous with your time, Lars advises staying away from any politics. “Don't get caught up in politics or comparing yourself to others,” he says. “Focus on the things you can control: your work product, your relationships, building and adding value to your network, and helping others.”     

Jessica Miller-Merrell: Remember that a career in HR is a marathon, not a sprint

Jessica Miller-Merrell’s distinguished career in HR and entrepreneurship has been defined by what she calls “a series of happy accidents,” and this has shaped how she thinks about career growth.

The founder of Workology, speaker, and author says to “go with the flow and be open to the universe placing new opportunities in your path. Take time to explore them and don't rush to judgment. Your career in HR is a marathon and not a sprint.”

But having patience doesn’t mean waiting around for something to happen. Jessica emphasizes that you must also be “persistent to seek out knowledge, information, relationships, and opportunities."

Ed Nathanson: Focus on the people above all else

Ed Nathanson, the founder of consulting agency Red Pill Talent, wants to remind his younger self that recruiting and HR is the business of people.

“ALWAYS keep in mind that this is a people profession first and foremost,” he says. “You can’t compare what this profession will be like to any other jobs your friends or colleagues may have as there really is no other job in corporate America like it – so don’t even try.”

Ed also says to be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions. “Don’t expect a lot of ‘congrats’ and always know that there will be as many bad days as there are good – because when your product is people there is no way to predict accurately what each situation will bring – no matter how hard you try.”

Despite all that, Ed says “if you focus on people and their experiences above all else, you will really love this gig in the end and the impact you can have on people’s lives.”

Chris Hoyt: Invest in what excites you

As the president of CareerXRoads, a community of recruiting and talent acquisition professionals, Chris Hoyt has helped many people at a crossroads in their lives. His advice is about finding that spark within recruiting and then putting all of your energy toward it.

“Chase what really gets your heart pumping,” Chris says. “There are countless channels within recruiting and human resources that are careers in and of themselves. Find an aspect that really motivates you and form an opinion or two and stand by them while still being open to hearing any opposition.”

Chris also believes in the power of continuing education. “Don’t underestimate the value of continuous learning and collaboration among trusted mentors, peers, friends, and family,” he says. “Never stop learning, taking deep breaths, and re-evaluating everything.”

Lou Adler: Don’t go into recruiting or HR…at first

Industry veteran Lou Adler has some counterintuitive, but powerful advice: don’t start your career in recruiting or HR. “The best HR people I’ve met didn’t start out in HR,” Lou says. “They started out in some other department—it could have been operations, distribution, finance, or accounting.”

Lou believes that to ensure long-term success in HR or recruiting, it’s essential to “understand what it is like from the perspective of a line manager in that field,” he says. “And then when you get into HR if that’s your calling, you will appreciate what those people have to go through. When you don’t have that appreciation, you see the world of compliance, rules, and regulations and that’s fundamentally counter-productive to that line manager’s business.”

For recruiting specifically, Lou says to remember you’re serving two buyers: the candidate and the hiring manager. And if you’re pursuing recruiting in order to go into HR, don’t. “Recruiting is not something you do as a step to get into HR. Recruiting is something you do to affect a person’s life and put them on the right career trajectory.”

Brendan Browne: Don’t play it safe

Finally, LinkedIn’s Head of Talent Acquisition Brendan Browne shares that now is the time to go big.

“Take much bigger risks,” he says. “You’re at a time in your life where you have the opportunity to do big things, chase your dreams, ignore conventional wisdom, be fearless – great things never happen by going the safe route.”

There you have it: Several lifetimes of advice from some of the best in the business wrapped into a nine-minute read. Hopefully these ideas will help you avoid any major pitfalls as you start down the path of helping others find their paths. And if you’ve already got a few years under your belt, know that it’s never too late to keep refining your approach.

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