I identify as a career changer. Throughout my childhood and college years, I thought I was destined to be a professional actor.
After graduating from college, I did pursue theater. But it was not for me. I was the rare actor who hated calling out from my freelance “rent” job to go on auditions (and the whole point of having a freelance rent job is because you can call out to go on auditions).
One of the surprising things for me about pursuing acting full-time and having freelance jobs was how much I was able to use my acting skills in a non-acting context. I could pursue objectives in a business role. I could empathetically consider someone else’s experience. My acting training made me excellent at my day jobs.
So I made the decision to find a full-time role that let me be creative, empathetic, and objective-oriented. Startup HR is tailor-made for this: I craft experiences (from recruiting to onboarding), I put myself in other people’s shoes (what does a candidate feel? How would employees interpret this? What do our managers need?), and GOALS reign supreme.
I love my HR career, and I know my theater background supported my success. That said, I needed to invest in HR development as I transitioned into HR roles. I worked in startups, which meant that there wasn’t always someone with more HR experience than me in the company. I needed to seek out learning opportunities from outside my organization in order to grow.
I advocate that all individuals leverage scrappiness to find the learning. Even if your organization has incredible internal development programs, YOU are the captain of your career. YOU are responsible for driving the ship where you want it to go. By taking initiative to find learning opportunities outside of your company, you will get noticed, advance your career, AND increase your knowledge.
Here’s my top 3 sources for investing in your own development:
Find your community: I won the lottery when it comes to finding community: I work in Startup HR. HR people love sharing knowledge, helping others, and building community (it’s the whole point of HR). I found some incredible HR groups to join. One of my favorites is Culture Club, a monthly meetup of People Ops talent. This incredible community is run by LifeLabs Learning (an amazing leadership skills training company) and they host a monthly session centered around a different topic (everything from performance reviews to managing change). Fun fact - I went to the 2nd ever Culture Club meeting back in 2014. It was a group of 15 of us. We sat around a conference room table, ordered pizza, and put post-its up on a whiteboard to align on the discussion topic. Now, Culture Club has thousands of members around the globe and hosts 3 different monthly sessions. I’m proud I was there at the start! Beyond Culture Club, I'm a member of a number of different digital communities (like Troop HR) that focus on learning, connection, and development. I guarantee there are groups out there like this in your field that focus on peer learning and sharing. Find your community. You’ll learn from what people are talking about, the resources they share, and how they approach challenges. You’ll feel less alone. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel. You’ll nurture your growth.
Find your education: Education is how you stay current and knowledgeable about what’s going on in your field. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but the easiest (and most cost-effective!) way is to invest in consuming content - blogs, books, podcasts. There’s so much out there that does not require a higher level degree and a multi-thousand dollar investment. A few ways to find educational content:
Blogs - I bet there are software companies that service your field. Often, these companies have excellent educational blog content directed at you, their consumer. For the HR world, Lattice and Greenhouse both have awesome blogs. Google what you’re curious about – you'll find some great blogs.
Podcasts - Who are the thought leaders in your field? I bet they have a podcast! For HR, Adam Grant is my hero - his “Work/Life” podcast is thoughtful and engaging. Podcasts are a great way to further your education. Bonus points - pair your podcast with a walk to maximize your mental wellness while you listen and learn.
Books - My favorite way to get book recommendations is to ask for them! Talk to people you respect and ask what books they recommend. My CEO from 2013 is still one of my favorite sources for book recommendations; we start nearly every catch up session with “what are you reading?” Books are a beautiful source of learning because they don’t have to be technical to be inspiring. Reading books about how to work effectively (time management, goal setting, building confidence) is as important as reading books about your field (recruiting, employee development, culture building). Commit to reading books! You will learn and grow.
Find your people: Who will be a major player in your career journey? Find people who care about you and whose careers you admire. These can be people from your own company, your alma mater, and your friend circle. Once you “find your community,” you’ll no doubt meet additional people who can be part of this group. Stay in contact with them and nurture these relationships by asking them questions and staying in touch. There’s a weird pressure on “finding mentors.” Let’s reframe it to “find your people.” Just like in your friendships, you won’t get everything you need from one person. You should have a group with different people for different purposes. In my personal life, I have my theater friends, my crafting friends, and my wine-tasting friends. With my “work” people, I have my CEO people, my former colleagues, and my HR people. Don’t worry about “is this person my mentor?” Just focus on building relationships, learning from them (ask questions! Engage!) and sharing updates and resources. “Networking” sounds so stressful - but when we reframe it to “connection” and “learning,” it’s so much simpler. Don’t pressurize this: keep it simple. Keep meeting people, keep getting to know them, and most importantly - keep in touch with them. I guarantee you’ll build a network you can learn from and grow with.
When I look back at my path into HR, I’m so glad I took learning into my own hands and that I sought out community, education, and people who could support me along the way. I do think I had a key advantage. Since I was a career changer and eager to grow, I had no shame in not knowing things. I was vulnerable. I asked questions and was unafraid to appear “stupid” as I invested in my development.
Even if you’ve got advanced level degrees and years of experience in your field, I encourage you to approach your own learning and development with that same degree of vulnerability. Don’t be worried about how knowledgeable you seem. Focus on learning, growing, and being honest. Have no shame in who you are. That’s how you’ll continue to grow.