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Nine HR Career-Derailing Factors

An expert in executive search offers his thoughts on some factors that curtail the advancement of human resource professionals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
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Certainly many factors might derail the career of a rising talent in the human resources profession -- some factors within the control of the HR professional and some beyond his or her control. Here are a few factors that appear to be more controllable:

1. Lack of a Bachelor's Degree.

Clearly a bachelor's degree may not be necessary to get one's first job in the HR department of a company, but the lack of such a degree may place a so-called "glass ceiling" on future promotions. It also may exclude the HR professional from being later recruited by a search firm. (Virtually all of our clients insist on the minimum of a four-year degree).

2. Lack of an Advanced Degree.

Likewise, a common elimination factor by recruiters is the lack of a master's degree or equivalent.

3. Being too Controversial.

Pushing one's own agenda, be it political, social, religious, etc., can make enemies for the up and coming HR professional.

4. Being Stereotyped in a Dying Industry.

Most employers think their industry is unique and resist hiring from another industry, especially one that is considered a "loser" industry.

5. Guilt by Association.

The best examples might be Enron or its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. Many former employees of both firms have had difficulty securing the best new jobs.

6. Burning Bridges.

When an HR professional changes departments, divisions, or employers, if he or she fails to make an amicable transition (or, worse, uses the occasion to vent anger or dislike for co-workers), new enemies may be established and previous enemies may become more entrenched. It is a small world, and the same enemies may later become decision makers or decision influencers that might bad-mouth the HR professional at a key hiring or promotion decision point.

7. Treating Vendors Poorly.

Again, it is a small world. If an HR professional is disrespectful or unappreciative of the efforts and contributions made by outsourced service providers, those outsiders may find a later opportunity to "get even" by giving the HR professional faint praise or outright bad mouthing to a future decision maker that is considering the hiring or promotion of the HR professional.

8. Wrong Camp.

If an HR professional becomes too associated with one or more senior executives, and those senior executives fall out of favor with the company, then the HR professional may find that he or she is passed over for future promotions and/or even let go during the next downsizing.

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9. Self Employment.

Although one can argue that self employment shows positive traits, such as self-initiative, ability to take risks, etc., generally speaking, far more bias will exist against the HR professional who has left the corporate world and then wishes to return. Consciously or unconsciously, the new employer may tend to wonder if the HR professional was self employed because he or she was less employable. Or the new employer may fear that the HR professional has become spoiled by being without a boss, and not be able to readjust.

Regarding factors that seem beyond the control of the HR professional, perhaps one can minimize such external factors by remaining extra alert to company politics, and try hard to avoid making a target of one's self.

William C. Guy is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Cornerstone International Group, one of the Top 10 retained search organizations in the world, with over 100 offices strategically positioned in virtually every major business center on all six primary continents. Among Cornerstone's 35 practice groups is their Human Resources Practice Group that is devoted exclusively to recruiting and evaluating HR executives for Fortune 500 client firms. For more information, see www.cornerstone-group.com .

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