My Biggest Career Mistake

I get asked occasionally, well quite often really, how I got in the human resources field and then consulting. Like many people in the profession my age I “fell” into it. I have written about it some before at Down the Rabbit Hole: My Career in HR. The other day however, I was asked what has been the biggest career mistake I have made. That one made me think for a while, not because I could think of one mistake, rather it was trying to sort through the many to be able to select one.
After some pondering I pretty much decided it had to be the decision to skip some classes in my Master’s degree program. Let me explain. I was 38 went I got my Master’s. I was a “Johnny come lately” to business, having spent too much time in academia pursuing a Ph.D. I was going at night a class at a time. I had already been working on it several years. As I was getting close to end I met with my advisor and asked him what direction should I take? My choices were a Master’s in Human Resources (well actually Industrial Relations) or an MBA with an emphasis in HR, the difference being three classes (15 hours) in Finance. He asked me if I was intending to stay in HR or to try to get into other areas of the business. (I was working in an HR department at the time.) I made the quick calculation that 15 hours meant about another year before I could graduate and I was enjoying the HR work. So I opted for the MSIR. BIG MISTAKE!
At that time no one emphasized how important that financial knowledge would be for a good HR professional. So I opted to skip it. And I have regretted that to this day. I have had to learn it on my own. It has probably taken me much longer than the 15 hours of class time would have taken me and I am sure I do not have the complete understanding I would have gotten. Today that business acumen is absolutely critical to the truly professional human resources manager. Without it you have no credibility. Without it you are often seen as the “tender of the file cabinet.”
So if I can give any advice to those of you who are early in an HR career or better yet, pondering an HR career it is DON’T SKIP THE FINANCE CLASSES!  And along the way take a few sales classes as well.

1 thought on “My Biggest Career Mistake”

  1. Mike,
    This is sage advice. Understanding the business you are in and all the financial components is critical. As HR practitioners we must be able to add value to help grow the business. The days of only being a transactional HR person are past. You now have to have the business understanding and acumen to work with the leadership team on an ongoing basis. You learned what you needed to know to successfully run your business for many years. You definitely have the business and financial sense.
    Thanks for helping others as they evaluate their situations.

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