Is HR Simply Too Snooty for Its Own Good?

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A friend (let’s call her Jeanine) phoned the other day with some great news and some not-so-great news.

The great news: She applied for an HR consultancy with a large, well-known consulting group and was accepted into the fold.

The not-so-great news: She wasn’t certain she was good enough.

Orientation for the new gig found Jeanine surrounded by fancy-degreed HR pros who’d worked at big-name, global companies while sporting impressive job titles. It was “Dr. this at Fortune 500 that” in the C-Suite all the way.

Doubting her place among the heavyweights

In other words, these consultants had pedigrees up the ying yang, and Jeanine felt a little out of place.

And Jeanine’s no slouch. Jeanine has a doctorate degree, multiple certifications, and three decades of experience. But she’s taken a different route.

Rather than Fortune 500 firms, Jeanine has worked at smaller, mostly nonprofit organizations coaching line staffers, emergent leaders, and middle management. Jeanine likes it in the trenches, and she likes developing people who haven’t yet peaked in their careers.

Listening to Jeanine, a perfectly accomplished professional who’s helped a lot of people, doubt her place among these HR heavyweights, it occurred to me for about the billionth time that HR is just too snooty for its own damn good.

It’s not for everyone

I don’t begrudge anyone his (or her) advanced degree(s), notable job title, or employee status at a hefty, multinational corporation, but it’s just not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most. There are only so many top-level positions to go around, and high-profile, high-stress, high-commitment jobs don’t suit us all.

Besides, some people (like my friend Jeanine) simply enjoy helping “ordinary” folks develop their skills and talents.

So why is it, when it comes time to applaud the work HR does (and let’s face it, these moments are rare, and we shouldn’t be stingy about it) we always look to the VP of this, that, and the other who’s worked at (insert humungous corporation), which employs (insert ridiculous number of workers) doing (insert something absolutely fantastical here).

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And why is it that we tend to define HR success as getting that swanky job rubbing shoulders with corporate VIPs while making gobs of money?

“The workplace needs HR folks like you …”

So I said to my friend, “Listen Jeanine, I understand how you feel, because I’m an ‘in the trenches’ professional, too. But come on. Take an honest look at the state of the modern workplace, and then tell me it doesn’t need what you’ve got.”

Again, no disrespect to those HR pros who’ve taken an alternate path — God bless you. As I’ve said more than once, we’re all in this together.

But I wouldn’t say our profession lacks credentials. I’d say it lacks confidence. (Confidence to look a VIP in the eye and tell her what we think, degree or no degree, because we’ve got a good head on our shoulders.) Or maybe competence (which can be gained outside the C-Suite, mind you). And courage.

I’d say it needs more noses on the grindstone than in the air.

I’d say, “Congratulations, Jeanine! You deserve it.”

What would YOU say?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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4 Comments on “Is HR Simply Too Snooty for Its Own Good?

  1. I think we has HR pros need to embrace diversity and diversity doesn’t always mean the color of your skin. It also has to do with experience, backgrounds and thought leadership. Stupidity knows no bounds – PhD, no degree, senior leader or staff.

  2. It seems to me that this is more an issue of Jeanine’s self esteem than of how “snooty” HR is; she doesn’t appear to have said that anyone “in the fold” . Every profession has a general high regard for the top people at the biggest companies, but that doesn’t make them “snooty,” and having large company credentials at the top level doesn’t make them snooty — it simply makes them successful *for them*. As you said, it’s not for everyone — but it *is* for some, and that doesn’t make them snooty, just different.

    Snooty was when I was interviewing at a pharmaceutical company and was asked if I would be comfortable “working around a lot of gray matter.” Snooty is the pharma industry’s insistence that they’re way smarter than anyone in any other industry.

    1. Hi Martha!

      I don’t entirely disagree, but I’m not sure it’s a clear either/or issue. Our sense of self can definitely be impacted by the messages we regularly receive about what’s valuable and what’s not valuable.

  3. “But come on. Take an honest look at the state of the modern workplace, and then tell me it doesn’t need what you’ve got.” Would not have been able to say it any better than this. From one who’s “in the trenches” and likes it.

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