My All-Time Favorite HR Mistake

I’ve made more mistakes in my HR career than I care to even remember. I could probably write a book!

It’s funny to think about your mistakes, because I think that invariably, every person takes those mistakes and tries to turn them into some type of “learning.” It’s the classic interview question – so, Mr. Sackett, tell me about your biggest mistake in your career and what did you learn from it?” I even have asked it myself when interviewing others.

Just once I want someone to answer: “Well, besides coming to this lame interview, I’d have to say drinking my way through college, getting average grades, and having to take positions within HR probably is my biggest one. What I’ve learned is that all those kids in band, in high school, on the debate team, really were smarter than me, and my ability to be third team all-conference point guard, in hindsight, probably didn’t get me into the career I was hoping for.”

But it never happens.

Owning up to your mistakes

No one is really honest about their mistakes, because in making most mistakes you do something stupid – something so stupid you would rather not share it with anyone. So, we come up with answers like, “my biggest mistake was working too hard on a project with my last employer, and not getting others involved, and I’ve learned while you can get the project done and on time by yourself, you really need to include everyone.”

Makes me want to vomit. And somehow as HR pros, we accept this answer and move on to the next question, almost like that question was just a test – a test to see if you were stupid enough to actually tell us, and brighten up our day!

But I do have a favorite, and two friends of mind recently made me think about it.

My favorite HR mistake: Telling someone to go after a promotion and more money, leaving a position they truly enjoyed. When I started my career right out of college, I gave myself 12 years to become a Vice President. Seemed like a logical goal at the time, but in hindsight, it seems obviously stupid now. It took me 16 years, and only after I realized that it no longer mattered, did I reach that level.

My two friends recently had opportunities to leave organizations and positions they really liked, so I gave them both the same advice — you can’t even come close to measuring the value of truly liking the job you have. You just can’t.

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Making the wrong decision — twice

So, answer me this one question: Do you love what you are doing and who you are doing it for? If it’s yes, stay put. It’s that simple. That was my learning. I left two positions in my life where I loved what I was doing, and loved the organizations, and I left both to take promotional opportunities with other companies.

Both times, I made the wrong decision. Tough mistake to make twice

I used to give out this advice to people: go ahead and leave, because you are going to have 10+ jobs in your life and you might as well move up as fast as you can.

I don’t do that any longer; in fact, I now spend time trying to talk people out of taking new jobs, which I know is ironic since at my core I’m a recruiter! But over time you learn a few things from your mistakes, and maybe, I’m just trying to share my knowledge.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “My All-Time Favorite HR Mistake

  1. Sage advice: “Do you love what you are doing, and who you are doing it for? If it’s yes, stay put. It’s that simple.” More people should keep this in mind when making career decisions!

  2. Rather disapointed with the desired interview question answer from the author being so disparaging about the HR function. “Having to take positions in HR” – well I certainly feel a little offended by that. Guess that’s because I am a lazy under achiever, not capable of holding down a proper job.

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