Tim Sackett’s HR 101: My Favorite (and Biggest) 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 invariably every person takes those mistakes and tries to turn them into some type of “learning.”

It’s a classic interview question – “So, Mr. Sackett, tell me about your biggest mistake in career and what did you learn from it?” I even have asked it myself when interviewing others.

A nauseating response

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, are probably my biggest ones. What I’ve learned is that all those high school kids in band and 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. No one is really honest about their mistakes, because in making the most mistakes you do something stupid – something so stupid, you’d 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.”

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

But, I’ve got a good one. I do have a favorite HR mistake, and two friends of mind recently made me think about it.

Yes, this is my favorite HR mistake

Here’s my  all-time 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 it no longer mattered did I finally reach that level.

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Two friends both recently had opportunities to leave organizations and positions they really liked, and 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, so answer me this one question: Do you love what you are doing, and who you are doing it for?

If the answer is “yes,” stay put. It’s that simple, and that was my learning.

I finally learned my lesson

I’ve left two positions in my life where I loved what I was doing, and loved the organizations – both to take promotional opportunities with other companies. Both times I made the wrong decision. That is a tough mistake to make twice

I used to give out this advice to people — go ahead and leave because you’re going to have 10 plus 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!

I think we all hope that we learn over time from our mistakes. Once in a while, I actually do!

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.


6 Comments on “Tim Sackett’s HR 101: My Favorite (and Biggest) HR Mistake

  1. Hey Tim, as mistakes go I don’t think what you describe is so bad. It takes a little exposure to the world of work and a little maturity to realize great jobs and great bosses aren’t everywhere and that taking them for granted isn’t always wise.

  2. This is great advice – money and a title mean nothing if you aren’t happy! Hopefully your ‘mistakes’ make people to think about what’s really important in life.

  3. Move for money, totally agree, dumb move. Move for promotion, absolutely. Who’s to say you won’t go on to love your new job and who you do it for? If you don’t take the risk, you won’t fulfill your potential. Worst case if it doesn’t work out, you will still learn from your ‘mistakes’.

  4. Hey Tim, My biggest mistake was staying in the last job I loved because it ennded up leading me nowhere and whe the economy went bust so did the job. Now I’m in a position where I really love what I do again but the pay sucks…so should I stay here? Turns out your advice is not good across-the-board and, like others said here, if you are complacent with your job that you love…without risk there is no opportunity. Its your attitude that makes the job enjoyable with some exceptions, like a jerk for a boss. Thank goodness I don’t have that. 🙂

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