A Career in HR? The Cynical Girl (@lruettimann) and I Discuss

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Laurie Ruettimann and I love Human Resources in very different ways.  She is a consultant and disaffected practitioner.  I am a professor.  We have very different  messages for our chosen profession.

Here is a letter Laurie received from a graduate student at an elite university.  We wanted  to apply different perspectives and respond to this young gentleman directly.

Dear Laurie,

I just read your article “A Letter to the #shrmstudent Conference Attendees” and I must admit I am a little surprised.  I might be slightly scared.  I am currently following a master’s degree in HR.  It was a tough choice because it is tremdendously expensive.  I have a passion for HR, though, and it’s worth it.

But your article kind of lost me, to be honest.  I can hardly ignore your opinion.  You said that HR is a career for older people.  Can’t I be sure that I want to have a career in HR at the age of 23?

Plus, I was told I could make way more money in HR.

Anyway I hope you can answer my questions.  I really look forward to your reply.

We see three questions in this letter.

1.     Is HR a good career move?

2.     Should a student pursue HR right out of college, or wait to enter the field?

3.     Can you make any money  in Human Resources?

From Laurie Ruettimann:

I stand by my original article.  Human Resources is a lovely career choice, but I think it’s a mediocre choice compared to all of the cool things you can do when you are 23 years old.  Additionally, HR is the corporate department that most closely parallels parenthood.  With age comes wisdom.  Many of the best Human Capital Management practitioners in the world are over the age of 50 and have seen every aspect of business – from operations to customer service – and apply that expertise to HR.

Of course you can make a lot of money in Human Resources.  The median pay for a Human Resource Manager is $99,180 per year.  But, I’m not sure that is a lot of money to someone who spends tens of thousands of dollars on a degree.  And for those of you who are bad at math, remember that median is not average.

From Dr. Stollak:

The beauty of the educational system, particularly in the United States, is that you get exposed to a wide range of occupations and career choices since you begin schooling.  You will take classes in the hard sciences, the arts and the humanities, and the social sciences.  You may change majors a couple of times.  At most higher education institutions, you will not only have to take general education classes, but a core curriculum as well.   If you choose a degree in business, you will be exposed to the fields of accounting, finance, marketing, management, international business, as well as HR.  If after those classes, along with an internship, you find yourself with a passion for HR, why not pursue it?  Our school emphasizes the notion of vocation as a calling.  And what better calling is there then HR in helping others find their calling as well.

Just because you pursue a career in HR right away, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from knowing the other parts of the business.  Spend some time on the assembly line if you work in a manufacturing plant.   Go out on a sales call with your sales representatives.   By understanding the various functions, one can better demonstrate the value HR can deliver.

As always, salary doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  What’s the alternative?  If we look at the same data for the top 20 highest paying occupations, 13 require additional education and training, which could mean even more debt.  Further, 10 of the 20 are in the medical and legal field; avenues that you might have already considered and chosen not to pursue.

What are your thoughts?

Student Reflections on the #SHRM13 Expo Hall Experience

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 25, 2013

One of the unique aspects of our school is that they have allowed me to create a course where students can attend the SHRM Annual Conference for course credit.  Given the immersion into HR over four and a half days, 19 sessions, and the expo hall, students garner a much broader view of the HR profession than they would get in the classroom.  Six of my own students along with nearly 400 students across the nation descended on Chicago for the SHRM Big Show

As one of their requirements, students had to do an analysis of the expo hall as  a whole, as well as conduct in-depth analysis of five of the vendors.  This analysis should include gaining a complete understanding of the functions of the organization being displayed, a brief interview with the individuals representing this organization, and a critique of their trade show booth.

This was easier said than done.  Unfortunately, a common theme emerged, one that I have see all too often over 13 years of attending the SHRM conference.  I'll let the students put it into their own words:

Student 1:

One of the frustrating things that I came across in the expo hall was that many of the vendors did not want to talk to us because we are students.  You would lose their attention immediately after saying "I'm a student."

Student 2:
One thing I noticed about the vendors was that many of them were turned off once I mentioned that I was a student, with the exception of a few.  They didn't seem as willing to try and sell their business to me.

Student 3:
Once the booth found out that we did not work for a company that could use their services, but rather that we were lowly, lowly students, we were sent on our way.  I figured this would be a one or two time occurrence, but that ended up being a misconception very quickly.  Over and over, we revealed our status as students and were quickly ushered out of the way to get the next attendee scanned and entered into a drawing for a vacation or an iPad Mini.

Student 4:
I was expecting more students to be at the conference and exposition hall and I think the companies were not expecting students at all.  I could tell in their tones sometimes that they did not want to be talking to a student, but rather selling their products or services to someone who did.  Many were surprised and happy to see students while others were looking past us.

Student 5:
I was a little disappointed in some of the companies within the hall.  Now it was not too many of them, but there were a little over a handful of booths that did not take me seriously due to the fact that I was a student.  For example, when I was approached by a representative, he or she was very friendly and began the conversation by presenting me with a question about the company I worked for.  However, once I told him or her that I was a student, they immediately changed their tome.  They simply pushed me on my way and acted as though they did not have the time of day to explain to me their company.....I think it would have been very helpful for many of those vendors to attend the sessions themselves.  Many of the sessions I attended emphasized repeatedly the importance of meeting the needs of people, creating fulfillment, and showing respect; many behaviors that these booths did not show. It truly made me question their company's credibility and their performance.

Just as a reminder...these aren't students attending on a whim.
*They had to pay a registration fee for the conference.
*They had to pay for 5 nights of Chicago hotel costs (the student conference starts on Saturday)
*They had to pay for travel to get to and from Chicago
*They had ancillary costs of attendance, such as meals.
*They gave up 6 of their summer days to attend (Friday-Wednesday)....time that could otherwise be spent working to pay for school

These are passionate students who care about the future of HR.  Several were so motivated by a session that they went to the SHRM Store to buy the author's book.

Hence, it was disappointing to hear, yet again, of such shoddy treatment by some vendors.  They are your future customers. Vendors should have treated them that way.

As one student put it..."It made me not want to use their product even when I graduate."

A Newspaper Story on Recruiting I'd Like to Read....

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, June 24, 2013

A story I'd like to read in the near future:

Southern California real estate agents recruiters are using reconnaissance and back-channel networks to find houses applicants that haven't yet hit the market. Some even offer bizarre gifts.
Southern California housing prices employee salaries are rising sharply, and there's a shortage of houses available for sale skilled employees available.

So agents recruiters like Mathys are resorting to reconnaissance and back-channel networks to find homes applicants that haven't yet hit the market. They're cold-calling homeowners passive applicants with offers and targeting specific neighborhoods employers with direct mail. Some come bearing bizarre gifts in return for a listing referral. One agent offered a seller potential employee the use of his exotic car; one of his clients offered free dogs.

And they're chasing so-called pocket listings, homes an applicant database privately marketed among those in the know. The low-profile nature of the listings makes them hard to quantify. But agents recruiters and other real estate hiring experts say they've become common in the booming Southland market, where the median home price salary shot up nearly 25% in the last year.
Sadly, continuing wage stagnation makes this much more a fantasy than reality

#shrm13, Leadership Style, and Concert Attendance Rules

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, June 21, 2013

Can one tell a person's management/leadership style by how they follow the "rules" of concert attendance?

Well, the SHRM Annual Conference has come to an end.  Lots of great speakers, SWAG, fun, networking and tweets.  However, the highlight for some was the double dose of musical greatness - the tweet-up at the House of Blues with DJ Jazzy Jeff on Monday, and the Tuesday night entertainment with Kelly Clarkson.   Yet, for others, actions at the concerts tainted their conference-going experience.  Let's set the stage (pun intended):
  • Both events were "free" - One simply had to register at Eventbrite to attend the DJ Jazzy Jeff party.  Meanwhile, the Kelly Clarkson ticket was included as a benefit of attending the SHRM Conference.  Its not a tipping point on the conference attendance decision. No one is saying "I would have attended SHRM Annual, but Kelly Clarkson is the entertainer, so I'm not going."  I've been to SHRM Annual 13 times, and have attended the Tuesday night entertainment only three times.
  • Seating is general admission - For DJ Jazzy Jeff, it was an open floor concept - no seating whatsoever.  For Kelly Clarkson, it was first come, first served.  People were lining up hours in advance so that they could grab a chance to sit as close to the front as possible.
Yet, when the concerts began, reactions were mixed.  Some loved it.  Others were visibly upset, and expressed it vociferously on Twitter.  Some individuals were getting shushed while enjoying the concert.  One went on a long rant about he/she got to the event early to carve out an excellent space for viewing the event, and others dared to infringe on that space by rushing the stage and filling the aisles when the concert started.

Now, one of the unwritten rules of attending a rock concert is that people generally crowd to the front when the music starts, particularly at a general admission show.  Also, people stand during the concert, perhaps blocking one's view.  It's to be expected.

But, it also got me thinking about the notion of the familiar topics of transactional vs. transformational leadership.   Transactional leadership focuses "on increasing the efficiency of established routines and procedures and are more concerned with following existing rules than with making changes to the structure of the organization."  Whereas, transformational leaders "engage with followers, focus on higher order intrinsic needs, and raise consciousness about the significance of specific outcomes and new ways in which those outcomes might be achieved."

Were those individuals complaining about the violation of unwritten concert attendance rules likely to have a more transactional view of managing people at work? 

Observations On #SHRM13 Thus Far

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 18, 2013

 This is the 13th SHRM Annual Conference I have attended.  The routine is pretty much the same from year to year.  So what, if anything, has stood out?

The Speakers
  • Hillary Clinton - didn't get to see her.  Closed to press.
  • Blake Mycoskie - Nice inspirational message.  Hard to screw up a talk about shoes at a HR conference.  Definitely fit category 1 of Tim Sackett's 3 categories of HR speakers
  • Jennifer McClure - Talked on the Future of HR and knocked it out of the park.  Definitely book her for your future HR conference.
  • Steve Boese - Excellent presentation on harnessing social tools.  
The Exhibit Hall
  • I probably have spent less time there then in any previous conference.  As a professor, I'm not likely to be a customer of whatever product is being hawked.  My name is not going to be drawn for a booth prize.  And, I learned long ago that SWAG remorse is never a good thing.  
  • I felt bad for the booths in the 3500-4300 range.  It seemed like they were the discount casinos in "Vegas Vacation" where games such as "Pick a Number Between 1 and 10" and "Flip a Coin" were being played 
  • I was disappointed to hear from students, yet again, that some booths treated their visit with disdain.  These are your future customers.  Treat them that way.
  • It is still a heavily dominated female crowd.  On three of the four shuttles I've taken, I was the lone male among 30 or 40 females.

What I Hope Hillary Rodham Clinton says at #shrm13

by Matthew Stollak on Sunday, June 16, 2013

While I will not be able to hear Hillary's speech, here is what I hope she will say in her speech at the opening session of the SHRM Annual Conference:
  • That for many, work and identity are inextricably linked.
  • Human resources plays a crucial and integral role in helping individuals identify and embrace their vocation.
  • That this can be accomplished while still making a firm profitable and delivering shareholder value.
If the above is mentioned, the SHRM Annual Conference will get off to a rousing start.

Enjoy the conference and Happy Father's Day to all the dad's in attendance.  Much love to my 14 week old twins, Micah and Mia.

Your Workplace Training Video of the Day

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, June 14, 2013

You know it is effective, because you will have "Hot Drinks" in your head for the rest of the day.

I'm hoping that DJ Jazzy Jeff will be spinning a remix at the 80s themed  #SHRM13 Tweetup Monday night (RSVP Now: http://shrm13tweetup.eventbrite.com/)

Hope to see you at the SHRM Annual Conference.  Off to Chicago.

Why #HRevolution is Contagious

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The HREvolution unconference will be taking place on October 6th at the Mandalay Bay in  Las Vegas (you can buy tickets here.  In the previous five years, the conference has been incredibly successful, growing from a small uenknown conference of 50 attendees in Louisville, KY in 2009 to its 6th iteration with 200+ attendees in October.  To explore why it has been so successful, I drew inspiration from Jonah Berger's book, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On."  

In Contagious, Berger identifies six key components (with the acronym STEPPS) that allow messages or ideas to go viral:

1Social Currency

To Berger, social currency allows to share things that make us look good.   "Knowing cool things....make people seem sharp and in the know."   One has to break the pattern people have come to expect.

The unconference experience of HREvolution challenges the typical HR event in that instead of being passive observers, attendees are encouraged to participate and take the discussion in a different direction  than the presenter may have originally intended....this is a good thing.  

Further, social currency makes people feel like insiders, due to the scarcity and exclusivity of the idea or event. The limited number of people that attended the first iteration of HREvolution in Louisville generated quite the stir and excitement that others wanted to belong.

2.  Triggers

Triggers are things that are at the top of our mind or on the tip of the tongue.  According to Berger, "give people a product they enjoy, and they'll be happy to spread the word."  One creates ongoing word of mouth, where people talk about it weeks later.

HREvolution certainly has brought a strong response from others.  Excitement is shared on Twitter, Facebook or a blog about the experience.   When each event is over, people want to know when it will be occurring again.  Check out at some of the HREvolution experiences people have shared in the past, and actively recruit others to attend.

3.  Emotion

An idea becomes contagious when we care enough to share it with others.  It creates what Berger describes as the "power of awe."  For an idea to become contagious, it must focus on feelings.

HREvolution concentrates on conversations that haven't or aren't this taking place.  Whether it focuses on eliminating of keeping the performance review or the intersection of politics, pop culture and HR, HREvolution creates high arousal emotions that drive people to action and inspire attendees by showing how they can make a difference.

4.  Public

Berger argues that "when we can see other people doing something, we're more likely to imitate it."  This is the power of observability.  When one follows the HREvolution hashtag, the conference advertises itself when one sees the passion and excitement that is being tweeted by the attendees, and those not in attendance.  Just ask Steve Browne how he felt about missing it.

 5.  Practical Value

Does the idea help people help others? Does it provide news one can use.  

Not only do people take back to the workplace ideas from HRevolution that can create actionable change, it is incredibly cheap to attend.  Thanks to the kind people at SumTotal Systems, the premier sponsor of the event, 50 tickets are available at an early bird discount of $125.  In addition, registering for HRevolution gets you a code for $600 off the registration fee (most promotional codes you'll see in the coming months will be in the $500 range) for the HR Technology Conference.  It's almost like you get to attend HRevolution for $25.

6.  Stories

"Is the idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share?  Is the story not only viral, but also valuable?"

"Bifurcation." "Creepers."  "Cinco De Wempen."  People who have attended HREvolution soon develop their own jargon and stories of their shared experience.  See, for yet another example, the HR Improv session was particularly popular. 

In sum, I hope you see how exciting the HREvolution conference can be.  I was one of the 50 original attendees in Louisville and moved from simple acolyte to co-planner for the past three years.

I hope to see you in Las Vegas in October.

Eight Things NOT To Do at #SHRM13

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Advice has already starting flowing in about what to do while in Chicago for the big event.  In case you missed it: China Gorman provides some excellent advice about maximizing your SHRM Conference experienceJessica Miller-Merrill provides you with the top 10 things to do while you are in Chicago and not going to the conference.  Trish McFarlane has brought back her 10 Conference Commandments.

This will not one of those posts.

I will be attending my 13th SHRM Annual Conference, and below I, instead, will provide you, based on my years of experience, the things you do NOT want to do while attending.

1.  Do NOT suffer from SWAG remorse.

The exhibit hall is going to open at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 16 and you going to be tempted by every vendor with some sort of gee-gaw or doo-dad that you absolutely have to bring back to the office.  You may have already received an inch tall pile of vendor mail and you've mapped out your strategy for maximizing your haul.  You may have even packed light so that you have plenty of room in your suitcase for the haul.  It is free, right?  You HAVE To grab it.  Trust me, as a former victim, you will suffer from SWAG remorse.  It may take a week....it may take a month, but you are going to look at that tote bag full of "goodies" you brought back and you are going to ask yourself why you grabbed that 7th t-shirt or 14th squeeze ball.  Regret always tastes sour.

2.  Do NOT bring a rollerbag to the conference

I have posted this several times since 2010, and people are still not listening.  Rollerbags are the scourge of the exhibit hall.  They get underfoot, and people are often unaware of the people behind them when toting it along.  Don't be that person.

3. Do NOT get in the way

You make think the exhibit hall is huge, but the rows are narrower than you think.  If you see someone you know, step out of the way, so that others can traverse the area more freely.  If people have to walk around you, you're doing it wrong.

4.  Do NOT use the phrase "Seat at the Table" or you'll be fined $100

The phrase "seat at the table" is officially barred from mention at the conference.  If you say it, you owe $100 to the SHRM Foundation.  If you overhear it in Chicago, tell that person they owe $100 to the SHRM Foundation. If a speaker uses it in a session, please tweet out the following phrase:

"(Insert speaker name here) owes $100 to the @shrmfoundation for saying "Seat at the table." #SHRM13 #SHRMShame"

5.  Do NOT attempt to scalp your Kelly Clarkson wristband

Unless you're registered as a "ticket broker" with the Illinois Secretary of State, selling/bartering for tickets anywhere at an event venue aside from the box office is illegal.  It is a Class A misdemeanor and you may be subject to a $5000 fine from the state of Illinois. 

Note: I am not a lawyer, nor will I be staying in a Holiday Inn Express while at SHRM Annual.

6.  Do NOT, under any circumstances, sing "Happy Birthday" to Jennifer McClure at 8:15 a.m. on Monday, June 17.

While it is Jennifer McClure's 32nd birthday on June 17, she would TOTALLY be embarrassed and would just hate it if a capacity crowd began singing "Happy Birthday" to her as she closed out her Mega-SessionInstead, she would appreciate it if you simply attended...oh, and some Diet Coke, cupcakes, and M&M's.

7.  Do NOT text or tweet and walk

There will be 13,000+ individuals in attendance at the McCormick Place.  When that General Session with Dan Pink or Blake Mycoskie lets out, you and all your new friends will simultaneously be trying to get out of the hall and head to the next session, the bathroom, or to grab some coffee.  Please do not start walking and stare down at your phone.  I am excited that you have the Twitter, Facebook, or Hootsuite app, and you are using the #SHRM13 hashtag.   But, inevitably, you will run into the back of someone.  This will not be one of those "meet cute" scenarios you see in the movies. Instead, you will likely be called out because that person you just ran into will see your name on your badge.

8.  Do NOT wear your SHRM Conference badge at night.
As SHRM notes, wearing your badge outside of McCormick Place will peg you as a visitor from out of town and a target for crime.  Even worse, many of you will likely heading to one of the bevy of parties, or, from what I hear, Chicago has a few bars.  Drinking will likely lead to bad behavior on the part of some of you.  Wearing your badge will likely make your name live in infamy as people mention your sordid exploits at future conferences.  Try to drink in relative anonymity and leave your badge in your hotel room.

So, what else would you tell attendees NOT to do?  Leave a note below, or tweet your suggestion to #SHRM13Festivus (h/t to Laurie Ruettimann for the hashtag)

Needed: A #SHRM Full Speaker Database #SHRMadvice

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, June 3, 2013


Finding quality speakers to present relevant, up-to-date information to a HR audience


One of the leading drivers for individuals to attend their local SHRM chapter meeting or conference is the quality of the speaker(s) and his/his/their topic.  In particular, individuals not only want to gain their PHR/SPHR/GPHR certification credits, they want to learn, be entertained, and feel that the dollars and time they invested are worthwhile.

Unfortunately, finding speakers, let alone quality ones, is difficult.  As I noted in this space nearly three years ago, volunteers have to go out and find willing speakers (often at no cost) to provide a compelling hour or more of information to attendees.  Further, volunteers have to go through a somewhat onerous process to get a program approved by HRCI at least 4 weeks in advance to ensure that it meets the requirements to provide recertification credits.

Let's revisit the math: With 575+ chapters offering 8-9 programs a year, along with a significant number of state and national HR conferences, there are at least 5000 sessions a year being offered.  Even with some likely repeat speakers, there is a huge demand that needs to be met, and places a huge burden on the HRCI to approve a significant number of programs

There has got to be a better way.


To be fair, it must be noted that SHRM does provide a number of resources to assist chapters in finding speakers.
  • In their volunteer leader resource center, chapters can contact the SHRM Speakers Bureau to find a member of the SHRM organization to speak on a whole host of topics.
  • There is a short non-SHRM staff directory of speakers who have scored 3.8 out of 5 at one of the SHRM major conferences in the last four years
  • A SHRM speaker program that contains just under 130 speakers

  • In 2010, the SHRM Chapter and State Council Leadership LinkedIn Group tried to create a list of top 10 speakers from their state conference.  Everyone who commented thought it was a good idea, but it withered on the vine.
  • Late last year, the St. Norbert Collge student SHRM chapter tried to crowdsource a list.ly list of good SHRM speakers (you can see it posted on the right), but it hasn't quite taken off.
1.  Expand the SHRM Speaker Program.  This list is a great start, but it is too small to meet the demand.
2.  Have HRCI publish yearly a list of ALL programs approved the previous year.  Ideally, it would be searchable by listing sessions by state, topic, speaker, credit amount (i.e., 1.25 hours), and certification level (PHR, SPHR, GPHR, etc.).  Yet, even providing a link online to a pdf would be a good start.