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Advice on the Optimal HR Career Path

Here's some advice on how to take advantage of new HR career paths and rise to the top.

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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I was having a conversation with someone in HR a few weeks ago and they asked me a very pointed question: what is the best career path to take if I want to get to the CHRO/Chief People Officer role in the next few years?

The world of HR is evolving quickly. We had a 10 year aggressive decrease in unemployment followed by the chaos of COVID. There is a newfound emphasis on HR (or People Operations as I like to call it), as well as talent acquisition. The US economy continues to be driven by companies that rely on highly skilled people who are hard to recruit and retain.

In addition, there is a slow but steady rise in the number of organizations who are actually leveraging people analytics to better understand the entire employee life cycle from applicant to alumni. This has created new roles within the HR/PeopleOps world, and therefore new opportunities for professionals looking to grow. It's worth noting that these people get paid more for the value they bring an organization

Career Advice for HR Professionals Trying to Get Ahead

This advice is for people who are gunning for that top spot in the organization (CHRO or Chief People Officer), or who at least want to be at the higher levels of their organization. If you're happy in your job and have no desire to move up, then enjoy life!

For the rest of the Type A personalities, my suggestion is to hitch your wagon to one of the newer roles within People that is more strategic in nature. When I say strategic, I mean that 1) everything you do ties to the overall business goals, not just the blocking and tackling of traditional HR, and 2) nearly everything you do will tie back to an underlying data model that most likely has a dollar sign in the last cell.

Old School vs New School

Executives at nearly every company I talk to are craving business minded People people to help run their organizations. Old school HR that is compliance focused, doesn't understand technology, and has no facility with numbers are never going to be the drivers of value that the c-suite desires.

New school People people are constantly understanding what's going on in the business (we need new sales, product is behind schedule, there is too much churn in customer service, etc), and then architecting strategies to address these issues (sourcing tech for sales roles, tech assessments for engineers to speed up time to hire and widen the funnel, employee engagement tools), and finally tying this back the business with a dollar sign (we hired 15 more quota bearing reps this quarter which translated into an additional $3 mm of sales and $12 mm of enterprise value, our time to fill for engineers decreased by 15 days which means we got another 175 eng days in this quarter that directly contributed to the new product shipping back on schedule, we got 85% of CSMs as weekly active users on the engagement platform which has led to a decrease in churn by 12% thus far which has saved us $200k in TA costs and an approximated $350k in institutional knowledge transfer).

That was a long sentence....but hopefully it gets the point across of how these new school people think!

The New Career Path

I've talked to at least half a dozen teams this year that have hired people outside of HR to lead HR. Former finance, consulting, marketing, etc people who get the business, and can learn HR. I think this is a shame. There are so many smart people in the HR function that are more than capable of learning the skills to become more effective business leaders.

Luckily, I've also talked to 2-3x that many HR people who have transitioned their careers into PeopleAnalytics, HR Business Partner Roles, and PeopleOps roles. They are taking their domain expertise in HR and upskilling on the business/data angles they may not already have in order to drive the tangible value that will be recognized with promotions, and eventually that top spot.

At SSR, we're really excited about these new roles, and have been updating a short list of people jobs we think meet these criteria. We hope that in a small way we can help people get these roles, succeed, and train (check out our HR Tech ROI course) the next wave of People professionals who will make an impact at their organization.

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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Phil is the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website dedicated to helping HR and Recruiting teams find and buy the right software through in-depth, expert advice. He has bought over $1 million worth of HR and Recruiting tools. Additionally, as of 2023, nearly 3 million HR professionals have relied on his advice to determine which business software they should buy.

Phil studied finance at New York University and started his career working in venture capital before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School. His in-depth understanding of the Saas landscape, especially HR Tech, stems from nearly a decade of researching and working with these tools as a computer programmer, user, and entrepreneur.

Featured in: Entrepreneur Harvard Business School Yahoo HR.com Recruiting Daily Hacking HR Podcast HR ShopTalk Podcast Employer Branding for Talent Acquisition (Udemy Course)

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