I recently spoke with a college student interested in a career in HR who asked me which job I had held in the past that led to my promotion to Global Vice President of Human Resources. I replied “Every job I ever had before I got into HR.”
My first paying job was working for a bee keeper at age 9. It was hot, sweaty work in the heat of summer wearing a too-big canvas suit and screened hood. I lugged Supers and honeycombed screens from Noon to Five every weekday afternoon in July and August. I got $2 per day plus a jar of honey and a free haircut once a month for the year (which was what I really wanted since my family could not afford haircuts for the boys so my Dad just periodically cut most all of it off; the bee keeper was a retired barber).
At age 10 I could also mow lawns at $3 per yard. By the time I was 14 I had more than twenty lawns to mow and was subcontracting the work out. When I turned 15 I started busing tables at a restaurant, became a cashier at 16 and Maitre D at 18.
Now an adult, I could do construction and factory work. Framed exteriors, did remodeling, and was a wire monkey for an electrician. Did chemical plating and heat treating in a GM factory. Both jobs paid my way through college.
After college it was office work: operations, sales, accounting, and finally HR.
He asked me what they had to do with HR, and I said “Everything.”
There is virtually no one from any walk of life I can’t work with or don’t have something in common relative to work experience.
I respect everyone who works for a legal living, no matter how menial.
I’ve never forgotten that everything I touch, use, wear, eat, or sleep under was made by somebody with dirty hands.
All of these experiences made me the practitioner I am today, and by no means was mine a straight path to HR.
Recent grads need to pursue the opportunities available to them and take every chance to learn something new; you never know where it leads. Work hard, show up every day, answer the phone when it rings and the knock at the door. Easy, right?
Hat tip to Simon C.Y. Wong, adjunct professor at the Northwestern University School of Law, for his article in this month’s Harvard Business Review and inspiration for this post.