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    63 Paths To A Successful Career In Human Resources

    Kage Spatz sat down with 63 HR experts who are at the top of their field and found out how they found their pivotal role in Human Resources. In no particular order, let's meet these successful professionals.

    1. Jo Deal of LogMeIn

    Authority Magazine / Via

    It is rare that anyone grows up knowing that HR is what they want to do. I think many of us didn’t really know what it was before we got into it, especially 20 years ago. It has changed enormously as a profession and, with the increase in service and technology industries, people can be the main physical assets that organizations have. HR is evolving to match that, with the need for strategic, data-driven and business focused HR leadership becoming imperative to its success.

    I had a business (economics) degree and liked numbers but also liked working with people. I went traveling after I graduated college and didn’t know what I wanted to do when I came back, so I enrolled in a post-grad HR program and was doing temporary work to pay the bills. I asked the temp agency to find me work in an HR department if possible. One Friday they called with a one-day work assignment in an HR department. I nearly didn’t take it as it was a Friday and only a day’s work, but I figured one day was better than nothing. They asked me to come back the following week, hired me permanently soon after and I stayed with that company for three years. They were a global conglomerate with many different business divisions across the UK and the US. I had a great boss who involved me in everything so that I could learn every aspect of the role, (and most importantly whether I was passionate for it or not). I got lucky finding a career that I love doing that suits my strengths.

    2. Rachel Book of Fidelity

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    I’m the first in my family with a college degree and a corporate career (we’ve got lots of teachers, business owners, and entrepreneurs). After earning a degree in psychology in two years through a non-traditional path including studies abroad, correspondence courses and CLEP exams, I started working as a project coordinator for a tech company. Soon after, they were spinning off a division and the COO came up to me and said, “We can’t use the parent company finance department anymore. So you’re going to hire a new finance department.”

    I just jumped in and did it. I ended up hiring hundreds of people over the next few years. It was a unique experience, and one that taught me we should never miss an opportunity to expand our horizons. It taught me about career paths and the unique combinations of skills and experiences needed to be successful. I realized that careers are not always linear, and that people who have “stacked careers” across industries or functional areas often add more value than someone taking a more traditional path.

    Recruiting is in my DNA — it’s the detective work of finding people and the sales aspect of closing the deal that is exciting. Over the past 10 years I’ve focused on diversity in talent acquisition — building programs and initiatives to reach broader talent pools in a way that is inclusive and welcoming to all, including those without a traditional background.

    3. Michelle Murphy of Ingersoll Rand

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    A common theme throughout my career has been ensuring equality. As an example, I was a founding member of Ingersoll Rand’s Women Employee Network — an Employee Resource Group that helps foster the talent of women and creates an environment that values, attracts and cultivates their diverse talent within the company. I saw it as an opportunity to help other women use their voice.

    Ultimately, my commitment to fair treatment and moving the cultural needle within the organization is how I landed in this role where I lead Ingersoll Rand’s Progressive, Diverse and Inclusive (PDI) initiatives. To date, it’s been my favorite. It’s proof that while I may not have chosen this role for myself, sometimes the right role finds you.

    4. Rose Velez-Smith of Pitney Bowes

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    It was very early on that I learned about my passion in HR. I became an intern in HR (Personnel) while in high school and determined quickly that I loved the field.

    5. Faye Tylee of Avaya

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    I hadn’t planned on having a career in HR. All I really knew was that I wanted to have the opportunity both personally and professionally to strategize, create and grow. More than that, I wanted to really understand how business worked from the inside out. Growing up, I traveled a lot. So much so that travel would ultimately impact my growth and evolution in every aspect of my life.

    Travel has been and continues to be one of my greatest inspirations. It’s opened my mind to new cultures; helped me create more meaningful relationships; forced me to develop skills I didn’t know I had; and given me a stronger sense of humility, purpose, perspective and gratitude for my own life and opportunities.

    I attribute my sense of wanderlust and my desire to build a business from the inside out as the main contributors that brought me to a career in HR.

    6. Sanji Moore of Praytell

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    While working on the account strategy side of communications, I also developed programs focused on building and growing employees. Projects like agency-wide learning programs, management trainings, and company culture events were my favorite part of the day. There was one specific meeting, however, that convinced me that it wasn’t just something that made me happy — it was my next career.

    I had the opportunity to manage a rising star in my agency. In one of her performance reviews, I had the pleasure of promoting her and when I said the words, she was so happy she started to cry. When I saw how much it meant to her, how proud she was of herself, and how this was going to change her life in a significant way, I started to cry myself.

    Walking out of that meeting, I realized that I’d never cried tears of joy after meeting a client’s sales objective or my team’s KPIs. This was a fulfillment I hadn’t experienced before, and I wanted more.

    7. Fiona Chilcott of Hotwire

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    I originally studied a degree with a focus on politics, but through a series of opportunities ended up in an HR role, which I have enjoyed more than I think I would enjoy a career in public office.

    8. Jen Warne of Lincoln Financial

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    It all started for me in high school…I was curious about my future, what I would study in school and where there was opportunity in the workforce. I turned to the “help wanted” ads, keep in mind this was before the age of the internet, to see what jobs were available and where there was a recruiting demand. Looking back now, I was gravitating towards a career in talent without even realizing it. And I’m so grateful today for how it unfolded from there. At the time, there were opportunities in HR and I was lucky enough to get into a pre-college work-study program. Then in college, I held two recruiting internships that affirmed my love for the field. The first for Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company, and the second at Towers Perrin (now Willis Towers Watson), a consulting firm. Talk about great opportunities and mentors! Towers Perrin offered me an amazing full-time position before I even finished college, which led me to spend 15 years of my career progressing through leadership roles at the company before arriving at Lincoln Financial Group. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a ton of hard work, great opportunities and a rock-solid support system from my family and friends.

    9. Jeremy Rovinsky of National Paralegal College

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    After I graduated from law school, my wife and I moved to Israel, where I was working with an Israeli firm and operating my own law practice. I always wanted to clerk for a judge, and was offered a clerkship at the Court of Appeals in Phoenix. As I was clerking, I was in the right place at the right time, and met a friend’s brother-in-law, who worked at National Paralegal College. He told me the college was opening a graduate school, and I expressed interest in teaching. He was impressed with my clerkship, and offered me the opportunity to teach the graduate school’s first Constitutional Law class. One class led to another, and when my clerkship was coming to an end and I was interviewing with law firms, the school extended me an offer to become a full-time school administrator. I began as Dean of the graduate school, and eventually became Dean of the entire school.

    10. Todd Horton of KangoGift

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    Many of my peers never knew they wanted a career in human resources. We fall into the HR world because we are interested in people. Finance tends to have clear answers — profit/loss. My HR peers tend to like grey situations. People are complicated and we learn how to communicate and focus on the needs of others. What makes you happy may differ from what makes me happy. People make stuff happen and I enjoy learning what motivates each of us.

    11. Kathleen Brenk of Trustile Doors

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    After college, I taught HeadStart for several years. As I was thinking about starting a family, I didn’t think I could both teach and parent successfully. Such a draw on the same energy. I took a job as an office manager which led to benefits and training and an HR professional was born. HR and I found each other.

    12. Carol Wood of Homebase

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    I ended up in HR because I had psychology and anthropology undergraduate degrees and a law degree. I ended up at Homebase after working with small businesses, like restaurants and retailers, as an HR consultant. I watched these great family-run businesses, who care about their long-tenured employees, struggle to survive once Wal-Mart entered the scene. Then Amazon became the straw that broke the camel’s back, and many companies permanently shut their doors.

    When I learned about Homebase’s solutions for local businesses, I had to get involved. This would finally provide some leverage for local business owners against large corporations, by offering them easy scheduling, time and attendance, and hiring tools typically only available to very large enterprises. With Homebase, family-run businesses actually have a shot at attracting and retaining employees.

    Technology gets an unfair reputation for replacing jobs, but technology may be what saves local business. In fact, my brother was let go from a large oil and gas company but is now running a small business and using Homebase to help him do it. We make a huge difference for people. That’s why I’m here.

    13. Carolina King of Lucas Group

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    As a liberal arts major, you graduate and begin to look around and ask, “What should I do with my life?” In my case, I realized pretty quickly I had a knack for compartmentalization and the capacity for taking on personal responsibility. Of course, I had to work on developing both of those skills as I advanced my career, but they made HR a natural fit. HR often gets a bad rep, but I think I’m more like the school principal. I really care about these people.

    I’m a nurturing person and find acts of service fulfilling, which adds up to a capacity for taking on responsibility for large numbers of people. You have to be humble and do what’s required of you with grace. I think in any service-oriented job — or any leadership position — the way you get things done is by working through influence, not authority.

    14. María Luz Costa of Belatrix

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    Initially, I wanted to be a doctor but even as a child I knew I wanted to work closely with people. In the end, I decided to study human resources at university, and this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m very people-orientated, so it was a perfect match for me. Soon after, I started working at an HR consultancy firm and then later joined Belatrix Software. I’m fortunate that I realized quickly that human relations is my destiny.

    15. Marcy Hamrick of Publix

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    I’ve always had a passion for education and received a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and a master’s degree in adult education. I found my way to talent acquisition and human resources through the education and training side of the industry. For the first part of my career, I designed and developed the tools that help new employees acclimate to their roles and advance their leadership skills. These roles taught me a lot about people — how they think, what engages them — and that knowledge has been invaluable as I’ve moved into a talent acquisition role. At Publix, we’re known for our customer service. Recruiting the right talent to deliver it is one of the most important ways we’ve continued to keep this legacy alive nearly 90 years later. We can teach anyone how to bag groceries, but the exceptional service we provide is what’s most important.

    16. Michelle Kilroy of PrimeRevenue

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    It’s a funny story because I spent a good bit of my career fighting my fate. Like a lot of people, I had a very one-dimensional and traditional view of human resources (HR). I thought it was all policy and rules. But I’ve always been drawn to roles where I helped support people in their ambition, even as a kid. You know those new student orientation leaders in high school? I did that. Following my education, I worked as a college admissions counselor then as a high school guidance counselor. Along the way, my friends and family kept suggesting I’d be great at HR. I pushed back for a long time, but eventually an opportunity came along and so began my HR career.

    My first official HR job was as a university relations representative, in which I ran intern recruitment and diversity programs for a large media company. The programs we developed were very successful. One day, one of my managers approached me and said, “Hey, do you think you can build out an executive development program?” It was the first of many jobs where I found myself in a role that I was called on to build from the ground up. In fact, only once in my HR career have I ever backfilled a role.

    I thrive on coming into fast-growth situations and putting all of the different puzzle pieces together. If you need someone to just “keep the wheels on the bus,” to maintain the status quo, then I’m probably not a good fit. I like working with companies that are trying to navigate all of the positive chaos that comes with rapid growth — which brings me to my current role leading the global People & Talent function at PrimeRevenue, a global financial technology firm based in Atlanta. It’s a great fit.

    17. Alanna Conant of Tripleseat

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    Graduating college I was not sure what I wanted to do. The last couple of months I went to some career fairs and there were recruiters for some big companies there. Rather than talking about the jobs they were sourcing for, I started talking to them about what got them into the role they are in. After hearing what they got to do on a day to day basis I realized that HR life was the life for me. I have done all aspects of HR from pre-hiring background checks to recruiting to payroll and benefits. The thing that keeps me here is working with great people and realizing I am making a difference in their day to day life.

    18. Sandi Knight of HealthMarkets

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    I was completing my master’s program in educational psychology — specifically mental health and consulting — and a friend of mine who was doing some HR consulting reached out to tell me about an opportunity. At the time, I knew I wanted to use my knowledge and degree in some way in the workplace — I didn’t want to be a mental health counselor, but I wanted to apply my degree to some different type of role. My friend said the HR manager of a local company was leaving and he thought I would be a good fit for the role. My response was, “What is HR?”

    As it turned out, the role was primarily involving labor relations and I really didn’t know much about that, but I said, “Sure, I’ll interview.”

    I interviewed for six weeks and got the job working as the HR/Labor Relations Manager for the steelworker’s union. They were definitely a tough group to work with. As a result of no prior experience, I had to learn a lot immediately — it was like drinking from a fire hose. But I learned to take a chance and go for it — even if it didn’t think I was qualified, I didn’t want to be afraid of taking a chance — and that has worked out well for me.

    19. Elizabeth Hall of Cambia Health Solutions

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    My first job after college was at a very small, family-run consulting firm. I was fascinated by how the company adjusted to maternity leaves and needs for flexibility with a small workforce. I pursued this curiosity through internships, graduate school and then into my first big corporate job, starting up a work/life program. My strong belief is that work should add meaning to our lives, and I’m committed to creating workplaces and organizational cultures that do just that.

    20. Gianna Driver of BlueVine

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    Great question. I didn’t grow up dreaming about becoming an HR professional. I actually wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon — a far cry from the world of People Operations!

    I chose to be an HR executive because HR is such a unique part of an organization. It’s a place where we combine emotion, feelings, motivation, interpersonal dynamics — all the touchy-feely stuff that makes us human — with the more rational, right-brain parts of running a business: ROI metrics, the bottom line, margins, productivity, and so on. I love this interplay and get to work with all parts of the company.

    The People function is the part of an organization that bears the torch of accountability to ensure companies nurture people, who in turn help the company reach new heights. This is fun and exciting!

    21. Ran Reske of Resident

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    My mother thinks it’s funny to say her son left a successful career in venture capital to become a “mattress salesman.” All jokes aside, co-founding Resident has really been the perfect culmination of my life experience. I actually studied mechanical engineering, which shaped my approach to problem-solving, breaking things down part by part instead of chasing catch-all solutions. I applied that knowledge to careers in finance and venture capital investment, where I witnessed a lot of great leaders doing even greater (and sometimes not-so-great) things. That learning experience is what ignited my passion for leadership strategy and human capital, which is the focus of my work today: building dynamic, global teams and ensuring pathways for growth and personal fulfillment at every level throughout the organization.

    22. Amelia Ransom of Avalara

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    I was working for a large corporation and wanted the experience of creating inclusion and engagement into a newer and smaller company’s DNA at an early stage. It was powerful to me that Avalara was proactively seeking a leader who would help them change, not just look good.

    23. Russ Laraway of Qualtrics

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    I’ve been an operating manager for 25 years and a marketing, sales, customer success executive in tech for about 15. In my role as a VP for our SMB advertising business at Twitter, I started to notice my junior managers making a bunch of common mistakes. I would regularly “sneak off” with them to run some whiteboard sessions with them on their people issues. As their grand-boss, of sorts, I guess I was a safe option, and they were laying out their people issues clearly and plainly. To say these issues were predictable…. Would be an understatement. Almost everything came back to coaching, direction and expectations, and career management.

    I left Twitter to found Candor, Inc with Kim Scott — author of Radical Candor. As the COO of the company, I led marketing and sales, and while we failed at our mission to build software to help people have better conversations at work, we accidentally succeeded at creating a very nice consulting business. Through all of that, I spoke to about 1000 companies and learned they all have the same problem — they just used different words to say roughly this: “we have an engagement problem related to low manager skill.”

    I became curious about what skill gaps they believed were contributing to the engagement problems, became curious about the relationship between employee engagement and enterprise results (hint: it’s a strong relationship), and realized that 1) the most leverage place a People Ops team can intervene is on the manager and 2) I was uniquely positioned to affect managers because of my own experience and because of this multi-year pseudo research project hearing companies articulate the exact same problem over and over.

    The manager skill gap? Coaching, direction and expectations, and career management.

    I pitched the folks at Qualtrics on the idea of helping make their managers great, and here I am.

    24. Chris Dardis of Versiquein

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    Back in 2001, I was an IT consultant who was laid off because the Y2K scare came to an end, and my consulting company was cutting costs. I reached out to a recruiting company and asked for their help finding a new job. I explained I was looking for something that contained more relationship management. I wanted to have a career that allowed me to make a difference in people’s lives. They explained how the recruitment and staffing industry focuses on both of those keys and the rest is history. Everyday, I am able to create new relationships and cultivate existing ones all while helping people make monumental changes in their lives.

    25. Traci Wilk of The Learning Experience

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    I have always been deeply interested in exploring human behavior, always trying to ascertain the context behind why people act and behave in the ways they do. I naturally gravitated towards psychology classes in school, and I quickly surmised that this was my calling. However, I didn’t have a clear picture of what this would translate to after graduation.

    After graduating from college, I immediately moved to New York City and began a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology. My goal, at the time, was to become a Psychologist. In order to afford to live in NYC as a grad student, I took a job at a fashion startup as their first Human Resources manager. At the time, I believed this to be an administrative or regulatory function within a company. However, I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case. I found myself taking knowledge from my coursework and translating it into the workplace- helping people become their best selves. The company scaled very quickly during my time there. It was an ideal “first job,” and where I realized my passion for developing organizations and people.

    Since that time, I’ve been privileged to work for some incredibly progressive, high-growth companies throughout my career, spanning industries (multi-channel retail, fashion, tech, media, food & beverage, & hospitality), and growth stage, from founder-led startup up to Fortune 500.

    26. Kathleen Vegh of Hyland

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    I started out as an intern at Hyland right out of college and from the start Hyland felt like a pretty cool place to be. I went through a few different roles over the years and then, in 2009, an HR manager asked me to have lunch with her. We discussed the opportunity to take over the role that focused on creating and maintaining our employee culture. And the role had a pretty intriguing title, Minister of Culture. I had never really seen myself in HR, but this role turned out to be the perfect gateway to a career I have truly enjoyed.

    And as I thought about it more, it was actually a perfect fit. The most energizing and engaging part of my previous role was interacting with customers — but aside from our annual conferences, I didn’t get to do it very often. This was a chance to have a constant infusion of working with the people that my job was meant to support. I called her up the next day and said, “Um, I think this…I am in. I mean YES, I am in.”

    I love getting to know people and understanding what makes them happy and engaged in life and work — and lucky for me, in the employee experience world that is an actual job.

    27. Nicole Solecki of RevenueWell

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    Honestly, I kind of fell into it. I was working as an Office Manager doing a lot of the HR work for our company without even realizing it, and, when pursuing my next career move, I found that I aligned a lot with HR. I’ve always wanted to be in a career where I could help others, and this seemed like a great fit. HR gets a bad name at times, but I believe bringing a positive employee-focused attitude towards my career builds trust and allows me to be much more effective in the field.

    28. Lauren Kramer of Lola Red

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    I always knew I wanted a career that melded my personal interests of vibrant events, people and high energy with my education into one. Fortunately, going to school in Chicago allowed for accessibility to many opportunities. Without a doubt, the trajectory of my career started at my internship with Gen Art, which, at the time, was a leading arts non-profit that supported the future of film, music, fashion and more. It was there I met a woman who took me under her wing and got me my first role out of college, opening a luxury hotel in Chicago where I was the PR & Marketing Coordinator.

    This role taught me everything — how to network, how to lead meetings with C-Level executives, how to be creative and to always remember that I was never too good for any task (Need me to fix the printer? I got you. Want coffee? Leggo). I believe so strongly in the power of internships because I can say with such confidence that, for me, and for so many I know — if you take advantage of what they have to offer, you can become indispensable and this can set the tone for what is to come.

    29. Kristen Leong of M&O Marketing

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    I graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Human Resources. After college, I didn’t have a set plan for myself if I wanted to specialize in one area of HR or do something more general.

    I got an internship out of college which quickly turned into a full-time job as a recruiter for a sales and marketing firm. As I learned the ropes of how to recruit candidates for various positions, I was able to train on payroll and benefits and learned the operations side of the company as well. I enjoyed my first job and am thankful for the opportunity it gave me to be exposed to various other things in the field of human resources. It has shaped me as a professional and allowed me to now be involved in all aspects of HR.

    30. Jeannie Donovan of Velocity Global

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    As an anthropology major in college, I never thought I’d end up in the business world. Let’s face it, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. My first “real job” out of college I worked as an assistant to an entrepreneur who pursued angel investments before starting another business. He encouraged me to use my first year of employment with him to figure out where I wanted to be and to work towards that goal — whether it was graduate school, a career, or something else entirely.

    Burned out on school, HR interested me, so I took a certificate program focused on the profession and fell in love with the variety and people-focused nature of the field. By the time my boss started his new company a couple years later, I was employee #1 and totally hooked on building out the HR function for start-ups.

    31. Chessa Eskandanian-Yee of LeaderEQ

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    Absolutely! Having been raised in the talent acquisition business, I watched my mom who is the founder of an executive search firm, coach her clients and candidates on a daily basis. Whether a candidate was transitioning to a new career or going to an interview, she was their sounding board as well as being there for her corporate clients when they were experiencing pains from growth or setbacks in their businesses. I understood the value of coaching very early on and was fortunate enough to have had many influential teachers throughout my life. From Ms. Workman who was a role model and my philosophy teacher in High School to Dr. Mosley, my advisor at Smith — they continuously pushed me to be a thinker and realize my potential. Coaches are a necessity and my goal was to make that accessible and create a platform that would also provide the best possible coach/coachee matches.

    32. Michele McDermott Of Assurance

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    I knew in high school I wanted to work in HR. It was a profession going through change in the late 80’s and early 90’s from being the “personnel office” to becoming a more strategic part of a business.

    When I went to college, HR hadn’t quite evolved at the university level — classes were under psychology, not business. I wanted to be an HR business leader, not a psychologist, and I thought I would be more marketable if I had a business degree. So I received a business admin undergrad but made sure to take the core HR classes as well.

    Out of college, I worked for American Stores which was the parent company for Jewel and Osco at the time. I learned how to run a business by going through their training program at their corporate office and putting those skills to practice in the stores. I worked in essentially every department and eventually became an assistant manager. Without those three years of learning how to run a business and be a solid manager, I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am in HR. That backdrop was a great foundation for much of the work I would eventually perform in HR.

    I eventually broke into HR about three years after college at a family owned waste management company. I helped them grow their business, including going through two sales of the business. Because it was a small business environment, this job allowed me to do everything possible within HR, which was wonderful.

    33. Yuri Kruman of Employee Experience

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    After many so-so, bad and awful experiences as an employee in 4 different industries (neuroscience, law, finance and tech), I started my own executive coaching and HR strategy consulting business to help employees and business owners alike to discover and own the power of their story, create and convert opportunity and help align everyone involved on mission, vision and values, creating tremendous new bottom-line value in the enterprise through improved communication, productivity and leadership.

    In short, I saw how bad managers and leaders alienated the best talent and killed or stunted companies before they could become truly great. As such, I discovered that my own mission was to right the wrongs and save great businesses from poor human capital management, with the best approach being a potent combination of HR strategy consulting and executive coaching for all stakeholders involved.

    34. Elizabeth Mye of Intermedia

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    Unlike some of my colleagues, human resource was actually not what I set out to do in my career. Instead, I spent my early career as a professional classical singer, and only found myself pursuing a path in HR after years of my husband and other important people in my life telling me I had the qualities and drive that made me a perfect fit for the industry. Looking back, I was often chosen for leadership roles, directing choirs and teaching, in my early business management positions and eventually in my first HR role at Thinking Machines Corporation over 25 years ago. The combination of these experiences has made a profound impact on me, helping to establish and live the principals I follow and support by giving back and helping others succeed.

    35. Jacky Cohen Of Topia

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    Growing up, my mom liked to read books about any major life stage or decision. When it came time for me to start thinking about college and a major, she bought me a book with a questionnaire designed to help with career planning. She also planted a seed in my mind that HR might be a wise career path as it was clear from a young age that I loved to build relationships and talk to people — a lot. I took the questionnaire in the book and the rest is history. I’m happy to say that I never looked back.

    36. Heather Flynn Of ASML

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    As an eager new college graduate, I dove head first into a sales position. I spent endless hours making phone calls to win business, but rarely heard back from companies. Even if I did reach someone, I often received a cold, uninterested reception from people who found me a nuisance. This experience was deflating. I wanted to be appreciated and the constant rejection made me explore other professions where I could provide greater value. This led me to a recruiting agency where I enjoyed the opposite experience. Not only did people return my calls, but they were excited to talk to me! I was helping people find a job — a necessity that not only impacts an individual’s livelihood, but their overall happiness.

    As I shifted from an agency to in-house recruiting, I soon found my value was multiplied. Most CEOs cite finding the right talent as a key priority that helps ensure the success of their business. I also love the challenge and thrill of building and leading a high-performing recruitment team, partnering in their success to further broaden our impact. I am truly lucky to have found my passion — work that brings value to both individuals and companies.

    37. Thach Nguyen of SWORD Health

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    As I was wrapping up my undergrad, I attended the traditional university career fairs where I was being sold on jobs in architecture, engineering, accounting, etc. I remember having the very distinct feeling that none of those jobs really “clicked” for me. Then, I mustered up the courage to ask one the folks behind the table, “How do I get your job? You seem to have the best one of all.”

    The idea I could be paid to meet interesting people, learn about their hopes and dreams, and potentially help change the trajectory of their life for the better, was something that hooked me from the very beginning. And the rest of history. A decade later, I am still hooked!

    38. David Mann Of CircleCI

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    My dad was a full-time pharmacist and accidental entrepreneur. After working as an employee for 15 years right of out pharmacy school, he was offered an opportunity to buy out his employer and, almost overnight, our family-owned an independent pharmacy in the SF East Bay.

    As a kid, I worked there after school, on nights and weekends…all the time. I learned from the age of 12 that if we didn’t treat our employees well, they wouldn’t treat our customers well. Because of this, my motivation to work with and enable people grew. I’ve been focused on helping folks do their best work ever since. This is also where I learned how important it is to possess a strong work ethic, stay true to who you are and always think like an owner.

    At the end of the day, work is a conglomerate of personalities and agendas. As an HR professional, it’s our job to remove any friction in the workplace and provide the tools and resources each individual needs in order to be successful to fulfill the needs of the business.

    39. Jennifer Raines-Loring Of Springboard Retail

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    I went through a highly formative series of roles coming out of business school, and people issues were clearly the unifying theme. From COO of seed-stage start-up, to managing a 300-person team, to overseeing operations for a company acquired by a large global brand, I got my hands really dirty in a variety of business contexts. The things that drive performance became clear to me — leadership, coaching, performance management, culture, and team building. These functions are needed in every environment, and I found myself more drawn to work on these issues in order to get the real root cause of broader business issues.

    In one of those roles, I also had a very bad experience with an established Human Resources team — it felt like HR out of the 1980s, completely focused on legal compliance and risk management but no value add activities that were desperately needed in a company that was undergoing massive change. In that situation, the lack of a competent people function tangibly destroyed value and cost people their jobs. Though difficult at the time, it was the best thing that happened to me because it left me feeling like there must be a better way, and I’m going to do just that.

    40. Nicole Dorskind Of ThirtyThree

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    For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to work in marketing. After graduating from college, I went down a more traditional career path and joined a big advertising firm in New York City. I had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands in the consumer space, which I found interesting and exciting. But, it wasn’t until I learned about employment communications that I discovered my true calling.

    Our jobs affect everything about us. There’s a tremendous need for the work we do at ThirtyThree and I truly believe in our business. Our approach applies the principles of consumer marketing to connect people with the right organizations that align with their individual ambitions. When this happens, people can thrive in their personal and professional lives and businesses have the best people to deliver their strategy to create better outcomes for society. It’s a win-win.

    41. Jane Keith of IFS

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    My “first career” was in PR and events management, where I was constantly hiring staff to support motorsport grand prix events globally. This gave me great insight into recruitment and experience working with talented people. That job naturally flowed into HR. I was fortunate that HP sponsored me through a number of professional education programs and afforded me the opportunity to be involved in a number of transformational projects. I absolutely love my field and how it allows me the opportunity to build relationships with people.

    42. Mallory Tesauro of New Moms

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    My background is in social work and non-profit administration. Supervision was always my favorite aspect of that work. Mentoring, coaching and assisting staff with their professional development was what I loved to do. With experience in program management and organizational change, I saw talent development as the best way to staff and grow high performance organizations. Human resources was a natural transition in my career and would allow me to make a larger impact in the areas of retention and professional development. Joining New Moms in 2019, I could see first-hand how strong systems and comprehensive onboarding would contribute to the tenure of employees. I was lucky to inherit the excellent systems and practices that New Moms had already put into place, and I am excited to build upon those strategies.

    43. Alex Tolbert of Bernard Health

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    I was in graduate school learning about the healthcare system when Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were created. Many were predicting that HSAs and more consumer involvement in healthcare could help our healthcare system be more effective. I believed that, too, and wanted to start a business to support it. A mentor asked me to think about what kind of business I would start if I were not going to raise any money.

    My response was that I would become a health insurance broker, and call on HR at employers to help them adopt HSA-based health plans. And that is exactly what I did. I became a broker and called on HR, which was the primary result-getting activity of my job for several years. Those years gave me a tremendous amount of insight and experience with the challenges HR faces.

    44. Ellen Grealish, Co-founder of FlexProfessionals

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    I never planned to go into HR or recruiting prior to launching our staffing company, FlexProfessionals, LLC and neither did my two business partners, Sheila Murphy and Gwenn Rosener. Eleven years ago, Sheila, a close college friend, and I were sitting on the beach during our annual family vacation in Outer Banks. I had been out of the workforce almost 7 years raising kids and volunteering in school and community organizations. At that time, my youngest child was about to enter full-day kindergarten, and I started thinking about re-entering the workforce. Sheila was in a similar situation so we discussed how ideal it would be to find a part-time job that would allow us to contribute at a professional level but still have the flexibility to be home when our kids got off the bus. Given my prior work experience at Accenture and Hewlett Packard, coupled with the fact that I did not need benefits and was willing to lower my pay rate in exchange for the opportunity to work part-time, I mistakenly assumed that companies would jump at the chance to hire me part-time. Well, I was wrong! I sent resumes, wrote great cover letters, applied to jobs on-line and waited and waited but heard nothing back. It so happened that my other business partner, Gwenn Rosener (who Sheila knew from years past) was going through the same thing. With an engineering degree from VA Tech and a Harvard MBA, she set out to find a part-time, flexible role after taking time off to raise her children. What was she told? If she wasn’t willing to work hard, then to stop looking! Sheila, Gwenn and I realized that there was a real lack of opportunity for and misconceptions about a growing talent pool of smart and skilled labor who had either left the workforce and wanted to re-enter in a flexible way or who wanted to scale back from the traditional 9-to-5 role. At the same time, we spoke to small-mid sized businesses who said they were struggling to attract and afford highly skilled and educated talent that could help their business grow. This is what led us to launching FlexProfessionals, whose mission is to be a catalyst for the adoption of flexible work options for women, moms, baby boomers, caregivers, etc. basically anyone who needs flexibility in order to remain in or re-enter the workforce.

    45. Jennifer Locklear of ConnectWise

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    It certainly was not a straightforward path!

    My first job was at a large mutual fund company, where I ended up in a project management role in the sales department. It was a huge company, GREAT experience, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in that career path. I had a wonderful manager at the time, and I told him I was ready to make a move. He put me in contact with someone who had just joined a tech start-up, and they hired me as a catch-all. I was the fourth full-time person hired (the other three were very technical), so when anything outside of their world needed to be done, I was the one who took it on. After a couple of years there the company had grown exponentially, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was the new HR person! It was not the path I thought I would take, but about 30 minutes into the role I knew it was the path I wouldn’t want to leave.

    After more than a decade there, I left to get global experience and was hired as the CHRO at the next company. I really missed the tech industry (and it did not take me long to figure that out), so I made the move to ConnectWise and my current role as Chief Talent Officer.

    46. Megan Barbier of Wrike

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    My family runs a small business, so I grew up around employee dynamics and human resources functions — administration, recruiting, engagement, training, etc. I’ve always loved the human aspect of work. Everything we achieve happens through people. I am equally motivated by the impact I can have on individual employees and the collective culture of an organization, and how these elements intersect in the field of HR.

    47. Deirdre Runnette of FLEXE

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    My career path has been quite unexpected. Originally, I wanted to be a writer. But soon after teaching English in China, I realized how much I wanted to understand and have a voice in the legal system that underpins our democracy. When I returned to the U.S., I applied to and then attended law school at the University of Montana.

    After 20 years of practicing law in law firms, such as Stoel Rives LLP, and corporate settings, such as T-Mobile, I decided to adjust my career direction and join online retail startup Zulily as the company’s first lawyer. Because I joined the company in its early stages, I had the opportunity to play a leading role in building a team culture that encouraged and empowered employees to do their best and most innovative work. Eventually, my role expanded to being General Counsel and Head of HR. With a winding and diverse career trajectory, I couldn’t be more grateful for the incredible companies and people I’ve worked with along the way.

    48. Melissa Jones of CSAA Insurance Group

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    I didn’t set out to be an HR person. I started college as a chemistry major, thinking I was going to do something in pharmaceuticals. But after my first year, I realized that it was probably not the right career path for me. So I took a more general path and chose social sciences. I got a job right out of college working in payroll and benefits, and that’s really where my career started. I realized that a career in HR is industry-agnostic, so there’s a lot of opportunity, and you have a significant influence on shaping a company’s culture. That’s what brought me to, and keeps me at, this particular organization.

    CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer, has a strong focus on creating a culture that’s inclusive, where everyone can find something that’s meaningful for them, whether it’s inclusion and belonging, wellness or volunteerism — and that’s meaningful for me. We’ve been focused on transforming our organization over the last five years, becoming a more customer-focused company that’s flexible and ready to meet the challenges of change. We have really exciting opportunities for people who are interested in being innovative and working on changing a company that’s more than 100 years old so that we can continue to remain relevant in the future.

    49. Annamarie Dunn Of Cadence

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    I found my way to a meaningful career in HR in a roundabout way. I spent about 15 years in marketing roles and was always involved with employee communications as part of those roles. I found the employee communications aspect of my work to be extremely rewarding because I was able to shape the company culture and the employees’ work experience. Eventually, I found my way working in an HR organization where I got more involved with driving company culture and employee engagement. I was excited to see the impact that HR had on the business first-hand, which was underscored by hiring the right talent and helping employees make a mark on the company through their work. I decided to make a pivot from marketing into an HR career so that I could expand my role in improving the many facets of the employee experience and help drive strong company cultures. I haven’t looked back since and have built several strategic corporate HR programs where I’m passionate about enabling employees to thrive.

    50. Rebecca Martin of Beehive

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    The candidates I meet are so talented, interesting and inspiring that I always leave those first meetings with a boost of energy. Every so often, though, I’ll meet someone who’s going through a tough career transition or exiting a bad work situation. This can result in venting frustrations in overly personal and inappropriate ways (please don’t call your former boss expletives). In those odd cases, I have learned to just listen to people and what’s really behind their stories. I shift from recruiting at that point to simply connecting with them as humans and helping them process their situations and chart a more positive path forward.

    51. Kelli Dragovich of Looker

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    Many people in HR don’t find their career path intentionally. I am more or less the same. I was pre-med the first two years of college, but I discovered I was not a fan of the academic/clinical component of psychology. I love the business aspect, but I was not into the balance sheets. I changed my trajectory for year three and then went to grad school for organizational psychology — I started my career in HR shortly after. I love this role because it’s a unique mix of responsibilities that blend people and business, and I really thrive in environments that are fast-paced, which early stage high-growth companies usually have.

    52. Sandy Albers of Centauri

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    Human resources attracted me early in life when I was in college. As I studied all aspects of commerce, I quickly learned that a business could not be successful without the right people with the right skill sets who are motivated to make positive and profitable things happen.

    53. Olga Patarroyo of DentalPlans

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    One of my first HR experiences was when I implemented an “Actively Caring” culture into the university food hall at Virginia Tech, where I worked part-time while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I measured self-esteem, self-efficacy, empowerment, and belongingness, among other factors. And as intrinsic motivation increased, employees and customers began noticing an improvement in customer service and teamwork. This experience solidified my passion for applying theory into workplaces, which led me to later getting my MBA with a concentration in human resources.

    54. Michael Simpson Of PAIRIN

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    I grew up in a difficult situation with a troubled childhood of abuse, constant financial stress, and eventually had to drop out of community college to work four jobs to live. I was fortunate to work for some people that put more value in my ability than my history. I rose to be an executive at numerous corporations, and now I run my own, largely because of their faith in me. I started PAIRIN with a mission to make education relevant and hiring equitable, because until we focus on valuing abilities we are just increasing the socio-economic divide and inequity. After my last company sold, I lived in Russia for seven years, coaching mostly adult children of alcoholics to be successful in business. That’s where I came in contact with the science at the root of PAIRIN’s products. We all know that it is behaviors and mindsets that either activate or hinder potential, and I found a way to get the insight into how to help people grow. I came back and founded PAIRIN to bridge the opportunity gap for future generations by enabling educators and employers to predict and develop behavioral performance.

    55. Brian Wall of LGCY Power

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    In college I started off working for the local gas company reading meters while going to school. In college, my initial intent was to teach at the high school level and to coach the high school football team. I quickly realized that this course wasn’t the best financial path and changed my focus to business management with an emphasis on finance.

    As I was finishing up my schooling, a position opened up in the gas company’s HR department and I decided to apply thinking that it would open the door to the corporate office and the pathway to a career in what I thought I wanted. I began working with the employment group and began interacting with employees throughout all parts of the business while getting to know the business better. As I worked more with people, I found myself liking the work, specifically the interaction with everybody and getting to know the company and understanding the different aspects of the business and how the people behind it drive the business. Soon I found myself moving into the recruitment side of things and then the compensation side and I was getting a broader sense and understanding of what HR really is and the valuable role it plays in the businesses ongoing success. I kind of fell into the role and found myself enjoying it and was fortunate to have good mentors that got me to where I am now.

    56. Maria Gotes of Masergy

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    Growing up, I dreamed of helping cure cancer one day and had my sights set on becoming a biomedical engineer. I loved every minute of my time during college, but as I neared the end of my studies, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my life in a laboratory and that I thrived better when I was engaged in dynamic conversations with people. I soon found myself gravitating toward business classes and subsequently began my career in sales and program management with a special interest in talent development.

    My first foray in human resources was at a software technology startup in the mid-2000s. As with many startups, resources were limited, so I wore many hats; the HR work I was tasked with overseeing grew on me quickly, though. As my interest in linking talent with business development grew, I began to look at HR from a strategic business perspective, and it was my goal to understand how talent is key in determining the future success of an organization.

    57. Julie Wood of Crowe

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    Truth be told, when I went to college I actually wanted to be an architect or work in interior design, but I started taking psychology classes and really enjoyed them. I ended up majoring in psychology thinking I would be a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I couldn’t really imagine myself listening to patients’ problems all day. My dad encouraged me to take some business classes so that I had a foundation of business skills to give me more options in my future (I know he just wanted to be sure I had a better chance of getting a job when I graduated!). In hindsight, the business psychology degree actually set me on the path that I have now been on my entire career. I think of myself as a business person who has a specialization in HR, not an HR person who happens to understand business.

    58. Amber Bouchard of Maven Wave

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    You mean that not every child dreams of growing up and becoming a recruiter?! I had big plans of being an attorney but knew I didn’t have the patience for that many years of schooling. Being a lawyer is all about selling your story and persuading an audience; similarly, in recruiting, you are selling opportunity and persuading candidates. You have to be a strong communicator, exude passion, empathize, and most importantly, believe in the opportunity you are selling. If you don’t, it’s time to find a new job…we’re hiring!!

    59. Denise Leaser of GreatBizTools

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    Thank you for having me! I’m excited to be here. I didn’t have a straight line from my education to my career path. After college, I started out in management and executive positions. Then my daughter was diagnosed with autism and I reevaluated a lot of things in my life, including my career. I worked with a lot of people who were unhappy. They were in the wrong jobs. I thought to myself, “This is an area where I can make a difference.” I went back to school and changed to a career in HR. My work in management gave me the practical experience to develop HR products that people will actually use and provide real results.

    60. Juanita Hendrickson of Teradata

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    I always had an interest in coaching and people development, so it was natural for me to look for a career in human resources.

    61. Aileen Wilkins of GEHA

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    I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and went on to the University of Kansas for my master’s degree. Knowing that I didn’t want to do anything on the finance or accounting side of things, I weighed my options. I was one of seven children in my family. Growing up in a large, loud family taught me two crucial skills: cooperation and communication. Naturally, loving people and excelling at coordinating those people from a young age led me to a career in human resources.

    62. Livia Martini of Gympass

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    I’ve always had a passion for working with people — motivating them, developing them, making sure the right people were solving the right challenges. However, I had not yet had an opportunity to look into talent acquisition and development through a truly strategic lens. About a year ago, we changed part of our structure at Gympass and I asked to speak to our CEO. I asked him point-blank: can we create a truly strategic and business-oriented HR structure, in which we will ensure we make the best decisions for the people and for the business to achieve amazing results? His answer was yes. And with that, I jumped at this opportunity!

    63. Zack Burt of Code For Cash

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    I first started in the industry selling bots for AOL Instant Messenger from my childhood bedroom. Eventually, I got an internship with a great entrepreneur named Alex Rampell, and together we wrote an app that got acquired. After the acquisition, I started freelancing as a software developer, helping build apps for other people. After some serious effort, I attained full-time employment in the tech industry as a quality assurance professional (getting full-time employment at $20/hr was quixotically much more challenging than getting freelance work at $85/hr!). Eventually, I worked my way up to Chief Technology Officer. I wrote a book freelance software development, founded a community of software engineers, and started working as a recruiter placing software engineers once people started tapping into my community’s talent for their vacant full-time positions.