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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How to Be a VP of HR

You've probably answered several like these, but I'm trying to figure out how to become a VP of HR. I have a bachelors degree in HR, and for the past two years I've been at a mid-market benefits consulting firm. I'm happy and appreciated where I'm at now, which makes me not want to leave, but I do have a career goal that I want to move towards. I had two HR internships while in college and thoroughly enjoyed all of the areas I touched, so I'm confident I will enjoy whatever I get into.

So, the question is, at what point do I move to the corporate side? What kind of position do I try to get? Just trying to figure out where to go from here and would love your input.

Well considering that I have no desire to be a VP of HR (of course, if someone wanted to pay me like one, that's a different story), I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer that.

First of all, VP of HR means a world of difference if you are VP of a 50 person company vs a 25,000 person. I'm assuming you're looking for the latter.

So, a degree in HR and two years of experience in a benefits firm. Great. I think you're on the right path. Things I think you need to do:

  • Get corporate experience. How do you do that? Start applying for corporate jobs.
  • Look for a job that has rotational possibilities
  • Actively seek out a line management job (read: non-HR Job). Why? Because you gain credibility by understanding the business.
  • When you've had at least 5 years of experience get an MBA. Get this MBA from the absolute best school you can get into. If you can get into a top 10 school, then go ahead and quit your job while you are in school. If you can't, an executive MBA is fine.
  • Don't be afraid to tackle the difficult jobs. You've already started by jumping into benefits, which is a complicated and increasingly important role.
  • Seek out a mentor.
  • Pay attention to how the people who are VPs act and dress and emulate them. (Note: not copy them. That's just creepy.)
  • Read the comments because my readers have fabulous suggestions
  • .


    Just another HR lady... said...

    Great for you that you have a career goal in mind, but I would suggest being a little more focused in what you want to strive for. I don't mean to be negative, but why do you want to be a "VP of HR"? Title? Money? Do you want to be an Executive? Did someone tell you in college that this must be the ultimate goal for all HR persons? If any of these reasons are applicable in your career plan, you may want to re-evaluate your plan.

    Believe me when I tell you that if you have only experienced comp/benefits thus far in your career, you do not yet know if you would enjoy being an HR leader. You seem to be happy in comp/ benefits, that is great, happiness in a career is a rare find. I'm not saying you shouldn't strive for other things, but I would just suggest really thinking about what you truly want to accomplish in your career, rather than a title.

    For myself, my career goal was always to gain experience in as many different areas of HR that I could possibly get involved in (I started in comp/benefits too) to see where I excelled and could contribute. Through the years as I became more and more experienced in many different areas and facets of HR, across a couple of different industries, I ended up very naturally in an HR leadership role. This was never something I strived for, in fact, I always said I did not want to be in a leadership role. But here I am, and I do enjoy it. If you had asked me 10 years ago what my goal was, I would have said that it would be to be a comp/benefits specialist!

    I would suggest that you just be open to what you truly want in your career, what makes you happy, and what you excel in. If leadership is something that comes along with that, then so be it! :-)

    Anonymous said...

    My take is as follows: First you have to find a starting point. You already have your degree, so that is a very good start. You have a couple of Internships, and that gives you some experience which is good as well. Now you need to get into an evironment where you can start learning from a mentor, preferably in a corporate environment. If you can find a Director who can show you all of the different areas he/she is responsible for, you can begin to understand that what distinguishes a regular employee from a Manager from a Director is the experience one has and the different areas of responsibility one has held.

    For example, a Director of Benefits and Compensation should first have held positions as Analyst, Specialist, Supervisor and Manager before considering a role as Director. He/she should also have obtained a CEBS (Certified Employee Benefits Specialist) designation, possibly considered a Masters Degree (I don't feel this is mandatory if you've got loads of experience, but it would be very helpful) and shown a progressive pattern of moving higher in both position and responsibility. A Director in Benefits and Comp would be more specialized than a Director position in HR, although when you get to a Director level, you should know a lot about many areas.

    Further, you should be involved in some network-building activities, such a PIHRA, SHRM, Employers Group, AEA, ACA or one of the many networking groups that are available for HR professionals. Building networking relationships is almost as important as your experience. You never know who is going to help you find that next opportunity.

    Lastly, it comes down to your desire to work at a higher level such as a Directorship or VP level. Those positions are very few in number and there are many qualified to hold those positions, so what are you going to do to stand out above all of the other candidates? And sometimes you can work in a career for 15-20 years just to find that you really don't want to pursue a higher calling. Maybe a family situation or some other calling is taking priority over your desire to become a VP. There are also many sacrifices to make to work at that level. Is it really worth it for you to follow this path?

    I do feel this calling and think that I will eventually get to a Director level position before too long. Whether I go higher depends on many factors. Where I've come from and what I have learned from my 21 years of experience has brought me to this point in my career and it will probably take another 10 years to figure out what next level I want to consider working for.

    Indiana Catbert said...

    All good advice above, but as a generalist HR Director with 25 years HR experience 15 of which in a very large company, I want to emphasize the previous advice/question: "There are also many sacrifices to make to work at that level. Is it really worth it for you to follow this path?"

    Realize that at the executive level it is not only competence that is important, but the ability to exert influence with the decision makers in the business. You will live your job in large complex organizations and the pressure will be intense. You must have a spine to say no, able to convince other strong willed people to your point of view, tolerate politics, be able to not take things personally, and be able to tell the company President when he's wrong. If you can't do the above and don't build your credibility, you will be catnip.

    For me, for now, I am content with being number 2 within HR. The trade off for the "prestige", money, and longer hours isn't worth it.