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HR Execs: Navigating Your Own Job Search with Clarity and Purpose

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The Great Resignation hit the job market like a tidal wave—not just in the U.S. but across the globe. In November 2021 alone, a staggering 4.5 million Americans walked away from their jobs. While resignations have impacted healthcare, hospitality, and low-wage workers most acutely, HR leaders, too, are rethinking their career trajectories. 

According to Paychex’s Pulse of HR report, 98% of HR leaders surveyed said the pandemic has transformed their role, citing greater emphasis on workplace health and safety, employee mental health, and new technology demands. Additionally, seven out of 10 respondents named 2021 as one of the most formidable years of their career, with recruitment and managing DE&I initiatives leading the list of biggest challenges.

As we watch all this movement at the top, my colleagues and I have had conversations spoke with several HR leaders who have either made a move in the last two years or are in the midst of making a change. We asked them how approach their own job search—and how they know when they’ve found the right opportunity. Here are four key pieces of advice we uncovered.

1. Make sure you feel a sense of connection, chemistry, and synergy with the leadership team and people.

One people leader we spoke with highlighted the importance of feeling chemistry with those they were meeting with during interviews, both at the C-level and those lower down on the ladder. What is chemistry, exactly? It’s an unforced and natural connection— that ability to quickly connect, gain rapport, and feel real synergy in thoughts and vision. Chemistry is one of those complex intangibles that’s instrumental in building a successful team, and you can’t fake it. It promotes cooperation, communication, and productivity among team members and just makes work all-around more enjoyable. 

2. Have a clear understanding of how talent is viewed across the executive leadership team.

Attracting the best people and putting them into the right roles isn’t just about hierarchies and relationships. It requires being able to draw a clear connection between talent and value. Recruiting and developing talent—and creating a strong people advantage—should be at the top of every CEO’s to-do list. It’s no surprise, then, that another executive we spoke with—a former HR head for a leading healthcare company—said one of her strongest considerations is how the CEO views talent. There must be alignment from the top down on this issue. If a CEO doesn’t believe people are the organization’s most valuable asset, anyone leading the HR function would be facing an arduous, uphill battle.

3. Feel confident that you can make a significant positive impact for the organization. 

Another theme we noticed during these interviews was the desire to make a tangible impact. After a long slog through the pandemic, many executives are reprioritizing how they spend their time and who they work with. One HR veteran we talked to explained his decision to transition from a massive global corporation to a smaller startup. He wanted to find a role and company where he could grow both personally and professionally—a place where his 17 years of knowledge and experience could make a positive difference and help others.

HR is no longer seen as an administrative function with low impact. Today, people leaders are looking for organizations where their efforts and contributions will deliver real value to the business—whether it’s in terms of sustainability, culture, or the bottom line. That kind of impact requires being viewed as a valued business partner and having a permanent seat at the table. 

4. Ensure that the organization’s vision and mission are aligned with yours.

The issues that are important to you—both personally and professionally—should also be integral to the company you’re interviewing with. These might be anything from diversity and inclusion to environmental impact to exemplary customer service. Finding a company whose values and passions match yours can provide you with a greater sense of engagement, purpose, and motivation at work.

One HR exec told us that as she approached her job search, she was looking for an organization that had an aligned leadership team with a strong culture and values. Specifically, she sought a company that embraces and invests in innovation and new technology.

More often than not, people today want to work with a company whose purpose is to serve others. For example, the biotech and pharmaceutical industries are sought-after sectors because what they manufacture or distribute helps people live better lives. We’ve found that many HR leaders are looking for mission-driven organizations where the work they do will benefit mankind.

Redefining Career Goals 

The Great Resignation has dominated headlines for the better part of the last two years. But it's more than just a catchy buzzword. In fact, it’s now being referred to by some as The Great Realization. At the executive level, it marks a total recalibration of what's important to people in a career. Many HR leaders have had their fill of intense day-to-day demands and trying to adapt to a relentlessly changing HR landscape. Some simply want more time with their families, while others seek more meaningful work that makes them exited to get out of bed every day. What's clear is that these decisions are no longer primarily money-driven.

When you’re in the market for something new, it’s ok to step out of your comfort zone. For instance, after many years working in the tech sector, one HR leader recently transitioned into a new industry where he continues to blaze new trails as an HR innovator. His advice? “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable, and don’t let what others think play into your decision.” He advises HR executives to take their ego out of the equation and go with the job that serves their needs best. And, most importantly, always let your intuition guide you.

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