Faces of HR

HR Professional Shares Expert Tips for Building an HR Team

Whatever the current circumstances may be, recruiting will always have challenges. Those include making sure the person you are interviewing will work out; making room for nerves; and, of course, knowing when to hire for skills and when to hire someone you will help grow. I recently spoke with an HR professional who, like many, got her chops in recruiting. We discussed, among other things, how she approaches building a team of HR professionals.

Meet Amanda Aubin, Director of HR at Loyal Source.

How did you get into HR?

My interest in HR started when I was observing a coworker at one of my prior companies. I started my professional career in staffing, and I was working “the desk.” In this role, I was recruiting candidates for the positions I won through sales and handled light HR for those same employees. We had a corporate recruiter visit our office while recruiting for internal employees, and I was immediately drawn to the way she talked to people and the way she sold the company.

This essentially got me into recruiting, and I stayed there for about a year. Then, while working as a recruiter for a consulting firm, an HR position opened up. I talked with a mentor of mine and expressed concern about this position, but she highly encouraged me to apply. I met with one of the executives, put together a presentation, and sold myself on why I’d be a good fit and a good up-and-comer for HR. I haven’t looked back since.

How prepared were you for the role?

I would say it was definitely a leap; I had very little HR experience. Because of the way that company was set up, all locations worked actively as our own branches. Within a year or 2, the structure changed within that organization, and all operations were rolled through the corporate office. This gave me access to an experienced professional to whom I could reach out while learning more about HR. I took it upon myself to join memberships like SHRM; attend local SHRM activities; and, of course, do a lot of research.

I dove into it and learned along the way. I feel like HR is a skill that cannot be picked up by only reading books; the real experience comes from actually walking the walk and talking the talk.

I always thought the hardest part would be getting through the legal stuff, right? Because even though there are a lot of resources out there, like our resources, to help people navigate all of that, it can get, especially if you’re in a company that has multiple locations or is across state lines or even across international lines, insanely complicated.

Yes, obviously, the more states you cover, the more complicated it gets. You have to learn to stay on top of the ever-evolving law in HR. You do feel like you’re back in college, spending endless nights and hours studying the new labor laws and networking with other HR professionals to get tricks on how they are tackling compliance.

Is there something in particular about HR that you really enjoy? What’s your favorite thing to do in HR?

I like employee relations. I like working through problems and resolving conflicts head-on. Usually, that’s one of those things in HR you either love or hate, and I actually really enjoy it.

You’re probably not supposed to admit it, but what’s your least favorite thing about HR?

My least favorite thing is having to tell employees they are separated from the company. Discussing termination of employment is never enjoyable for either party involved, especially when it is at no fault of the employee, like going through layoffs. I will never forget earlier on in my career watching a mentor discuss a termination with an employee; he was so good at talking and empathizing with people that it ended with smiles and laughs. That is tough to pull off when having these difficult discussions.

Would you say that there is something you have heard for a long time in HR you don’t think is true?

I think one misconception is that an HR professional’s experience and skill sets are general or considered basic. I think whenever people hear, “Oh, they’re HR professionals,” they think, “Oh, they can do payroll. They can do benefits. They know employee relations, and they know this or that.” And I always explain to people that I can have a conversation with five different HR professionals, and they’re going to have somewhat similar experiences overall, but their fine-tuned skills are going to vary.

I like to compare this concept with attorneys. Just because you’re an attorney doesn’t mean you can practice law in all different areas. An attorney can be specialized in workers’ comp or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), wage and hour, etc. There are certain areas in which HR professionals are more skilled and proficient, and that is all based on their experience.

Yeah, absolutely. Has your time in HR influenced your life in any way? Your life outside of work?

Yes, I think being a professional in general is the tone you set for yourself, even outside of the workforce. Especially being in HR, I think you’re under that microscope a little bit more because you are essentially setting the bar in the workplace in terms of behavior and how you conduct yourself. So, people are going to pay close attention to how you conduct yourself outside of work, as well. A wise person once told me that even when you are not working or at work, you are still the manager, director, or executive of the company. You still represent the company at all times.

What’s something you’ve accomplished that you’re particularly proud of?

Without a doubt, I’m proud of my team. I think what has really helped launch me into where I am today is having the good, solid foundation of a supporting team. I have a couple of mentors who helped me even in the very beginning of my professional career who I still reach out to today. I think it is really important to me now to give that back. I really find a lot of satisfaction in giving support and mentorship to my team and to other professionals, especially to someone who’s earlier on in his or her career. I like helping them discover different tools and resources that I’ve learned along the way, which can help them climb the ladder within HR, as well.

Do you have an overall strategy? Maybe you could tell me a little bit more about how many people are on your team and to what degree you’ve built it.

When I first started at Loyal Source, we had somewhat of a smaller team. Of course, now that we’re continuing to grow as an organization, with different operations and support teams, our staff team is growing, as well. So, not only has our current team been able to grow their skills and careers, but we also continue to add additional team members, which rounds out our successful team.

As we’ve continued to grow, I’ve been able to take someone, who came in as an entry-level HR administrator, and promote that person to HR coordinator and then move that person into the benefits realm. Now, this employee is acting as our HR team lead!

I would say that fostering and promoting within has been huge for our team, and of course, as any professional will tell you when growing in his or her own career, it’s a game-changer whenever you have a solid team you can depend on and trust.

Right. You don’t always have to hire the people who have the expertise you need right now; you can hire people and should hire people who can become that person. Was that something you learned over time, or how did that come upon you?

I believed, going through college, that paper goes further than experience. However, in my work and career experience so far, I feel like it’s really dependent upon the company and the organization: what value you bring to the business operations and the future success of that company, as well as the culture.

One company is not going to be identical to the next; one may say that a master’s degree is more important than 3 to 5 years’ experience handling high-level, escalated, employee-related issues. Some people may think they don’t bring value or they’re not going to be contributors to success because they lack 3 to 5 years’ experience. On the flip side, maybe they don’t have that master’s degree or the HR certification. Neither of these scenarios should get in their way or prevent them from feeling like they have the potential to be huge contributors to the company’s success.

Does that philosophy inform how you go about hiring people, how you write the job descriptions, where you post, and the way you interview people?

Absolutely. If someone has 10 years’ experience, those conversations are going to be a lot different from an interview with someone who doesn’t have 10 years’ experience. Or, maybe someone has 10 years’ experience, but it’s not industry-related. So, I think it definitely depends on how you do your interview and how you hire based on experience.

And, speaking for myself, when I’m doing interviews, I cater them specifically to those people, their experience, what they bring to the table, and what they could continue to bring to the table rather than having a standardized interview process or template and asking everybody the same five questions.

Is that approach, instead of having a standardized recruiting system, something you had to sell people within your organization on in order to conduct interviews that way?

No. I think that was something that was easily adopted here at Loyal Source. I think we do have a very diverse and dynamic group of people with whom we work, and everybody comes from different industries and professional backgrounds with varying skills, which brings tremendous value. I think we’ve been very successful in not standardizing and making interviews seem robotic whereby we’re saying, “You have to ask these questions following this order in this particular way.”

I think that’s actually helped each person to be able to connect when interviewing a particular person who is going to be working on the team.

Do you have any other little tricks you use when you look at résumés or when you consider people during the hiring process?

It’s the small things I tend to notice. For example, how they format their résumé possibly tells me a little bit about how they could be as professionals dealing with HR tasks. In HR, documentation is key, so knowing what information is relevant or not might speak to their writing skills.

What about in person? Is there anything you’re willing to give people a little bit more leeway on in person or any kind of red flags you see that maybe aren’t as obvious?

Well, it is obvious when an interviewee is nervous. I think, just in my past experience, that some managers assume that if you’re nervous in the interview, you may not be confident in the position.

I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt because I remember what it was like to be on the other side of the table. I just try to lighten the tone of the interview and have more of a casual conversation so the person can feel more comfortable. Many times, this is when you can really see his or her true colors.

I think you will get the most out of the interview if it is done from the approach of conducting it as a conversation about the person’s experience, rather than just drilling the interviewee with a few questions.