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Are you ready for the career assault course?

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 5 Jan 2015

Assault courses look set to become one of the biggest fitness crazes of 2015, with organisations and individuals tackling muddy fields and tricky obstacles. But what if you have to apply the same resilience to achieving your career goals?  

Commentators and gurus are warning that HR professionals will find that the route to the top is no longer climbed via a corporate ladder with measured, well-paced steps. As the HR and leadership consultancy DDI has pointed out: “the once vertical structure has buckled under the weight of recession and rampant re- organisation”, and business publication Forbes has described career progression across many professions as resembling “an assault course”.

Ambitious job seekers, and all those who want to develop their HR careers, need resilience to negotiate uncertainty and reach their goals. As you limber up for the workplace in 2015, here are our five top tips to get you over likely obstacles.

  1. Going the distance: Build career endurance

HR careers are being played out against the latest buzzword, vuca, denoting a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This means that HR professionals who want to go the distance (by having long careers) have to build up the reserves which will give them employability and endurance.

Professional qualifications are identified as the main contributor to career endurance, with accredited individuals likely to accrue £81k in additional earnings over a lifetime, says the CIPD.  The Institute’s qualifications are a pre-requisite for generalist and management roles, but HR professionals who want to pursue specialist routes will find the appropriate niche qualifications are beneficial. These mark them out as accomplished and dedicated, and give the recruiter confidence, says Matt Brooks, a partner at the Eyzon Consultancy Ltd (previously known as BetterPlaced HR).

“For example, if I see that a candidate for a role in reward has the World at Work Society of Certified Professionals’ Global Remuneration Professional designation, known as GRP, I know that they have got a respected and difficult qualification,” he says.

Solid specialist knowledge, gained on the job, will boost your staying power.  Just as physical fitness is needed to tackle an assault course, today’s career agility, and hence employability, is built from solid experience in specialist roles which then equips HR professionals with an expert view when they occupy a generalist role.

 “People are able to move around by being a multiple specialist”, says Brooks, “and would accrue say two years ‘expertise in employee relations before moving on to a generalist, or business partner role.” The business partner roles which fill the jobs pages will be taken by generalists who have an informed, not diluted, overview of many specialist areas, as will the HR director roles of the future.

“HR careers are increasingly a collection of careers”, says Brooks.

  1. Meeting the wall: learn to overcome obstacles

Any assault course, whether real or metaphorical, can be fraught with obstacles. HR is a profession known for lacking confidence, which means that disappointments, such as job rejections or lack of interest from the board in new ideas, can be felt keenly.

Amy Brann, director of science-led HR consultancy firm Synaptic Potential says that there are two stages to coping with this:

experience the disappointment and then move on.

“Get the data, or hold a brainstorming session, and then consult as to whether you can put it into action.”

Global uncertainties are leading to business ambiguity but you have to find a way ahead. “One of the major markers in leadership potential is the ability to cope with ambiguity”, says Simon Mitchell, general manager of DDI.  “People are looking for leaders who can make everything clear, and create a direction”.

3. Feel the fear: face the worst thing first

Some challenges are worse than others, but prevarication will cause you even greater problems. So if you always find yourself struggling with spreadsheets, make them your priority read and take a finance course in your spare time. “Eat the frog”, says Mann.

Adopt a philosophy of, and reputation for, anticipating (not fearing) business challenges and this can translate into a highly effective attribute for an HR career.

“Organisations are thinking in terms of an HR anticipator role”, says DDI’s Mitchell. He explains that the anticipators can predict talent gaps in advance and implement programmes which meet business requirements and so head off likely problems.

4. Never get stuck: call on your support team

Muddy patches are a hazard on all assault courses, but participants hope that a peer will pull them out. The same principle applies in the workplace where you need to nurture a support team, recruit trusted opinion-givers and build a network. The opinion-givers should include people on whom you can rely to tell you the truth. DDI has found that they are as likely to include family and partners, as a career coach or mentor, perhaps because in volatile times we seek reassurance away from the workplace.

You can bolster your support team by networking. The aim of the modern networker is to be seen as “a game changer” says Brooks, in other words to be seen as someone whose opinion is worth seeking. Social media provides the best platform for this, with influential HR bloggers for example, attracting as much attention as nationally recognised thought leaders.

It is easier to find help if you have already demonstrated supportive behaviours. “One good turn deserves another”, says Brooks. 

Focus on the finish line: how to reach your career goals

Career goals are more likely to be attainable if they are well- researched and not too distant.

“Have a goal that is no more than five years’ away”, says Brooks. “A horizon that is 20 years’ away could be unrealistic, because the landscape is changing so rapidly.”

Successful finishers know their strengths and limitations. They notch up good results which benefit the business and remain honest. “You have to have lived that CV”, says Brooks.