Down the Rabbit Hole: My Career In HR

by Michael Haberman on April 1, 2010 · 4 comments


One of the alternative defintions to “Down the rabbit hole” is that “by extension the term has also come to signify any event which triggers a completely unexpected situation.” And that pretty much defines my career in HR.

Like many HR people who have been in the field I did not intend to be in HR. In fact at that time HR did not exist. It was Personnel and SHRM was ASPA. (Got to have grey hair to remember that!) I was a graduate student at the time and up to that point had no interest in business. I was working on a Ph.D. in comparative animal psychology and was working at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia on the Lana Chimpanzee Project. Before that I had gotten an undergraduate in Psychology from the University of California/Riverside and had studied monkeys there too. I decided to take a break from my Ph.D. program (and never returned) and went to work on a research project studying… you guessed it… monkeys. When a TB outbreak occured and most of the monkeys died (TB is fatal in all primates execpt humans) I decided it was time to search out something else. I had a career oriented wife and a son ( a daughter showed up later) so I thought I needed to get a real job.

Well with that background who hires you? Answer: Almost no one!  But the placement agency I had filed with thought I had some smarts and some personality so they offered me the opportunity to find jobs for clerical people. I then graduated to placing sales candidates. In the meantime I learned alot about business and decided I wanted to be on the other side of the desk. So I quit my job and started doing my own search. But luck had it that a collegue thought I would be a good match for one of his clients. Ten weeks later I was a Personnel Trainee for Printpack in Atlanta, GA. I was with them for about 10 years as a plant personnel manager and the Corporate Recruiting Manager. With that background I then worked on a Masters degree in Industrial Relations (HR) and then moved to a software company. After a short and explosive ride with KnowledgeWare I then found myself with the opportunity to be self-employed. And launched the consulting career I have today, in 1991.

Now I have heard all the cracks (and have used them) about transitioning from monkeys and apes to personnel, so you can laugh if you want. But I did pick up some good information about behavior and learning that has proved helpful. I have also encountered some people who were not quite as bright as was Lana chimpanzee.

As I was relating my background to Trish McFarlane of HRRingleader fame in a phone call we wondered how many other people “fell into the rabbit hole” or as many of us say “we fell into HR”. Today many people see it as a viable career opportunity and there are degree programs for it. However, I suspect many people still “fall into HR”.

So I am curious. What is your story? How did you get into HR? If you have a “rabbit hole” story please share. If you intended to get into HR and persued a degree let us know what attracted you to the field. Please leave a comment and share with us.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Another HR person April 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I went away to college out of state, graduated with a BA in Economics and went to work at a bank making crap money. A few years later, my roommate decided to get married so that left me with a sucky job, an up in the air living situation, and very little money. I decided to move back home (temporarily) with my parents and find a new job.

After a month of my dad being tired of seeing me in sweats he told me to call the mother of one of the kids he'd coached about a job at the non-profit she was the Executive Director of. She interviewed me and told me I could choose between a permanenet job in one of their programs, or a temporary job cleaning up their HR department (they'd been without someone for several months). I took the temporary HR job because it paid $2.00 per hour more, and the 3-month temp job turned into a 2-year long permanent HR gig. And that is how I got my start in HR.

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Trish McFarlane April 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Loved your story and really excited that you're sharing personal info on your blog. I love getting to know more about writers I respect.

I actually wanted to be a DEA agent (huh!?! I know, hard to believe)so I majored in Sociology and Political Science. I happened to meet my dad's HR manager one day and fell in love with her passion. She was so clearly focused on human resources and how she was making a difference one day at a time. I learned that there was the investigative side of HR, the interaction with people, no day is the same, AND lots of opportunity to get up and speak in front of people.

Well, for anyone who knows me, they know I love doing that. All the way back to kindergarten, my teacher wrote on my report card "Trisha has a hard time staying in her seat. She is always talking in front of the children. She is our social butterfly."

So, I got a job in HR supervising a Manpower office and went back for my M.A. in HR Management. The rest is history. Here I am- living my HR dream!

Thanks for the great post. Oh, and too bad you beat me to the monkey joke. I was planning to nail you on that one. lol

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Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 8:55 am

Two years out of the military, I was superintendent in a manufacturing company. When they downsized the local plant, I wasn't senior enough to get moved elsewhere, so I was out. I circulated the resume, and was ultimately called by my original boss here at Ford. He had an HR need, but he also wanted more. He wanted someone for safety and quality as well, due to the small size of the plant. Why did he call me (and ultimately hire me)? Because he saw on my resume that as a military officer I'd commanded an artillery battery. He'd been drafted as a young man and became the company clerk in an infantry company. His stated reason for hiring me, when i had no direct HR training (my undergrad was in accounting). "My commander was responsible for many different things. He did admin, safety, etc., for the company. I saw that the military teaches its leaders to be flexible and accept any task. I figured you could do what I needed."

How's that for a rabbit hole into HR?

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