If you met her today, you’d have a hard time believing Rebekah Hand grew up in Florida. Now living in Fircrest, Wash., with her husband, three sons and their bulldog Mudge, Hand has all the characteristics of a native Pacific Northwesterner. She wishes she had more time for exploring the outdoors, but finds plenty of fulfillment keeping up with her family. And like most of us, she’s a big fan of Star Wars and local craft beer. Hand fits-in one other way, as well: she’s ambitious.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, Hand pursued a career in retail. Starting in 2004, Hand has worked every angle of the retail world, from sales and customer service to management, for companies including Target, New York and Company, and Pottery Barn. Despite her success in her work though, she felt that something was missing.
“I was at a point where I needed to do something different,” Hand said, “and I’d known for a while that [human resources] was the part of my job I loved the most.”
Despite having a good idea of what she wanted to do, Hand wasn’t sure how to get there. After nearly a decade in the retail world, switching fields seemed impossible. Even though Hand was skilled enough to receive several interviews for HR positions, she was never able to land a position. Deciding she needed something to help build the bridge over her career change, she started considering courses at the UW-Tacoma Professional Development Center . In 2014, while continuing her position as an associate store manager at Pottery Barn, Hand enrolled in the center’s Human Resources Management Certificate program. Delivered over nine months, this program is designed for the professional who want to either enter the field of HR or learn the advanced skills necessary to advance to the next level.
“Right in the middle of career switch, it was hard for people to take me seriously without experience,” she said. “A big benefit of taking this class was it helped boost my confidence that I’d be able to handle the change.”
Offered year-round, the program was designed by an advisory board comprised of University of Washington faculty and local business professionals from organizations including Starbucks, Boeing, Group Health and Microsoft. Working toward their certificates, students participate in traditional classroom learning, case studies, group projects and real-life workplace situations to hone their HR skills. Personally, Hand said her favorite experiences were the connections she made with other students and the way the courses built on her prior professional experience to unlock skills she didn’t know she had.
“Some of the courses were new and eye opening, but it was also great to use my previous knowledge to enhance what they were teaching me,” she said.
It didn’t take long for Hand to reap the benefits of her time at the center. Two months after her graduation, her experience with interviews had completely changed. Hand is currently working for Seattle Goodwill as an HR Generalist. Using the skills she learned at UW, she now handles a variety of HR responsibilities for 500 associates at seven different Goodwill locations on a daily basis.
Looking back, Hand is confident her time at the Professional Development Center was integral to her successful career change. Like many of the center’s alumni, it was precisely the tool her career needed to get the job done.
“The people side of retail is always where my passion had been,” Hand said. “Now, I love getting to know people, understanding where they want to go and get them where to they want to be.”