You Don't Have to Go It Alone: Mentorship in HR
As part of this year’s Employment Law and HR Conference, WA State SHRM has asked PDC instructor Rebekah Jones to facilitate “Emerging Professionals Speed Networking” on March. Program Manager Saralyn Smith sat down with Rebekah for a brief conversation about the event and the importance of networking / mentoring in the human resources management field.
Saralyn Smith: Tell me about the event you’re moderating for the upcoming WA State Employment Law & HR Conference.
Rebekah Jones: It’s called “Emerging Professionals Speed Networking”. Picture the old school speed dating concept but insert networking instead of dating! [There will be] five or six different Zoom rooms and each room will have maybe one or two senior professionals, along with five or six emerging professionals.
The participants will know who are the senior professionals are ahead of time. They will know if they’re an expert in X, Y, or Z areas so, hopefully, they can craft their questions for that specific professional. They’ll get the opportunity to ask the “dirty” stuff that nobody wants to ask in a bigger setting: “What’s your ugliest case you’ve ever dealt with?” “What’s the craziest?” …whatever their questions might be! The idea is to give not just college students but folks who are looking to break into HR [the ability to ask] how the professional did it. Then, of course, we rotate so that group will go to the next professional and so on.
I will be in a moderating capacity, introducing all the folks at the beginning and, as they shift rooms, seeing if we have anything exceptionally interesting that we want to share with the whole room.
SS: How did you get involved with the event?
RJ: I’ve been wanting to do more volunteering with local SHRM chapters but I also don’t want to bite off more than I can chew! I’ve got a relatively new job and a new term is starting with the HR Development for Nonprofits class – and I don’t want to do anything halfway.
I became connected with Arhonda Reyes (WA State SHRM Conference Director; Diversity & Inclusion Director) a number of years ago when she consulted for us at Evergreen Treatment Services. Arhonda had recently asked me if I would be willing to consider a board position because of my connection to UWT and the Certificate in Human Resources Management, but I said “Not yet.” As she came up with this other idea and asked if it would interest me, I was like “Yeah, that I can do!”
SS: What made you say “yes”? What gets you excited about the event?
RJ: This event in particular is exciting for me because connecting people and getting them information is one of the things I love about teaching. I love seeing light bulbs come on and people being excited and satisfied about the information they’re getting. Matching together emerging professionals and senior professionals is exciting for me. The whole concept of mentorship [is exciting].
Part of the idea is also that we bring a diverse set of [senior] professionals so that, hopefully, a diverse set of emerging professionals will see that there are other folks in the industry who look like them. See that there are other folks in the industry who broke in after working a whole other career. They can see that it’s possible. I think, a lot of the time, folks think that getting into HR is impossible but they just haven’t had any luck so far and need another idea on how to do it.
SS: What do you think are the most important things HR professionals can do to grow in their field?
RJ: The best thing that anyone who’s new in any field but, specifically in HR, [can do] is take advantage of mentors that are right in front of you. You have to advocate for yourself but if you have an opportunity to network with other folks that have been in the industry that you want to be yours, then you should try and glean any bit of information that you can from them. Anything to help pave the way for yourself.
I think that, especially in 2022 given what the workforce has faced for the last few years now, having someone who understands you and knows the trials of HR is going to be to your benefit. So that you know what to expect. So that you have somebody you can vent to. Somebody you can bounce ideas off of and get other ideas that didn’t occur to you. I just think mentorship is something that will make or break you in the human resources world because, not having it, you’ll feel like you’re out on an island. But embracing all of the other HR professionals around you will just give you this instant team that you didn’t know you had.
SS: I imagine that’s especially true in the many organizations where you’re The Person doing the work.
RJ: It’s funny. We call it the “HR Department of One,” and most people have done it at some point. It’s just such a special unicorn because that person literally does not have another person they can reflect or bounce ideas off of or seek advice from. The CEO isn’t even going to be the best person to bounce ideas off, because you’re supposed to be the expert, right? You literally have to depend on the [external HR] network around you.
This kind of [virtual] event can take out some of the weirdness of doing this networking because we’re all there for the same reason. You know what to expect, that you can expect to be able to ask questions, and that senior folks are going to answer those questions. It doesn’t have to be about small talk and, hopefully, it takes away that element of awkwardness that most people feel.
Rebekah Jones is a Senior HR Consultant for a Puget Sound-based consulting firm and an Extension Lecturer in the Professional Development Center’s Certificate in HR Management and Certificate in Nonprofit Management. Her road to the field of HR is unique, as she spent a dozen years in retail management before realizing that the part of her job were what she loved the most was working with staff. To boost her confidence in the HR skills she knew she had, she chose to complete PDC's Certificate in Human Resources Management in 2014. That certificate led to her first job in the HR field and she hasn't looked back!