It was that call. I was desperate. A month before that call I had finished an internship at a reputed consulting firm in my home country. I had a nice salary for an intern, and at my 23 years I was at the peak of my social life. During this period I could spoil my girlfriend and myself with things that many of my friends couldn’t even dream of. It was a great year but, like any internship, it came to an end and with it, my great salary, my social intensity and my self esteem: I was actually fired. In other words, the consulting firm decided not to extend my contract or hire me as a permanent employee. I cried, I admit it, but only for a couple of days. After that I went on with my life: I started my last semester at college, played soccer and hung out with my friends. I happened to be in the middle of a long break with my girlfriend that would last a whole year. I also started to actively try to find another job. I was actually looking for a new internship: in my home country, then, you had to start from the bottom of the corporate pyramid, and that was as intern. Which in reality was as slave, doing the most basic things nobody else wanted to do.
I sent resumes to dozens of companies I had become familiar with during my time at the consulting firm, where I had the privilege of working in the department responsible for the most popular salary survey of that time. I got to know which companies had the best and the worst salaries, and with this a few other interesting insights about the working environment, the business performance and the organizational culture. Nothing of this however rang the HR bell in my head. Although my main contacts in each company were the people in the HR department, my background as industrial engineer and my career aspirations helped me deny any possibility of building a career as an HR professional.
Until I made that call. Among the many companies to which I sent my resume, there was one I was especially attracted to. This company was behind many of the most frequently consumed products in my house. My mom used to give us these products, I could see them sitting on the pantry´s shelves, with their shiny labels. I always liked them, so I thought “if this company can make these products, with such good and sustained quality over the years, it must be a good company to work for.” I never doubted this thought. In fact, after 20 years as a professional I still think this is true, with some caveats, of course. But this is a topic for a future post.
Back to the call. After I sent my resume to this company, I decided to call my main contact in the salary survey I used to work on during my time at the consulting firm. She was a very nice lady, with a maternal tone that put me at ease immediately. I dared to insist with her in giving me an opportunity to interview for whatever internship job they may have. I wasn’t sure there was any, and the nice lady only asked me what my preferred areas to work in were, so she could further investigate about an opening that matched my interests. She would call me, she said. Of course that call never came. Well, it never came within the eight working days I waited until I gave her another call. Did I say I was desperate? On my second call, the nice lady told me in an almost apologetical tone that there was only one opening for an intern, and that it was in the HR department. [long silence]. I guess the silence lasted several seconds. I can’t recall whether the nice lady asked me if I was still there. What I do remember is that my brain was spinning fast, trying to first understand what an HR intern was all about, and second whether I should take that opportunity even though I could’t understand what an HR intern was all about. It was a decisive moment, a career milestone. “Okay”, I said, “I will interview for the HR internship”. After many years, and with the perspective that only some degree of professional maturity gives to a person I got to think that the HR department in this company was so infamous that they would have hired any applicant with an average IQ and no HR experience whatsoever. I forgot to mention that I showed up at the interview walking on crutches, after I severely sprained my left ankle playing soccer. I still want to believe that this pitiful situation made no difference in the decision to hire me.
So this is the story of how I became an HR guy: it was by mistake. I wasn’t supposed to work in HR. I didn’t even know what HR was when I decided to work in this department. I won’t say the classic cliche about how a wonderful mistake this was. I’m not that romantic – or that stupid. I can say though that HR is a fascinating an ever changing profession. It has given me many great moments and experiences, but it has given me also a lot of headaches, and I had many disappointments too. I plan to write about all of these things here, with a hint of humor, so it can make an article about HR stuff a little bit more digestible, if that’s at all possible.