Their Journey To HR: Jillian Caswell

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Their Journey to HR is a series where I interview HR professionals about their journey to the field, along with wisdom and lessons they learned along the way.


Say hello to Jillian Caswell! Jillian is another wonderful HR professional that I met through the Twittersphere.  I so appreciate her honesty and passion for "keeping the humanity in human resources". I hope you enjoy Jillian's insights below and don't forget to follow her on Twitter at @JillianACaswell.

Now, to the interview...

1. How did you find your way into HR What prompted that career choice

In 2010, I was finishing up an Associate’s in Human Services while also working to complete a Bachelor’s in Psychology + Sociology. I had my long-term plan all lined out, down to the organizations I wanted to work with and the populations I wanted to serve in an advocacy or support service role. 

The piece of the plan I didn’t count on was being ill-suited for a career in direct services, especially with those in trauma who I served during my externship with a residential facility for homeless youth. I wanted to save the world, as so many of us do, and assumed that I would be able to absorb the pain, suffering, and multifaceted emotional challenges that come with working one-on-one with any population in crisis. I was not able to shut it off, and quickly wound up burying myself in work – cancelling plans with friends, fighting with loved ones who tried to wave me off the hazardous path I was on, and demanding more of myself then what was physically possible with only 24 hours in a day. After a particularly difficult day, I came to the heart-wrenching realization that I couldn’t provide the quality services our population deserved, and so needed, if I couldn’t find the strength and balance. The best thing I could do for them, and for myself, was to move out of direct services.

So, what do you do when you’re 20 years old and facing a total overhaul of your carefully laid plans? You go to work for a third-party staffing agency! Or at least, that’s where I ended up. I decided to finish my Bachelor’s degree I had already started, and hopefully along the way, would figure out a way to still devote myself to helping others, albeit in a more balanced and healthy way for myself and those I would serve. In that recruitment agency, stars aligned, and I was blessed with an amazing, knowledgeable mentor who committed herself to supporting me in growing within HR. I fell in love with HR as a path where I could *still* help people, but in a way that was healthy for me and supported my efforts to find the elusive work-life balance. My mentor’s tireless dedication and thoughtful guidance sparked my interest in HR which ultimately grew to a fiery passion for our profession.

2. What's one thing you wish you'd known before getting into HR?

HR is not always about helping people – many times, we have to find the balance between helping our employees and protecting the organization from being out of compliance with particular regulations, laws, etc. It also means making your voice heard when a directive or decision is blatantly OR subtly unethical. That can be incredibly difficult, especially when you’re early in your career – lean on your HR network, whether in your local community or your virtual network, for support.

3. What excites you most about your work?

Innovation! There is a really energizing excitement in HR right now about using the incredible technologies available now to find ways to work smarter. Developing new solutions for recruitment with AI, creating meaningful measurements for employee engagement with analytics – this is an extraordinary time to be in HR. I love seeing ways to blend the expertise of proven HR approaches with creative ideas to develop new solutions. They may not always be successful, but I feel that more employers are giving the space and support to try, and possibly fail, with new ideas. Failed ideas provide us an opportunity to learn more, and I am frequently seeing many organizations championing that sentiment.

4. What's one important HR-related lesson you want to pass on to future HR practitioners?

Flexibility is okay. While there are some areas related to compliance where we have no room to flex, we can sometimes support walking in the grey areas when appropriate. This was an important lesson for me to learn and truly understand. We can be a resource to our organization and at times, that may mean supporting something we don’t always agree with if it falls between the lines.

5. Name one book all HR newbies should read

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves is a phenomenal tool for any professional, but especially vital for newbies learning how to navigate difficult conversations – which can feel like EVERY conversation when you’re just getting started. I’m actually getting ready to read this one again!

6. What are 3 "Hot Topics" you wish more people in HR were talking about?

- The Next Generation in HR: For the up and coming generation just beginning in HR, we need to use our actions and words to shape the future of our profession. All of our voices are important – no matter how much experience you have!
- Analytics: If I could make “Numbers Aren’t Scary!” t-shirts, I would.  The importance of analytics is beginning to catch fire with HR and supporting the strategic importance of our work to our organizations. We need to get familiar and comfortable with understanding and developing these analytics.
- Diversity: HR needs to lead the drive to be truly INCLUSIVE. We’ve had lots of words about this area, and now is the time for actions to support those words. It might feel daunting, but HR can be a catalyst for change in this area with education and guidance to our organizations and employees.

7. Give us one word phrase or philosophy that sums up your approach to HR

Keep the humanity in human resources. I’m sure there is a famous HR pro out there who said this, and I beg forgiveness for not knowing where the phrase originated, but this is the philosophy that drives my work each and every day. Staying late to extend an offer to a candidate isn’t just about trying to check the box for my daily responsibilities. It’s about knowing on the other end of the offer is a fellow human being, with bills to pay and a career of their own to cultivate. They’re a member of my community and providing fulfillment at work creates a happier, healthier population for us all.

8. Any other parting words of wisdom?

Put yourself out there. I hear your fear, introverted friends, and as an undercover introvert myself, I understand it. It can be intimidating as hell to throw your opinions, ideas, and questions out to the world, but I can’t emphasize enough how much it will take your career from slowly blossoming to wild overgrowth. Get involved with your local SHRM chapter! Find a mentor! Develop a Young Professionals group in your local chapter! Apply for SHRM’s Young Professionals Advisory Council! Write a blog! Tweet! Be brave, connect, and keep your heart open to the possibilities that are bound to come forward.

Be sure to follow Jillian on Twitter, @JillianACaswell and LinkedIn.