I’ve made more mistakes in my HR career than I care to remember. I could probably write a book.
It’s funny to think about your mistakes, because invariably every person takes those mistakes and tries to turn them into some type of lesson learned.
It’s a classic interview question: “Mr. Sackett, tell me about the biggest mistake in your career. What did you learn from it?”
I’ve even asked this when interviewing others.
A nauseating response
Just once I want someone to answer:
“Well, besides coming to this lame interview, I’d have to say drinking my way through college, getting average grades, and having to take positions like these are probably my biggest ones. What I’ve learned is that all those high school kids in band and on the debate team really were smarter than me, and in hindsight, my ability to be third team all-conference point guard probably didn’t get me into the career I was hoping for.”
But it never happens. No one is really honest about his or her mistakes, because in making mistakes you do something stupid, and you would rather not share that with anyone.
So, we come up with answers like:
“My biggest mistake was working too hard on a project with my last employer and not getting others involved. I learned that while you can get the project done on time by yourself, you need to include everyone.”
That kind of answer makes me vomit. And somehow we as HR pros accept that answer and move on to the next question. It’s almost like that question was just a test to see if you were stupid enough to actually tell us the truth and brighten our day.
But I do have a favorite HR mistake.
My favorite HR mistake
Here’s my all-time favorite HR mistake: Telling someone to leave a position he truly enjoyed to go after more money and a promotion.
When I started my career, I gave myself 12 years to become a vice president. It seemed like a logical goal at the time, but in hindsight it’s stupid. It took me 16 years, and only after I realized it no longer mattered did I finally reach that level.
Two of my friends recently had opportunities to leave organizations and positions they liked, and I gave them both the same advice: You can’t come close to measuring the value of truly liking the job you have, so answer this one question: Do you love what you are doing and who you are doing it for?
If the answer is yes, stay put. It’s that simple.
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I finally learned my lesson
In my career, I’ve left two positions where I loved the organizations and what I did for them. Both times I left to take promotional opportunities with other companies. Both times I made the wrong decision. That’s a tough mistake to make twice.
I used to give out this advice: Go ahead and leave because you’re going to have more than 10 jobs in your life, and you might as well move up as fast as you can.
I don’t give that advice any more. In fact, I now try to talk people out of taking new jobs!
We all hope we can learn from our mistakes. Once in a while, I actually do learn from mine.