Career Compass

HR Career Pathways with SHRM CHRO Jim Link

Episode Summary

In this episode of Career Compass, hosts Vernon Williams and Aly Sharp are joined by SHRM CHRO Jim Link to preview the upcoming Season 5 topics and the journey through various human resource career pathways. Link shares stories from his own HR career journey, from intern to member of the C-Suite, highlighting how HR roles such as data analytics, talent acquisitions and training/development are shaping the workplace.

Episode Notes

In this episode of Career Compass, hosts Vernon Williams and Aly Sharp are joined by SHRM CHRO Jim Link to preview the upcoming Season 5 topics and the journey through various human resource career pathways. Link shares stories from his own HR career journey, from intern to member of the C-Suite, highlighting how HR roles such as data analytics, talent acquisitions and training/development are shaping the workplace.

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Episode Transcription

Vernon Williams: Welcome back to Season 5 of Career Compass, a podcast from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the SHRM Foundation. Career Compass prepares future leaders today for better workplaces tomorrow.

Aly Sharp: As the voice of all things work, SHRM supports students and emerging professionals with advice, information, and resources for every step of your career.

Vernon Williams: Designed for the student and emerging professional, Career Compass delivers timely, relevant, and critical conversations about work to help you succeed in your career journey. Thank you for joining us for this episode. My name is Vernon Williams and I will be your co-host.

Aly Sharp: In my name is Aly Sharp, and I will be your other co-host. During this episode, we will explore broadly the field of human resources and various HR pathways students and emerging professionals can pursue. And who better to talk about these subjects than SHRM's very own CHRO, Mr. Jim Link. Also, just so you know, this episode is valid for professional development credit or PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SCP. We will provide the code later in the episode.

Vernon Williams: And with that, let's get started. Before we jump into today's conversation, Aly, you're not only a new co-host, but you're new to the SHRM student team. Tell our audience a little bit about yourself and why you like working in the HR space.

Aly Sharp: Of course. Well, I was born and raised in Northern Virginia until I attended Christopher Newport University in Newport News. I first heard of SHRM actually in one of my classes while I was studying marketing and management. I'm joining the student team as the new associate specialist of the Marketing Audience Segment. And each day, I tried to implement what I know about the benefits of employee engagement in the workplace. I appreciate that SHRM puts the research into action to prove the benefits of their discoveries in HR even if you don't work in the HR department.

Vernon Williams: That's a pretty cool background Aly, and thank you for sharing. I had an opportunity to work with you while we were in New Orleans at SHRM '22. So, when I found out you were joining the student team, I just couldn't wait to get an opportunity to work with you even on a more consistent basis. So, happy to have you join everything that we got going on. We have a lot to talk about, and I certainly don't want to keep our very special guest waiting. So, without further delay, Jim Link currently serves as SHRM's chief human resource officer, helping to provide guidance on all matters related to workers and the workplace. Jim's career includes roles of increasing responsibility across a variety of industries and companies including General Electric, The Pillsbury Company, Porsche Cars, and Randstad.

In his most recent role as CHR of Randstad, North America, he led a global team of 150 HR professionals who were instrumental in transforming the company into an award-winning, inclusive, and sustainable global leader. Jim is a volunteer leader in several organizations including Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank Human Capital Advisory Board, and the Human Resource Leadership Forum. Jim holds undergraduate master's degrees from Murray State University and is an adjunct instructor at the executive MBA level for universities in Poland and Belgium. We're extremely excited about today's conversation. And with that, Career Compass would like to warmly welcome Jim Link.

Jim Link: Thank you, Vernon and Aly. It's certainly a pleasure to be with you guys today and I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Vernon Williams: Thanks, Jim. Jim, I've heard you speak a couple of times, so I know you got your start as an intern with General Electric. Can you tell our audience a little bit about what you learned as an intern and how it may have impacted the rest of your career choices?

Jim Link: Yeah, Vernon, that beginning was a very interesting one for me. I was a farm kid. I grew up on a working family farm. And so, when I gained that internship, that was actually my first opportunity to work in a setting other than in a farming environment. So, I learned all kinds of things. But I think I could sum it up probably most mostly by telling you that I learned the importance of human connectivity and human capability. I learned that communication, and particularly communicating whenever things are tough or difficult, is a vital importance. And I also understood, I think I knew it already, but it came into a very bright light for me the idea that empathy in the management and leadership realm is vitally important, particularly if you're going to be leading large groups of people who are set out to accomplish a task or an objective.

Vernon Williams: That makes a lot of sense. And just a quick follow up question, more on the humorous side, which one's more difficult, sort of the manual labor of farming or sort of the HR career space?

Jim Link: Well, I will tell you that I've chosen to stay on the corporate side because at least I wasn't depending upon the weather, or the seeds germinating, or animals and livestock reproducing well. So, I think there are fewer variables upon which you rely upon mother nature in the corporate world. So, I'm thinking I'm going to stick to the corporate side.

Vernon Williams: Fair enough, fair enough.

Aly Sharp: Part of your responsibilities during your internship involved responding to first step grievances. Essentially, you're addressing someone's complaint. Oftentimes, HR staff view the portion of the role as negative. Clearly, you had a different perspective for problem-solving. Can you explain your viewpoint to our audience?

Jim Link: Yeah, I think this was at a very early time in my career whenever there was not a great label or a name for the things that I was thinking about or the problems that I was trying to solve. But I learned very quickly, particularly in a situation wherever there's two opposing sides that there doesn't always have to be a clear winner and a clear loser. And so, the idea that you can walk into any situation, no matter how emotionally charged, or how difficult, or how relying on interpretation of a union contract for example in these cases, there could be a space where that you could find equilibrium. And finding that equilibrium between what would normally be two opposing sides to any type of a problem or a solution set is something that I strived very hard to achieve and to get.

So, there wasn't a winner or a loser. It was a step in the change management process to help people understand that we can get to an outcome that doesn't mean that someone has to necessarily be deemed the person who loses and someone else be deemed the person who wins. I've carried that with me my entire career. I wish that in our society today, we would have some more of that same type of mindset on all things that are out there that we're finding difficult and tend to be conquering us right now in our society. So, finding that problem-solving approach which is one where that you can find opportunity no matter how difficult the circumstance is something that I learned very, very early in my career.

Vernon Williams: Jim, I want to follow up on this, but especially as you talk about more of the societal impact. Because I feel like as a newer employee, I only saw things sort of as black and white. Maybe that was my IT background, everything's zeros and ones. But it was very challenging for me to kind of navigate that gray. So, how do you coach newer employees, or younger employees, less experienced employees in terms of seeing that gray and being able to get that bigger picture viewpoint?

Jim Link: I like the idea of just walking people through a problem-solving exercise. For example, if you have a situation that's in front of you, just literally white boarding a solution set with a person in a one-on-one coaching session. And these tend to work particularly well with young people who might not have been exposed to many of the types of things that someone like me in a 30 plus year career has been exposed to. So, at the time that you're walking someone through a solution set like that, you're coaching, you're educating, you're advising, and you're showing it a non-threatening way what an outcome would've been if a certain set of decisions were taken and gone one way.

And then, in a safe environment with the door shut, you can show what a set of decisions taken in a completely different way might have meant for an outcome or a result. That's the safe way to teach people how to think, and that need to critically think, to be able to rationalize, to reason, to apply empathy where it's appropriate. Those skills are often overlooked and they're so vitally important and critical right now for young people in particular coming into the workplace because many of them have been exposed to the same things in a shorter timeframe, Vernon, than like you and I might have been. For example, most of their college life for people who are entering the workforce now was spent during a COVID crisis.

You and I probably had years and years of experience prior to that to know that there's a way to solve problems and a way to get through things which might have just accidentally or been passed by for those individuals who were dealing with a COVID crisis rather than dealing with a situation in their school, or in their workplace, or in an early environment. So, coaching, counseling, advising, directing, leading, that's what managers should be doing. And I would encourage students to be critically thinking about any problem that's put in front of them by looking at all sides and helping find a solution set.

Vernon Williams: That makes a lot of sense. And I want to ask the next question that sort of keeps with the skillset and just following up on an interview that you had given with the SHRM's People and Strategy Podcast where you were talking about sort of the talent shortage and you referenced the potential mismatch between available jobs and the employees having the specific skills or qualifications that they need to perform those jobs. To help ensure that our students don't fall into that boat, that our emerging professionals have the skills that they need, what would you say are some of those basic qualifications needed for someone to begin a career or transition to the field of HR?

Jim Link: Well, Vernon, I should first tell you that even when I gave that interview that you're describing earlier, I think I said in that interview that this issue of the skills gap keeps me up at night. It still does. We have not as a society, or as a company, or as a collection of companies solve this problem, not by any stretch of imagination. And if you look at the numbers that continue to come out, there are more and more jobs that are getting posted, there are more and more people that are being hired. The July numbers just came out a few days ago and a significant uptick in hiring.

So, employers are hiring, they're looking for people who have set and specific skills, and yet there's still a gap between the skills that employers are seeking and the skills that are available for those people who come into the workplace. Now, if you grind that down a little bit to look specifically in human resources, there's very tactical and also very purposeful things that you can do as a person who's interested in the world of human resources. The very first thing that you should do is to think about what you can bring into a workplace that's a unique skill. For example, I grew up in an environment where that I learned a lot about how things get done. That grit, and tenacity, and resilience often overcame things that nature through our way in the workplace, which for me was a family farm.

Applying that same tenacity, and skill, and grit to any problem, to any situation is something that an interviewer will pick up on very clearly, that an interviewee can express, and talk about, and describe, and that is often a match in an organization. So, even if you don't have a very specific skill that that employer is looking for, having the tenacity to be willing to say that you're willing to learn, to be naturally inquisitive, to ask the right questions, to do the homework, those types of things are very valuable for a future employer and they're easy to talk about for a potential employee.

Vernon Williams: That's great advice. And I couldn't agree more. I think I used to make those connections when I first started interviewing as well with the thought process of if I can connect with them on my background and my skillset beyond the job, then they can see me sort of doing parts of that role. So, that connection piece I think is critical. I do want to follow up on just one thing before I pass things over to my colleague, Aly. I talk with a lot of emerging HR professionals who've had previous careers. They may be new to the HR space, but they've done other work in other ways. What advice would you give somebody who's in that position who may not be able to start say from the bottom and work their way up, that they may need to start somewhere else within the HR career pathway? What advice would you give to those folks?

Jim Link: Well, first of all, Vernon, they need to establish an HR network. So, this would be a group of people, like-minded people, obviously, who work in the human resources profession already and would be willing to be part of your cohort, your team, someone that you can rely on to pick up the phone and answer questions, to be that psychological safe space for you to ask a question which you wouldn't dare ask to anyone else in your organization. Those types of roles and networks for individuals are incredibly important. And boy, they can really save your neck whenever you don't know the answer to something. That's solution set number one. Solution set number two is to read, read, read, read. Read everything that you possibly can about the world of human resources, about business.

Develop a sense of business acumen and help people understand that there is a connection between how a business operates and how the humans within that organization are positioned, are set up for success, are organized, are structured in order to produce that product, good, or service that your organization is doing. Those are just two really simple but vitally and very important things that you can do to make that transition a little bit easier for you if you're coming in from the outside into a human resources role. And let's not forget about SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, where for a membership fee, you can certainly tap into the web and the content knowledge that SHRM has which will help you sort it by category in anything you can possibly imagine you need help with. The solution sets are there for you to answer.

Vernon Williams: I love it.

Aly Sharp: So, as Vernon mentioned, this is our fifth season of Career Compass. And over the course of the next seven episodes, we are going to dive into the various HR career paths, everything from DE&I to data analytics, to talent acquisition. Can you talk broadly about the various areas of HR and how they support the business objectives?

Jim Link: Sure. Within human resources, there are a variety of what I call functions. And in each one of these functions, it's possible to have a career. If you like it so much, you can certainly have an entire career in things like compensation, or benefits, or learning and development or what have you. But let me just go through some of them and let's talk about what some of the most recent trends are related to those. First and most obviously one that's captured the attention and the heart and soul of all business really since the murder of George Floyd has been all things related to diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity in organizations.

Now, certainly for most companies, these things were on the radar screen a long time before the events of the social justice crisis in the summer of 2020. And for most of those organizations, they had already grasped the idea that a more diverse, a more focused organization looking at diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity would lead to better business results, better customer results, a better product, a better service, et cetera. So, lots of folks already knew that. But the crisis of 2020 brought that into spectacular and unfortunate focus for companies. And so, there was a lot of circumspection that was going on with managers and leaders out there. Have they done enough to really drive the diversity, inclusion, and equality story? Have they done enough to actually help our society improve in this space?

My belief all along has been that managers and leaders in corporate America need to stand up and push this agenda forward, particularly in places where it's not being pushed by other contributors to our society. I think white men in particular should have a mission to help drive diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity in their own organizations. Particularly since the dawn of the industrial revolution, white men in particular have held most of the leadership roles and have had most of the opportunities. Therefore, it's time for them to lift up others, lift up folks within their companies, lift up folks within our societies to help move the DEI story forward, not just in their own company, but in our community at large.

Clearly, that's one that's getting lots of attention these days, rightly so. And I'm excited that here at SHRM, we're doing some fantastic things in that space and are happy to talk about those. Of course, the great resignation, the great reset, the great restructure, whatever you choose to call it these days, it certainly brought up talent acquisition, onboarding, and all things related to talent management into bright focus. I know lots of folks who have fantastic careers leading talent acquisition strategies for organizations. That space has even been a factor of even significant improvements in technology over the years. So, talent acquisition, talent management continues to be one of great focus.

A third one is employee relations. I really began my career, as we're talking about earlier in this podcast, we were talking about, I started out answering first step union grievances in a unionized manufacturing environment. But that whole world of employee relations, be it unionized or non-unionized, is a fantastic place to start. And there's no better way for you to really learn the total overview of human resources in my view than starting in employee relations. I already mentioned compensation and benefits, particularly as you climb up in organizations, comp and particularly executive compensation gets even more focused.

And as right now, the scrutiny of a lot of third party organizations, shareholder groups, investors, folks who are interested in the whole ESG space, those individuals and compensation are getting lots of attention now, rightly so. And again, you can have an entire career in the world of comp, not to mention executive comp, and work within human resources and find great value there. Learning and development, training and development, one of my personal passions, I believe organizations that are culturally aligned to be centers of learning or have a culture of learning and development are a step ahead of their peers and a step ahead of their competitors.

And learning and development certainly has taken new focus in that skills gap that we talked about. You can teach almost every skill that's out there. And learning and development professionals across the country now are learning more and more about how important their roles are in solving part of the skills gap and talent crisis which we've been experiencing. Of course, in the world of law and all things related to legal, there are numerous HR very specific spaces, employee relations, ERISA law, benefits law, compensation law. There's so many places even including worker safety and productivity, where that if you choose to have a legal profession or a legal degree and practice human resources, you will not ever be without work. Let's just put it that way.

And then finally, the one that I really like and I think is certainly a predictor for what lies ahead is the whole world of data analytics, predictive insight, trend setting, and basically anything related to the interpretation of data or business intelligence. That's getting more and more space. The more people I hire in human resources these days, the more of them have those types of backgrounds just simply because I find more and more need in the area of data analytics and interpretation. So, lots of opportunity. And that's just a few, I mean, there are all kinds of specifics.

There's entire world out there. For example, in the world of industrial organizational psychology, just around assessments, and how you bring people into organizations, and what you assess for, and what that assessment tells you about their capability, not just for their current job, but for their potential and their capability somewhere down the road. So, all kinds of exciting things out there, Aly, I find myself even having a hard time not talking about these things because there's so many of them that are out there. But if you're interested in any of those, SHRM has a wealth of knowledge in each of those spaces available on our website. And I love the fact that we're out there and available to really help people understand where they can make a mark in the area of human resources.

Vernon Williams: It's interesting, Jim, I heard your voice pick up just a little bit with the DEI and the last one with data analytics, and those are the ones that are the most popular when we do our mentorship events, those where we get the majority of our questions from or where mentees often want to learn a bit more. So, I appreciate sort of the rundown on them all. And we look forward to sort of exploring them in more depth throughout the course of the season. I want to pause just for a second though and take care of a couple of housekeeping items. First, those of you listening to this podcast who are seeking professional development credit, this program is valid for 0.5 PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. The code to redeem your PDCs is 23-ZF4YT. Please note that this code will expire on August 25th, 2023. Again, the code is the number two, the number three, dash, the letter Z as in Zulu, the letter F as in Foxtrot, the number four, the letter Y is in Yankee, the letter T as in tango.

Aly Sharp: And speaking of PDCs, one place to earn more than 20 PDCs while networking with your peers, connecting with mentors, and expanding your HR knowledge is at Inclusion this October in beautiful San Diego, California. Inclusion 2022 is more than a conference. It's a chance to change the way you see the world and to create a more equitable world of work. And it's even better for students with discounted member pricing at just $395 for in-person registration and $245 for virtual passes. For more information, please visit

Vernon Williams: All right, Jim, jumping back into things. I know this is like sort of choosing your favorite child, but is there a particular HR pathway you find most intriguing and why?

Jim Link: Well, of course, you're always drawn to the one that you have taken in your own career. But I think if I were starting all over again, I would probably focus on the data analytics and the interpretation, because I think more and more of that with the invent of technology, with a strategic leadership, and with the focus on talent. Where those three things come together, what's left in the middle is data analytics and interpretation of that data. And you even mentioned this yourself, you heard my voice pick up when I talked about DEI matters and talked about data analytics matters. When those two things come together, think of the stories that are going to be put together from looking at the data and then talking about the lived experience of people who fit into a particular diverse classification or have a lived experience that's different than what someone else might have.

Where those things come together, there's opportunity and capability. And in the future human resources, professionals are going to be not talking about compliance, and outcomes, and what happened in the past, but positioning themselves in their organizations in such ways that they are strategically and competitively positioned for the future. That's what HR is going to be about, it's getting there already. And all of these young people out there listening to this podcast, I hope that you take that for how it's intended and that you can lead organizations in the future through the things that you know and the skills that you have.

Vernon Williams: Wow, you got me excited already.

Jim Link: Great.

Aly Sharp: I mean, I understand that I'm going into a data program in just about a week and a half, so I know it's all the raise for people who are entering the career or the workforce, I should say. And I've enjoyed your insight so much, but do you have any advice or parting tips for students and emerging professionals?

Jim Link: Absolutely. The first piece of advice is where possible and as much as possible, please learn critical thinking capability. Critical thinking, as we described a little bit earlier in this podcast, is the ability to look at a disparate set of variables or different pieces of information and pull together an outcome from those variables or from that intellect. And the capability that we have today to do that even better and even stronger, aided by technology, aided by experience, finding that skill in young people is hard. And so, if you have that or you can fine tune what you do have, that's going to lead you to securing a job, and keeping a job, and making you be more successful than just about any other skill that you can have at this moment in time.

Vernon Williams: Jim, thanks so much for taking the time to share your journey, your thoughts, and your career path about all of the different options that are available in the field of HR.

Jim Link: It's been my pleasure, guys. And thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you today.

Aly Sharp: And with that, we're going to bring the episode of Career Compass to a close. We'd like to thank SHRM and the SHRM foundation for providing us with this platform. But more importantly, we'd like to thank you for joining us and hope you stay with us throughout the season as we discuss more topics like this episode.

Vernon Williams: For more exclusive content, resources, and tools to help you succeed in your career journey, consider joining SHRM as a student member. You can visit us at to learn more about becoming a part of community over 300,000 HR and business leaders who impact the lives of over 115 million employees worldwide.

Aly Sharp: If you like what you heard, follow and subscribe to Career Compass on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. And do you have a topic you think we should cover or a guest we should hear from? We'd love to hear from you at

Vernon Williams: Lastly, are you looking for more work or career-related podcasts? Check out All Things Work and Honest HR at Thank you for listening and we'll catch you on the next episode of Career Compass.