Conference Notes from the Big Easy



The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual conference was held this June in New Orleans, also known as the Big Easy, the Crescent City, home of the football Saints, and most unforgettable, the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But it’s a city that has rebounded, and was a most gracious host for this mammoth convention with more than 15,000 HR professionals from around the world descending on the city’s historic French Quarter.

I must admit the location of the conference, and its Tuesday night entertainment featuring Harry Connick, Jr., were major factors in my decision to attend. But for the record, I do take seriously the business side of my attending, which has always been helpful in keeping a pulse on what’s happening in the HR world. Especially, as it relates to my coaching practice.

So, between the great food (loved the grilled oysters), a steamboat ride up the Mississippi, a ghost tour of the French Quarter, and some great music here a few take-away impressions from the world of HR:

Pay Transparency. One of the biggest challenges for job hunters is handling the salary questions “How much are you currently making?” or “What was your last salary?” The corollary to these questions is often “What salary are you looking for?” Unfortunately, disclosing one’s salary, or desired salary, before an offer is made can bias a hiring manager into falsely assuming a candidate is “overqualified” or conversely “below market value” in terms of skills and experience.

The good news, progressive states such as New York, Massachusetts and California are enacting laws which would prohibit companies from collecting salary information on job candidates prior to a conditional offer of employment. This would include questions on job applications, or in interviews, regarding past or current salary information. No more having to fake a number to satisfy the salary question on an application form!

New Perspectives on the War for Talent

Still Looking for that Purple Squirrel! For several years HR professionals have clamored about the dearth of qualified candidates for many of their companies’ positions, especially with changing technology. This perception has unfortunately resulted in many qualified people from not getting jobs if only for not meeting one or two of a job’s requirements. Many HR professionals even admitted to looking for that perfect person in this “war for talent.”

The good news, HR has started listening to some of the critics who have proposed implementing more training, whether formal or on-the-job, to provide candidates with the skills or competencies they might be missing, and not lose out to candidates who can otherwise bring a wealth of experience to a position. Hopefully, companies take heed to this advice, otherwise jobs will go unfilled and good people won’t land jobs!

Looking for Team Players. While companies may start relaxing their job requirements they will start putting more emphasis on some of the “softer” skills such as how well people fit into a company’s culture, and blend well with a multi-generation workplace. So for you Baby Boomers out there be prepared to work with younger Millennials who are the most socially networked generation, but who can still use your wisdom and coaching to be successful.

Lastly, some personal observations when attending a conference:

  • Don’t wire up to your smart phone every free minute you have between sessions or workshops. Use the opportunity to sit near someone who don’t know, and use it as a networking opportunity. I know most people who attend a professional event are currently working and need to periodically check their messages, but come on, use the conference to see what other people are thinking and doing in your profession.

  • Always bring business cards! I know this may see old school when people can instantly log you into their smart phone’s address book, but it’s still a nice gesture, and believe me people will respond to you.

  • If you’re part of a group from the same company, branch out and meet new people from different parts of the country. I sense under our current administration in Washington, D.C., many changes affecting jobs will be left to individual states. See what your fellow colleagues are up to in their states!

I trust these insights from my perspective have been helpful, but I welcome your thoughts about some of these proposed changes and how they may impact your job search. BTW, I can also share some great restaurants to visit if you’re planning a trip to the Big Easy.


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Photos courtesy of Dideo Film Photography.