Working Hard at a "Place of Hope"

This SUNY-Buffalo grad is finding opportunities and a sense of community as an HR administrator at a cancer institute

I never imagined I would end up in health care. I get queasy just listening to people discuss medical procedures. And most of the case studies I looked at as an undergrad at the State University of New York at Buffalo were in manufacturing or other fields.

But now I can't imagine working in any other setting. I am a senior human resources administrator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. I was offered a job as an HR associate in health care while I was still completing my senior year. I accepted the job before I graduated and started working part-time while in school.

Roswell is not what you might imagine a cancer hospital to be. It is a place of hope and a community of employees working together toward the same goal—to provide total care to patients. Though my role does not directly involve patient care, I truly feel part of the overall mission.

Here's a recent day in my life:

8:30 a.m.—I rush out my door and make the 5- to 10-minute commute to work. A great thing about Buffalo is that no matter where you live, you can normally reach your destination within 20 minutes.

8:45 a.m.—I say hello to the staff in the Employment Office as I walk through the door, and head straight for my office. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I take a look at my calendar on Outlook to get a feel for my day and answer any urgent e-mails and phone messages that I have received since I left my office at 7:30 p.m. last night.

9:15 a.m.—I walk a few steps to my boss's office to catch up on what she is working on and to receive assignments. She uses this time to update me on new developments within the organization that could have an HR impact.

9:30 a.m.—I have a quick 'good morning' conversation with the other senior HR administrator and then take a walk across the street to the main hospital building for a much-needed morning cup of coffee. As I enter the lobby, a manager I've been working with stops me to discuss recruitment. I ask him to e-mail me the details of our conversation, so I can make sure to follow up.

9:45 a.m.—I am back in my office and begin to place all employees who started today on the HR/payroll system (Lawson).

10:00 a.m.—I have to give a presentation that is part of a leadership training series that the Training & Development section of HR is offering to Roswell managers. I will be presenting on the overall recruitment process, which is somewhat complicated because Roswell is actually comprised of two entities and many unions. I stayed late last night to update the presentation and now I need to review the content and make sure I know the key points I want to get across.

10:30 a.m.—There was some information I did not have on one of the new employees who started today so I was unable to complete the hiring process on Lawson earlier. I now have everything I need to finish entering the employee into the system.

11:00 a.m.—I meet with a new manager regarding the current staffing of his department and he shares his ideas for restructuring. He has only been with Roswell two weeks and I am impressed by the knowledge he has of our systems and the questions he is asking.

12:05 p.m.—I grab a sandwich quickly before I get started with my presentation.

12:20 p.m.—The presentation starts. I enjoy speaking, especially on topics where I feel I know the information well. Public speaking wasn't always something I enjoyed, but the classes I took at UB and my involvement in my business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, really helped me improve my speaking skills (see, 5/24/06, "Should You Join a Fraternity?"). Communication skills are critical to a career in HR.

2:00 p.m.—I start returning phone messages and e-mails I received while I was doing my presentation.

2:15 p.m.—I get interrupted. A manager stops by to ask questions regarding how a traineeship works and how he should go about filling that type of position with a current employee transferring from another area.

2:30 p.m.—I return more calls, including one to an employee who wants to know why she wasn't interviewed for an open position. I explain that there were other, more qualified applicants that we had interviewed. She is not happy at first, but once I explain the process I think she understands. She seems appreciative that I got back to her quickly (see, 8/10/06, "Best (Hiring) Practices").

2:45 p.m.—I start to post new positions. This can range from one to several per day. Recruitment starts with creating an internal posting and often involves advertising the position on Web sites, in the local newspaper, and sometimes in journals and other trade-specific sources.

2:50 p.m.—I receive a phone call from a candidate I offered a position to yesterday. She wanted to think it over and now she is calling back to accept. I answer a few additional questions she has. We schedule a time for her to come into HR next week to complete the required new hire paperwork, sign off on a background check, and attend a pre-employment physical. I e-mail the manager to let him know that the candidate accepted.

3:00 p.m.—Back to my pile of postings.

3:25 p.m.—Today we have a candidate visiting for a physician position in our medicine department. We have a designated recruiter for faculty-level positions. She usually arranges a one- to two-day visit that includes the candidate meeting with faculty across many different disciplines at the Institute and tours of the Buffalo area. My role is to explain the benefit package we offer.

4:25 p.m.—I change into my gym clothes to attend an on-site kickboxing class. The Institute received grant money to use toward employee health and wellness and, as a result, a local instructor has been coming to Roswell once a week to teach basic kickboxing and self-defense skills.

6:00 p.m.—The workout is over and I'm exhausted, but I really need to finish the postings I have on my desk and some other assignments because tomorrow looks like it is going to be another busy day.

7:45 p.m.—I am out the door and on my way home.

To truly perform effectively as a human resources professional, I feel a bachelor's degree in business is necessary. On-the-job experience will help one advance in an HR career, but the fundamentals that are learned as part of a degree program will always be used.

I love working in human resources and feel fortunate to have found a job in this field right out of school. HR jobs can be hard to find, since the function is often centralized at corporate headquarters for many businesses, and the number of HR employees relative to the overall size of the organization can be small. However, it is not impossible.

The best way to break into the field is through networking (see, 9/6/06, "The 'Do Nots' of Networking"). I was a member of the Society for Human Resource Management as a student and I remain a member today. I actually learned about the job I have now from a college friend from business school. She helped me obtain an interview with my current boss. Getting an interview sometimes half the battle. From there you can apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities learned in school and past experiences to sell yourself and start your career..

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