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So What Do You Do, Laurie Ruettimann, HR and Social Media Expert?

The lauded speaker and human resources whiz explains why every job inherently sucks

By Amanda Ernst - July 20, 2011
If you think your job is tough, try laying off "tens of thousands of people." That was what Laurie Ruettimann had to do during the course of her career in global human resources at companies like Monsanto and Pfizer.

Now, Ruettimann preaches a new philosophy to professionals through her blogs, Punk Rock HR and The Cynical Girl, and speaking engagements, such as her appearance at next month's Career Circus, where she's presenting her ideas in a speech entitled 'Do What You're Good At' instead of 'Do What You Love.'

"Working in a field that you are passionate about and making a lot of money is awesome, but it's not the reality for so many of us," Ruiettmann said. "One of the things I would like to do is deconstruct this myth that you have to do something that you're passionate about, otherwise your life is meaningless... There are other things that can make you happy beyond work."

Name: Laurie Ruettimann
Position: Head of social media and human resources strategy for Starr Tin Cup
Birthdate: January 8, 1975
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Education: Bachelor's degree in English from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.
Resume: Worked in global human resources for Monsanto and Pfizer before leaving the corporate HR world behind in 2007 when she moved to North Carolina and started blogging about HR. Last year, she went to work for marketing and advertising agency Starr Tin Cup where she's working to build their social media practice.
Marital status: Married
Media idol: Kathy Griffin. "I like the fact that she has a bit of a portfolio career and that she took some advice from Joan Rivers very early in her career, and she treated her career like a business. I think a lot of women, especially in entertainment or media, make the mistake of forgetting that this is a business and every dollar matters."
Favorite TV show: 30 Rock and Tosh.0
Guilty pleasure: "I eat ice cream every single day."
Last book read: The Financial Lives of Poets
Twitter handle: @lruettimann

So many people are often depressed by their jobs. Having been there yourself, what advice would you give to someone in that position?
I think a lot of people are melodramatic about the crappiness of their job. I think most jobs suck, because if they didn't suck we wouldn't get paid to do them. We get paid for a suck-y differential so there's embedded pain in every job. Most people tend to project a certain reality onto their job that more accurately reflects their personal lives. So, when their marriages aren't going well, or their kids are doing poorly in school, they bring a lot of that tension and that angst to work...

So, I often tell people to really explore what they're doing and to decouple their personal identity from their job. If your job is dragging you down, are there other things you could be working on? Volunteer work, repairing relationships with your family or counseling? Are you drinking too much? Those are oftentimes the problems I see when people are truly depressed. And if your job sucks that much, don't worry about your job -- you're probably going to lose it or get fired and start to work on other things and spend less time obsessing about work.

"If your job sucks that much, don't worry about your job -- you're probably going to lose it or get fired."

Although it seems like you sort of fell into human resources as a career path, what advice would you give someone who is considering it as a career?
I'm always surprised when I tell people this: Human resources is one of a very few number of professions in America that is adding jobs. And it's adding jobs because there is a hyper specialization that is going on in human resources. So, we need people who are good at HR IT. We need people who are really good at HR and business analytics. So, the kind of job that HR is in the future is really a specialized job that requires more business skills and tech skills than the administrative skills that really, quite honestly, brought me to the career. But the human resources function of the future has a higher set of expectations, and, in order to succeed in it, you need to have, frankly, an MBA minimum, business experience and an understanding of finance. What's going to happen is a lot of these older women in human resources are going to retire, and they're not going to be replaced by that same skill set. They'll be replaced by people who have floated in and out of marketing, and in and out of sales, or in and out of technology.

What sort of things do job seekers have to think about now that the process of recruiting is changing so rapidly?
Recruiters have always been on the forefront of technology. So, back in the day, they were using the fax machine in crazy weird ways back before people even knew what the fax machine was. They're out there because they are a sales function and they are trying to generate leads, uncover information and uncover intelligence. They have really two roles: They want to uncover intelligence about job candidates, both good and bad, but also companies, so they can find out where they can fill a role, or where they can steal people from.

So, they are little mini spies out there on the fringes of society, especially now with the Internet. So, they are looking at your online activity. They are looking at your online profile. In some places, like Germany and other places in Europe, that is verboten. But in America that is still allowed. So, they're out there, they're looking, and common sense applies: no naked pictures, no stories about binge drinking, all that stuff.

Except that, if there is a picture of you that's posted by an ex-husband or posted by a former employee, or a former colleague who is mad at you, you can't necessarily control your online identity. For example, if my ex-husband -- I don't have one -- but if my ex-husband gets mad at me and posts a sex tape, why is that my fault? And why can a company feel like they can make a hiring decision based on my abusive ex-husband's behavior? That litigation is coming.

"First of all, don't quit a job before you have a job. That is understated."

What's the best advice you've ever heard or given about changing your career path?
First of all, don't quit a job before you have a job. That is understated. A lot of people reach a breaking point and they're just burned out, especially in this economy. They haven't had a raise for four years. They're frustrated. They don't feel any passion around what they're doing, and they quit, and they don't have a plan. The best advice I've ever given is that you can simultaneously work on your next career while currently working in your current job. It is possible. There are 24 hours in a day. And, also, if you're not committed long term to the job you're doing, it doesn’t matter if you're using company resources, and it doesn't matter if you're not showing up 100 percent. You can show up 40 percent for your job mentally, give 60 percent of your brain to your new proposition and you're fine.

So, it's really nice to have secure employment, infrastructure and a place to go every day when you're working on your new role... Another thing is a lot of employees aren't taking advantage of their employees assistance program. An employee assistance program can be therapy, but you can also just go talk to someone to help you figure out your next path. Psychologists love that. In fact, they would love to talk to you about your next career than your drug addiction. A lot of them really relish the opportunity to help someone figure out who they are and where they belong in this world. So, I love advising people, if they have access to it, go use it and go talk about your career. Go figure out who you are.

What tips do you have for people looking for jobs in the media?
I think a lot of people forget that there are media jobs available at regular companies, so they’re always focused, especially in the New York market and Los Angeles, on going to major mainstream media companies. But, increasingly, smaller to mid-size companies are using those media skills to help with all sorts of stuff: marketing, PR, human resources. We use media people all the time on employment branding campaigns. So, it's really incumbent on media professionals to think about their job skills and how they can be used across the economy instead of focusing on media companies. Because when you focus on media companies you really limit your pool of opportunities. So, think about companies that advertise, consumer product companies, pharmaceutical companies. They can all use media skills and they don't all outsource those jobs. Many of them keep those jobs internally.

As the title of your Career Circus presentation suggests, if you're paid to do a job, you don't have to love it. So, how does a person do that?
I've never given this presentation before, and it's one of these things I passionately believe in. I really, really, truly believe that it's ideal and awesome to do something that you love and be paid for it, but I also believe that there are a million examples of jobs out there that pay very, very well that no one absolutely loves. There are a million examples from this economy where people are doing things for money, and, you know, once you have a little bit of money in our pocket, then you can do what you love. So, I like to volunteer with animals as well. Because I make an awesome living, I can donate to my favorite causes; I have free time to volunteer. Believe me, there's nothing I love about human resources and I don't particularly like public speaking. It's fun for me to blog, but it's more fun for me to blog about my life than about human resources. But the market is paying me to do something, so I enjoy it. I have some balance about it, but it's not my passion. It's not my passion in life to be an HR blogger; that's pretty pathetic.

Laurie Ruettimann presents 'Do What You're Good At' instead of 'Do What You Love' at Career Circus August 4 in New York City.

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Amanda Ernst is a freelance writer living in New York. She also manages business development and social media marketing for B5 Media, the publisher of five women's lifestyle sites.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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