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Want to Be an HR Executive? Establish a Track Record of Tenure


In our previous post, we discussed the educational backgrounds most likely to lead to a successful career in human resources (HR). We also thought it would be interesting to look at the career histories of top HR executives. Specifically, we decided to look at how many companies they worked for, whether they were hired internally or externally and how many years it took each to reach their first executive-level position.

Who Are These Executives?

We compiled a list of over 200 HR executives holding one of the following positions:

  • Vice President of HR
  • Senior Vice President of HR
  • Executive Vice President of HR
  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

These executives were found on one of these three lists:*

*We should note here that, as a result of where we collected our data, the executives in our list work for some of the largest organizations in the world. 

From these lists, we narrowed down our data set to exactly 100 HR executives whose professional histories were easily accessible on LinkedIn, and whose executive biographies were posted on their companies’ websites. Here’s what we found.

Most Senior HR Executives at Some of the World’s Largest Companies Work for Three or Fewer Employers

One of the most interesting things we uncovered in our research was the long tenures of top HR executives. Sixty-one percent of the executives in our data set worked for three or fewer companies throughout their careers. In fact, over a third of the executives in the sample worked for only one or two companies. Establishing tenure at a few companies—rather than job hopping—seems to correlate well with getting to that metaphorical corner office later in your career.

Number of Companies Worked For by HR Executives

Despite working for fewer than three companies, only slightly more than half of the executives reached their current senior level positions through an internal promotion. For many, they were hired externally into an executive position after building up their skill sets for many years at one, two, or three companies.

Internal vs External Hires

Few Reach the Top Quickly

Next, we thought it would be useful to determine how much time an aspiring HR executive should expect to invest in their career before reaching that first senior level position. In order to calculate this, we subtracted the year of their college graduation from the year they were hired into their first executive role–excluding time spent out of the workforce in graduate programs. The result: it took an average of 17 working years for each executive to reach their first senior HR position.

While 20 percent were able to achieve their first executive level role within 11 to 15 years of their undergraduate graduation, the overwhelming majority of HR executives—80 percent—worked for 16 or more years before reaching such a position.

How Do You Stack Up?

Are you an HR professional angling for the executive suite? Or have you already achieved your professional goals? What have been your experiences in the field, and what have you found most helpful when seeking to advance your career? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Erin Osterhaus joined Software Advice in 2012 after earning an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques.

Connect with Erin Osterhaus via: 
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