Traci Rubin has spent nearly a decade in Human Resources, specifically in retail, in both fortune 500 companies and startup environments.
Traci is also the host and creator of the podcast, and one of my favorite podcasts, Bringing The Human Back To Human Resources, where she brings a fresh perspective to the importance of closely connecting people and business while aiming to de-stigmatize what it means to be in HR.
You can find all of Traci’s networking offerings along with her Podcast at https://hrtraci.com/
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FC Podcasts: [00:00:00] Pivot with Purpose a podcast that highlights the unique stories of professionals that pivoted their careers to align with their work lives and personal lives, more purposefully, and with more joy.
Pivot with Purpose is hosted by Meghan Houle, a globally accredited career and business coach and creator of the Megan Houle method.
Meghan Houle: [00:00:33] Welcome back to the Pivot with Purpose podcast. I’m your host, Meghan Houle. And in this episode, we talked to Traci Rubin Director of Human Resources for North America within global luxury fashion, and host of the, Bringing the Human back to Human Resources podcast.
FC Podcasts: [00:00:48] Thank you for listening to Pivot with Purpose with host Meghan Houle, you can find out more information about each guest, including full transcripts at pivotwithpurposepodcast.com. And if you’d like to share your own pivot with purpose, click on the share button and add your story to the conversation.
Finally be sure to subscribe and share your comments wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. Your support amplifies our voice. And now this week’s episode.
Meghan Houle: [00:01:23] Traci has spent nearly a decade in HR, specifically in retail, in both fortune 500 companies and startup environments. Traci is also the host and creator of the podcast, and one of my favorite podcasts, I must say, Bringing the human back to Human Resources. Where she brings a fresh perspective to the importance of closely connecting people and business while aiming to de-stigmatize what it means to be in HR. Traci Rubin, what a wonderful treat it is to have you here with us today.
I’m so excited for you to be a part of season one, Pivot with Purpose, and I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Traci Rubin: [00:01:58] Thank you so much for having me, Meghan.
Meghan Houle: [00:02:00] You’re welcome, this is going to be great. So, to start, I would love to really, talk about you and your career journey as I’m just so impressed with all that you’ve done.
And I know you have so many wonderful stories to share of your strategic pivots within your own HR journey itself. So, tell us a little bit about your current role in HR, and we’d love to hear a few important career highlights.
Traci Rubin: [00:02:24] Yeah. Well, thank you so much again, I’m really excited to be on your podcast and I just want to celebrate you too, because it’s been amazing.
And I loved your first episode, actually, both episodes that you had. In terms of my role right now, I’m the director of HR for a global fashion company, I oversee and support the North America business unit. And so basically that means I’m a partner to our retail teams and our corporate team which is based in New York.
And so really with the US and Canada operations, I serve in what I would consider really a business partner function, supporting our teams, but also bringing strategic business development and projects to our organization.
In terms of some career highlights, I would be remiss not to talk about COVID. Going through COVID in 2020 and 2021 so far has been probably the most challenging part of my career to date, but also the most rewarding in some strange ways. I think that the rewarding part is kind of still in the snowball effect in the sense that it’s still happening, but seeing the way that we’ve been able to come together and really support our populations has been inspiring.
And I’ve also in some ways, Kind of reassessed my purpose as an HR person. And so I feel so connected to what I do. And just in general, developing relationships throughout my career is a highlight because I’ve gone throughout these last almost 10 years, bringing people with me meeting new people along the way.
And it’s, truly such a rewarding career.
Meghan Houle: [00:03:59] I know you’re, such a fantastic HR partner and so much you put into it is really all about the teams and being available and being present and navigating through 2020 is probably one of the hardest jobs that anyone had I think is to really be an HR with so many twists and turns and pivots.
And we can get into that, but , thinking about your career journey, maybe including education, personal, , what’s been really important to you throughout this journey to HR.
Traci Rubin: [00:04:28] I graduated from grad school in 2020 and actually I should add that I went to school part-time when I was going through school, I was still working full-time in my HR roles.
Previously, I was with Target and with the company that I’m with now, I was doing school all at the same time. And it was really challenging, but also really rewarding. And I specifically structured my classes to be able to walk during graduation in 2020 in the world just like laughed at me. They’re like, eh, you can plan, but , we’re just going to laugh at you anyway, because it’s not going to happen.
So I had a graduation in our apartment, which was really interesting. I did full glam for it. Yeah. But, yeah, so that, was a really important experience for me. I think education just in general has always been an important part of life for me, I’ve always loved school and one of those but another experience that I would say on the opposite side of the fence from something that’s really positive is that actually I had a manager in my past life with Target where my manager was really unethical and there were things within that experience that taught me a lot. Mostly, what I didn’t want to be like and what I didn’t appreciate. And it really shaped me into the leader that I am today. And so I think I often say that our worst leaders help us grow the most.
So, those two very contrasting different experiences have really shaped me.
Meghan Houle: [00:06:01] Yeah. Wow. I know you talk about that too, in your podcasts, and I love that point that you make. Our careers, we always have a very diverse mix of people that we work with and, and learn from and grow in various ways.
So, thanks for sharing all of that and congrats on your graduation. It’s so amazing. So good for you. Tell us a little bit too about that desire to pivot into retail and human resources, because I know you have a pretty interesting story there.
Traci Rubin: [00:06:27] Yeah. So, leadership has always been at the core of who I am growing up.
I was in leadership roles in school, and I always had that hunger and drive for leading teams and helping people to really get to the level of success that they wanted and that they wanted out of their experiences. And throughout my education, including college, I was in leadership roles and I always worked in very people centric positions. And actually on Halloween of my senior year of college, I went to Binghamton University in New York state I was offered a job at Target. And I was like, this is the best Halloween ever. What parties are there, I’m ready to go. And so of course, you’re not going to turn down your first job offer. I was like, people usually spend months after graduating looking for this.
And so I joined Target as a guest experience executive. So, I was in store. It was an amazing opportunity. I learned everything that I know today from Target. I just loved that experience. But when I was in that guest experience role, I quickly learned that it was the people and the HR function that I got to see from my peers who were in HR.
That I really wanted to break into and pretty quickly into my Target experience around like eight months into being at target, I was then interviewed and promoted to an HR executive. So, similarly I was in store and I worked in really high volume stores where I brought the HR perspective.
And my goal in that role was always to kind of turn HR on its head because I saw some really good HR partners and Target. And I also saw HR partners that I knew I didn’t want to be like. So, having all of the leadership experience and desire to really help people grow, I think it, made sense that I kind of just fell into HR.
Meghan Houle: [00:08:19] Yeah, I think it’s too, such a desirable path for a lot of people that kind of start off in retail and maybe thinking about some things that they can do on the corporate side. And especially if you love people, I mean, it’s, a great career succession plan, for sure.
How did you navigate through your pivots during your career as you grew into your HR role? Cause I know you’ve really only been doing that, which I’m so impressed by. And it’s alot to say about you and your commitment to the industry and also this position. So, talk a little bit about some of those pivots.
Traci Rubin: [00:08:51] Yeah, well, I always got involved and I would say, I always got my hands dirty. I never said no to an opportunity. So, any moment that I had, even before I jumped into HR. I took on whatever opportunity I could to be involved. So, whether it was supporting with compliance violations or training, or employee engagement.
I got involved and one of the most important ways that I think that my involvement helped me grow into my HR role, not only at Target, but also at my current company, is by really developing and maintaining very strong and trusting relationships. And I talk about this a lot, because I think relationships are everything.
And it’s not to say that you’re always going to get along with the people who you’re developing relationships with, but it’s figuring out how to get their buy-in showing them that you’re committed to their part of the business or piece of the pie. So that, that also encourages them to support your piece of the pie and your initiatives.
And so transitioning into HR, having all of those like mindsets, I guess I would say, having that mindset to bring people with me, I think helped to do everything that I worked so hard to do today, which is to really, de-stigmatize what it means to be in HR and really to support people no matter where they are in their careers.
Meghan Houle: [00:10:15] I love that you talk about this in your podcast. I think in your first episode, you really talk about coming into stores. And for me working in the retail space, you see HR and everyone would like run and you’re like, “Oh no, the police are here!”. So, it is something that when embraced, I mean, it’s such a wonderful department to have, and I know you are such an important business partner. So, maybe as a yes or no answer, there’s a lot of people out there I know are still looking for pivots or maybe for someone even really interested to see how they could get into this HR space. Do you think it’s possible for someone in retail in potentially a leadership role right now to pivot into HR?
Traci Rubin: [00:10:57] Yes.
Meghan Houle: [00:10:58] Great. Well with that, we’re going to leave a little mystery. We’ll be going to a break and we’ll pick this up after the break.
So, Traci in saying yes with this pivot, tell us what steps you would recommend someone take to kick off an HR industry pivot with no direct experience in the function.
Traci Rubin: [00:11:30] This is a great question and I’m going to be very direct, but you need to drop your ego. You can’t be afraid to step into a role that pays less, or it doesn’t sound as chic, or maybe is even more entry-level than the current role that you’re in.
And I say that because, titles, the titles are so fluid, right? But it’s the experience, especially in HR that gives us a leg up on competition and also supports us through our journeys. So, if you want to break into HR without any kind of experience, it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take hustle, networking, marketing yourself in ways that are creative, but also clear.
Show that you understand what’s expected of you. So, partner with HR people that you trust and ask them, what do they do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. So you can really understand the root of the job. And then of course, you’re going to have to show and really demonstrate that you are able to have this transferable skillset.
And if you aren’t able to leave your current role, maybe there isn’t an option financially or otherwise to take a step down, so to speak, and I say that very loosely, or to pivot into a different industry then absolutely you should get involved with your current company. Whether it’s an HR initiative or expressing interest in transferring into the HR space within your company, or actually creating events or programs that inspire this people centric approach that HR is so commonly tied to, those are some of the best ways that I would advise without experience kind of taking off there.
Meghan Houle: [00:13:08] Yeah. So, leveraging your internal company, right. And having conversations with some of your direct reports to say, “Hey, this is what I’m interested in doing and maybe how I can get started?”. And do you think that there’s a specific maybe entry level function into HR that would make sense, like coming from the field.
I mean, I know sometimes a lot of people start in recruiting or maybe take on like a small generalist role. Like what do you think would be possible? I’m sure it differs from every company, but what are your thoughts there?
Traci Rubin: [00:13:44] Yeah, I think it’s industry specific. Recruiting is a fabulous way to break in because in recruiting, that’s where you learn the roles and responsibilities of every open position that the company has.
I also think that the administrative positions or even consultant positions, which are sometimes fluid based on experience, if you’re able to find an internship, even while you are working full time. I’m a big believer in the hustle. I have had a million side hustles my entire life. I don’t rely on one single income stream because I love to get involved and so, that is really, I think what would be the best case scenario for someone who is looking for an entry-level position just to really like get involved at any level. And also, I think there is a misconception in some capacity that an HR generalist role or business partner role is only for experienced people in the role.
In many ways, yes business partners, generalists they can have, or require 10 to 15 years of experience. But there are also roles out there that are looking for people from operations backgrounds or education backgrounds because of the industry that actually are more entry-level than you’d think. So, I think sometimes it’s a matter of really navigating the job description. If someone says we need a minimum of five years, that’s not entry-level for HR. And so thinking through the job title as admin or assistant, those are some better roles, especially if you want to break into a business partner or generalist type of space.
Meghan Houle: [00:15:16] That’s really good advice. And for anyone listening, you hopefully can take some of that away and maybe just start. Start networking, start putting it out there in your current company. I always say to candidates and clients, no one’s going to know anything unless you tell them. We cannot read minds. And you can’t just sit and wish. You definitely have to take action, so all great advice and really digging into a topic I’m so excited to kind of dive in with you, Traci. As mentioned again in your fabulous podcast, Bringing the human back to Human Resources. You talk a lot about de-stigmatizing HR, why is this topic so important to you for listeners to know about HR professionals?
And why do you think HR gets bad rep?
Traci Rubin: [00:15:58] Oh my gosh. Thank you for asking me this question. It impassions me. I could probably go on like Ted talk and just talk about it for 30 minutes or more, three days. It’s important because HR is such a critical function and this is why I’m so passionate about de-stigmatizing it.
Because I think there’s a misconception to what HR does. And I think that’s probably why we’ve seen the shift away from HR and into people operations, because that’s exactly what the function is, is focusing on people and the business. So, you have people ops and ops, obviously everything that’s executed by our people.
And so I always say too that, you don’t have to have the title of HR to be an HR leader. And I was actually just talking about this on a clubhouse room that every single person who is in an organization, whether they’re an individual contributor or, and especially if there are people manager, they are HR leaders.
They can say a million times over that they don’t believe in HR, but at the end of the day, that’s exactly what they are. In retail we always say to the managers, you are the HR managers on the floor. And so understanding that the de-stigmatizing really comes in when every single person feels like they have skin in the game to make the business people centric and HR for sure gets a bad rep, which is why I’m focused on de-stigmatizing it every single day of my life.
But it’s because to be quite frank, there are HR professionals who are not in the right careers. They shouldn’t be in HR. They shouldn’t be in a people facing function. And maybe what worked previously in HR or what HR used to be like a personnel type of role. It’s not what HR means today. And so thinking through the HR function critically, and also for businesses to really value a people centric approach, that’s where you’ll be able to find a really successful company. I really believe that companies that highly value HR or people operations as a function are 1000% more successful than companies that don’t.
Meghan Houle: [00:18:10] Yeah, and on the talent side with so many people out there and looking. I get asked all the time on the recruiting side, I’m sure you too is, talk to me about the company culture. People work for people these days and I think, this candidate population more than ever is eyes wide open of how companies handled through the pandemic, through black lives matter, through social justice, all the conversations that we’re having. And I know I’ve had many candidates back out of processes because they couldn’t get behind the brands.
You know, for various reasons of going in and being feared, not to be seen, heard, having diversity inclusion, all of that. And I know HR is going to continue to evolve and really leading into this next question, which I’m sure you can have some points on here to highlight, but in what way has the pandemic changed your job function and, where do you see the future of HR going or looking like in these businesses? Based on all of the pivots that you had to do through the pandemic.
Traci Rubin: [00:19:15] Well to answer the second question or the second part of your question first, as far as the future of HR, I think it’s going to be even more people focused. And I really love that companies were outspoken about social justice, because I think it’s so important.
we’re focused on people, right? So, when we think about social justice and standing up against racism, we all have an obligation to say those things and believe them because at the end of the day, we’re employing people and people need to feel safe at work. That is 1000%, our requirement as business leaders or owners, whatever function of an organization you sit in, we are empowered and obligated to provide a safe and inclusive workspace bottom line. Just from an anti harassment perspective alone. That is our requirement. And so in terms of the ways in which my job has changed, it’s just changed completely.
I’ve become relied on for keeping people safe. And while I just mentioned that, that was always true. It’s always been our obligation to provide a safe and inclusive workspace. COVID has made the term safe so much more intense. And back in March of 2020, my job changed forever. Our business changed forever.
We started closing our stores. We were closed for six months, roughly in some regions and without exaggeration, I was really working every single day, all day. And I became used to that. Now I have someone on my team who’s helping me out so that I’m not doing that anymore because obviously it’s not sustainable.
But I say that because it was so critical for me to provide hands-on support to my employees because not only are they thinking about the stability and security of their jobs. They’re also thinking about their wellbeing. When black lives matter was the biggest focus of our business and people outside of the pandemic, we also needed to make sure our people felt heard, knew they were heard and also had a platform to talk about what black lives matter and social justice meant to them. And so, quite literally when we were going through all of those very intense moments that the world kind of opened up for us, between the pandemic and social justice, every time someone called out, and I certainly don’t want to make this sound so heavy, but anytime someone called out or found out that they were exposed to COVID, for example, I worried for their livelihood. I mean, that was how seriously I took my role in keeping our employees safe and I’m so proud to work for a company that got it right. I mean, we didn’t see the CDC guidelines as a recommendation. We saw the CDC guidelines as the exact guidelines that we were going to follow, non-negotiable. And so being able to say that compared to our peers who were taking those guidelines as more of a suggestion, we were able to say to all of our employees, your safety is number one, nothing else comes before your safety, not even the business and the results, nothing.
And we were able to keep everybody safe and continue to keep everybody safe. And even through like black lives matter, we had a lot of conversations about, that we can’t leave our lives at the door anymore. Work now brings everything in because it’s so closely connected to our personal lives. And so we allowed the space and grace, which has been my motto for the last 12 months, “space and grace”, we’ve allowed everyone to have that space and grace to really be honest about how they were feeling, what was impacting them and in our inclusion survey, we received a lot of feedback that people felt so taken care of and supported during incredibly challenging and intense times in their lives.
Meghan Houle: [00:23:10] Wow. Well, I just want to say, first of all, we need more HR people like Traci in this universe. And I’m sure as we talk about how our listeners can find you get ready for LinkedIn and your podcast to blow up, [I’m ready]. Look at people like, “Can I work for you? Like, let’s make this happen!”. Thank you for that powerful message.
And what you were doing was just an extension of things that you already were doing prior to the pandemic of showing people that you care and that’s the heart of the matter. In closing and everyone listening, get out a notepad paper, let’s get some notes take in here as Traci. I’m sure arguably you’ve hired hundreds and interviewed thousands of people, right? Maybe arguably. Talk to us with this population, with many people still looking for jobs, maybe struggling to land a new role, would love your HR bird’s-eye view on a few things. So, what three things would you tell someone right now to do, to make sure they’re setting themselves up for success in a job process?
In terms of search, resume, LinkedIn, all of that, and with this massive candidate pool, what do you feel like really makes somebody stand out?
Traci Rubin: [00:24:21] For starters, a clean resume without grammatical errors. It seems like that would be an obvious first choice. It’s not so obvious. I’ve seen a lot of really bad resumes recently and it makes no sense considering the competition.
So, start there. The second and I actually just recommended this to someone who reached out to me on LinkedIn. Practice interviewing in a mirror, look at yourself, ask yourself questions and record it so you can watch it back. And it’s instant feedback. I did that in college and I was mortified by the amount of times I touched my hair.
And so now going into interviews, I always think about that. Oh, I shouldn’t touch my hair. It’s going to make me look like I’m fidgeting, for example. So, that’s a huge help. And then the third is really to just keep hustling, appreciate the rejection. Don’t let it stop you. Let it motivate you. Flip the negative on its head and make it a positive.
You were rejected for a reason. That just means that the job that you’re meant to be in is still out there. And so keep networking, use your resources and connections, get referrals when you can and just don’t stop hustling.
Meghan Houle: [00:25:27] I know we, talk about this and you talk about it in your podcast, but it’s also the follow-up right?
It’s not just one email and a prayer that gets you a job. I’m like, Oh, I’ve never heard back from anybody, but I’m like, how many times did you try that? I think I had to email a client seven times the other day, and they’re like, “Oh, sorry. I’m just getting back to you!”. Like that’s okay. But everyone’s busy and our inboxes are insanity , across the board working non-working I mean, it’s a lot of things still going on. So, also I would say maybe you agree, it’s just like, keep following up, but not in a naggy way, professional of course, but what’s your advice there for, I think that’s another frustrating point for a lot of people is like, I don’t hear anything back.
Any best practices in terms of follow-up that you would share?
Traci Rubin: [00:26:13] I think you hit the nail on the head that persistence is key. And actually I have an anecdote here. The consultant that I was just mentioning, I hired for my team to support with COVID and other projects. She was someone that we interviewed for a totally different role previous, like back in 2020, and she was persistent.
She did talk to me about my podcast. She had a lot of questions, which is not why she got the role, I should preface, that is not why we interviewed a lot of people, but she reached out to me on LinkedIn. Any time I posted something, she would comment. She messaged me on LinkedIn whenever there was something that came up that was interesting.
Or if she watched me on a live event and I would strongly suggest that you consider being persistent. And I think it’s all about how we follow up. Like, I think it’s in the communication. It’s the things that we say because what I was able to tell from her persistence and the reason why I was like, I know exactly who we’re going to hire for this consultant role, was because I could tell the kind of leader and the kind of support that she would provide in the role without even having to interview her specifically on those points.
So, if something came up about talking through a difficult situation, her response or her comment that was thoughtful and, intentional, and really focused on key elements of being in a people centric role showed me that she was ready for that type of position. And so when it comes to people reaching out and following up, it’s kind of like dating, like don’t just say, “Hey, how are you?”. No, one’s going to respond to that. So, if you’re single take that as a tip also, don’t lead with that, keep it interesting and be creative.
Meghan Houle: [00:27:55] And specific, and don’t be afraid to reach out and comment and engage . It’s so important and it really gets to show your personality as well.
So much now we’re doing is a little more behind the scenes than ever with all the zooms and the interviews. I can’t remember the last in-person interview we were working on, maybe sometime last year. So, you got to get good at using all the tools that we have access to. And I love your practice in the mirror as that’s what it’s all about.
Practice, feeling confident, putting yourself out there in the right way. And gosh, this has been such an amazing conversation. And as I was saying before I’m sure that we’ll be able to continue conversations with having our listeners find you, connect with you, listening to your podcasts. So, tell us how we can find you in your various channels.
Traci Rubin: [00:28:42] Yeah. So, on every platform, I’m @hrtraci, that’s HR T-R-A-C-I. So, I’m on Instagram, Clubhouse, LinkedIn, and I have a website, hrtraci.com, where you can get linked to all of the platforms I’m on. And of course my podcast is also available on all platforms. Everything is kind of linked in every single place.
Meghan Houle: [00:29:02] Amazing. Make it easy, ond stop shop for all things, HR. So, thank you so much, Traci Rubin, your pivot story is very powerful and I know you have so much valuable HR advice that you’ve shared with us. And I personally look forward to keeping an eye on all you’re doing and I’m sure our listeners are too.
So, stay tuned listen in to Traci’s podcast and thanks so much for being a part of Pivot with Purpose. We really appreciate all your support.
Traci Rubin: [00:29:27] Thank you so much for having me.
FC Podcasts: [00:29:31] Pivot with Purpose with host Megan Houle is a Fashion Consort, production, and part of the FC podcast network. It is produced and directed by Phil AKA Corinne and a special thank you to Spencer Powell for our theme music, learn more at pivotwithpurposepodcast.com and be sure to follow us on Instagram @pivotwithpurpose_podcast.