5 Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Head of HR

Macy Andrews

By Macy Andrews, Senior Director, Global Talent Brand and Culture, Cisco

If anyone has great career advice, it’s a human resources executive. After all, she knows what recruiters are generally looking for in candidates, what are good answers to common interview questions and what is needed for HR to approve a request. The problem, of course, is that unless you are friends with, or related to, someone in HR, it can be hard to tap this fountain of information.

Until now, that is. Here, Jill Larsen, senior vice president of human resources and talent at Cisco, where she globally leads both Cisco’s talent acquisition function and HR for Cisco’s services organization, shares her take on how to get what you want:

Jill Larsen

#1. How do you move up at work?

“You need to go outside your comfort zone to grow, so that means taking risks. Women often take the quiet road, the obvious path, but that’s not what creates change or when amazing breakthroughs happen. I wish I had known this when I was at the beginning of my career: It is okay to be uncomfortable. Failure and fear are temporary.”

#2. What do you need to do to climb to the top of the ladder?

“Believe in yourself! Women often think they must be fully qualified in order to throw their hat in the ring for opportunities, but in reality, most great leaders recognize that they will never be fully qualified for a role. Instead, they know they will build teams that have strengths in areas they lack. Remember, confidence is contagious. If you believe you can be a leader then others will believe it, too.”

#3. How do you recommend maintaining work-life balance?

“First, I don’t believe in the term work-life balance. Especially in this on-demand, ‘always on’ environment. What I do believe in is scheduling, even if that means scheduling time to think, to catch up on email and to spend with my boys/husband/dogs. I also keep a to-do list on my calendar. If something is written down, I’m less likely to miss or forget it. That said, I accept that in no circumstance will my to-do list ever be done, so at some point in the evening, I need to call it a day.”

#4. Is working remotely becoming more common?

“Yes—in fact, flexible work environments are really the most prevalent non-traditional benefit in today’s workplace. At Cisco, we champion them. This model gives employees the flexibility they need in this ‘always on’ world, and allows companies to hire the best talent for the job, not just the talent who is closest. At the same time, it gives our employees the opportunity to, say, run to school and see their kids’ soccer game and still get their work done. Not everything has to be done between the hours of 9 and 5—we’re a global company so there should be some benefit to that.”

#5. How do you ask a manager for a raise or something you want?

“Practice and practice again until you feel truly confident asking. Approach the conversation through the lens of what you contribute: communicate your value and commitment to the company. When it comes to material benefits like pay, aim slightly higher than what you need to account for negotiations that will happen. Don’t use the word “just.” It diminishes what you’re saying. Do not apologize for asking. Finally, know your worth. Sometimes you may just be at the wrong company or working for the wrong manager. If your boss says no to a pay raise, for example, follow up by asking when you can expect one or state your expectation to be considered in the next cycle.”


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