Human Resource Management Career Profile interviewed Pamela J. Sampel to learn more about her successful career in human resource management.

How would you describe the main functions of your job?

As Vice President of Human Resources for PopCap Games, Inc., I lead the department responsible for all of the typical human resource management functions: Compensation and Benefits, Employee Relations, Talent Acquisition and Staffing, Training and Development, Organizational Development, Workforce Culture and Environment (which in our case also includes global facility management) HR Strategy and Planning and Global HR. PopCap has offices in Dublin, Ireland and Shanghai, China and staff in Germany and Korea. I lead a team of professional staff in each of these areas, who are primarily subject matter experts and who are technically experienced in handling each function. I provide vision, leadership, and strategy to my teams and to the Executive Team for our Global companies (I report to the CEO) in all matters of People Management.

What does a typical day look like at your job?

There really is almost no typical day – they vary depending on what is happening and what time of year it is. For example, right now we are heavily involved in insurance renewals, so much of my time is spent in meetings reviewing proposals and discussing strategy (both short and long term) to maximize where our money is spent and to provide great coverage for our staff. Another day might find me in budget and strategy sessions with the executive team, participating in revenue forecasting and business growth planning for the upcoming year. Another day or part of the day will find me in 1:1 meetings with each of my staff, or in a team meeting, or walking around talking to employees, visiting work sites and managers and finding out what is happening around our company. I also meet 1:1 with individual managers to discuss employee issues in their departments, to plan for a “sticky” termination or to discuss strategies to get great job candidates into our hard to fill positions (like Game Producers and Technical Engineers). On good days, I get time to think, read, plan, and strategize about how I want our team to help the organization build the best company culture for creative, intelligent and talented individuals to do their absolute best work, as well as to have fun!! We make great games…we like to remember to have fun ourselves!

What do you like best about your HRM career?

The variety of the work I’m able to do. And the influence I have as a member of the Senior Executive Team to create a dynamic organization. Also the chance to work with really super-bright, creative and focused people.

What are the most challenging things about your HRM career?

Keeping up with the fast-paced business world, the speed at which technology changes and the impact both on our business and our people, finding the time to read and think.

How did you land your current job?

I was recruited into this position by people I’d worked with before who were familiar with my work, my background and my “style.” I have a solid business background and I am also a creative writer and amateur (very) photographer, so I understand how to build the “creative” components that are so critical in a company’s culture that allow people to be able to thrive.

What was your professional background before you came to this job?

I started my career in the health care industry, moved into public broadcasting, then returned to the health care arena before I landed here at PopCap late in 2007. Earlier in my career I was in general business management, then I moved into building compensation and benefits for a physician group practice, then moved fully into human resource management positions, including labor relations negotiations in all the fields mentioned above.

What is your educational background?

I have a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) from the University of Iowa (emphasis in labor/industrial relations and economics) and a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs (MPA) from the University of Washington with an emphasis in non-profit management and public-sector labor relations. I’m also a lifetime certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and I am certified as an MBTI trainer and Career Coach. Finally, I also have Executive and Leadership coaching credentials from the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara.

What skills are most important to succeed in a human resource management career?

I think the single biggest asset I have (outside of my technical/subject matter HR knowledge) is that I have very solid “EQ” (emotional intelligence) skills: I have good judgment, I am aware of my impact on others, I am empathetic and yet I can be tough when it’s needed, I am a good listener, I am not easily ruffled, I handle change well, and I am great at seeing the “bigger picture” and possibilities for both people and organizations. I have a solid sense of humor (including the ability to laugh at myself and admit when I make mistakes) and I love to laugh and have fun, as well as to learn. I also am a creative “out-of-the-box thinker” who has an almost insatiable curiosity and loves to try new ways of doing things. I’m not big on policies and policing people. That, interestingly enough, has helped me a lot in the business world. I also surround myself with great people who are very different from me and I listen to them…especially when they tell me I’m not seeing something correctly or I am off track in any way. I count on these people to be honest with me, even when it’s hard to hear.

What advice do you have for someone who wants a human resource management career similar to yours?

Know your technical/subject matter. Get certified if you want to be a human resources professional. Then, learn about and develop your “EQ” to the absolute best of your ability and practice those skills. Also, learn ALL about the business you are in as an HRM career professional: read, ask questions, pay attention, and push yourself.

If a mid-career professional decided he/she wanted to make a career change into a HRM career, what are the steps he/she should take to make a successful career transition?

Find someone with a successful HR career who is willing to mentor you. Take a certification class or university program to learn all you can about human resources. Volunteer to be on an employee task force or committee and watch how the HR people are and learn from them, in addition to helping them out. Read books on leadership and learning. Find a coach if you can afford to, who can help you set goals and move you towards creating a new position for yourself and hold yourself accountable. Keep your business skills sharp as you do all this…and if you don’t have business skills, develop them. Run a small business out of your home, work in one or, better yet, hire someone and have them work for you. Then you’ll quickly learn about a lot of the human resource management career field and life.

Are there any commonly held misperceptions about HR careers that you would like to clarify?

The most commonly held misperception I still find in this field is that “HR People are all touchy-feely and soft and don’t have solid business skills.” These days, that couldn’t be further than the truth, especially in successful, dynamic and growing companies. HR leaders and staff are business savvy, tough, and are seen as indispensable change agents.

What is the income range for persons in a human resource management career?

The sky really is the limit. Starting out, an HR generalist with some experience can make $35k on up. (Depends on whether you’re in non-profit or profit worlds, too. You’ll make more in the for profit world…but you may get faster, broader and deeper experience fast in the non-profit world because they can’t always attract HR leaders. I learned a LOT of skills fast working in non-profits who had never had HR before). An experienced Senior HR executive in the for profit world can make upwards of $250k plus benefits and stock options. Mid-Career managers make from $75K-$110K. People who work primarily in compensation can make even more…they are like the “actuaries” in the HR field and can easily make over $200k if they have certifications and specialties in compensation analysis.

What are your long-term career goals?

To be the best executive leader I can be, as long as I’m actively working in the business world. Some day, I want to be a full time and financially successful writer making at least as much as I do now!

Any other comments?

Good luck to all…aspire to be your best!

Thank you, Pamela!

And thank you to PopCap Games for creating Bejeweled and Bookworm, two of my family’s favorite addictions!

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