From Candy to Punk Rock: Get to Know Laurie Ruettimann

Today’s post features an interview with advisory board member Laurie Ruettimann.

Welcome to The Workforce Institute’s new feature, Get to Know, designed to help our readers get better acquainted with our advisory board of industry experts. To premiere our series, we include a conversation with Laurie Ruettimann. You’ll learn how she went from working in HR surrounded by candy to hosting the popular Punk Rock HR podcast. Plus, find out Laurie’s non-HR dream job. Without further ado, here’s Laurie!

The Workforce Institute: What made you first get into HR?
Laurie Ruettimann: I had a lot of student debt and learned quickly that I couldn’t afford law school. I was lucky enough to find a paid HR internship in my junior year of college at a candy factory in St. Louis, down by the Mississippi River, that overlooked a women’s minimum-security prison. My first job in HR was to be in charge of the fax machine. After that, I learned how to recruit and hire hourly workers to make licorice. Then, I was taught how to handle union grievances and workers’ compensation issues. Instead of running away from the train wreck of the modern hourly workplace, I enjoyed running toward it and fixing problems. In fact, I found HR to be addictive [like candy]!

WFI: Tell us a time when you were starting out and someone mentored you.
Laurie: I worked at a large pharmaceutical company, and I was mentored by someone who considered themselves to be a slacker. They had a great professional reputation and worked hard to deliver right-first-time solutions, but never forgot that the job fueled their life outside of work. In fact, they prioritized family over work, which made them work harder when they were on the job. When they were out on PTO, they were off. Seeing someone set boundaries and have honest conversations about limits was inspiring. When I asked them how they did it, they said it happened by being rigorously honest with themselves and developing personal relationships at work.

WFI: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Laurie: I have a background in writing, so I had to learn how to speak the language of the business. No, I didn’t take a class on corporate jargon. But I did take an accounting course for non-financial professionals. Also, I took a SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management)-sponsored course on communicating at the executive level. What did I learn? Slow down, use fewer words, and speak less. I was too eager to prove myself, thereby undermining my own credibility. Sometimes silence is power.

WFI: What’s a common misconception about HR?
Laurie: Many people think HR is full of followers and people who are rules-based and focused on details. HR is full of dreamers who want you to be happy, have a doughnut, and take a nap.

WFI: What excites you to stay in HR, or what made you leave?
Laurie: HR excites me because it sits at the intersection of work, power, politics, and money. Everything is an HR issue, which is tremendously thrilling and nerdy at the same time. I left my job as an HR practitioner in 2008 because I was terrible at corporate politics, which is too bad, because I loved the work.

WFI: What excites you about the future of HR?
Laurie: I’m excited about the intersection of institutional HR knowledge and technology. If we can take smart and passionate people and give them the right tools to be more productive and efficient, you’ve got a real opportunity to create organizations that are focused on issues that matter, like employee experience, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

WFI: What skills have you prioritized that have helped you succeed? Do you think these will become more or less important in coming years?
Laurie: It’s very trendy to talk about skills-based learning initiatives and training. What does that mean? Companies are now focused on teaching the workforce how to do something specific, which can be translated immediately. All of that is fine, but the best skill I’ve learned is patience with myself and others. I want things to change, and I want it now. But the first draft of any idea or initiative is usually the worst draft. The first time I try something new is often ridiculous and embarrassing. But if I slow down and give myself permission to ease into a new task or idea, I learn and implement my new skills more effectively.

WFI: In an alternate universe, where you have infinite skills, what is your dream job?
Laurie: I’d be the weather person on a national morning TV show.

WFI: What is your biggest piece of advice for professionals starting out or looking to grow in their careers?
Laurie: My biggest piece of advice is that career satisfaction is a lagging indicator of life satisfaction. Happiness comes from taking a feeling deep inside and turning it into action. And it usually has nothing to do with work. Be someone with significant ideas — or a vibrant personal life with lots of love and activity — and take that awesome energy into your job.


Did you know? Besides being a podcast host, Laurie is also a bestselling author. Check out her latest book, “Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.”