Those Who Can Do; Many HR Consultants Teach, Too

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR Apr 30, 2012
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With their broad spectrum of interests, experiences and areas of expertise, HR consultants often gravitate toward opportunities to share their knowledge with others through teaching engagements at local colleges and universities, for other groups, and online. But while the rewards can be many, the demands can be daunting at times.

The biggest barrier: time.

John Paul Engel is CEO of Knowledge Capital Consulting, based in the Sioux City, Iowa area. “It is important for consultants to control our time, as that is our inventory,” noted Engel. A consultant and executive recruiter with more than 16 years of experience, Engel has taught courses in e-commerce, sales management, entrepreneurship, pre-employment strategies and introduction to business at a local college. The advantages are many, he said, and include: enhancing your speaking skills, expanding your network, staying current and seeing students develop over the course of a semester. “Not only is it great marketing and skill development, but I love that I am helping people advance in their careers. And after all, that is what human resources is all about.”

Engel conceded, though, that the time commitment can be significant. “At one point I found myself teaching five courses at two colleges and it was simply too much as an adjunct,” he said, noting consultants who are good at teaching will find no shortage of opportunities.

Finding ways to leverage time spent teaching with benefits for their consulting practices can be a good way to make the time spent serve double duty. Those who teach point to ample benefits and personal satisfaction from the work.

Chad O’Connor is an adjunct professor of communication at Northeastern University in Boston, where he teaches organizational communication improvement and is a communication consultant. “It is good for the credibility of your personal brand to be teaching at a reputable institution,” said O’Connor. “It shows that your credentials carry respect.” In addition, he noted, “the relationships you create at the college or university can also help to open doors for consulting opportunities.” Some of O’Connor’s former students have presented him with opportunities at companies they now work for.

“Teaching gives me an opportunity to mentor someone and pay it forward with the occasional benefit that some of those students will continue to value that relationship for well beyond their years at the school,” he said.

Still, a balance must be struck. Finding time to serve clients and students effectively is not always possible. Richard Lukesh, managing partner of Your Part-Time HR Manager, based in Exton, Pa., gave up his evening teaching position about three years ago after teaching for eight years.

“The opportunity to pass on knowledge and positively influence the thinking of others is very intoxicating,” he said. He admitted that he enjoyed the ego boost of teaching. But, he said: “Unfortunately, ego boosts were not able to offset the increasing demands from my growing practice.”

For many, it comes down to simple economics. “From a dollars-and-cents perspective, my time was simply too valuable to give up an average of six hours each week per course with class time, prep time and reading papers, not to mention faculty meetings and e-mails from students,” said Lukesh. “As anyone with a busy HR consulting practice knows, quality of life is an important consideration.”

There are some ways to balance the demand with the opportunity, said Bettina Seidman with SEIBET Associates, a career coaching firm in New York City:

  • Don’t teach more than one or two courses if you are doing a lot of consulting.
  • Schedule the courses you teach on the same days.
  • Arrange for well-known professionals in your field to be available to jump in for you when necessary so you can travel for consulting work.

Getting Started

For those who feel they have the time, inclination and expertise required to instruct others, a first step is contacting area universities to express an interest. In addition to academic credentials (a master’s degree is generally the minimal expectation, with doctoral degrees often preferred or required), professional experience is highly valued. This is where HR consultants can really stand out and provide value across a variety of departments—from business to communication to areas of academic specialty depending on their backgrounds and client base.

Online teaching opportunities might be available through local bricks-and-mortar schools that offer online courses and through organizations such as DeVry and Capella. Teaching online programs can offer more schedule flexibility because HR consultants can schedule their time online without having to physically be present for classes. What is gained in terms of flexibility, though, might not provide value for everyone; some might miss the opportunity for face-to-face engagement with students.

Whether instruction is offered face to face or online, opportunities abound. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of post-secondary teachers is expected to grow by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020 as enrollments increase.

While teaching university-level courses can build credibility and reputation, those who have taught and are teaching courses say that the real value lies in serving others and sharing insights and expertise. “I would hate to think individuals teach just to boost credibility,” said Lisa Stamatelos, an adjunct professor of human resources management at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business and president of LJS HR Services in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “While my teaching credentials have been an asset to increasing my client base, I believe the main reason to teach is because you genuinely like or want to teach.”

In addition to the value of teaching others, Stamatelos noted that teaching “keeps me on my toes—I must always be prepared to answer questions on current HR topics. This benefits both my students and my clients.”

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.

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