Do you have to study human resources in school to become an expert in the field? Not always. In part three of our interview with Bonita Sonderby, HR director of Visit Denver, we take a closer look at how she started her career in human resources and why connecting with others is so vital to the profession.

How Did You Get Into HR?

I started in the legal field as a paralegal doing employment law for a law firm. We handled a lot of employment law cases. Out of that, I developed an interest in the employee side of things and discovered I did a good job of listening and being able to figure out where people were struggling.

So I went back to college and earned a degree in business administration and obtained a job in communications, in a recruiting sort of role, and that catapulted me into full-time HR.

From there, I took my certification testing through HR Certification Institute (HRCI). I'm now very active, at the national and state level, with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

What Are Your Responsibilities?

I'm the only HR person in the organization, so I'm responsible for all the comp and benefits programs. I'm responsible for all recruiting and onboarding and any type of employee relations scenario that comes up. I also make sure all compliance matters are taken care of, which as you know, there's always more of.

Anything that has to do with anything related to an employee or employee matter comes across my desk. It's a true generalist role.

What Motivates You?

I love to see people engaged in their roles, enjoying what they're doing and getting satisfaction from a successful job. I love it when people gain something or if they benefited because they're having less taken out of their paycheck for premiums. Whatever I can do to help somebody else to be better at what they're supposed to do — that totally motivates me and makes me excited.

What Do You Love About HR?

Absolutely, the people. I love the interaction. I love not only spending time with them in the good times, but also being supportive and helpful in the bad times. It's the people factor.

What Are Your Ambitions for Your Career in HR?

I've held many roles — director roles, a VP role for a multi-state corporation and right now, I'm doing the best I can in my current role as a director and trying to stay involved in the state and national level with the HR profession.

I'd like to continue on the same path and keep looking to the future as far as those organizations where I do spend my volunteer time. I really enjoy mentoring the young HR professionals and hope that in the future I can do more of that.

What Advice Do You Have for HR Leaders Who Want to Grow in Their Position?

What I feel is very important is to become connected with your local peers and organizations that can help develop you and keep you informed of new and changing rules and regulations, products and services. The more involved you can be with your peers, the better engaged you're going to be to move your career along.

I really believe a lot of times that it's not what you know, but who you know and who is aware of you. That's what will help. And don't ever stop learning, because that to me is mission critical. You don't ever want to find yourself behind the eight ball because you stopped acquiring the knowledge you need to be effective in your role.

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Tags: retention Talent Learning and Development Employee Engagement