In any field, it is important first to think deeply about what really interests and excites you. In choosing to get started in the field of human resources, this reflection is important. There are many different functions of HR, such as staffing and recruiting, compensation, employee development, labor relations, management, project management, IT (human resource information system or HRIS), and account management.
Decide on Core Interests
To get started, here is a list of questions to help narrow your focus:
- Where is your energy these days?
- Are you interested in hiring people and enabling them to transition into the organization?
- Are you interested in enabling people to develop once they are in the organization?
- Do details interest you? Do you want to analyze data or review hiring and performance trends?
- Do you like technology?
It is also important to think about the type of environment in which you want to work. For example, are you interested in working in a large organization or a small organization? Which industry? Which part of the country or world do you most want to work in? Do you want to work in a public company, private company, or a nonprofit organization?
Consider all of these questions before taking the next step.
There are a few different options to consider. Many entry-level positions rarely require HR experience but rather admin and people skills.
Are you interested in learning about all areas of HR versus being a specialist in one area?
Starting out as an HR generalist is the best approach and is the best way to learn. In this type of role, you will get exposed to all areas of HR and the organization. This type of role is best found in a smaller organization with usually fewer than 500 employees.
Do you already have an idea as to what interests you the most?
For example, if you know that training and development is the right path for you, then you would be better off in an entry-level position doing some administrative work that’s focused on employee development in a larger organization with more than 1,000 employees.
There will be smaller and larger organizations which have different needs and roles, but first having an idea as to what you want to do is a good first start. If you are uncertain, then starting as a generalist or in an administrative role is the best way to learn HR on a day-to-day basis.
These days there are many overlapping areas of human resources and the organization which are dependent on one another. The roles can range from staffing and recruiting, employee development, labor relations, employee relations and diversity, organizational development, corporate communications (sometimes a part of HR), compensation, HR technology (HRIS), and specialty areas such as career development and emerging areas such as talent management. There are also focused areas of knowledge and skills, which contribute to overall HR programs and processes. For example, there are HR professionals who develop diversity education, focused on enabling employees to be more inclusive and appreciative of each other and their differences. Other HR professionals work with the employee base to improve their soft skills, such as communications, and understand human and organization behavior to enable the organization to work better.
Develop Key Skills
What are the key generic skills needed to be successful in a career in HR? I look at these in three categories: business, soft skills, and core HR content areas.
- Business: These days there is more focus and demand on HR professionals to have business knowledge. HR professionals should understand how a business operates and how customers are reacting to the organization's products or services. HR professionals should understand how to read an annual report, a monthly budget, and what is the difference, for example, between costs of goods and revenue. HR professionals should understand which factors make up the company's revenue versus expenses. Operational managers expect HR professionals to speak their language of business. An MBA – Human Resource Management degree could help you obtain these skills and an advanced HR degree.
- Soft Skills: More than ever, soft skills are just as important for HR professionals as for any working professional. These include communication skills, teamwork, planning and problem-solving ability, and good decision-making and conflict resolution abilities. HR professionals need to be good listeners and systems thinkers, meaning they are able to understand both the big picture as well as how all the parts fit together.
- HR Content Areas: HR professionals should strive to become experts in the content areas of HR. Initially, when just getting started, it is best to get an overall idea of all the main content areas of HR, such as staffing and recruiting, training and development, employee relations, and other areas as described above in this article. Increasingly, HR professionals are being asked to measure the value of HR through business metrics and show trends and patterns — and make recommendations, as a result.
There are many paths to take to become educated in HR. The good news is that many can be pursued at the same time.
Gaining an internship in HR is a great way to learn from the ground up. Joining an association such The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) or The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) is wonderful for both networking and conference opportunities. Additionally, both of these organizations offer many certificate opportunities in different content areas of HR which will look good on the résumé! Nonprofit organizations are also good places to start and gain some entry-level work experience and HR experience.
There are multiple college programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels which offer a comprehensive curriculum — real-time collaborative education lead by faculty with content expertise in the field. This avenue creates opportunities to network with students who are already in the HR field. For those individuals who want to pursue HR management or senior individual contributor roles, it is important to pursue a master’s degree. The good news is that today these programs can be accessed online, enabling parallel progress towards pursuing your career and reaching one's academic goals.
Become an Expert in a Core Niche
It is a good idea to establish yourself as an expert at one core area of HR which interests you the most. For example, maybe you like technology so you can become an expert of some aspect of HR software or system such as SAP. Many of the technology companies also offer specialized training and certificates in their products. Maybe you just have some good ideas about how to hire the best people? Write an article, like “The Top 10 Ways to Hire the Best People,” and self-publish at any number of free sites on the Internet. The best way to become an expert is to publish your ideas!
Growing Trends in HR
There are many emerging areas of HR. One is technology. More of HR is being outsourced to call centers and automated technology. Other trends include managing contingent workforces, developing leaders for the sustainable organization, analyzing people and data. Humanistic leadership is one of the latest trends which focus is on collaboration versus competition. Having a worldview is important, as more organizations utilize people around the world to support their business development and operations. Additionally, one of the challenges now that organizations face is integrating younger generations into leadership roles, for example, millenniums and Generation Z. Again, an MBA – Human Resource Management degree could position you for this type of career.
Old paradigms and traditional ways in HR are fading fast in many areas, such as managing and assessing performance, corporate culture, compensation, and traditional ways of working. This is a great time to learn and participate in the new paradigms!
Make a roadmap and plan. Take action and remember, there is a difference between decision and action, you need both! Ensure your plans revolve around your passions, and deep interests! You can make a difference in the exciting field of HR. The opportunities await you now!