Insider Report: What It’s Really Like Working in Human Resources
Human resource department – perhaps the one department in the workplace you don’t want to hear from since it might be bad news.
But what is it like working in human resources?
Is all you do really just about firing people and finding replacements?
In this report, I’ll outline the different roles available in the sector and the misconceptions popular culture has on human resources before examining the qualifications and characteristics you need to work in the industry, as well as the core realities of what life is really like for a human resource specialist.
WIDE SPECTRUM OF AVAILABLE ROLES
Working in human resources can be quite different to what you might think in your mind.
First, though, it’s important to realize the industry is not offering you just a single role with similar types of responsibilities no matter what company you work for.
Indeed, the human resources sector can offer a wide range of roles that all come with rather different requirements and responsibilities.
Of course, like with most industries, you have variety in terms of executive and junior roles, not to mention how companies in different industries might require unique expertise and knowledge from its human resources department.
Interestingly to some other industries, human resources can also offer roles that require specialist skills in other sectors.
For example, certain roles might require you to have a good grasp of sales or even marketing. Therefore, the opportunities to create a career in human resources come wide and varied.
Of course, there are plenty of roles calling for specialization in human resources and management, so it’s not all related to other departments or sectors.
In terms of the available roles in human resources, you could work with job titles such as:
- HR Assistant
- HR Officer
- Training Officer
- HR Director
Although there are a variety of different roles available, your job essentially involves dealing with the personnel in your company.
This can touch upon topics such as hiring new employees to developing current employees. Human resource roles are also often involved with drafting contracts, looking after health and safety in the company, and creating strategic personnel strategies to boost the business.
Naturally, since the roles are so closely linked with the company you work for, the specific responsibilities depend largely on the organization and its requirements.
THE ‘HIRE’ AND ‘FIRE’ IMAGE OF HUMAN RESOURCES
What about public perception and the misconceptions people have about working in human resources?
The most common problem is the generalization of the industry into something rather black and white. Human resources is often considered as the ‘hire and fire department’.
To many, human resource roles are just about finding the right candidates for roles, conducting job interviews and laying off staff when the company tells them to do so.
While this is part of the role for many human resource roles, it certainly isn’t as straightforward as that.
As I outlined above, the sector is often in charge of things like employment law and the strategic interests of the business and its employees and therefore, it’s wrong to view it through a narrow lens of responsibilities.
There’s also another side to the public perception of the department. It can sometimes be considered as the ‘mother’ of the workplace. If you have a problem, you run into the arms of the human resources department and complain about your issues.
The problem with the perception is how people then imagine the department is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – they either make decisions to benefit the company or the employee.
However, in reality, human resources has to find a more balanced approach to employment and personnel problems.
Now, if you’d like to get a glimpse of how the popular culture portrays the human resources sector and working in it, there are quite a few good movies to watch.
Some of the funniest and the most interesting portrayals of human resources jobs come from movies like:
- Inside Out – The story of different emotions and how they get along inside your brain. Doesn’t feature human resources per se, but almost feels like what the HR management team has to deal with every time there’s a problem in the company!
- The Human Resources Manager – A well-made drama about an HR manager who travels to take back a deceased former employee to his home country.
- Office Space – A hilarious take on what might happen when the HR department wouldn’t have qualified workers to keep a check on things.
The above films are worth watching, especially after you start working in the industry.
Movies can be an eye-opening way to see what other people think of the industry and perhaps helpful in finding the little lines of truth about the sector in the sea of generalization and misconception!
WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY TAKE TO WORK IN THE INDUSTRY?
So, now you’re on top of the misconceptions and the different roles that might await you in the sector. But how do you find yourself working in human resources?
The most common route to a career in human resources is by obtaining the right kind of qualifications. Human resource, development and management specific courses are the easiest and most straightforward way of getting into the industry.
These routes give you a good grasp of the industry and help you understand the terminology, methods and strategies used in a variety of HR roles. Example degrees in HR include things like:
- Human Resource Management
- Human Resources Information Systems Analysts
The degree options offer opportunities for both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree. Furthermore, you can also obtain certifications that help find roles in the industry.
In some instances, these might even be necessary for certain roles. The certifications can vary from country to country.
In the UK, a course from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) can be a good route to take.
Aside from getting a degree in HR specific courses, it is possible to get into the industry with a different academic background.
Other common degrees that can help you find a job in the industry include:
- Business degrees
- Administrative degrees
- Law degrees, especially if you specialized in employment law
Indeed, transferring from a different sector is not at all uncommon in the industry.
A 2009 survey of HR professionals showed that over one-third of respondents came to HR from an administrative background.
So, opportunities are there even if you don’t have HR specific qualifications.
Aside from obtaining qualifications, you also need to have specific skills and characteristics in order to fit in the industry.
If you can develop these four key characteristics, you might well be a good fit for working in human resources:
It’s rather obvious you can’t make it in HR if you don’t like other people.
The role is largely about balancing the strategic interest of the business with the personnel and therefore, you need to be able to know how to align competing interests.
If you don’t care about the wellbeing of others, you probably don’t have the right type of empathy to work in the sector.
Good communication skills
Since you are dealing with other people on a regular basis, the roles also require you to have great communication skills.
You need to be able to listen to other people, explain complex procedures to them and do all of this with compassion.
You do not always deal with happy things (“You got a job!”), but sometimes you might have to make tough decisions (“I’m sorry but we have to let you go.”).
Therefore, you need to be able to get your point across effectively yet empathetically.
There can also be quite a bit of reading between the lines in the role.
People don’t always tell you exactly what they think (perhaps in fear of reprisal), so you need to be able to understand what people want and need from the subtle clues and behaviors.
Working in human resources will also require you to have great organizational abilities.
The job is not straightforward and no matter what your official title, you’ll need to be in charge of different things.
You might need to know about the payroll, the contracts, the training programs and so on – keeping everything running smoothly will require a good attention to detail and the ability to organize and prioritize tasks.
Your days don’t tend to follow the same routine – one day you might be doing rounds around the company, while others you are talking to clients- and you must be able to schedule and sort out your responsibilities accordingly.
Development focused outlook
Finally, you must be willing to develop your skills.
The industry is constantly changing and it requires many skills – you need to be IT proficient as well as grasp the latest legal changes in employment law.
It’s crucial to have a curious attitude and the willingness to develop your skills further. You shouldn’t enter human resources thinking you know everything.
Not to mention you might be in charge of developing the strategy for the organization, as well as calling for the employees to train further.
So, if you’re not able to know how development happens, why it’s important and the benefits of self-development, you probably won’t thrive in the industry.
FIVE CORE REALITIES OF WORKING IN HUMAN RESOURCES
Human resources can be a challenging industry and working in the sector is likely to produce plenty of experiences – preparing yourself for what it’ll be like is not easy as no day is alike and different roles can seem different.
However, there are five core realities working in human resources is likely to introduce you to. If you approach the industry with these realities in mind, you are likely to have rewarding and realistic career expectations.
To get you started, here’s a video of a typical day for a Human Resource Director:
Human resources roles will require a lot of work and the days can be rather long. However, the work is not your typical nine-to-five in terms of the tasks you need to do.
The workdays can be widely different from each other – one way you are strategizing a development and training scheme, the other looking for cost-cutting measures across the departments.
Heather Clark, director of Human Resources at the Huntzinger Management Group, described the average workday to After College by saying, “It may come as a surprise, but, there is no typical day! Every day is different and every day means a new challenge in my world. Whatever “checklist” I thought I was going to accomplish, rest assured will need to be changed by the end of each work day.”
The fast-changing work schedule means you won’t get bored at your job.
However, it also means you need to be prepared to think fast and be able to quickly identify the most important tasks.
You don’t have time to ponder things for too long in human resources – effectiveness is the key.
While your workdays might not be alike on most days, you are required to provide routine-like performance. Expectations in the industry are high and employers don’t have time for failures in this crucial department.
Your days might be different, but your list of tasks doesn’t change much: you might be in charge of the payroll, need to conduct interviews, go over contracts, organize training for new recruits and so on.
These tasks can become routine-like tasks and results need to be meticulous.
Furthermore, there is an administrative side to human resources and this can seem rather isolating at times.
While it’s easy to think you’d be meeting up with other employees all the time, you can actually find yourself sitting in the office cubicle going through paperwork on multiple days.
It takes a business-oriented mindset to work in the industry.
Many people overlook the need for human resources department to ensure the business is capable of achieving its objectives – what could be more important to achieving the vision than having the right personnel?
You’ll be working closely with the people that can make or break the company, so you need a good understanding of business.
Human resources professionals don’t just need to focus on finding a hardworking employee, they also need to know what kind of worker the industry needs right now – the talent and skills that can work in the current and future climate.
When John Millikin, clinical professor of management and previous HR employee, was asked about his most rewarding part of the job, Millikin said it was, “having an impact on the success of the business and on the lives of the people in it”.
While business knowledge is an essential and somewhat surprising part of the industry, the key part of your job is about managing people.
Human resources is among the most people-centric industries out there. If you can’t handle people and interact with all sorts of personalities, then you probably won’t be a good fit for the job.
Your days will include plenty of phone and face-to-face conversations, meetings, performance evaluations and so on.
You need to be good at analyzing and evaluating personalities and how they would fit the organization – it’s not a personality contest, but about finding the right talent to support the company goals.
However, the people-focused nature of the job also brings its downsides. You don’t always have to deal with people in a positive environment.
As the human resource professionals interviewed for the CBS News piece pointed out, the hardest part of the job is laying off staff and giving the bad news.
Therefore, while you need to be able to empathize and relate to people to forge relationships, you also can’t take the role too seriously.
Solid salary and career prospects
Now, what about the money?
You don’t want to pick your future career based on money alone, but you also shouldn’t be oblivious to what earning potential is ahead of you.
In the human resource sector, the outlook is rather positive – especially in terms of job security. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is expected to see job growth of 5% by 2024.
The rate is around the same as the average job growth rate so it’s nothing special, but definitely on a strong footing.
The salary prospect in the sector will naturally depend a little on your official job title.
Furthermore, your earnings can be impacted by the geographical location – big firms near major business hub cities tend to pay more – and your expertise and experience.
The organization’s size can also be a factor – small companies don’t have the same resources as larger corporations.
A good indicator of the potential comes from looking at the averages, both for professionals and the recent graduates. For example, recent graduates can expect to earn:
- Around $30,000 in the UK
- Around $54,000 in the US
If you enter the sector with a Master’s Degree rather than an undergraduate degree, you can push up the starting salary. In the US, Master’s Degree in Human Resources could mean you’re starting with an average salary of:
- Around $66,000 for HR Manager
- Around $67,000 for HR Business Partner
The earning prospects jump up quite a bit as you gain experience. The average salaries for different HR positions include:
- Senior Training Officer – $33,000 to $39,000
- HR Manager – $44,000 to $57,000
- Head of HR Department – $94,000 to $125,000
Directors of human resources could earn anything between £100,000 to £500,000. The earning potential is definitely there for anyone willing to push themselves to higher positions.
THE BOTTOM LINE OF WORKING IN HUMAN RESOURCES
Human resources is definitely a great career path for someone who loves working in a demanding industry and who gets along with people well.
You need to be able to make strategic decisions and communicate with people from all walks of life.
The industry is not quite what it is portrayed to be – there is plenty of balancing you must do between the business interest of the company and the wellbeing of the employees.
However, it’s a rewarding job with a good earning potential and strong future job prospects. If you like to challenge yourself and push yourself further, then human resources can be a fantastic career path.
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