A Career in Human Resources is like any other…It’s All On YOU

I just finished watching a movie with my wife called Hope Springs, we had some expectations going into this movie, the cast was amazing etc…however the movie was maybe aimed at a different demographic than my wife and I. We however persisted and watched the whole movie, the final four minutes was nice, while the rest was kinda okay. And for a movie this was an okay approach, yet how many of us take this approach in other parts of our lives when perhaps we shouldn’t – how many of us take this approach with our careers? If this is potentially you, I encourage you to spend another couple of minutes reading the rear of this post.

As the title of this post states your career is all on you, so when was the last time you gave your career a once over. Let me put it this way, if you took your career out on a date would you make a second date? Or would you cut your losses and take another career out the following Saturday night? Being a Human Resources Professional I interact with a lot of people, and both because of my profession and my mindset I make the time to examine and discuss people’s career stories. Super quick story, the first time I had a sit down meeting with my CEO at that time I had a colleague with me, our GM HR set it up as an introduction, and my colleague wanted to know about the company and what direction the CEO was taking the company etc. My approach was quite different, here I was sitting down with a very successful businessperson in not only a CEO role but a very public CEO role, I wanted to understand his journey – how did he get to where he was (and how could I do it faster). The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes, an hour into the meeting the CEO realised the time and we finished up our meeting. Now getting a meeting with the CEO was amazing, spending an extra 30 minutes of unscheduled time with him was confirmation. People like to talk about themselves, particularly successful people if you approach it in a way that lets them know you admire them and would value anything you can learn from their journey. Case in point is Steve Jobs, I have the fantastic biography ‘Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson‘ on my nightstand, when that work was started and Jobs spent time talking with Isaacson he knew he was dying. He valued sharing his story so that his children could understand a little more about who he was and what he did, and we as the public are I believe very fortunate to also be able to gain some insight into the man who has had such an impact. The point about Steve Jobs and how he chose to spend some of this final months is an extreme one, what I’m trying to get across here is that if you have an opportunity to talk with someone whose career you admire and wish to learn from, chances are they will be very willing to talk to you about it – if nice guys finish last, then shy guys finish dead last.

So talking to successful people is a great way to learn, however talk is cheap as they say – to complete the equation you need to reflect how this information might inform your own situation, then take action. My second role in Human Resources I was really happy with and very grateful for the opportunity to gain that role and the experiences that came with it – within nine months I handed in my notice and went to another organisation. Nothing had changed, I was happy, learning a lot and earning okay money at that point. The issue for me was that looking around the office I saw a bunch of happy people, many of whom had cashed in their careers for a job that they were happy with, I realised at that point that I needed to get out and get out fast. Since that role I’ve worked in another five or so roles, moved countries and learned a great deal – I know in my bones however that had I not reflected on my career wants and taken action, that I would still be there today.

If you’re not taking ownership of your career then just like a runaway car, how do you expect to arrive at your destination not only in one piece but at all?

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Are there really any bad degrees?

At least once a month I read a blog that outlines the worst degrees you can get. I often reflect on these with some humor, as more often than not some of my majors are mentioned, at which point I look around my nice house or glance at my Rolex and smile (apologies if this seems overly self promoting – I felt it helped to build the point I want to make). So what are my degrees in? My first degree was a Bachelor of Social Science with a major in Psychology and a minor in Gender Studies (this one usually gets mentioned as a terrible area to study), a Graduate Diploma in Social Science majoring in Sociology (yes a second area of study that is typically frowned upon) and much more recently a Master of Applied Psychology (specified program in Organizational Psychology) – I should mentioned of my masters degree, that I gained my current role before I graduated with that qualification, so most of my roles have been won with ‘terrible’ majors.

Note: while the post concentrates on degrees, the exact same perspective can apply to experience, its all a matter of leveraging what you have, and being able to demonstrate skill/knowledge transfer to the relevant area.

To some extent I agree with the blogs that frame Gender Studies and Sociology as terrible for your career, the politics of Gender Studies means that as a male I could never attend or present at many Gender Studies conferences as these are women only events in the most part (feminism was the area of my study), and outside of university I have never met anyone who called themselves a Sociologist (but potentially I simply hang around in the wrong groups). So why on earth did I study two areas that I would have difficultly progressing within? For the simple reason that I wanted to have some understanding of the challenges that women face (Gender Studies), and I thought having some idea of how groups and their cultures operate would be useful (Sociology). These two areas interested me, and also as a future Human Resource Practitioner I saw enormous value in understanding these areas. The added bonus is that while popular university majors, I’ve met few people in my area who graduated with these majors – most are straight HR majors.

The point which I’m slowly getting around to, which is relevant for those readers who are outside the HR world also, is that degrees can be similar to houses, sometimes it location, location, location. As I mentioned earlier for the most part a career in Gender Studies is off limits to me, however as a knowledge area for a HR Practitioner its really useful, as is Sociology. My more recent degree allows me to apply for registration as a Psychologist in a number of countries, however why would I want to? Why on earth would I give away the advantage of having a unique degree by joining a profession where not only everyone has one, but many if not most have bypassed the masters and graduated with PhD’s? By staying in HR I have a degree which is relativity uncommon (I’ve worked in a number of organizations and only once have I encountered another person with a degree in Organizational Psychology working in HR), but the knowledge of which is incredibly valuable to my employer.

So, for those currently studying majors which are listed as the worse majors to have for your career or some such title, don’t be overly concerned, rather find a career where you can both utilise your knowledge and where your knowledge is useful – and often its not in the places you least expect it.

I’ll give you an example for how this has worked for some people I employed, the organization I was with advertised for some graduate roles in Human Resources. I lead the selection panel, of the four we employed none had degrees in HR, rather they had degrees in Economics, Finance, Communications and Social Sciences. Why in an HR area would I want these kind of degrees? Simple, in a team of 50 we had plenty of knowledge about HR, but we didn’t have strengths in these other areas. In HR we deal with Finance a lot, and having some in-house Finance knowledge would greatly assist us, we also spend a lot of time communicating our vision so again having people with this knowledge base is really important. If there had been some applicants with a solid major in IT I would have strongly considered them also. My point is, that regardless of your degree, and regardless of market saturation, with some creativity you can leverage your qualifications in a space where the knowledge is needed and underrepresented. The criteria for this to work however, is that you need to apply your knowledge to the field that you’re apply for. I did actually have some IT majors apply, but they couldn’t show me how they would apply their knowledge to HR – while the Finance and Communications majors could illustrate in details that they could base their thinking on their academic foundation but apply it to problems in HR.

Scholarships for students of Human Resources

Like most bloggers I spend a lot of time on the net, reading and contributing to blogs and generally ensuring I’m kept up to date as much as I can in the global world of Human Resources. In my travels I occasionally (not as often as I would like however) come across articles such as this one from Webster University who through the assistance of a SHRM member and a University Alumni have been able to set up a scholarship for students of HR at that university.

Scholarships in our discipline seem to be few and far between, hence the creation of this post which I’ll update from time to time with additional links to various scholarships available for students of HR.

If you know of a scholarship and would like to have a link put up to it here, please comment with the url and I’ll get it up asap. I will promote scholarships from around the globe, so please if you know of one, or which to share your experiences of gaining one, post a comment with the url.

The five KSA’s all Human Resource Professionals must have

Given the many sub disciplines of HR, each area will have different specific requirements, so rather than trying to capture every skill these are the five that I believe all Human Resource Professionals must have (presented in no particular order):

Numeracy: Regardless of being an Analyst, Change Manager, Employment Relations Specialist and anything in between, if you fear numbers you’re in for a long drop with a sharp stop. The practice of HR is based on numbers, specifically the ability to interpret raw data through to complete reports. While historically there may be an argument that HR is about people, the world has changed, most of us will be employed by large corporations where knowing every employee or even every manager is impossible – except for those practitioners who can sort through the data and make sense of it all.

Communication: In HR we often have the term ‘consultant’ in our titles for a reason, we advise and consult with our clients. It’s more rare than people outside the profession think that we actually tell managers or employees they must so something. We’re employed to work and consult with adults, people are often able to ignore our advice – hence why we need to be able to communicate that advice in ways which is palatable to others, basically we need to be able to make the sale.

Forgivable: Make no mistake, within your HR career you will be asked to do things that you would not otherwise chose to do, hence you need to be able to forgive yourself. Already in my career I’ve fired a good friend, sat around the table discussing where to make staffing cuts, and implemented program’s with the stated outcome of reducing staff numbers. All this can be dressed up as corporate life, necessary changes to ensure fiscal credibility of the organisation etc, but really it’s just a shitty thing to do to someone who in many cases is performing well in their job.

Hungry: If you’re not highly motivated then a career in HR is not for you, and if you’ve lost that motivation, find another vocation as both yourself and everyone else will be happier. You need a strong sense of internal motivation to survive in HR some might call it a ‘thick skin’, you need to understand your sense of motivation intimately as often that’s the only thing that will get you to turn up the next morning at work.

Absolute: HR Professionals attend to many different duties during the day, the morning might start with change management, turning to evaluating the human resources plan around midday, and then conducting exit interviews in the afternoon, intermixed with phone calls and emails. You need to be able to focus on the task at hand, you need to be absolute, focused on the task at hand. Regardless of what advice you are giving to managers or employees, they deserve your attention.

Potentially a very different list from what others would write under the same or similar heading, but one which is nonetheless valid in my considered opinion. I have perhaps focused on the unpleasant duties and functions of HR, and rightly so I believe, if you can get past the bad you will find enjoyment in the positive. While conversely if the unpleasant tasks hold your attention, you will never see the joy when it is present in your work.

Does LinkedIn Pay?

In the approximate year I’ve been on LinkedIn I’ve been invited by recruiters to apply for Human Resource roles twice. My advice is that if you’re using LinkedIn solely to gain future employment, your efforts may best be spend on sites such as monster.com and other leading job boards.

Fortunately most of us aren’t on LinkedIn solely for employment, hence the reason I’m still an active member. The reason why I find LinkedIn valuable is the learning and sharing opportunities it provides. I’ve had rich and diverse conversations with fellow HR practitioners half a world away, supplemented my knowledge with that of more experienced global colleagues, and made fewer errors through learning from the mistakes that others have chosen to share.

Often the selling point of LinkedIn is the recruitment opportunities, which based on my experiences may leave many disappointed. Forget the recruitment aspect, just consider if it happens its a nice bonus, the real gems are in the sharing and gaining of knowledge.

PS. A final quick tip about LinkedIn, it’s a fantastic resource for having a look at the work histories and experiences of selection panel members, something as a HR person I always do prior to going to an interview – and often something I do even before I apply for that next role.

So, what has your experience of LinkedIn been like?

What training do I need for HR

Entry requirements for Human Resources are different depending on the country, organisation, manager and strength of other applicants. I’ve worked in teams where everyone of us had at least a Bachelor’s degree, I’ve also worked in teams where I’ve been the only one with a degree in relevant areas. Much of this depends on the hiring manager, if your hiring manager has a degree then chances are they want to employ people that also have a degree (this ‘rule’ often applied regardless of your professional). If most employees in the organisation have a degree (I.e. law firms, accountancies, often information technology and telecommunications firms), then chances are they will want their HR Professionals to also have a degree.

There are some exceptions to this, while every Head of HR I’ve worked with has had a degree, many of the people in entry level roles (Payroll Clark, HR Administrator, Training Administrator) I’ve worked alongside haven’t had degrees. From my observations, and discussions with other professional there is a career level where degrees are very highly viewed, and while there are always exceptions I would strongly advocate that degrees are required for HR Professionals who wish to make a career in Human Resources.

So, what area/s should our degree be in? As HR is such a diverse discipline a wide range of degrees are relevant. For myself I have degrees in Psychology, Gender Studies and Sociology, with a post graduate qualification in Organisational Psychology. The majority of HR Professional I’ve worked alongside had degrees in law; labor relations, business and of course Human Resources, so these are good area to look into. Gaining a degree will also allow you to apply for Graduate Programs which are a fantastic way to kick start your career – they are of course highly competitive and sought after by graduates.