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?

How getting promoted can kill your career aka how bad managers are created

Often in the pursuit of getting ahead, we accept promotions that are hugely damaging to our careers.  As a HR Practitioner I see this more often than not, people who are great at what they do, who are promptly promoted out of their area of excellence into something they never wanted to do.

A friend of my is an academic, great researcher, great teacher, but a terrible administrator.  Recently he was given an acting role as Head of School, in academia this is kind of a big deal.  He accepted the role, and pretty much hated everything about it.  His administrative duties killed any time he had for research, his classes took a turn for the worse as he his new role wasn’t designed to accommodate teaching, and the team he had inherited where on the verge of mutiny – all pretty much within the first month.  My friend and I spend quite a bit of time together, and he was telling me what was going on, how the new role took him away from the area’s that he liked, and removed him from his team exposing him to a new team that didn’t really like the way he did things.  It was just another example of the disaster that Human Resources with all good intentions, and in partnership with the individuals concerned, creates all the time.  Individuals promoted out of their areas into leadership roles etc, the best thing to do is to reflect on your career goals and determine if the promotion or new role is going to contribute to your goals, or merely take you away from what you really love doing.

After a couple of months of listening to my friend I asked him point blank what he liked about his new role, actually there was nothing he liked about it.  A couple of weeks later he had a discussion with his Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC)and stepped down from the acting role.  Now, much happier he gets to spend his time doing what he really enjoys – and rather than career suicide he has regained the respect of his peers (including the PVC), because he identified what he was great at, rather than trying to be adequate in an area he hated.

The truth is while we might all look to the top jobs and the remuneration packages and perks that senior managers and executives receive, your career is a long time to be miserable, the money often isn’t that much better than what you’re currently on.  So before accepting that promotion, take a step back and make sure that you can envisage yourself not just doing the job, but actually enjoying it.

As always, keen to hear your takes on this post, and your experiences.

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.

Excel basics for Human Resource Practitioners

Everyday I am amazed by the lack of Excel literacy in the office, particularly with the increasing focus on data within the HR space. With some Excel basics, and some raw data, you too can become a HR Data Kingpin.

Here are the absolute basic formulas that you need:

  • VLookUp / HLookUp
  • CountIF
  • Sum
  • IF statements
  • IFERROR
  • Ampersand for combining cells
  • Absolute cell referencing

If any of these sound unfamiliar, please stay tuned over the next few weeks I’m going to produce video’s for each of these, within the context of how we would use these formulas in our HR roles. Trust me, knowing these formulas have won me many roles within HR, and with a little bit of effort on your part they can very easily become part of your knowledge base.

Handling friendships and your duties as a HR Practitioner

Sometimes HR can have a reputation for being aloof and not overly friendly, because of the kind of work we do, and the kind of information we handle making friends in our workplace can be complicated. It’s further complicated by the role which you do in HR. Earlier in my career I was a Remuneration & HR Analyst, I had full access to every employees remuneration including my fellow team members and the executives. I was in in that role for a couple of years and maintained a very low profile, I didn’t tell people what I did outside of conversations with managers – in many ways even my direct team didn’t fully understand the role I played (when people asked what I did I simply said I worked in HR, often that kills the conversation right there). So why this approach? I played a significant role in both the annual incentive calculations, and the annual salary increases – I needed to be both impartial and perceived as such. I recall one time working with a manager on a potential pay rise, and I had actually gone to school with the individual concerned about a decade ago – hadn’t spoken to him since that time, but even so I mentioned this to the manager. After the pay increase was awarded I never congratulated the individual, nor ever mention it, I expect he to this day has no idea I was involved in making it happen – and this is exactly the way it should be.

In another role I was able to be more open about what I did, in this role I was responsible for managing a scholarships program which contributed to building a local workforce for potential employment. Certainly there were still aspects which even members of my team were not aware of, but on the whole I could be much more open. Although by nature I play things pretty close to the chest, so unless its well out in the public space as public knowledge I don’t typically talk about it – to paraphrase, small talk sinks ships.

While in a management role which encompassed HR rather than a specific HR role I had to fire a good friend, it was my job so I did it – the friendship was made before I won the position. He didn’t really speak to me after that, but the fact is that I was employed to do a job so that’s all there was to it.

The truth is that unpleasant duties are often assigned to HR, supporting managers in performance management conversations with poor performing employees, directing change management initiatives which include downsizing and redundancies etc. How are you placing yourself to do these duties when you’re everyone’s best friend?

The humble blog, another thread to your résumé?

Currently I actively contribute to approximately 17 blogs on topics ranging from remuneration to employment relations, to strategic HR, and certainly I enjoy sharing my thoughts and reflections on the variety of topics I’ve worked within. There is however another reason for these blogs, it’s about gaining exposure offline. I now include a hyperlink to both my LinkedIn public page, and also to any relevant blogs that I’ve written in my one page resume. These blogs allow me to ignore the ‘rules’ of cover letters or resumes, and focus on having a conversation with the reader, more and more these blogs are becoming a critical aspect of any job applications that I do.

Essentially these blogs provide a kind of link back to myself in the real world, where I choose to establish the link through identifying my blog(s) on resumes or in direct conversation with people. It’s marketing that I can turn on or off, it’s a product that I can promote when the timing is right (for example I cite my remuneration blog when I’m applying for a remuneration role), or select to continue blogging but not make the real world connection if its not to my advantage.

Is this strategy for you? Well I don’t think it’s for everyone, it can be a lot of work when done well and it can also backfire. In the online space often people feel they have a free pass to write whatever they like – however nothing could be further from the truth. A blog that you are potentially going to use in a job application is not the place to put down current or previous employers/employees, and as a rule I don’t speak badly of organisations – I simply don’t speak of them at all. For those that are prepared to put in the effort, and enjoy sharing their knowledge – and maybe even getting a job out of it, I would recommend it (with the aforementioned areas of consideration – once it’s online it’s out in the world and you lose control of it).

As always, keen to hear your take on this, and if you have any experience that you would like to share please do by leaving a comment.