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So, you want to work in HR?

Leveraging general management knowledge, expertise helpful


September 11, 2020
By Brian Kreissl

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(tippapatt/Adobe Stock)

I have commented elsewhere about how HR has a lot of overlap with the practice of general management.

The truth is human resources management is a management function, and a large part of the HR profession’s mandate is to enhance managerial capability.

This may come as a surprise to some people, but HR isn’t there primarily as an employee advocate — although that is definitely part of the typical HR department’s mandate, and there is definitely a balancing act involved.

The real focus of the HR function is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization’s human resources (sometimes referred to as its human capital).

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Leveraging line management experience

People who have previous management experience are often well placed to move into a career in HR. Some of the best candidates for HR vacancies often come from elsewhere in the organization.

I once had a somewhat cynical conversation with a friend and former colleague of mine — also an HR professional — about how it often seems that the best way to get ahead in HR is to be focused on something else and have little to no HR experience.

It sometimes feels like HR professionals who have spent the majority of their careers focused on the HR profession have a difficult time landing new roles, yet employers often seem to want to appoint people from outside the function to HR roles.

On the other hand, HR practitioners who take a detour in their careers to do something non-traditional often have a difficult time getting back into an HR role.

There is no doubt that previous line-management experience is an asset when transitioning into an HR role. However, I still believe it’s important to take some HR courses to understand some of the concepts, best practices and compliance requirements relating to employment and other areas of the law.

I also believe continually parachuting people into senior leadership positions from other functions is demotivating to those who made a commitment to the HR profession.

It sends out the message that HR is little more than common sense. Because we all have experience with the workplace, it sometimes feels like everyone thinks they’re an HR expert — when that clearly isn’t the case.

Increasing respect for the HR profession

It used to be said that the best and brightest don’t go into HR, and the HR function tends to have lower pay than other areas of the business.

However, much of that is changing and going into HR can be a great career move for those who are interested in people-related issues in business.

Having a stint in HR can also be beneficial for an aspiring CEO or general manager.

That’s because up to half of a CEO’s time can be spent on people issues, and with so much change and disruption in business these days, finding, retaining, developing and engaging an organization’s people is more important now than ever before.

Business leaders outside the HR function now understand the importance of people issues.

After all, an organization’s people are often a major differentiator and competitive advantage, and employee compensation is the single largest expense in most industries.

Because of that, HR is starting to get the respect it deserves. We have finally arrived as a true profession alongside other business functions such as finance and marketing.

Young people now go into business school majoring in HR, and there is a definite body of knowledge associated with the profession.

Job postings for senior-level HR vacancies now routinely ask for advanced degrees in HR or a related field, and there is a greater focus on strategy, technical literacy and numeracy in the profession.

Understanding the mandate of HR

But people need to understand the mandate of the HR function.

Just because you’re a “people person” doesn’t mean you’ll make a good HR practitioner. Practising HR definitely is a balancing act, and it isn’t just about being an employee advocate, planning company picnics or helping employees solve their problems.

Despite the willingness to hire people from outside the function, HR can be a difficult field to break into. It almost sees like the best way to get into HR is to fall into it accidentally.

Next week, I will explore this theme further by discussing what makes the typical HR practitioner tick and what skills and competencies are necessary to be successful in a career in HR.

Brian Kreissl is a product development manager with Thomson Reuters in Toronto. He looks after HR, payroll, OH&S, records retention and Triform. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com or (647) 480-7467.