So, you want a career in Human Resources? I have to be honest; it’s not something I would have answered in the affirmative had you asked me 20 years ago. Around that time, I was still trying to figure out a career in sales, training, management, or extended walkabout – none of which materialized. Then, to prove God has a sense of humor, I landed in Human Resources. The closest I can come to describing the irony is to imagine Eric Stratton assuming the role of HR Executive. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period with a few lessons learned along the way.

"Trust me...I'm in HR."

“Trust me…I’m in HR.”

Based on what must now be considered an actual career path, it seemed appropriate to highlight a few items that I’ve picked up along the way. Things that are common knowledge and/or obvious traits of this career may still elude those fine young minds deliberating the next 20 years of their own lives, so….

  1. Wearing a badge don’t make you the Sheriff ~ Do yourself a favor and lean on your common sense rather than the Employee Handbook. You have an obligation to the company, but you are NOT corporate security. Cops don’t get invited to side-bar discussions, be known for a steady hand rather than a quick trigger.
  2. PHR/SPHR may not mean jack-squat ~ Don’t ask this at a SHRM meeting, but do ask your business associates who are not in Human Resources; “Does a PHR certification make a difference to you?” The definition of “trolling” on HR discussion boards is to lob this grenade to the masses and see the gnashing of teeth. Do your own research, then decide, but in the beginning of your career it definitely provides a template for learning. Don’t expect the designation to make you any better at your job, but a lot of people love to have acronyms after their name, so there’s that.
  3. Generally Speaking ~ Human Resources has several offerings that make natural targets for external outsourcing; Staffing, Organizational Development, and Compensation are commonly supplemented (or outright managed) by external consultants. One bi-product of this is the ability to find work external to corporate life (i.e., go on your own) with a focus. HR Generalists have a harder time doing so, but tend to stick around in the corporate environment more easily. If you are a Specialist, make sure your external network is constantly in a growth mode. You’re SG&A, baby, so be prepared for that next gig. If you’re a Generalist, make buddies at Deloitte.
  4. A tree falling in the forest ~ Question: If an HR Business Partner gives solid advice to an internal client who fails to act upon said advice, does it make a sound? We advise, we influence, we finesse, we suggest, we warn – but never confuse those active verbs with scope of authority. That can lead to some frustration, but it’s a part of the job; as you mature in the role, you may even find that your advice was better off ignored, so make sure you pay attention to both outcomes. In a corporate environment, “told ya so” is not an appreciated attitude in HR, so remain humble.

Not a comprehensive list, as there’s hundreds of nuggets out there waiting to be shared ~ these are a few I would have appreciated as a newbie, but then again it’s the bumps and bruises that teach us the lessons we rarely forget.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources. 

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