Whenever I tell anyone that I work in HR, I’m often met with a solemn look and the response “oh, I’m sorry.” First, there’s no need to be “sorry” for me – I chose an HR career. Second, I am passionate about what I get to do. And third…I own it. Perhaps HR needs better PR; there’s an underlying perception that the only things we do are fire people or listen to employee complaints. But, really, there is so much more. HR careers are like other jobs. Of course, there are difficult days, but there are some amazingly positive and fulfilling parts of this profession as well.
Looking back over how I started my HR career, there are five things I wish someone had sat me down to explain. In hopes that passionate HR career hopefuls will enter the field, and fewer will jump ship, here are some things to consider:
1) It’s a lonely world, and you will be OK
The HR “department of one” is becoming increasingly popular, and with more than 100 million business startups launched every year (3 startups per second), this number is slated to increase exponentially. It’s hard to juggle everything alone: hiring, firing, recruiting, onboarding, training, performance management, payroll, benefits, conflict resolution, training, and more. When you are a Department of One (DOO), you are on your own island. You may be asked to wear many proverbial hats and handle a lot of difficult, challenging situations by yourself without a team to assist you in making decisions (or support you when you’re having a rough day). That’s why it’s so important to identify other HR professionals, or as Steve Browne would say “your ‘tribe,’” outside of your job to use as a sounding board as you move forward in your career.
2) You will almost always be between a rock and a hard place, BUT…
Being in HR the expectation is to take a neutral stance while simultaneously carrying out difficult decisions and delivering messaging that may not always be well received. I promise you, it’s really not all doom and gloom! There are moments in this job that make it all worth it. Early in my career, I presented a job offer to an employee who had been struggling to find full-time work. I’ll never forget the way his face lit up. He then joyfully excused himself to go call his Mom and tell her the great news. These are the moments that remain etched in your brain forever, reminding you why you got into this profession in the first place: to help people.
3) Have a healthy outlet
Kickboxing? Yes. Ceramics? Sure. Recreational drugs? Not so much.
Finding an outlet to release your frustrations, that won’t impede doing your job well, is essential to your role and perhaps more importantly, your quality of life. One of the biggest stressors that HR professionals have to deal with are terminations, where there is pressure to be unemotional and detached. At times we must put the company’s needs over personal feelings, which is why it’s so essential to have something to do or someplace to go to release that stress. It just might be the only way to keep yourself sane.
4) Trust yourself, but when in doubt, work it out
Your instincts can serve you well, so don’t be afraid to follow your gut. But at times when you really don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know!” Communities of your peers, e.g. SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) or Givitas (an interactive knowledge collaboration), are perfect examples of where to turn when you have questions. Or, maybe you’ve connected with a mentor or a prior peer/boss that may be able to give some advice. Let’s not forget Google often has an article or two that may be able to provide some guidance or answers as well. As long as you’re putting forth the effort to find an acceptable answer, you’ll be on a path to success.
5) Be 100% prepared for anything (or at least look like you are)
HR jobs are different every day: curve balls will be thrown and situations will escalate in a thousand different ways. Even if you aren’t prepared, you must wear your resting HR face. People trust in you to handle a variety of situations, and to remain objective as difficult obstacles intensify. Whether it’s having a conversation about performance management or dealing with egos, it’s important to be consistent in messaging when speaking to individuals at every level of the organization.
If it’s not obvious by now, I love what I do. Every day, every person, every situation is a new and exciting experience that I continue to build a knowledge and passion for. Don’t avoid a profession in Human Resources because you’re worried it’ll be hard. What job isn’t!? And if you’re not in the HR profession, don’t be afraid of us! We’re people too.