What Human Resources Professionals Do
Internal human resource professionals oversee a wide variety of tasks related to the hiring, retaining, and letting go of a company’s employees. Some of their duties involve understanding and implementing best practices as well as ensuring regulatory compliance, while others are inwardly-facing, and include things like managing benefit packages, creating and enforcing policies, handling payroll, settling employee disputes, and carrying out training.
The HR department may also perform assessments to ensure departments are following guidelines and can form strategic partnerships with company executives, offering solutions to keep employees motivated, engaged, and productive. Larger corporations tend to break HR up into individual departments that serve each of these functions independently.
Who would enjoy a career in Human Resources?
Those who do well in HR tend to natural communicators. They’re adept listeners who can understand both what someone is saying as well as the underlying or unspoken concerns and have a passion for improving the lives of employees. Excellent problem-solving skills and creative thinking are also important, as is an eye for detail.
Oftentimes, HR professionals have a background that includes counseling or psychology, as understanding motivations and behaviors is key in keeping a staff productive. Business management skills are essential as well, as the HR department is tasked with managing what may well be the company’s greatest asset and expense - people. Moreover, ensuring the company remains profitable and is following all legal guidelines as industry standards traditionally falls upon the HR department. Additional soft skills, such as leadership, organization, speaking, and decision-making are beneficial too. In terms of hard skills, computers, legal knowledge, and finance will also come into play.
Who mightn't like the career?
A career in HR may not work out well for someone who is a “people pleaser,” as ensuring the betterment of the company may not always directly benefit an individual. For example, if a large company must perform layoffs, it’s often the HR department that makes assessments and determines which jobs must be cut. Then, it’s the HR professional who is often tasked with letting the employee go. These types of situations can be emotionally challenging.
The career may also not be a good fit for someone who is not proactive or is unprepared to stand up for an injustice or inaccuracy. It’s often the HR department that first learns of discriminatory practices or internal problems, and there can be pressure to “make problems go away,” rather than correct them. For this reason, moral fortitude is necessary, for both the betterment of the company and employees overall.
Most people who plan for a career in HR have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in human resources. However, many people with backgrounds in business or psychology choose the field as a first or second career as well. It’s also worth noting that a litany of HR certifications exist, too. Although these are generally not necessary, they can improve one’s chances of landing a job and they’ve also been shown to increase an individual’s salary.
While many HR professionals are expected to perform all the job duties that their department covers as a generalist, many work in niche-specific jobs as a specialist. For this reason, it’s important to consider the different specialties within an HR department and choose an area based on one’s strengths and goals or opt to be a generalist in advance.
Moving into Human Resources from another career
People hoping to slide into a job in HR can often do so internally from most administrative positions. Those with backgrounds in psychology, sociology, and counseling also have an easier time. Due to the immense amounts of legal regulations involved, many lawyers are making the switch nowadays too. For further reading, see “Transitioning to a Career in Human Resource Management.”
Role: Those just entering into the field may come on as interns or assistants. They’re typically assigned very low-level tasks and work under the direction of tenured HR professionals. They may gather data, create documents, schedule, prescreen job candidates, or handle repetitive tasks like completing paperwork for new hires.
HR Generalist / Specialist
Role: Those with specialized degrees or experience can often skip over the phase as an intern or assistant. They may take on a role of administrator, specialist, or generalist. Smaller companies tend to employ generalists, or HR professionals who can cover a wide array of duties. Larger companies offer specialist positions, in which HR professionals excel in a single area, such as benefits, compliance, training, or payroll.
Manager or Director of Human Resources
Role: HR managers and directors tend to make the larger decisions regarding policies and work more with department heads and execs to ensure each area is getting the support it needs. They also oversee all the basic functions of the HR department and function as a go-between for managers and employees.
VP and Above
Role: Although smaller companies are not likely to have executive staff, larger organizations will have a vice president and perhaps even a chief HR officer (CHRO). These roles tend to be strategically-focused, with the goal being to ensure HR is promoting company values, increasing productivity, aiding profitability, and remaining compliant with all legislation. Individuals in these positions collaborate with other executives to better understand the needs and objectives each one is working toward and creates initiatives within HR that support their goals.
Those in lower positions do not generally travel. However, it’s common for directors and above to visit all locations in which a company has employees.
HR Assistant: According to data from PayScale, assistants beginning their careers have average salaries of USD $35,000 in the United States, £20,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$39,000 in Canada, and AU$49,000 in Australia.
HR Generalist: USD$50,000, £29,000, CAD$52,000, AU$65,000.
HR Manager: USD$64,000, £36,000, and CAD$69,000, AU$88,000.
HR VP: USD$147,000, £128,000, and CAD$153,000, AU$196,527.
Bonuses, commission, and profit sharing are all often added to an HR professional’s salary, and this can increase take-home pay by as much as a one-third margin.
Why Human Resources Professionals move on
It’s somewhat uncommon for people to leave a career in HR altogether, as individuals are more likely to move up the career ladder or slide into a specialty niche instead. However, some are disheartened by being pitted against employees when making hard decisions that benefit the company and others become disenchanted when they’re not allowed to make changes that could benefit employees. There are many opportunities for those who choose to leave, depending on their educational background.