Future Friday: Advice for Future HR Professionals

A friend and colleague, Bill Ramsey, asked me the other day what I would tell a high school senior, who had expressed an interest in human resources, about what they should be doing to prepare for a career in HR. He thought I would be challenged by this since I write about future HR. So here is what I think the top # things should be.
Core competencies
A lot has been written by SHRM in conjunction with Dave Ulrich and others about the competencies necessary to be considered to be a professional. These include strategy, business acumen, global awareness, technical ability, relationships, and more. Let’s face it if I tell this to a high school student they will be overwhelmed. May HR practioners are as well. So I am going to skip that and get to my list.
Foundational education
The importance of a strong foundational education cannot be over emphasized. This doesn’t mean necessarily that you need to go get a degree in human resources, though there is nothing wrong with that. A business degree will certainly help. But more importantly the mix of subjects to study is more important. In the mix should be the following:

  1. Finance – Understand the language of business
  2. Sociology – Understanding how people interact with each other within society
  3. History – The tools change but how we interact with them and each other doesn’t necessarily
  4. Programming – everyone should understand how to code, especially as it relates to mobile devices. The logic and problem-solving is important.
  5. Robotics – Robot technology will be such an important part of HR you had better understand them.

The problem with this is that you will not be able to find this mix in any college program. So you are going to have to engineer this yourself.
Additional skill sets
Learn how to be a speaker. Yeah I know you don’t like being in front of a crowd. Get over it. In HR you will have to make presentations. If you want to progress in your career this will be critical.
Be a reader and read more than business. Eschew business books in favor of novels. If you want to be in the “people” business novels teach you much more than business books. Novels are all about how people interact with each other. Novels tell you much more about emotion and relationships than do business books. Novelists are much more observant than business writers. Sex, romance, pain, deceit, friendship, leadership, engagement and more are found in novels. History is a good second choice. You learn from other lives. Here is a list of CEO’s favorite books.
Learn to think for yourself. Yes, there is safety in being part of the herd, but in reality it is not the leader of the herd that gets consumed. It is the follower the lions pounce on.
Last piece of advice
My last piece of advice is DO NOT start in HR right out of school. Get a job in sales or operations or accounting. Learn about management, leadership, dealing with people, authority issues, discipline, hiring, and terminations by actually doing them. Believe me it will make you a much better HR professional.

7 thoughts on “Future Friday: Advice for Future HR Professionals”

  1. Mike, this is excellent advice. I especially like that you skip the more overwhelming items that a person would learn over time and get down to what a young person can realistically tackle. Being able to actually understand what it is like to manage people, encourage a team and ultimately fire someone are all so valuable when becoming a HR professional. I’d also add that I’d tell anyone going into this role because “they love working with people” should take a long, hard look.
    While HR does in fact work with many people, being the HR pro at a company can be a lonely job. You’re never really able to be friends with anyone. You are an island in the organization and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a few other HR people on the island with you. You have to play cop, disciplinarian, psychologist and many other less than glamorous roles. For the right person, it’s the greatest gig in the world!!

  2. Looki8ng good my friend!
    Great advice and insights for those contemplating a career in our profession. I would think any person considering entering or switching to HR would benefit from this advice.
    Thanks Mike!

  3. Hi!
    This is great advice! What advice would offer someone (me) that wants to do a career transition into HR? I’m 28 & have a masters in social work (not sure if that’s relevant), but no HR experience. Any advice/suggestions would help.

    • Eli:
      Often the route to HR is to start with a small company and take on those responsibilities since many people don’t want to do them. Or you can go to work for a staffing firm and get a foot in the door there. I would take classes in HR and read as many blogs as you can so that when you are talking HR you sound like you know what you are talking about. You are right in thinking your social work background is not relevant. HR today is about business orientation, so take business classes as well. It is somewhat of a conundrum about getting started in HR, you need experience but no one will hire you to give you the experience. Remember however, everyone who has ever been hired has some experience with HR.

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