From the Archive: Advice for Future HR Professionals

Advice for anyone pursuing HR as a career.
Advice for anyone pursuing HR as a career.

Given that a lot of high school seniors have graduated and will be going on to college in the fall, I thought I would republish some of the advice I have offered in the past. 
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.

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