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What Is Human Resources?
Human Resources refers to a division of a company (typically a mid-to-large-sized one) tasked with making life at that company better for its employees. That may sound like a simple objective, but over the years, HR has developed into something of a science and an art on how to accommodate, develop, retain, and fairly compensate employees. The field can range from the relatively routine tasks of processing payroll and paperwork to driving initiatives on diversity and inclusion. In any company large enough to warrant the need for an HR department, it is their job to keep a finger on the pulse of their workforce and respond to their needs.
What Do HR Professionals Do?
Small companies often have what’s called an HR generalist that essentially fulfills all the basic functions related to HR. Larger companies might have dozens of people who specialize in areas such as benefits, learning and training, talent acquisition, regulation compliance, and more. Each area can tend to be administrative and business-as-usual at times, but they also have the potential to be strategic and bring greater value to the organization as a whole. These are some of the major HR activities:
- Administer benefits, payroll, and basic necessities. No company can expect to hire anyone without paying them, so of course somebody needs to ensure that employees are compensated. This includes not only base salary, but bonuses, health insurance, retirement benefits, time off, and tax adjustments. Most HR departments use software systems to make sure employees receive these regularly and accurately.
- Attract and retain talent. Organizations have jobs opening up all the time, whether somebody is leaving or switching to a different role within the company. It’s up to HR to find people to fill vacant positions. They need to know who within the company is ready and qualified to move into a vacancy, and/or recruit people to join the company. After they’ve been hired, HR also wants to know how to keep them happy so the company can retain essential talent.
- Maintain supportive relationships with managers. HR frequently communicates with managers throughout the company. They need to understand opportunities to better serve managers, whether it’s with hiring, conflict resolution, or performance issues. Managers across different departments have a lot on their plates, so they rely on HR’s support to keep their workforce happy and motivated.
- Provide training, coaching, and counseling. People often think of harassment or sensitivity training as a typical HR area of expertise. While these are certainly important, there are many more areas in which HR can educate the workforce, such as fair and legal hiring practices, mental health care, and conflict resolution. HR also helps the company avoid lawsuits by staying compliant to laws and regulations. People turn to HR as the experts on navigating the complexities of working with people.
- Listen to people! No matter what your specific role is, people everywhere in an organization expect to be able to turn to HR to make their voice heard. Employees may feel uncomfortable confiding a work-related issue to their manager, but they should be able to trust HR to help them find solutions.
Why Pursue a Career in Human Resources?
A career in HR can appeal to both analytical and creative types of people. The field needs people who are detail oriented, empathetic, and crave problems to solve. Here are a few reasons to make a career in HR.
- Put your people skills to work. If it wasn’t clear before, HR is all about the people of an organization! There are countless opportunities to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives as an HR rep. If you’re the kind of person who thrives off of listening to people and finding ways to support their success, you could do very well in HR.
- Non-technical career. Being a successful HR practitioner doesn’t require nearly as much technical education as other careers, such as engineering or finance. Some of the more rigorous material related to HR is perhaps employment law, compensation structure, or retirement planning. Most other HR activities involve skills that can be learned naturally. This accessibility makes it an attractive career for many.
- Creative problem-solving. People can be complicated and unpredictable, which makes HR a challenging job. HR professionals face problems such as finding ways to motivate people and make work life more enjoyable. This is easier said than done, though, which can be a draw for people who want unique problems to solve in their career.
Types of Human Resource Jobs
HR offers opportunities for a wide variety of skill sets. While higher-level manager and director roles are tasked with the “big picture” rather than day-to-day operations, here are some of the major functions that entry-level job seekers should consider.
All companies need to compensate their employees. This goes beyond the paycheck to include insurance plans, retirement, other savings options, time off, and more. HR departments need organized and detail-oriented people to ensure that these things are administered properly. In a way, HR admins are also the “face” of the company to employees who need answers to their questions.
People who have a knack for working with numbers and data may consider a career in HR analytics. This function is responsible for gathering and interpreting data in areas such as employee engagement, compensation and pay ranges, performance reviews, and incentive plans. They can also help with job analysis and optimizing organizational structure. While most other roles within HR are more people-facing, an analytics role tends to be “behind the scenes,” since it’s concerned with making sense of data.
Also known as recruiting, this field is responsible for managing the company’s open jobs and moving candidates through the selection process. Talent acquisition involves activities such as strategizing with hiring managers, collaborating on job descriptions, using sourcing tools to find qualified job seekers, reviewing resumes, conducting phone screens, and coordinating the interview process. Overall, recruiters act as the point of contact for any people interested in working for the company. It can be a great fit for people who are extroverted or like seeing tangible results.
An HR Business Partner (HRBP) acts as the primary go-to person for any manager within the company. They are there to advise managers on personnel-related challenges and to implement solutions where possible. They also serve employees in similar ways—for example, by mediating conflict. This role usually needs more experience than an entry-level one, but is an excellent opportunity to build your credibility in HR.
How to Start Your Career in Human Resources
Finding your start in HR can be as tricky as in any field. However, there are things you can do to leverage your way into it. These are a few helpful tips.
Step 1: Gain Relevant Experience
All sorts of jobs can help you gain skills and experience that will be helpful in HR. Customer service or clerical work (or other jobs focused on people or information) can give you transferable skills. The key is to make it clear on your resume what you did in previous jobs and to show how that can be helpful in an HR capacity. Use HR-related terms in your resume where possible, and make it clear why you are passionate about it.
Step 2: Network
Job seekers are drastically more effective at landing jobs when they are working through one of their connections. Talk to your friends and family, and have them reach out to anyone they may know who is connected to an organization that could have an HR opening. Networking takes more work than simply putting in job applications, but it can pay off immensely if done right.
Step 3: Get Involved in SHRM
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is a worldwide organization that enables HR professionals to connect and share knowledge. Many colleges and universities have smaller SHRM chapters to allow students to step into the HR world and make helpful connections. Visit shrm.org to learn about how to get involved.
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