Punk Rock HR Question #7: Is HR a Viable Career?

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(Punk Rock HR Question #6 is still being edited, so here’s a question from Melissa in Australia! I will answer her questions in a different color font so you can read this post as a conversation.)

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Hi Laurie — I’m Melissa, i’m 19 and i live in Melbourne, Australia. I randomly found your blog site and read your post about your HR career My Career, My Choice: Why I Work in Human Resources while i was searching the internet for articles and blogs and anything really that would help me obtain a more comprehensive outlook into the HR career. I’m currently in second year uni, second semester, at Deakin University. I was just wondering if you could answer a few questions about your job? Or tell me, as a student looking on going into the HR stream anything i should know about the career? To me, HR seems like a viable career…but there are a few things i am uncertain about…

Is it true the HR departments are usually undervalued by the organization?

Melissa, Human Resources departments are severely undervalued by most organizations; however, departments that don’t contribute to the company’s profitability will always suffer the scorn of upper management. Employees who work in IT, audit, finance, and corporate communications all complain about a lack of credibility with senior management. The supporting functions of any company are needed, but they aren’t always valued.

I would recommend Deb Owen’s post on Corporate America & the value of a department like Human Resources. It’s excellent supplemenal reading!

How long do people stay in payroll and administration?

Payroll and administration roles are automated and outsourced at most major corporations in America. ADP is used by many Fortune 100 organizations to manage the payroll function; other companies like Hewitt and Fidelity are used to manage administration.

What’s left for Human Resources professionals is (allegedly) more strategic & thoughtful work — employee development, succession management, training, performance management — but very often, Human Resources is asked to liaise with these outsourced companies to help address payroll and administrative issues.

What is the HR career ladder like?

Here’s what I think: it’s not very good. It is difficult to make a change between HR specialties and generalist work. If you’re like me and you make the change from a recruiter to a generalist, you find that HR Generalists don’t value your contributions as a recruiter and HR Recruiters don’t find any value in your general HR expertise.

Most people move from HR Assistant (administrative support) to HR Associate (a bridge role) to HR Generalist to HR Manager to HR Director. A career in Human Resources can be bumpy, though, because there are new titles floating around the field: HR Business Partner, HR Advisor, and HR Strategic Business Consultant. I’m not sure what the hell those titles mean, actually.

Is HR boring? What kind of things do you do?

Human Resources is a study in stupidity and boring, political intrigue. Most of the work we do should be done by managers and directors. It’s not rocket science. Here’s what needs to be accomplished: develop leaders, be kind to your colleagues, and treat one another in an equitable manner. When things are going well, Human Resources acts as a coach and a teacher; when things are going poorly, HR acts like a police officer and a referee.

Which HR specialist area would be the most interesting do you think? Recruitment, Occupational health and safety, Renumeration….??, Learning and Development? Change management?

The biggest and most promising area for Human Resources is Learning & Development, or what we call Organizational Effectiveness here in the United States. This specialty includes aspects of change management. This is the biggest way that Human Resources can make an impact to the company’s profitability.

Or is being a HR generalist better? How or why not?

Being an HR generalist is easier — there are more long-term & stable job opportunities in the United States for true HR Generalists who are certified through our governing body, SHRM. I think this will change in the future, though, and it’s good to have a generalist background with expertise in a specialty area like Organizational Effectiveness.

You seem like a pretty down to earth person! i hope to hear from you = )

Melissa, thanks for writing. I hope this was helpful!

PS – What degree did you study, to do HR? And what commerce subjects would you, as a person who had a job in HR, suggest to major in alongside HR? There is marketing, accounting, economics, finance to name a few. Which one would be the most helpful? I was thinking possibly accounting?

I have a degree in English Literature, with a minor in Comparative Religion. My degrees are totally useless. I think it’s essential for new HR professionals to understand the language of business or psychology (or both). I highly support a comprehensive knowledge of accounting; however, if you’re going to study accounting, be an accountant. You’ll make more money.

Also, from my perspective so far, on what i have researched about HR, is HR like being the “mother” of the company? Example, dealing with everyone’s problems, personal and financial, because ppl in finance and management don’t really care at all. Basically, are you the person employees come to when they are sick, want sick leave, long service leave, promotions, angry with management etc…Is it all about keeping everyone as happy as you can, balancing the needs of one company function with those of another? (which would be a very difficult thing to do!)

Some employees and managers expect you to mediate disagreements and act like a therapist. I tell them no. They should solve their own problems. Who am I? Freud?

I was thinking of doing a Masters overseas, would this be a good idea? I know postgraduate qualifications are necessary nowadays, well in Australia at least, to help give you a competitive edge when applying for positions.

I think overseas travel is necessary in a global economy, and a masters degree is essential in Corporate America. I would recommend it.

Have you had to defend the position of HR in the company your whole working life?

Yes. For 12 years and counting.

i know in Australia they are just coming to see the importance of the HR function, and they have been educating the public more about the job in the newspapers recently. On september 3rd there will be a special addition in the my careers section of The Age newspaper all about HRM. Can’t wait..! What do you tell the ignorant people who laugh at HR, and call it a glorified administrative position?

I tell them to suck it. Luckily, I’m usually in the kind of job where I can talk like that. Specifically, I ask them, “Do I look like a secretary to you?”

I can vaguely see how it is a lot more than an administrative function…but hopefully with more study it will become clearer to me.

It depends on the company, Melissa. Some companies will expect the HR department to schedule picnics, intervene in disagreements, and mediate conflict. Other companies will ask you to help them train and develop the next generation of leaders. I think your job search will lead you to the right company. Just be sure to do your homework and talk to other HR professionals before you accept a job in the field!

Thanks again!

Good luck, my dear. Stay in touch!

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