Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

Industry Career Profiles - Human Resources

2012-12-13 11:13:53

I meet a lot of collegiates and people wanting to make a career change in my travels, and many of them ask me about a career in human resources. My first question to them is "why do you want to be in HR?" And almost every single response is, "I want to help people".

This is a noble sentiment, but the truth of the matter is that the primary purpose of human resources is to protect the company (legally) with regards to their human capital. There are only a few sub-specialties of the human resources field that deal specifically with "helping people." Recruiting is the most obvious; my job is to help hiring managers find great talent, and help people find good jobs. About the only downside to recruiting, for me, is having to decline a candidate when they aren't a fit for a position after phone calls or interviews. I need to have a working knowledge of Benefits, Compensation, and general HR laws. Employee Development/Training is also a domain for helping people. A few things to know about training. 1) you generally will need some sort of degree or experience in either education, psychology, or instructional design 2) it is one of the aspects of HR that is highly subject to budgetary restrictions and is often one of the first areas to be cut in times of economic downturns 3) there is a limited career path in HR for training/development. Benefits administration is a branch of HR that directly helps employees with decisions like health insurance, vacation, and investment options. Much of benefits lies in contract negotiation, reporting, and understanding the ever-changing insurance market (in the US) or in other countries the government-sponsored health plans.

Other areas of HR deal more with either research and reporting, compliance (legal), strategic planning, and solving problems involving employees and the company. Compensation is the arm of HR that deals with salaries (including raises, bonuses, new-hire scales, creating job descriptions). It is a complex analytical role that impacts recruiting, headcount forecasting (how many and what type of employees are going to be needed in the upcoming quarter/year), and interacts very closely with finance/accounting and payroll. The technical HRIS (Human Resource Information System) professional is responsible for the technology/tools that HR and Recruiting use such as databases and performance management tracking systems. There are related fields like Immigration or Employment Law (on both the company and individual side), Labor Union representatives, Career Coach, Employment Specialist for government agencies, and Career Counselors at Universities to name a few.

Most people generally think of the HR Generalist (or HR Manager, or HR Business Partner) when they think of "HR" positions. The role of the HR Generalist is to work within an organization to advise how business decisions that involve people are in the best interests of the business. This includes employee relations (helping resolve issues involving employees), performance management and annual reviews, advising on internal equity issues, assisting in headcount forecating, and advising managers and executives about legal implications of decisions made.

A lot of people get their foot in the proverbial door as some sort of administrative support professional such as a Recruiting or HR or Benefits Coordinator. Recruiting requires being very good at using Outlook or other calendaring software. HR and Benefits positions are highly administrative in nature, requiring a lot of filing, reporting, updating of collateral, and being a general resource for your team. Most of these positions don't require a college degree.

A good resource for anyone interested in HR is SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) at There is also a certification that is highly encouraged for HR professionals called the PHR (or SPHR). To be eligible, you must have a certain amount of HR experience under your belt.

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Ron Katz: Re: - Industry Career Profiles - Human Resources
2013-01-22 06:44:28

You clearly summarize many of the misperceptions new entrants to the workforce have about HR and the various options available. Good advice, Ron

Kristen Fife: Re: - Industry Career Profiles - Human Resources
2013-02-01 23:05:24

Thanks Ron. I'm hoping to help educate those considering new careers or entering school/training programs on the realities of their industries.

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