There are not many people who, prior to entering the workplace, dream about a career in Human Resources, or in fact even know what that would entail. I had never thought about it myself until the chance opportunity to obtain a post-graduate qualification in HR while someone else was on maternity leave.
I went to school at a time when there was still a proper dedicated careers service. Each pupil was required to complete a detailed pencil and paper questionnaire regarding their likes and dislikes. This was then sent away to be analysed by a computer somewhere (one of those documents where you had to put the cross exactly in the right place in the box so the computer could read it). Weeks later a report came back identifying your top 10 ideal jobs. I can’t remember any specifics from mine, although I think they were all creative occupations. Human Resources was certainly not among them! I do recall that some others in my class were assigned jobs such as “Train Driver” and “Refuse Collector”. I do sometimes wonder if they made anything in life…
They still have a pretty similar process for recommending careers, but of course it is now online and therefore instant and refineable. Again I’ve not seen Human Resources come up once, although strangely the related discipline of Equality and Diversity appears time and time again. The giant Careers encylopedia I’ve recently purchased for £2.50 on ebay outlines some surprising differences between these two roles. Apparently you need a degree to work in Equality and Diversity, whereas HR has “No minimum entry requirements”. This is despite the potential to earn in HR being outlined as being much higher. In Human Resources you “are responsible for recruiting the right staff”, “involved with negotiations” and “discipline, complaints and redundancy”. I’m not saying this is incorrect, especially for someone just starting out in their career, but it makes it sound so, well, boring. When you look at the explanation of the Equality and Diversity role you can see the contrast; “You will make sure services…are accessible to everyone”, “you will promote positive images”, “you will advise on how to attract job applicants from all sections of the local community”. Much more exciting on paper. I do however strongly agree with the book’s section on skills required for a career in HR; excellent communication skills, problem-solving, negotiation, tact and diplomacy.
A key aspect of a career in HR has dawned on me this week. It’s something that can’t always be easily seen when you’re embroiled in the profession, bogged down by politics, culture and power-play. I’ve seen non-specialist students with little or no work experience give truly brilliant HR advice based on a complicated case study. What this brought home to me is that the magic ingredient that puts the icing on the cake of HR skills is a big dose of common sense.
Those embarking on the first stages of their career have some difficult decisions to make without much real knowledge of what it’s like in the workplace. Perhaps then it is understandable that, on looking at a dry description in a book or online, potential recruits may decide they would rather be at the “coal-face” of providing a specialist service or running their own business than in a back-office-support-service like HR. This is a shame. Not only may organisations be missing out on some great talent, but individuals are bypassing a career with brilliant potential. What other profession provides the variety of juggling a myriad of skills? What other profession underpins every other career, bringing the role into contact with such a wide range of people? What other profession is so pervasive that it is required by practically every organisation on the planet? Now doesn’t that sound more exciting? We need to get the message out there. Choose HR.