On Monday, I mentioned I received a letter from a reader. You can read the full letter here. One of the things the reader asked about was career paths in human resources. Specifically, they said:
I’d like to pursue a career in HR, however, I also love sales, being on the road, and need flexibility. Can you recommend the right career path?
This is a really interesting question because I’ve heard so many different stories about how people end up in HR or work their way through HR. To be fair, I didn’t want to offer just one approach. So I reached out to a few of my favorite blogging colleagues to offer up their experiences and some advice.
Christopher Hoyt – aka The Recruiter Guy
Because the person is asking about what areas within their own business channel they can explore – I’m left to think they still have more to learn about their organization. I’d gently encourage them to get to know their own teams and the people/jobs within them before pursuing external advice on where to go next. Regardless of how long ago they ‘fell into’ their current job – if they’re looking to stay within the HR department they’ll want to ensure they’re growing in HR rather than hopping around within the department.
Take the time to become a knowledgeable professional at what you do today. Take the time to understand what your peers and colleagues do – on your team as well as outside the company. You may be surprised how your passion for your current role grows or a new career path presents itself as you strive to excel. I think someone that is truly interested in being an expert at what they do is always looking for the role to grow and evolve as it’s best for the business – and the majority of the time will know when a move makes sense.
Have said all of that… The no-brainer for “sales” and “travel” within HR is Recruiting. But experienced managers in HR will tell you that nearly anything within a leadership role will have sales attributes and that business needs always dictate “flexibility” and “travel” regardless of the role. Not to mention that so much of this is specific to the type and size of company where this person works.
Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR – CEO of Xceptional HR and author of Blogging4Jobs
Sales is a part of every position whether you are in Human Resources or not. As a HR professional, we sell the company, benefits, and special projects to senior management, employees, and prospective candidates every day. Employee relations and recruiting are areas within human resources that encourage someone to listen as well as be persuasive and use closing skills. The person may want to consider working in sales for a company that provides human resources related products like an ATS, payroll, or HRIS software. I would also encourage this person to consider supporting a sales division within a company allowing you to engage these sales-minded professionals. One must understand that Human Resources is not something that most fall into, and returning to the industry after a period of time in another role could be problematic.
Laurie Ruettimann – Founder of Punk Rock HR
I was a regional HR manager from 2001-2007 and I was able to travel and see the world. Those types of jobs don’t really exist in 2009. Companies are smarter and using technology. Instead of having a team of regional HR professionals who report into a single person in HR, local management picks up basic HR responsibilities and calls an official HR Generalist/Project Manager when there is a question or problem. Regional HR professionals rarely travel, anymore. The result is HR-by-conference-call with an occasional trip to see a client.
I might recommend a job with a Human Resources vendor who has a product to sell and clients to see in other towns. My friend, Josh Schwede at HireVue, seems to have a great job. He’s on the road and meets with HR clients to talk about his company’s products & services. He also learns about HR trends, company issues, and he is generous enough to share knowledge about the industry. That’s a great job.
Tim Sackett, SPHR – Executive Vice President at HRU Technical Resources and contributor at Fistful of Talent
I began my HR career in Recruiting, and in hindsight wouldn’t change a thing about beginning in a recruiting role. The one thing that recruiting allows you to do is understand how the organization works, builds relationships and contacts across the organization and, in most cases, puts you in front of many hiring managers/directors within the organization. From my recruiting role I was brought into many strategy conversations that I never would have been brought into as a HR Generalist. I went from recruiting into a corporate HR Generalist role (after obtaining some formal HR education), and felt that my recruiting background set me up perfectly to be successful as a generalist, primarily because I understood that HR wasn’t the most important thing going on in the business – operations/sales/profit were really the drivers of why the company was successful or not. So many career HR folks, who haven’t recruited, tend to struggle to understand that HR doesn’t run the company – that if everyone doesn’t follow every policy exactly, the business will still open its doors in the morning. In the end HR helps mitigate risk – that means we educate senior leadership on what might go wrong, then leadership makes the decision on whether they are comfortable or not in taking on that risk.
In terms of “enjoying sales, being on the road and flexibility” – I’ve worked in two different Regional HR Roles and in both circumstances (retail and casual dining industries) they provided all of these things. In regional HR roles you need to use your influence (basically selling individuals on why they should do something) to launch successful projects in the field, you tend to travel often and usually better employers will give you more flexibility because of the travel schedule. Regional Recruiting roles and collegiate recruiting tend to offer up travel and flexibility as well. Many companies have discovered that having centralized recruiting, when recruiting nationally, isn’t the most effective structure and have been decentralizing recruiting into the markets they do business.
Well…there ya have it! More information than you wanted to know about getting into or ahead in HR. But seriously, there are some common themes about career paths that, no matter what role you have in an organization, you should consider:
- Understanding and contributing to how the organization makes money is everyone’s job
- Learning other people’s jobs and other areas of the business will only benefit you
Thanks again to Tim, Laurie, Jessica and Chris for taking the time to share their experience and expertise. I owe you a drink the next time our paths cross!
P.S. Don’t forget tomorrow is the last day of our career development trifecta. I’ll be weighing in on the subject of certifications. See ya mañana!