By Brian Kreissl
I occasionally get asked for advice on how to get into a career in human resources. My answer usually focuses on my own personal experience, which admittedly may no longer be typical for recent graduates of HR programs.
I explain to people I got my start as an agency recruiter while completing an HR program on a part-time basis, eventually moving into a position as an in-house recruiter with a large financial institution. I did recruiting for more than four years before finally moving into a compensation/HRIS/program management type role — still not exactly what I was looking for, but at least it gave me exposure to other areas of HR.
While recruiting was interesting and challenging, I really wanted to move into more of an HR generalist or employee relations role. But, for me at least, that elusive HR generalist position was difficult to land. It felt like I was being “typecast” as a recruiter (not that there's anything wrong with being a recruiter if that’s truly your passion, but I viewed it more as a stepping stone).
Of course, I was also dealing to some extent with the challenges of being an internationally educated professional, but for me, I’d have to say HR was a very tough profession to get into. Therefore, I don’t sugarcoat how difficult it can be when talking to others.
I sometimes wonder if I'm doing people a disservice even advising them to go into HR. After all, there's so many capable HR professionals out of work right now. And I’ve heard several people mention how bad the HR job market is at the moment.
HR has an image problem
Many people wonder why someone would even consider a career in HR. I’ve recently come across posts on some forums in which people rather condescendingly ask what HR professionals actually do — if anything.
To a lot of people in the business world, the perception is the pay in HR is not very good, we don’t understand the business and few HR professionals ever become CEO. To me, perhaps the most stinging criticism from other business professionals is the best and brightest don’t go into HR.
To many average people, however, we’re overpaid turncoats who always take the employer's side. They feel we’re full of hot air and we sit around all day just talking. If they even know anything about what we do, they immediately think only about the recruitment function and nothing else.
Clearly HR suffers from an image problem, so why would anyone want to go into HR in this day and age? It actually seems like lawyers, accountants and investment bankers have a better reputation than HR right now.
Not all doom and gloom
If this all sounds like I’m too negative about the HR profession, I’m not. Events like last week’s Human Resources Summit Awards in Toronto, which I attended along with my colleagues from Canadian HR Reporter — which co-sponsors the awards along with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) — really restore my faith in the profession. (For full details on the winners of the Summit Awards, look for the Feb. 27 issue of Canadian HR Reporter.)
Hearing about all those highly skilled, talented HR professionals and their accomplishments made me remember why I got into HR in the first place. I really wanted to make a difference and to make the workplace a more engaging place. I also wanted to make some use of my legal education and do something related to business that was still people-oriented.
It struck me as interesting how some bright up and coming HR practitioners are in such impressive HR roles at relatively young ages, or at least after fairly short careers in the HR profession (and some with long, distinguished HR careers). I also ran into a former colleague of mine, who incidentally has an MBA from one of the top business schools in Canada and is now a vice-president.
While these folks are obviously the cream of the crop of the Canadian HR profession, perhaps it’s time we put that stereotype to rest that the best and brightest don’t go into HR — or that we’re all just “steady Eddies” who fall into HR by accident?
It’s also time to stop listening to all the naysayers and give our fellow HR practitioners a chance to get ahead through mentoring, coaching, internships and stretch assignments. After all, people have to get their start somewhere.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.