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Who exactly is an HR expert?

When it comes to HR, everyone has an opinion

By Brian Kreissl

Does it sometimes seem like everyone thinks they’re an HR expert?

Many people who have never worked in HR have an opinion on what HR professionals need, their “pain points” and how specific policies, practices and programs should be implemented.

I suppose part of this relates to the misconception around HR requiring little more than common sense, coupled with HR’s ongoing struggle to be taken seriously as a profession. I also believe many people don't know what HR actually does beyond recruitment and employee terminations.

While few would argue such self-appointed “HR experts” are well-informed, some recent discussions and events made me ponder the question of: “Who exactly is an HR expert?”

Not knowing what HR needs

I’ve worked with some great colleagues from diverse professional backgrounds in the past few years. As well as HR practitioners, my colleagues include lawyers, journalists, experienced publishing professionals, editors, salespeople, marketers, payroll and IT professionals – and I’ve learned from them all.

However, while I was hired for my HR knowledge and expertise, it feels like that background can occasionally be somewhat overlooked when I try to speak up about what HR practitioners actually want or need. Non-HR professionals sometimes don’t understand the realities of working in HR — yet they all seem to have an opinion.

Something that surprised me recently was a couple of lawyers within my group actually wondered why we’re doing a promotional webinar on succession planning for small business. One even asked me how the topic actually relates to HR.

Because lawyers are often involved in the tax and estate planning side of succession planning for small businesses, what they think of when they hear the term “succession planning” is a little different than what comes to mind for HR. This made me realize how our own professional backgrounds often shape our perspectives of the business world.

Non-HR professionals leading HR

The other day, I was speaking with a senior colleague about executives being parachuted into HR from other functions. We both agreed it would never happen in other areas like finance or IT — so why do so many companies believe a non-HR professional can effectively lead HR?

I believe this is largely because HR is often (sometimes correctly) perceived to be lacking in business knowledge and strategic understanding. I also understand an effective leader doesn’t have to know everything and can compensate for gaps in her own knowledge by surrounding herself with competent people.

However, I also believe appointing non-HR people to senior leadership roles in HR is often at least partially based on senior business leaders’ lack of appreciation of the complexity of the HR function.

Length of experience needed to be an ‘expert’

I periodically “Google” my own name. I believe it’s important to do so in order to find out what people are saying about me and to maintain a positive online reputation.

The other day, I did just that, and one search result surprised me somewhat. One person was critical of my post entitled “Confessions of a former recruiter.”

While a blogger needs to be fairly thick-skinned — and I can deal with people who disagree with my ideas — this person didn’t even mention anything about the content in the post. Instead, he just tried to discredit me by sarcastically referring to my “whopping four years experience as a recruiter,” asked if that’s enough experience to “tell it like it is” and suggested it’s not.

The following week, he linked to my next post entitled, “Confessions of a former recruiter, part 2,” stating, “Our ‘subject matter expert’ is back again for a second serving of wisdom.”

This was starting to feel personal.

I’m not sure what this person’s agenda is, but I never held myself out as an expert in recruitment — or HR for that matter. Yet I still think four years of diverse experience as a recruiter — coupled with my 14 years of overall HR-related experience, relevant education, professional designation and experience as a hiring manager and candidate — is enough to have some valid insight.

If other people with no HR background feel qualified to comment on recruitment, then so should I. And who says you need 20 years’ experience and a PhD to be an expert in HR?

But what exactly does qualify one to be an “HR expert?”

To me it depends on the quantity, quality and diversity of one’s experience – as well as relevant educational and professional qualifications.

But please don’t take my ramblings as the opinions of an “expert” — because I’m not quite there. At least not yet.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit 

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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