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Thinking outside the HR box

Seeing the value of non-traditional HR backgrounds

By Brian Kreissl

One recurring theme I've dealt with over the past year is how an HR practitioner can move ahead and acquire the right education and experience to get to the next level.

While I still think part of the solution is acquiring breadth and depth of HR education and experience — as well as focusing on areas such as employment law and business fundamentals — none of that will help you much if you can't get recruiters and hiring managers to see how your background makes you a good fit for a role.

It's as if in HR we say we want people with X qualifications, but then only hire people with Y.

How often have we heard HR professionals should get some line management experience to help them move up the ladder? That seems to be good for people who worked as line managers before going into HR, but what about those of us who took a slight detour in our HR careers to get some line management experience? Good luck getting back into HR after that.

Non-traditional HR roles

Taking a non-traditional HR position can also cause practitioners to have problems getting back into more traditional HR roles. A former colleague of mine once remarked how it's only the most senior HR people who understand how experience developing HR products and services is relevant to the practice of HR. It's as if most other practitioners aren’t able to look beyond cookie cutter candidates with cookie cutter qualifications.

When I think of my own non-traditional HR role, I feel more like I'm “doing HR” than I ever did in the past. I currently manage a team of HR professionals and lawyers responsible for creating, revising and updating HR and employment law content. I'm also responsible for drafting and revising employment policies, advising clients on policy implementation and interpretation, and creating HR presentations, forms, tools and templates, as well as writing books, articles, blog posts and other online content designed to make HR practitioners' lives easier.

I do this all in the context of a line management role that contributes to the bottom line, while also working exclusively on HR-related content. Yet, when I speak with people, both inside and outside HR, the perception is often that my role doesn’t have much to do with actual HR. I suppose my title, managing editor, doesn't help because it gives people the impression all I do is copyedit other people's work, or that I manage a team of editors.

But editing is only a very small part of what I do. And most of the editing I do is substantive editing, which requires subject matter knowledge. I actually write far more than I edit, and I manage a team of writers, not editors (albeit who do some editing).

Education ‘all over the map’

For years, we’ve been told how we need to be more strategic and we should acquire a better grounding in other business disciplines.

Yet, when I actually went and did just that, one of my managers told me my education was “all over the map.” For the record, my education includes two law degrees (including a master’s with a focus on employment law), two university certificates in general business management, one in law, an HR postgraduate program and my Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.

To me, it was fairly obvious my education was preparing me for a career in employee relations, with an eventual move into a more senior, strategic HR role. Therefore, I think this story is indicative of a problem in the HR profession. We say we want people to obtain certain experience and qualifications — then we penalize them for doing so.

Part of this is because recruitment is often handled by more junior HR professionals who may lack the understanding or the courage and authority to think outside the box. And with so many people in other HR roles following a predictable path (bachelor’s degree in the social sciences, followed by HR postgraduate program, followed by experience as an HR co-ordinator, then generalist, then HR manager and so on) it’s difficult for many of them to relate to people whose experiences didn’t follow that path.

Nevertheless, I say it’s time we started recognizing the diverse backgrounds HR practitioners bring to the table. We also need to realize not everyone is going to follow the same predictable path to get to more senior roles in HR.

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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