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Finding the ‘holy grail’ of HR specialties

Getting certain types of experience may be necessary before landing a role in some HR functions
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Is there a “holy grail” for many HR specialties with respect to the types of experience required to land a role? Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

It can be very difficult to land a job in HR these days. Practitioners often find it difficult to land roles in certain specialties without certain types of experience.

I find there is a “holy grail” for many HR specialties with respect to certain types of experience that are generally required to land a role in those functions. While education and experience are important overall, employers generally seem to want people to have had experience with certain key tasks and accountabilities before they will hire them for those specialties.

Job evaluation and compensation roles

For compensation roles, the holy grail is job evaluation. Unless candidates have had experience actually evaluating and pricing jobs, it can be very difficult to land an intermediate or senior-level role in compensation and total rewards management.

Job evaluation primarily relates to the internal equity side of compensation as opposed to external competitiveness. It generally involves assigning points for jobs and determining the relative value of those roles within the organization based on various factors and sub-factors.

The number of points then determine where the job fits on a pay grade or band scale. Grades or bands are periodically evaluated to ensure they remain competitive and fair and key benchmarked jobs are compared with other organizations using salary surveys.

There are many other types of tasks involved in compensation and total rewards, but the key to landing a relatively senior-level role is often having job evaluation experience.

Workplace investigations and employee relations roles

Non-union employee relations can be distinguished from labour relations, which generally applies in a unionized context. Such roles often deal with the legal and quasi-legal aspects of employment in a non-union environment and are often staffed by lawyers or people with master’s degrees in industrial relations.

For employee relations roles, the holy grail often seems to be having experience conducting workplace investigations. While the employee relations function includes different tasks such as crafting termination packages, dealing with dispute resolution in the workplace and developing employment policies, the key to landing one of these roles is often having led workplace investigations into alleged misconduct.

Labour relations is quite similar in terms of the types of skills and competencies involved, but other than the case of relatively junior entry-level roles, labour relations positions also tend to require experience with administration of collective agreements, handling grievances and collective bargaining.

Instructional design and learning and development roles

Training and development is increasingly being referred to as learning and development by practitioners to reflect the fact that a great deal of learning in organizations happens in contexts other than traditional classroom training. This includes e-learning, webinars, coaching, mentoring, on-the-job learning, gamification, microlearning, reading, simulations and more.

Technology is beginning to play a much bigger role in learning and development, and a great deal of learning is now delivered through e-learning, which is generally delivered by and tracked through a learning management system (LMS). The focus on technology has led to a greater emphasis on instructional design, particularly in an online environment.

However, it would be a mistake to think of instructional design as applying solely to e-learning, as it also relates to traditional classroom training. Instructional design is the actual design and development of learning. The key is to have experience designing as opposed to delivering learning programs.

Instructional design includes activities such as conducting a training needs assessment, defining learning outcomes, sequencing learning activities, selecting and designing learning materials, determining how and whether to evaluate learners and evaluating instructors and the learning itself. These steps can be summed up using the well-known acronym ADDIE: analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate. While ADDIE isn’t a formal instructional design methodology, most models follow a similar pattern.

Obtaining the necessary experience

I am sure there are important key tasks for other HR functions and specialties as well. If you’re interested in becoming a specialist in a certain area, it is beneficial to find out what the holy grail is in that area by checking out job descriptions and postings and talking to experienced colleagues.

Getting that experience can be challenging, but you can try to volunteer to help out your colleagues or at least job shadow them. Completing specialized education, blogging and writing can also help, as can taking an entry level role in the specialty you’re interested in and working your way up.

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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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