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My Advice to New HR Grads

For most universities and colleges, spring graduation season has now come and gone. Hopefully many of the recent grads have been able to find work that is linked to their field of study. Over the past few months, I had the privilege of being able to speak with a few upcoming HR grads as they prepared to enter the workforce. A lot of them were experiencing a bit of angst about getting their first HR job and just as importantly, they wanted to know what they needed to “really” do to be a good HR “business partner.”

GraduateI probed a bit to find out what their understanding of the term is and was as anytime someone, especially a junior HR Pro, uses the words “business partner” the hair on the back of my neck stands up a bit. You see, I believe as a profession, HR people have been adding silly labels and heaping on ridiculous amounts of self-deprecation on our profession over the past 5+ years. You know what mean, people in HR always saying that, “everyone in HR needs to be strategic in their role.” “HR people all need to be sitting at the table.” (*groan*) and most importantly, everyone has to be an “HR Business Partner.” There are no more HR Generalists, HR Coordinators or HR Consultants (unless you are independent). We have got it drilled into our profession that you immediately have to be a “business partner” as in that is your title vs. something that you do as part of your role.

Depending on what and who you read, this definition of HR business partner has a variety of meanings. Some HR folks make it out to be the ultimate catch all HR role/title – but mostly it means you are playing some incredible strategic role in your company whereby you are developing revolutionary people strategies and programs that result in leading edge turnover and engagement scores. Simply put, if you aren’t a “business partner” than you ain’t much. I have previously blogged about this topic before so I won’t go on an additional rant; however, I think bloggers like Laurie Ruettimann (please check out her blog) provide a really good perspective on what it means to do good HR, which then means you are adding value. Simply put, be ethical, be transparent, make sure people get treated with respect, make sure they get paid fairly, represent your company honestly and understand the environment your company operates in so you can properly advise. (i.e. labour laws, human rights, etc.)

All of those things are the basic tenants of good HR. In other words, if you do that and your people are getting paid on time you are keeping the proverbial trains running on time and that is how you are adding value. Not everyone gets to be strategic and drive the vision for the company for the next 20 years. However, good HR work (like I mentioned) adds A LOT of value, more so because, for some reason, many in our profession overlook this work that they do as being valuable. So why do we feel the need to label ourselves as business partners? Has anyone heard of a “Marketing Business Partner?” An “I.T. Business Partner?” What about a “Finance Business Partner.” Believe it or not, if you Google those terms, those titles do exist, but not near to the extent of HR Business Partner. Additionally, these groups also don’t seem so fixated on the term and presenting themselves as such as compared to what HR is doing to itself.

Here is the thing, anyone that provides enabling support to their company has to be a business partner in some capacity. So new HR grads, here is the best (free) advice you are going to get:

  • Focus on doing the things I mentioned earlier in this post so that you can keep the trains running on time. If you do this, please take solace in the fact that you are doing GOOD HR WORK! We need people like you in all organizations that are focused on this.
  • Don’t get caught up in the labels that exist that current HR Pros have been creating and placing on their own kind. Don’t worry about the title and status of “business partner.” If ever in doubt, refer to the bullet number one.
  • If you want to add value and be seen as a true partner, than the first thing you do is to volunteer for a project in another department. Don’t worry if it isn’t “HR related” on its face. Ultimately, it is all HR related (that is a professional secret you must keep to yourself). Immerse yourself with another department. Help marketing out with an upcoming campaign. Volunteer to assist with their social media strategies. Lead and support Engineering’s technical briefing sessions.  Develop the change management plan for I.T. as they rollout a new operating system. It doesn’t matter, the best thing you can do for your new career is attach yourself to a non-HR project.

Bottom line, by simply stepping outside of the HR Dept. (and your comfort zone) and immersing yourself into the challenges and problems of another department, you will be adding value. You will gain the respect of your operations clients. You will, in fact, be a true business partner…just don’t call yourself that, let your operations clients call you that, if they feel so inclined. Remember, you are an HR Professional. Be proud of that and let’s all agree on one thing as HR Pros – that is, to stop making all of this so hard for our profession. As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

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My Advice to new HR Pros

I recently had an exchange of emails with one of the readers of The Armchair HR Manager who also happens to be a LinkedIn connection of mine. She wrote to me about a recent post on my blog that had triggered some serious career introspection on her part. She is a young, up and coming, HR professional who is still in her first HR job since graduating from school. She was experiencing a lot of different emotions about her career, specifically about what she was doing (in her job/career) and who she was doing it for. I was fortunate enough to be able to provide her with a bit of advice about expectations and evaluating current and future positions, which I think set her in the right frame of mind as she began to consider her next career move.

The entire exchange, I thought, was fantastic as:

  1. I always enjoy conversing with my readership, LinkedIn connections and any HR Professionals.
  2. It provided me inspiration for this post as I really got to thinking about what it was like when I was first starting out in my HR career and you get to that point when you begin to wonder about making a move.
  3. It inspired me to think of what advice I could give new HR pros and what I would have wanted to know when I first started out.

AdviceSo I got to thinking, in the spirit of helping out the new(er), up and coming HR Pros, what advice could I give them that I would have wanted 17 years ago? First of all, I think it is reasonable to expect that after a year or so in your first HR role, it is normal to start to feel the need to move on or want a change – this could either be from the company you work for, although that may not always be the case, or the actual role you are in.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need/should move on, but the feeling is normal and it is cause for some professional and personal evaluation. Remember, it never hurts to dip a toe in the water to see what is out there. As well, just because you interview for another position, doesn’t mean you have to or are going to take it.

A lot of recent HR grads usually get their first role in some sort of HR Coordinator type role, or they cut their teeth in recruiting. For those in coordinator roles, they often quickly outgrow the administrative nature of these roles. If you are an HR Coordinator in a larger HR department, this type of role probably allowed you to get oriented on how HR is done in the ‘real’ world vs. what you learned in school/case studies. In your first HR role, you learned about corporate culture, bad managers and transactional HR work. It is now normal to want to spread your wings and try something new as your confidence has increased a lot over a year and you are probably feeling underutilized in your current position – these are all normal feelings at this stage in your career.

For those in recruiting roles, it is pretty normal to want to make a shift into an HR Generalist type of role early on in your career. HR grads that start out in recruiting learn pretty quickly if they want to make a career out of being in the talent acquisition world or if they want to broaden into more of a generalist role dealing with talent management, payroll/benefits, employee relations, etc. There is nothing wrong with staying in one area or the other, it is just pretty normal to want to move from recruiting into HR within the first year or so of it being in your first job after school.

It is also normal after a year or two out of school, and in your first HR role, to want to move on from your current organization. Often, after graduating, you are so happy just to have a job, things like the company you work for and/or the person you work for are irrelevant to you. You need a job and want experience, so where and who you work for fall down the list of importance.

After 18 months or so on the job, you can get a good feel for those elements and start to incorporate them into your next move. You are now able to better define what you want in your next move in terms of role, company, culture, etc. Keep in mind, it is hard to replace getting some solid HR experience on your resume, so you have to strike the balance in this area (of role vs. company). Remember, most organizations out there aren’t Google’s or Microsoft’s in terms of what they offer!

Working in ‘difficult’ organizations and/or dealing with difficult situations early on in your career is a great resume builder. Having had exposure to things like terminations, layoffs and re-structuring, policy development and performance management in the early stages of your career are great foundational experiences. You can port them from job to job and industry to industry. In the early, formative years of your HR career, it is all about building up your HR toolkit and gaining exposure to as many areas of HR as you can. Once the toolkit has built up, you can be more selective about who hires you to utilize this toolkit!

The last piece of advice I would give new(er) HR Pros, and that I wish I could have given myself 17 years ago, was to make sure you are always working on your professional brand and building your network(s). Your professional brand requires a lot of work and it is of the utmost value to you. How you network, develop yourself and interact with your HR colleagues and operations clients is all part of your professional brand. Now with the substantial role and influence that social media has in our lives, your online presence makes up a huge part of your professional brand.

For the up and coming HR pros, you have an incredible opportunity to build your brand through tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Keep in mind, everything you do (personal and professional) formulates part of your brand. There is no division any more between the two – personal IS professional and vice versa. Always be mindful of how you represent yourself – your brand is your most valuable commodity. It is my hope that some of this resonates with the new(er) HR Pros out there and that it serves as some high level guidance for you. I welcome and other questions you may have and as always I welcome any of your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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