Last week, a final year MBA student wanted me to coach him, as he was keen to move into HR, in itself a little unusual career choice. In talking to his university career manager, he was an excellent student with a passion for HR. Now HR is not always seen as the preferred choice for ambitious, talented and commercially orientated graduates, which is his profile.

At times, I am still amazed and also a little disappointed, when I read the criticism by HR people of HR and it’s value to the business. The ability of HR professionals to denigrate their own profession is simply a mystery, and a classical case of being your own worst enemy.

Choice of Industries
HR is one of the few career disciplines, where you can move from one industry to another, with little difficulty, using your HR toolbox to make a company a great place to work.
During my HR career of 30 years, I have been privileged to work in a multiplicity of industries:
- institutional sector (Air Force, a scientific research company, an university) – using the intricacies of precedents to develop policies;
- services sector (two IT companies) – trying to understand the complexities of frame relay systems;
- the tough world of manufacturing (a secondary steelmaking operation – explaining the shaking of the office building during interviews after the pouring of each heat; and a carpet manufacturer – getting used to the smells of making rubber underlay);
- the dangerous mining sector (drilling, shaft sinking and tunneling group – going 2 miles underground in a new gold mine shaft); with
- a major stint in FMCG (two dairy companies and an international brewer – hearing 30,000 bottles filling per hour on the packaging line and developing an incredible thirst).

Choice of Roles
Though the career path of HR has changed with various specialization fields, such as Employee Relations, Learning and OD, a generalist role really shapes the bread and butter operational skills, such as recruiting.

Working my way up from an entry position as a Personnel Officer with a Psychology degree, it didn’t take too long before manager was added to my title. As Industrial Relations was the fast track in the early eighties, I decided to do a post graduate degree, and soon after, got my first CHRO role at the age of 26, and the youngest executive in the company (who says you can’t be ambitious in HR!). Functional specialist roles in Talent Management and OD contributed to further studies, before moving again into CHRO roles in NZ and Australia.

Choice of Countries
Despite different employment legislation, it has been great to live and work in different countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and currently Australia. One major benefit with a change in government is a major review of employment legislation, which is presently the case with the Fair Work legislation in Australia. A similar situation occurred in NZ when Labour came into power in 1999.

Choice of Careers
Being in HR and wearing many hats, made the transition into a line management role with P&L responsibility possible. It is only when you have 500 real (external) customers, that you understand the various priorities our internal HR customers are facing on a daily basis. Due to specialization in OD, there has also been the bridge to external consulting, working with some great companies and clients.

A Final Observation
There are great opportunities to develop a long and rewarding career in HR, where you can play a significant role in developing capability within organizations, by attracting and developing people.

HR offers great choices, and if I could have my career over, I wouldn’t hesitate to again work and achieve success in HR. My oldest daughter is also working in HR. Would you recommend HR to your son or daughter or to a keen student?

Views: 147

Comment by Tina M. on November 10, 2009 at 11:50am
I have been in the Human Resources world now for over ten years and I have found that the "Many Choices of HR" depends on who you report to and how much they encourage you to take chances. I've seen many individuals get stuck in their role as a generalist because they are not given many opportunities for more responsibility even after getting a degree or certification. I would only wish working for an individual such as yourself who encourages others to develop, grow, and thrive in the human resource world. Your daughter has a great mentor to let her take challenges in this ever evolving career path and I only suggest that should she choose to start her career path in human resources, is to do it with a manager that wants to see her succeed.
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 10, 2009 at 7:58pm
Hi Tina, thanks for your kind feedback and developing a great HR team should always be front of mind. You are correct that that having a supportive manager is important. I think specialization at some stage is vital, to consolidate your HR expertize. My biggest rewards have been to develop (twice) PA's into HR Manager roles.

Sometimes it is possible to use a project to move into a new role. Very recent example: HR Coordinator was asked to develop new on-boarding program, resulting in positive feedback and 5/6 ratings. The OHS induction was not encouraging a safety culture and disconnected from engaging new staff. Today that person is the new OHS Manager, having leveraged their project accomplishments.

Good luck with your career!
Comment by Bobby Gipson on November 11, 2009 at 1:22pm
I have a great fondness for HR. The HR department in any organization is the heartbeat and the backbone that solidifies a company. HR has always stood for HUMAN RESOURCES not AR, AUTOMATED RESOURCES. The personnel need to be able to speak one on one with the HR Department, not be prompted or listen to a phone message concerning your matters. HR should never be downsized in a company because of this. Also, they should not be kept segregated from the company's mainstream of employees.
As a National Recruiter/Headhunter i work with alot of HR people that are really not very responsive individuals. It's really a shame. This position calls for a people person to work in this environment. I don't care how many certifications you have. That's what HR stands for HUMAN.
I have accumalated the recruiting skills based on the constant communication daily with candidates all across this Continental U.S. as well as having that determination to represent for an industry that isn't called HR but still has HR qualities. I can't hire the candidate I find, and I wished I could, because of this current economy and the amount of different people I speak with in dire straits.
I've always wanted to step into a role of a recruiter in HR but without the certifications, there's usually no chance.
Anyway, I just wanted to say my piece on your article and i will continue to find that opportunity of an Internal Recruiter's position.
Best Regards,
Bobby Gipson
Senior National Recruiter - North America
(321) 287-9448
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 11, 2009 at 3:22pm
Hi Bobby, thanks for your comments, and it is unfortunate that HR is often seen as gatekeepers. Having been a consultant for many years gave me a real understanding of TPR's. There are some great HR people and many of them started as recruiters.

In my most recent CHRO role I had two ex-recruiters in my team, who during my tenure were promoted into more senior roles, as they were keen to further develop their HR skills. I initially advised the business as a consultant and was asked to upgrade the HR function. Both of them had superior communication skills, were highly respected by all staff, and had a great understanding of the need to be responsive and accessible. In fact, I know you would have liked to work with them! One of them did not have a formal qualification but is now doing some studies. It is never too late to do further studies...

Best of luck with your search for an internal recruiter role.
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 11, 2009 at 8:16pm
Great question Karen! For recruiters the first crossing is to jump into a corporate recruiter role, ideally working within an HR team, rather than in a shared services model. You are quite right that a more structured approach may be required, but I like the results-focused mentality. I strongly belief that HR should own the recruitment budget, as it should be their role to source talent. This fits in well with having skilled recruiters as part of HR.

I am not so sure that HR is that different, as I think that the biggest competitor for any TPR is the HR department.

Moving from HR to recruiting is a mind shift, but as more entrepreneurial HR practitioners move into HR, could become more frequent. A good friend of mine recently moved from a senior HR role for a retail business into a TPR role, with the niche of HR Recruiting, doing a splendid job, as he displays great empathy for job seekers.
Comment by Mitch Lehmann on November 12, 2009 at 8:10pm
Hi Charles. It's good to see somebody who is actually passionate about HR and does not see it as 'necessary evil'! Good on you to encourage your daughter to become a HR professional as well!

I agree that HR can be a very rewarding career, also for career oriented professionals. Being a MBA myself I know that HR is a rather "odd" choice for this academic background but only because it's rare doesn't mean it's not every bit as challenging and rewarding as any other path. It really comes down to what you enjoy doing - if you hate numbers stay away from Accounting, if you don't like dealing with people (and their problems) HR is not your thing. Especially a broad degree like a MBA gives you the luxury of choosing different career paths so I'd say choose wisely and not only with a dollar sign hanging over your head.

One thing I must say though is that changing from one industry sector to another (in HR) is everything but easy in my opinion. You get very easily typecast as "Manufacturing", "Hospitality" or whatever the case may be. I would therefore recommend to any newcomer to HR to plan and think ahead, which industries will suit them most. Again, it's not impossible but still a rather tedious exercise trying to change industries.

Overall, excellent blog Charles!
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 12, 2009 at 11:09pm
Hi Mitch,
Great to connect here and welcome to RBC. Hopefully we will see you checking out this engaging site more often. Fully agree with your comments.

Typecasting and putting people in a box is an unfortunate phenomenon and sometimes an easy option for recruiters and hiring managers. It is sometimes very difficult to get into HR and graduates often find the lack of experience a huge hurdle, but if you have a choice, I would not disagree that picking a suitable industry is beneficial.

I have found a concept called "career bridge" useful in my coaching. In brief it consist of three pillars:
1. Experience
2. Industry
3. Role

Trying to cross the bridge with only one pillar in place is extremely difficult (explains the challenges for graduates), two pillars are possible and three pillars ideal. So moving from HRM role into another HRM role but different industry is quite possible, but not if you are trying to also move into a more senior role. Hope it makes sense.

Again, thanks for expanding this post.
Comment by Milinda on November 18, 2009 at 3:04am
Hi Mr. Charles, I am thrilled to be a part of such an interesting blog, which is giving an insight of Human Resource across the world. As I have just two years experience in Recruitment and people practice HR, I think, understanding of the requirements of the role in the particular industry is essential. One should always have that thirst to learn & shape the organisationin, through right hiring, because employees are the reflection of any organisation, and should look worth & beautiful to everyone look at them. Moreover, It is challenging role because HR have to play a balancing act between the "employee-organisation relation" and their "growth together".

I wonder when I meet people on a role of HR who use their authority role without realising the core responsibility & power to initiate the Good or Bad Change (through employees and towards organisation).

I strongly feel people to choose HR as career, only if they can justify the role of understanding the Human and who can keep the balance between authority & responsibility.

Nice session of brainstorming !!

Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 18, 2009 at 7:06pm
Dear Milinda, Thank you for comments and reinforcing the responsibility of HR to ensure work places are becoming better places. It is true that there is often a disconnect between the glamorous recruitment ads to attract new talent and the harsh reality of the business world. However, if it is a sustained strategy, with sufficient turnover of existing staff, it is possible to positively change the culture of an organization.

I strongly believe in positive change, by engaging staff and involving them on creating a great place to work. I encourage you to find positive role models and to keep expanding your contribution, regardless of your position in the business.

All of the best


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