master's degree hr

master's degree hrFor most of you, I’ll go ahead and said it: You should not get a master’s degree in HR. Really. While that doesn’t apply to everyone, it does apply to a large number of the people that email, comment, and interact with me online. That’s mainly because this question looks a lot like this template:

  • I just completed my bachelor’s in xyz. I have decided/now want/think I should get into human resources. Should I get my master’s degree in HR?

OR

  • I just completed my bachelor’s degree in HR, but I haven’t been able to find a job. Should I get my master’s degree in human resources?

No. No. And no.

In each of these cases, you lack something very important that most of you overlook when you’re asking the question: do you even like HR?

No, really. How do you know? What evidence do you have? What proof?

All too often I hear about someone finishing their bachelor’s on student loans and jumping right into the master’s degree in hopes it will make them more marketable, only to find out later that HR wasn’t a field they actually enjoyed working in. If only you could drop the loans because you didn’t like the profession, but it doesn’t work that way.

And even if you pay for it outright by choosing an affordable college (like this one, for instance) AMBERTON LINK, how do you know that HR is going to be a career field you even like?

For me, I didn’t even consider a master’s degree for the first few years of working after college. That’s because I wanted to make sure of what I wanted to do. Now I’m actually enrolled in an MBA program because I realize that while HR is the love of my life, I also need to be crystal clear about how HR intersects and interacts with the rest of the business. Hint: you need to be able to understand that as well.

Click here to watch the video where I explain the nuances of this decision.

But I have some HR experience

Now, if you have some HR experience under your belt and you’re wondering if you need to get an advanced degree, we can have a conversation about that. It is often interwoven with the certification conversation (Should I get the PHR OR SHRM certification?), because people wonder about the value of each and how they interrelate.

If you have experience and you want to pursue an advanced degree, you need to understand the purpose and intent very clearly. Are you hoping to move up the ladder? Is there another job you need it to be qualified for? Are you trying to make yourself more marketable? Do you need it to perform better in your own work?

In some of these cases, depending on how you answer the question, education might not be the right answer for you at all. On the other hand, it’s possible that additional education could help you to achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself.

I’ll be doing a series in the coming week addressing two other related questions. First, should I get an HR degree or an HR certification? I’ll also address another fundamental question around HR education, which is this: Should I get an MBA or a Master’s in Human Resources?

I’d love to get your take on this commentary. Am I spot on? Way off the mark? What’s your reasoning?

I received the highlights from a new CareerBuilder study this week and they made me laugh for two reasons. First, because some of these ideas are actually pretty good, and second, because whoever wrote the press release of the data analysis is a bit off the mark. The gist of the research was this: people are looking for jobs (no surprise there) and some of them are doing interesting, strange, or downright weird things to try and stand out from the crowd.

A sampling of the strange

From the press release:

Hiring managers gave the following examples of unusual tactics job seekers used to stand out:

  • Candidate gave the hiring manager a baseball that read: “This is my best pitch of why you should hire me.”
  • Candidate sent the hiring manager daisies with a note that said “Pick me, pick me.”
  • Candidate brought their mother to the interview as an in-person character reference.
  • Candidate developed a whole website dedicated to the hiring manager, asking to be hired.
  • Candidate hugged the hiring manager when introduced instead of shaking hands.
  • Candidate got up from interview and started waiting on customers because the business got busy.
  • Hiring manager had a candidate volunteer to work at the business for a month before submitting an application to show that she was able to do the job.
  • Candidate presented a thick scrapbook of certificates, awards and letters.
  • Candidate sent a Christmas card every year for three years.
  • Candidate sent a cake with their resume printed on it.

Let’s take a moment to break a few of those down before pointing out the interesting flaw in the logic here.

  • The good: candidate got up during interview and started waiting on customers because the business got busy

While this seems like a strange move, I think it’s actually really interesting. If we set aside any labor laws or FLSA issues of having someone perform a work task among real employees for 10-15 minutes, this is the perfect way to see if someone can actually perform the job. In a study we did earlier this year, we found that candidates actually desire assessments and opportunities to prove their ability to perform on the job (they don’t really like generic assessments with no link to the actual work duties).

  • The bad: candidate sent cake with resume printed on it

This is weird. I like cake more than the average person, and even I wouldn’t eat a cake with a resume printed on it. Yes, I understand that the point is to get in front of the hiring manager, but this has nothing to do with qualifications, value, or usefulness. It doesn’t prove to me anything other than you are looking for ways to cut corners and get results without being willing to do something useful like networking, demonstrating value, etc.

  • The ugly: candidate brought mom to interview

Seriously?

I don’t know that I even need to say anything here. The moment I see a candidate bring his or her mother, I immediately dismiss them as capable of anything other than calling mommy for help when the pressure is on. Don’t do this and don’t tolerate this.

Does this actually help you get a job?

Back to the findings:

Stunts can have a negative impact on your chances of getting the job — more than a quarter of employers (26 percent) say unusual attention seeking antics from job seekers would make them less likely to call a candidate in for an interview.

While some read this as “26% of employers say you are less likely to get an interview,” I read this as “74% of employers DO NOT say you are less likely to get called for an interview.” That’s interesting because if I use one of these stunts to get attention, I am three times as likely to get attention based on the data they are presenting, even though they skew it the other direction by saying one out of four companies is turned off by these types of antics.

Here’s a clue if you’re searching for a job: don’t rely on some weird tactic to get you in the door. Just like you wouldn’t want to date someone that rides up on a unicycle juggling flaming batons, you shouldn’t be swayed by people relying on these kinds of attention-grabbing activities to showcase their skills (unless it’s a really unique case of having to use those kinds of skills, which is a one-in-a-million kind of thing).

What about you? Any interesting stories of things candidates have done to get attention that are outside the norm of phone calls, emails, hard copy resumes in the mail, etc.? 

Several years ago I did some really interesting research into what HR hiring managers wanted from candidates applying for entry level HR jobs. I wrote about some of the findings in two ultimate guides:

However, today I’d like to dig deeper into the concepts from the research to help illuminate what we as HR leaders see as valuable in candidates with little to no actual experience working in the field.

Top 5 Characteristics Ranked Most Important by HR Leaders

This graphic shows the data rankings of the top things that HR leaders are looking for from entry level applicants.

how to get into HR (without experience)

Source: upstartHR.com research study

  1. As you can see in the research, HR-relevant skills in a non-HR job are the preferred currency for candidates seeking HR positions. I’ve always called this “doing HR where you are,” because there are aspects of many jobs that are “HR lite” in function, such as training, budgeting, or coaching. Being able to show those skills is the closest many candidates come to being able to prove their HR credibility without actually having demonstrated experience in the field.
  2. The next most valuable piece is HR internship experience. Working as an HR intern can fall on a wide spectrum, from grabbing coffee (waste of time) to shadowing and supporting various facets of the HR team (valuable). It’s possible to differentiate in an interview which experience someone had, but candidates are also struggling to get internships and other opportunities. Some of the internship job postings I’ve seen ask for one to two years of HR experience as qualifications, which is completely backwards for a position that’s supposed to be an entry point into the profession!
  3. Continuing the conversation from the previous point, paid HR experience is the next most requested characteristic from entry level HR candidates. At the same time, this is incredibly challenging to get for many individuals. I even profiled a letter recently from someone that was torn about getting into HR because of the bad reputation our profession has, so there are a lot of moving parts here.
  4. The next item on the list? A degree in HR or a related field. This has some measure of value, because it teaches some of the basics, but it’s also well known that higher education is behind the rest of the corporate world by a fairly significant margin. I talk about that in my post about how to learn HR for free–my degree taught me about 20% of what I need to know to be successful in this profession, and the other 80% came from boots-on-the-ground work and experiential learning.
  5. The last of the top five preferences when hiring entry level HR candidates is a history of networking with HR professionals. From my experience, this helps to diminish some of the unknowns and surprises involved in jumping into a new career track. Additionally, it gives us a chance to do some informal background checking to see what others think of these candidates based on their experiences and interactions. Because HR is so integral to business operations, that kind of informal background checking is a very common activity in this field.

Soon I’ll take another look at the final five items in the top ten list, but in the meantime I’d love to hear from you if you’re trying to get into the profession or if you’re hiring these kinds of individuals. Are these on point? What has been your experience? 

My good friend Alison Green over at Ask a Manager passed me this question she received because it’s HR-centric. I think many of you will get value from what could have been just another private email conversation, so I’m sharing the question and response here. If anyone else has comments PLEASE add them below, because we’re all better when we help each other, right?
Dear Alison,
I’m currently in my final year of high school and strongly considering pursuing an HR designation in post-secondary. Reading through your blog, I am very often reminded that HR exists primarily for the company (preventing lawsuits, attracting and retaining talent, etc.) and issues that employees have are resolved with the company’s best interests in mind. As such, I can understand why HR can sometimes gain a reputation for being useless (even if I do find it somewhat discouraging).
That being said, I would like to ask you for your input on what an effective HR manager should be like in terms of going above and beyond to support employees when the job description may not ask for it.
I’m thinking especially on how you would advise someone on the HR side to handle a situation where, for example, a department manager is out of control (but not doing anything illegal) and because of nepotism, is safe from consequences or intervention? If HR’s hands are tied, how could HR still go on to assist the employee even though the root cause isn’t solved?
How can HR still be supportive to employees in situations where the company calls for neutrality (or even to side with the company when it is ethically at fault)? And vice-versa?
I think overall I am just experiencing a sense of helplessness when I read stories with negative experiences with HR. On one hand, I can understand that there may be certain legal and logical restrictions to what an HR rep can do that sometimes the employee can’t see. On the other hand, I don’t want to be someone who just throws her hands up and says, “There is nothing I can do for you.” and adheres to the bare minimum requirements.
Is this something that will get better once I have more experience? Am I just being too emotional or naive about my job expectations? If so, any input on helping me recalibrate?
-J

Thank you for being very clear about your questions and concerns, J.

HR does exist to protect the company, and this is still prevalent thinking in many organizations. However, it’s also true that many forward-thinking firms are offloading these compliance-related functions to legal and are focusing more on how to improve employee performance, create better working environments, drive worker engagement, etc.

5 characteristics of a great HR manager Continue reading

Recently a friend was applying for a job, and she came to me for help with preparing. She had worked with the firm for some time, and the opening was for a more senior position she was hoping to achieve. We took a little time to make sure the resume was presentable, and then we went to the fun part: a strategic plan.

Together, we developed an action plan for the first six months after she got the job that would allow her to be more effective than the previous leader, generating new business for the organization. We included discussions around business development, customer satisfaction, and employee relations.

And she got the job.

This is an incredibly powerful practice, but hardly anyone actually does it. Here are a few options for you to leverage this approach next time you’re looking for the right HR job.

Keys to Success

The first mistake people make is thinking that this just needs to be in their notes or in their head. Not true. This plan needs to be a physical thing you bring with you to give to the interviewers during the conversation. The simple act of giving them something they don’t already have puts you in a different light. Instead of just focusing on you, they are also focusing on your ideas and your insights, which (if they are good ones) can give you a leg up over the competition.

The second piece of advice is to make it attainable. Don’t throw twenty things on there, and don’t put one on there, either. Every company has something they can change, improve, or update. Ultimately, they might take none of your suggestions, but the goal should be to present a powerful case for why the things you mention are worth exploring.

How to Put this into Practice: Never Worked There

It’s challenging to do this from the outside, but with HR we have at least one avenue into the organization that others can’t leverage: the recruiting function. From the first moment you find a job ad, start making note of things that could be improved, changed, or modified.  Here are some ideas:

  • Job ads: are they written in a way that appeals to job seekers? Are they using good search engine optimization techniques to be found more easily by candidates?
  • Interview process: are communications and instructions clear? Do you know what to expect and who you’ll be interacting with?
  • Assessments: does the assessment add value? What is the perception from the candidate side–are the questions relevant and helpful?
  • And, of course, we could examine it through the perspective of the candidate experience. For instance, did you get any notification when you applied? Was mobile apply available, or did you have to use a desktop? Could you do one-click apply with LinkedIn, or did you have to manually enter every piece of information?

Whether you’re bringing in some research to offer context or you’re just giving an observation based on your perceptions (or both), you can make your point in a tactful manner. That’s a key to this entire approach, because if done poorly, it will make you look less qualified.

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in Non-HR Role

If you have experience with the company already in a non-HR position, you’re in even better shape for helping to illuminate some of the areas of improvement. Remember, this isn’t a gripe session or a chance to air grievances: it’s a process improvement approach. Some ideas on what to talk about:

  • Modifying the onboarding process to get employees up to speed faster.
  • Changing the performance management system so that it actually encourages performance, not hinders it.
  • Offering niche voluntary benefits that appeal to one population or another in your company, such as dependent care or elder care. Or you can go the rock star route, offering something like a ski house for employees to use (one of our previous guest authors, Jane Jaxon, used to offer this as a recruiting tool at her company).

The entire purpose of this exercise is to show that you’re going above and beyond the basic job duties, looking for ways to innovate and bring additional value to the business. Again, I have to remind you that the way you approach this matters just as much as what you actually propose. You have to be careful to point out opportunities for improvement in way that doesn’t indict those that put the processes in place (or those that continue to manage them, for that matter).

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in an HR Role

If you have worked there in an HR role and this is a promotion opportunity, then you have the biggest advantage of anyone else in the running, because you know what is working and what isn’t. You also have the biggest challenge, because you are familiar with the inner workings and might not be immediately aware of any innovative ideas for how to improve your practice.

If that’s the case, I would encourage you to do more reading, listening, and consuming of HR and business-related content to help broaden your horizons and help you understand some of the ways that exist to improve your processes and approach. Think about the evidence-based HR approach that I wrote on recently–it is a great way to help you examine and propose solutions to problems that others might have already given up on solving.

As an HR professional, I am used to being on the interviewer’s side of the hiring table. That makes it easy for me to forget all the hard work candidates put into preparing for their interviews—well, some candidates. There are also people who waltz in totally unprepared, which makes me wonder whether they really want to be hired.

These 21 tips from Company Folders reveal the things prepared candidates do before, after, and during their interviews. Knowing these prep strategies will help you discern which candidates did their homework—and which ones didn’t—so you can get a better idea of who will make a good employee. Besides, it never hurts to brush up on interview etiquette; one day, you may find yourself on the other side of the table. Continue reading