I have been on a parallel track to HR for the last year and a half or so, and there are a few things that I miss about my beloved profession. There are other things, as mentioned below, that I certainly appreciate about my current role. For those of you contemplating a step into a consulting or other position outside the “mainstream human resources” function, here are some things you might run across.

What I Miss

  1. Having insight into the business operations, funds, etc. The bird’s eye view of things. You never realize how much you appreciate it until it’s gone.
  2. Having a say in who receives recognition/rewards for their efforts. I miss being able to “go to bat” for someone that earned it.
  3. Knowing the value that everyone brings to the organization.
  4. Being able to talk with the CEO and other leaders as a trusted friend and swaying them when they are on the wrong path.
  5. The satisfaction of bringing on the perfect recruit, solving a manager coaching issue, or helping an employee with a career milestone.

What I Don’t Miss

  1. I no longer have to deal with employees that don’t deliver results and managers too awful to do anything about it.
  2. I don’t have to spend hours on the phone trying to investigate sexual harassment or other claims.
  3. I don’t have to put some of my favorite skills to the side and keep them unused for most of the time.
  4. I (sometimes) miss having an office with people around me.
  5. Probably some other stuff that my mind is glossing over right now like a faded memory–picking out the good parts and whitewashing the bad.

What I Love Now

This list isn’t complete without talking about what I love about my current role. It’s not too shabby!

  1. I get to write. Pretty much as often as I want. And I like to write quite a bit, so that’s saying something.
  2. I talk with technology companies all the time, but I’m not being sold–I’m asking the questions and digging into capabilities. That’s much more fun.
  3. I get to peek into some of the HR, learning, and talent practices at world-class organizations and share those insights with the world.
  4. I have the opportunity to impact many more companies, employees, and leaders than I did in my previous positions.
  5. I have the ability to work from home, which lets me work how and when I am most productive.

This is a great exercise! Think about your current role–what do you like best? What would you gladly give up? 

As I look back on the past five years and all of the people I’ve met, I have made some interesting conclusions about career choices. My background as an HR pro has helped to expose me to a wide variety of experiences, people, and career options. I was talking with a friend a few days ago about some of the HR positions I have had over the years. Some of them were at dysfunctional companies with dysfunctional teams. Others were made up of great people vigorously pursuing excellence at all levels. However, I don’t know that I would have appreciated the good ones as much if I didn’t have some bad ones sprinkled in there for comparison.

Think about it. If you are feeling pretty sore from a workout or from a long, stressful week, you appreciate a massage more. If it’s hot out, that cold drink seems especially soothing.

So while we’re all working hard to offer great work environments and engaging opportunities for employees, they might not realize how nice they have it without a really awful place to compare it to.

So, what’s the answer? I really don’t know. We won’t make it unappealing simply to make a point, but there has to be some way to make this work. While you’re pondering that, let’s talk about something else: coaching.

One of my favorite HR activities is providing coaching to managers and employees at critical moments. For whatever reason it’s just something that I really enjoy. Recently I spoke with a friend about some of these career coaching moments, and we discussed how to approach some particularly tricky options his employees are facing.

Here are two scenarios that are probably all-too-common. If you have seen employees with these sorts of challenges, I’d love to hear how you helped them to resolve the issues.

The Overpaid Employee With an Entitlement Mentality

Let’s call her Carla. Carla has worked for this company for years and has tons of experience in her field. She’s the most technically competent employee that works for this company–and she knows it. She has been poking her manager about a pay raise because she thinks she is worth more money. The truth is she’s probably already overpaid for the level of responsibility she holds and overall value she brings to customers.

So, like it usually happens in this situation, the manager sends her to HR to talk.

My recommendation was to turn it around. This is not HR’s job to discuss this–it’s between the manager and employee. I suggested my friend get the employee to set up a meeting (after all, she is the one pushing this so hard) between her, her manager, and HR. The employee needs to lay out what she wants and expects, and the manager needs to be upfront and honest about her career aspirations, the value she brings, and what possibilities lie ahead.

Every time I do this the manager initially balks at the concept. However, after the fact they appreciate having the clarity between them and the employee, and HR was able to observe/facilitate and offer support without having to be the one driving the discussion.

Honestly, the employee forgot that less than five years ago she worked for an absolutely terrible organization that treated her poorly. She’s become a bit aggressive and entitled at the same time, and this is the first step to rectifying that.

The Humble Employee with Limited Experience

Another employee faces a career decision as well, but of a different type. This guy has a great attitude and has grown in responsibility over time. He also has about five years of experience with this company, but he realizes that he doesn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to move to the next level. He doesn’t want to leave, but at the same time, he knows that something will have to change for his skills to be up to the task of managing his function in the coming years.

So my friend talked with him about possibly leaving for a year or two to work at another organization, learn their processes, strategies, etc. and then return in time to step up to the next role when it is time. Obviously this carries some risk:

  • what if the job doesn’t materialize
  • what if the things he learns are not enhancing his skill set
  • what if the company can’t hire him back when they originally said they would
  • who will run his function in his absence

You get the idea. It’s scary.

And yet it’s innovative. It’s a solution to the problem. And without anyone internally to mentor him and help him grow, this might be the only chance to gain the needed experience to ultimately help this company succeed.

If you think you might identify with this guy and need to make a change for your own career development, then scout out some local opportunities to see what might be available. And if you’re looking for a resume template to help you with that search, check out this resource.

So, those are just two of the most recent conversations I’ve had about HR being involved in career discussions with employees.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which of these types of employees is working in your organization right now? How can you help them? 

This is another installment in our “Day in the Life” series, this time focusing on the HR directors out there. In case you missed one of the previous pieces, here is the full list:

Read on below to learn about what those HRD’s do all day, including some funny comments, in-depth descriptions, and other helpful details.

day in the life hr professional

The Life of an HR Director

Taheti

  • Company/industry: Non profit mental health and autism service provider
  • Years with current company: 4
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Certification: Masters in Workforce Development and SPHR
  • Average day: Assisting mangers with coaching their employees with disciplinary issues developing leadership training for front line supervisor currently working on employment engagement survey
  • HR wit/wisdom: They call me HR ninja :-)
    Happy cows make better milk meaning happy employees perform better!

Tici

  • Company/industry: Non-Profit Residential Treatment Center for at-risk children and youth
  • Years with current company: 6 months
  • Years in HR: 6.5 years plus pastor of 6 churches
  • Degree/Certification: BS in PSY, Master of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry
  • Average day: I spend half my day trying to attract and retain great employees at non-profit pay. I do the full range of HR from orientation to termination, compensation and benefits, and everything between. Bench-marking, crisis response planning, organizational development, training, statistical reports, disciplinary procedures, workers comp., evaluation, labor legislation, agency licensing and accreditation, developing and updating policies and procedures, day-to-day HR stuff like paying insurance bills, and educating myself, I do a bit of everything HR. My assistant is also the receptionist which is a challenge!

Crystal

  • Company/industry: RLB LLP
  • Years with current company: 8
  • Years in HR: 12
  • Degree/Certification: CHRP, CHRL
  • Average day: “I am laughing at “”average”” :) I meet with staff, work on implementing new and innovative people programs, meet with the executive, recruit, consult for clients, train and motivate my team, learn, and any thing else that needs to be done in a day. plunge a toilet? sure!”
  • HR wit/wisdom: Take risks, be authentic and have fun!

David

  • Company/industry: Higher Education
  • Years with current company: Four
  • Years in HR: Over 18
  • Degree/Certification: SPHR
  • Average day: I will spend my day interviewing exempt level employees, attending budget meetings, working out tow or three employee relations opportunities (these include an employee about to be terminated because they don’t show up to work, employee who believes they are under paid, and another who is having a difficult time adjusting to out culture and doesn’t know it). If I have any non-transactional time, I will work out the latest policy on “Pets in the workplace” and send it to our attorney, then complete the four performance reviews I have to complete before next week. But, I don’t have an average day…
  • HR wit/wisdom: As Steve Forbes used to say “in life, to get ahead, it’s not who you know, it’s whom you know that matters.”

Sherry

  • Company/industry: Solid Waste Management and Recycling
  • Years with current company: 2
  • Years in HR: 15
  • Degree/Certification: Bachelor’s Degree in HR Administration
  • Average day: I spend 2 hours a day recruiting (placing ads, calls, interviews). Every other HR function except payroll falls to me (benefits, culture and recognition, workers comp, DOT compliance, OSHA, time sheets, research, W2s, data entry, reports, newsletter, Chamber of Commerce, etc.). I spend 3-5 hours a day with random visits of former employees, current employees and managers and issues that come up. There are 150 employees and turnover is high so I’m working with about 400 people in a year if you include the applicants/candidates, new hires and terms.Culture and recognition is my forte.

Jen

  • Company/industry: K-12 private school plus Day Care
  • Years with current company: 10
  • Years in HR: 14
  • Degree/Certification: BS
  • Average day: There is no average day! I’m an HR/Payroll department of one with about 140 employees, so my daily agenda is to stay flexible, keep smiling, and stay organized. Some days I’m at my desk for 8 hours, other days, I’m running to “put out fires”.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Be kind to everyone, even when they aren’t being kind to you (but don’t be a push over either.) Make friends with the maintenance and kitchen crews. There’s nothing like a great spreadsheet! You never know what a day is going to bring!

Coming up soon we’ll have other HR roles and responsibilities, but I appreciate the participants for sharing! Let me know in the comments below what you think about the series.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Alabama SHRM Conference. It was a great experience, and I love taking notes from other speakers throughout the day as well. My friend Dawn Burke from Daxko was speaking about stress on our employees and most notably on the HR staff. There are several reasons we face stress, including the work we do (terminations and investigations, anyone?), the sensitive nature of our jobs, and this pervasive idea that we shouldn’t be friends with anyone in the workplace because we “might” have to face them in a difficult conversation one day.

I have always thought that was somewhat silly, but hearing Dawn talk about it validated my thinking somewhat. When I think about the times I have had to investigate people at work or terminate them for cause, the people weren’t the type of folks I would have been friends with anyway. And even if I was, they were less than 1% of the company’s workforce. If I had decided not to be friends with anyone I would have instantly closed off that entire population of people, ultimately making my work less pleasant and enjoyable.

Today I hope to eliminate this idea that we should close ourselves off from the rest of the world by encouraging you to make some friends in the workplace.

You Need Friends at Work

Let’s go with someone reputable, like Gallup, to make this argument.

Human beings are social animals, and work is a social institution. Long-term relationships are often formed at work — networking relationships, friendships, even marriages. In fact, if you did not meet your spouse in college, chances are you met him or her at work. The evolution of quality relationships is very normal and an important part of a healthy workplace. In the best workplaces, employers recognize that people want to forge quality relationships with their coworkers, and that company allegiance can be built from such relationships.

The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today’s marketplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. Our objective was to identify the consistent dimensions of workplaces with high levels of four critical outcomes: employee retention, customer metrics, productivity, and profitability. The research identified 12 dimensions that consistently correlate with these four outcomes — dimensions Gallup now uses to measure the health of a workplace. An associated research effort, in which Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers, focused on discovering what great managers do to create quality workplaces.

This item — “I have a best friend at work” — is clearly one of the most controversial of the 12 traits of highly productive workgroups. In answering this item, many employees do not stumble over the word “friend,” because they have many friends at work. Instead, they get stuck on the word “best,” because they feel the term implies exclusivity, and they have trouble identifying one “best friend” among their coworkers.

Gallup discovered the power of this item in identifying talented workgroups — that the strongest agreement occurred in the most productive workgroups. Because some employees had difficulty with the word “best,” Gallup went back to those groups and softened the word to “close” or “good,” or excluded the word “best” entirely. When this was done, however, the item lost its power to differentiate highly productive workgroups from mediocre workgroups. This suggested that the use of the word “best” actually pinpoints a dynamic of great workgroups.

Okay, so friends at work are important to say the least. But let’s say that you have subscribed to the “no friends at work” rule for some time now. How do you start and reverse the trend?

By being friendly.

Here are a few stories about people I know that work in HR that I would say are better than the average and have cracked the code on how to be friendly with staff.

humor resourcesKrista Francis is the HR Director for Jubilee of Maryland, a nonprofit organization. As you can see in this picture, she changed the title of their department for a time to “Humor Resources” as a way to get employee comments and demonstrate their own sense of humor in the team. I think this is fun because people often see HR as the “no police,” not as a source of humor. Side note, check out the Levity Effect if you want more ideas on this.

Dawn Burke, the speaker I referenced at the beginning of this post, works for Daxko. The company provides cubes for all employees, including HR. That means that instead of the snazzy corner office, they get to work in and among the employee population on a daily basis. There are private areas for when times call for them, but I think this helps to break down emotional barriers with employees by breaking down any physical barriers that exist.

How I’ve Done It

Now, I certainly don’t have a monopoly on making friends as an HR pro, but I have several stories about how I have made this work for me that I’d like to share.

In the past when I had the chance to work in a cube environment, I actually appreciated being close to the employees I was serving. Anyone could stop by with questions at any time and didn’t feel like they were bothering me. When I moved to an office it changed that dynamic, even in subtle ways, and I missed the cubicle for that reason.

I also took time to invite random employees to lunch because we shared some common interest. Aaron the Engineer and I always went to lunch and talked about kids, building things, and faith. In the afternoons after work, Duke the Program Manager and Tina the Engineer were always amazing running partners and we could share stories and learn from each other. I also enjoyed chatting with Dave the Systems Analyst about his band and other fun tech-y type things. So many great memories!

Find people who have similar interests to your own and become genuine friends. For instance, in this photo I am standing with my good friends Duke and Tina at the Cotton Row 10k last year. We won the corporate team competition. We started running at work together.

cotton row 10k winners duke tina

Find people who like your same physical activities!

In this photo I’m hanging out with Trish and Steve, two of the smartest, nicest people I’ve met, at the Ultimate Connections event earlier this year. I met both of them through a shared interest in HR and improving the profession.

ultimate connections steve trish

Find people who like your same work activities!

In this picture I’m looking very chipper despite it being 3:00am at the time. This is our celebratory dinner after the annual midnight 5k that we put on to support our local food pantry. Each of these people is passionate about helping others and supporting the needy, which is why we spend dozens of hours planning this event annually.

light up the night 5k

Find people who like your same volunteer/charity activities!

So, think about how you can connect with those around you. It is a chance to enrich your own life and the lives of those around you.

Friends make you better, and better friends make you even better.

Are you friends with people at work? My guess is the smaller the organization the more likely HR folks are friends and the larger the organization the more likely they are not, but maybe that hypothesis is incorrect. I’d be genuinely interested in hearing some stories from others.

This is the second in a series of posts on a day in the life of an HR pro. Today we’re turning our sights to the recruiters out there. Below I have profiled several readers who recruit for a variety of industries and companies. If you missed it, the first edition focused on the work of a human resources manager. Read on below to learn about what recruiters do all day, including some funny comments, in-depth descriptions, and other helpful details.

a day in the life of an hr professional
The Life of a Recruiter

Kyle

  • Company/Industry: Telecommunications
  • Years with Current Company: 7 months
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: N/A
  • Average Day: I’ve always been one of many hats and my role continues to be that with my current employer. I love working for a company that places the customer front-and-center of everything we do! The ability to find the right person for the right position is priceless.

Alicia

  • Company/Industry: Staffing Agency
  • Years with Current Company: 4 months
  • Years in HR: 4 months
  • Degree/Cert: Certificate in HR Management
  • Average Day: I spend most of my day recruiting on active positions that my clients have an urgent need to fill and plan for 2 hours out of my day to proactively recruit great candidates. My day consists of phone screening, interviewing face to face, prepping candidates for their interviews. Its competitive, fast paced and a ton of fun. The other side of my job is building relationships with my candidates and hiring managers, for example, taking them out to lunch or breakfast. I love that every day is never the same.

Sharon

  • Company/Industry: Healthcare
  • Years with Current Company: 15
  • Years in HR: 17
  • Degree/Cert: Certificate
  • Average Day: A typical day in the life as a Professional Recruiter typical begins with a checklist of priorities. Filtering through emails and notifications of hiring requests. Almost on a daily basis I review the status of new hires and where they fall in the on boarding process, i.e. pre-employment physical clearances, background checks, references and education/employment verifications via our database linked to the vendor we contract with for this service, Tabb Inc.Many days I may find myself working through lunch or eating at my desk depending on the activities I am juggling with, providing wrap around services to our hiring managers and potential candidates. phone screens phone interviews, scheduling in person interviews seeking potential candidates. Our applicant tracking system is our primary resource in our selection process as well as Monster’s resume database. On average I can recruit for up to 75 requisitions across the board from professional, technical, clerical and support services.Finally, my days generally end with checks and balances noting where I left off and what I will plan for in the coming days. I usually set aside 1 to 2 hours towards the end of the business day to manage applicants in our ATS/Monster. Email follow up and other correspondence as needed.

    I work in a fast paced, high volume organization where each day can bring the unexpected. You adapt and rise to the occasion with confidence and poise. It can be a very rewarding and self fulfilling having the ability to change and impact lives for the better. The ability to offer employment opportunities is what makes me want to report to work every day.

Alison

  • Company/Industry: Healthcare
  • Years with Current Company: 7
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: SHRM-CP
  • Average Day: Our tool is disfunctional so I spend 50% of my day doing transactional items. We are working towards a consultative recruiting model. 1/4 of the day I do phone prescreens with the top applicants. The other 1/4 of my time I spend with managers. Any left over time I am digging out of my overflowing email box.I really like finding a good fit for an applicant and manager. I dislike all the hoops we have to jump through to make it happen.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.Be careful who you trust, if someone will discuss others with you, they will certainly discuss you with others.If it’s really funny, it’s probably harassment.

    It’s the moments together that change us forever.

    HR Dept: will work for doughnuts. :-)

Carly

  • Company/Industry: Financial Services
  • Years with Current Company: 3.5
  • Years in HR: 2
  • Degree/Cert: N/A
  • Average Day: I spend a lot of my morning sorting through resumes as I sip on my breakfast protein shake. Since we are currently recruiting an average of 10 positions with no ATS, needless to say, my inbox is a nightmare!Much of my afternoon is spent on initial phone interviews with qualified candidates. I schedule blocks of time each day for these meetings, pack them in back to back and and cross my fingers that everything sticks to schedule. I don’t know why I am still surprised by how many candidates are late or stand me up completely – but thats another story for another interview.What’s left of my day is spent going back and forth with hiring managers to get more clarity on what the h-e-double hockey sticks they are looking for in a candidate (changes daily) or talking them off the ledge of a potential bad hire.

    And that’s just the Recruiter side of me as I wear a lot of hats in HR.

Coming up soon we’ll have other HR roles and responsibilities, but I appreciate the participants for sharing! Let me know in the comments below what you think about this series or what specific roles you’d like to see highlighted. 

I have been thinking a lot lately as I cross the six year threshold of blogging about human resources management. I started this as a tool for the entry level HR pros, but now I also teach about some fairly advanced concepts. One of the things I don’t do enough of is sharing about the community. There are more than 20,000 monthly readers on this site and about 5,000 email subscribers (the numbers still boggle my mind!). Who are these people? What do they do?

Let’s find out.

Today will start off a series where I talk with some of the HR pros in the audience to find out what they do and what they enjoy about HR. I hope you like the series, and as always, I’d appreciate your feedback. Want to be profiled yourself? Click here.

a day in the life of an hr professional

A Day in the Life of a Human Resources Manager

Anne

  • Company/Industry: Holding Company
  • Years with Current Company: 4
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: MBA-HR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
  • Average Day: My average day is a standard Director role. I spend time counseling my team of 26 on how to interact with their companies. I also manage our benefits program.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Expect each day to be different. I’ve seen too many young, promising, talented professionals burn out too quickly because they couldn’t adapt to the constant changing chaos that is Human Resources.

Juanita

  • Company/Industry: Banking (Credit Union)
  • Years with Current Company: 5
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: Master’s in HR and Organizational Management
  • Average Day: A typical day in the life of … well me, would be one that involves A LOT of talking and interacting with my peers. I feel that when you build a bond with employees, they will come to you with anything and also help you connect with the person your looking. A quarter of my day is spent in meetings brainstorming the next best thing and finally, the rest of my day is spent finding new ways to energize our organization through our new amazing wellness program (that I control … mwahahaha).
  • HR wit/wisdom: I have two!  “I don’t fire you, you fire you.” and “Yes. Doing your job is part of your job.”

Bobbi

  • Company/Industry: Government Contractor
  • Years with Current Company: 5
  • Years in HR: 7
  • Degree/Cert: BS in HR, SPHR and SHRM-SCP
  • Average Day: No two days are the same. I spend part of each day working in benefits, compliance, HRIS implementation and employee management.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Network often, so when the auditor knocks on the door, the manager wants across the board terminations, or the employee decides to tell everyone about his weekend exorcism you have a group of people on speed dial to ask questions to and to share with – we can’t do it alone!

Ryan

  • Company/Industry: WebLinc
  • Years with Current Company: ~2
  • Years in HR: 5
  • Degree/Cert: B.S. Industrial/Organizational Psychology, PHR
  • Average Day: I largely spend my time recruiting, or actives related to our recruiting efforts. Next would be employee relations, internal resourcing, and org management. Beyond that it gets chopped up quite a bit day to day, I am a one man army in HR here :)
  • HR wit/wisdom: As an HR professional, my advice to anyone is to never forget how much rules suck.

Leeanne

  • Company/Industry: Freight Forwarding
  • Years with Current Company: 2
  • Years in HR: 6
  • Degree/Cert: Graduate Diploma in HR
  • Average Day: I am the only person in HR in my organisation, which has 370 staff, therefore a majority of what I do is reactive simply due to the volume of work. I recruit without agencies whenever possible so can end up spending a lot of time reading CV’s when I have multiple roles to fill. I interact with our company directors and managers on a daily basis, although it’s usually the same 4-5 managers due to the size and nature of their teams. I am involved in all performance and disciplinary meetings along with the manager. At least once a week I am told by someone that they don’t envy me in my role, but I honestly love it, and can’t see myself doing anything else for a long time to come yet!
  • HR wit/wisdom: Be the reason people want to get into HR, not the reason they hate it.

Coming up soon we’ll have other HR roles and responsibilities, but I appreciate the participants for sharing! Let me know in the comments below what you think about this.

Update: I published a newer version of this in 2017. You can find it here: 40+ Free HR Training Sources

——

Recently on LinkedIn I saw someone asking how to learn HR. Specifically he was trying to learn compensation when he didn’t have a background/foundation in the topic. The people in the comments made some good suggestions, but many of them involved expensive certifications, workshops, and other similar costly avenues. Coming from a background of smaller organizations with limited budgets (and understanding the personal budget of a new HR pro), I know that most of those suggestions are not possible for a significant number of people. Today we’ll look at how to learn HR from the ground up in some of the most practical, and inexpensive, ways possible.

Whether you’re just thinking about getting into HR, you’re just starting out, or you have some experience behind you and you want to grow your skill set, you’re going to walk away from this article with some good ideas on how to do that.

how to learn hr skills

First, Let’s Flash Back to 2009

In 2009 when I started this blog, I was thinking a lot about recent HR grads and the world of HR education. Let’s revisit, because it sets up the rest of this article nicely as far as a true need for HR-related information.

HR education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The colleges and universities are living in a different age. And although some of them are trying to upgrade with technology, they’re still using textbooks as the major instructional material. And who writes those textbooks? Well, I’m sure they’re smart people, but for the most part, they are not involved with the day-to-day business world. For some students in technology-rich fields, their college education may be obsolete by the time they graduate. This scathing comment from a recent study:

“College was a total waste of time and money. Computer courses are bordering on obsolete by graduation. There were not nearly enough computer courses in my degree program. I gained no skills to get me a job.”
— anonymous computer information systems grad

Maybe it’s time for someone to offer something revolutionary in terms of HR education?

Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we take some measure (not all, mind you) of education from the HR blogs that already exist? There are dozens (hundreds?) of wonderful people pouring their hearts and efforts into maintaining a blog that describes the ins and outs of human resources. What if schools had some sort of HR education curriculum that required—or at the very least suggested—its students study from those actively participating in the field? How revolutionary would that be?

I only found out about the prevalence of the blogosphere when I was nearly finished with college. And that was only through my own personal research on topics that are unrelated to human resources. I stumbled across a few blogs and loved the community-like atmosphere and the availability of information.

I have long believed that to be great in HR you need to go beyond the knowledge that formal education offers. That’s only about 20% of what is necessary to be great in this profession. The other 80% is learned afterward in various ways.

ways to learn human resources

Qualitative Data Comes First

Back when I was a wee lad just thinking about entering the HR profession, I had a mission. This was pre-LinkedIn, so there was no easy way for me to do this. I spent hours scouring websites for local and regional companies and then emailing the HR contacts from the website with a few questions. Unfortunately I don’t have the exact list of questions any more, but here are a few of them:

  • What is the average day like for someone working in human resources?
  • What sort of training or education did you have that prepared you for this job?
  • What is the biggest challenge you regularly face?
  • What’s the best thing about your job?

I received dozens of responses from all of those hours of work. I actually created a few research papers in college based on that information, but more than that, it helped me get a glimpse into the world of HR that my classmates did not. This concept is going to come into play again in just a moment, but I wanted to introduce it here first. The purpose is to gather qualitative data about what to focus on and that will guide future learning. Without it the learning is haphazard and without structure.

As you know I am a firm believer in using books for learning (the latest in the series on that is about making a leadership reading list), but I’m staying away from that medium for purposes of this post because they are not free and because I want to focus on nontraditional ways to learn this information.

How to Learn HR Skills for Free

Remember the example I started this article with of the young man looking to learn more about compensation? Here’s the first half of the response I provided:

Surprised nobody here has mentioned Payscale.com for free research, white papers, etc.

Let’s analyze that, shall we?

First, I mention a vendor website. Payscale sells compensation data and tools to businesses. So why would I recommend them? Because they have a wealth of free resources, white papers, webinars, and other information on their site. I could spend a day just reading and listening to the content there and have the equivalent of a basic college level compensation course work of information in my brain. And it cost me nothing but a little time. As far as how to learn HR, that’s not a bad way to go.

And the fun thing is that this is just one vendor. There are hundreds, and many of the larger ones provide these same free tools to help us. Not sure where to go? Here are a few suggestions just to get you thinking. I spent half an hour researching these for you guys and this is just scratching the surface!

Recruiting

Talent Management

Compensation

Benefits

Training

HR Technology/Various

Now, obviously when these types of companies are sharing these resources their ultimate goal is to use them as marketing to drive you to their products, but you’re certainly not obligated to purchase anything. These resources are free, and you should take advantage of them.

How to Learn HR (And Get Paid To Do It)

I’ve written fairly extensively on getting into HR, breaking into the profession, etc. On the job training still one of the best ways to explore experiential learning, and if  you can lock in a job, you get paid while you’re learning.

More info on those topics:

You might assume that you have to have some of this education in order to get a job in HR, but it’s certainly not the case. Plenty of people move into an HR career without that sort of education or knowledge.

One thing that is worth noting here: your job will not cover all types of things you can learn in HR. That is why it’s important for you to keep up the momentum in the other tactics listed here so your learning does not suffer and you don’t get stuck in that job forever. If you keep learning and growing, you’ll be ready for the next step on the career ladder when it’s time to make that move.

How to Learn HR from Real People

Now, the other half of the response I provided to the request for information is equally important. Here it is:

Try to find some people in your local HR community that “do” compensation and spend an hour or two with each to understand what works for them, what doesn’t, and what they would have liked to know if they had to start over.

This is exactly what I did when I started learning human resources, and it’s still a powerful tactic today. Again, with tools like LinkedIn this makes the whole thing so much easier.

When I hear from people just getting into the field, one of the first things I recommend is for them to find some trusted contacts to start building out their network. Over the years I have been able to connect with hundreds of great HR pros, and some of them have amazing specialties.

For instance, one lady I coached during PHR/SPHR prep last year is a compensation and tax whiz. If I have questions on how to handle taxes for an employee, I could easily pick up the phone or shoot her an email. If I have questions about incentives and motivation, I’ll reach out to Paul.  Heck, if I just need a pick me up I’ll read anything Steve Browne writes.

Get the picture? We don’t have to feel like we are in this thing all alone. We also don’t have to figure out every single piece of it by ourselves without help or support. There are so many great resources and people out there that we can connect with. Figuring out how to learn HR is not just a solo act.

While the web has helped with this and made it more easy to scale up, it has also made some of those connections more shallow. That’s why I also think it’s critical to build a local network of people as well. Within my local area I have a couple dozen HR pros I could call today if I had a question or just wanted to hash out an HR problem I’m dealing with.

That took time, trust, and effort to build, but I started with just one person who took pity on me as an introvert and introduced herself to me at a SHRM chapter workshop all those years ago. I’ll always remember that first interaction. If you’re looking to build out your own network, I’d encourage you to connect with your local chapter. Being a member is helpful, but the best benefits come when you volunteer on the SHRM chapter board and really get involved.

How to Learn HR: Blogs

Read. A. Blog.

Okay, so not all blogs are worth reading. True. However, if you have curated content from someone you trust, that can help to keep the quality high and give you some good, free knowledge. This has been another key part of my learning strategy, especially in those crucial early months when I was just trying to understand how this whole thing worked.

When I talk with college students about HR, I tell them that with a degree specifically in human resources they know about 20% of what they need to be successful. The rest comes from experience, additional learning sources, networking, etc. I always point them to blogs, because those were a major part of my informal education beyond college. I can still remember reading two PHENOMENAL writers, Frank Roche and Chris Ferdinandi, and I can easily trace some of the philosophies I have about how I do HR back to things I read from those two individuals. There are certainly others, but those were the first two I really ran across and latched onto as I was working on understanding HR.

So, how do you find blogs? The HR Carnival is a “traveling” blog collection of some good content in the HR/recruiting space. I recently wrote one themed on Strategic HRM, and I would encourage you to check it out it if you haven’t already.

Otherwise, check out the sites I link to regularly. I don’t link to low quality blogs or sites that I don’t know.

Pro tip: use a tool like Feedly to double your blog reading speed.

If you want to know how to learn human resources management, blogs provide a very easy way to do that.

How to Learn HR: HR Podcasts

Okay, maybe you’re not a huge fan of reading. I have two things to say:

  1. Get over it. You’ll need to use that skill often and it’s better to practice it and do it well than try to avoid it and do it poorly. :-)
  2. There are other options besides just reading.

Over the past few years several great HR podcasts have surfaced and they are free and provide great information that you can listen to at work, at home, in the car, on a run, feeding a baby at 3am… Yeah, something has to keep me awake when I’m feeding the little guy and it might as well be educational, right? :-)

Here are some of the best HR podcasts you can catch. Pro tip: certified HR pros can get recertification credits for listening to HR podcasts!

  • HR Happy Hour – I’ve been a listener of this show from the very first HR Happy Hour episode, and it has been amazing to follow. Steve Boese has really delivered some great information and entertainment for his audience. The topics for the show (employer branding, the future of HR, technology, and work/life balance, for example) are varied, but the friendly, conversational nature makes it easy for anyone to become an addicted listener.
  • Drive Thru HR was designed to be a captivating and easy-to-digest lunch discourse that covers topics relevant to HR professionals. Each 30-minute episode features a guest speaker who shares her or his knowledge and experience in human resources. Our hosts and special guest cover a wealth of topics, including HR Technology, Recruiting, Talent Management, Leadership, Organizational Culture and Strategic HR, every day at 12:00 pm Central Time.
  • Xenium HR for Small Business podcast focuses on HR topics of interest to all HR professionals, whether at a small business or not.
  • Ultimate Software has a selection of podcasts on key topics of interest to HR and payroll professionals, delivered to your desktop on-demand. This series is presented by Ultimate customers and other industry thought leaders on topics that can contribute to company success.
  • CIPD publishes a new podcast on the first Tuesday of every month. Each episode is like a short radio show, focusing on a workplace or people management topic.
  • SuccessFactors doesn’t update their podcast any more, but there are dozens of great episodes of People Performance Radio you can still use to learn more about HR.

How to Learn HR: HR Videos

The other medium to explore is video. I ran across a few YouTube channels that would be worth checking out for some great content to dig into. While you’re not getting 2-3 hour lectures (I’m sure you can find that if you’re really interested!), you are getting information that will help you to learn HR and improve your knowledge.

  • SHRM (link) I haven’t mentioned SHRM anywhere else in this article because much of what they offer is not free and is hidden behind the pay wall. However, the content on their YouTube channel is free high quality.
  • MeetTheBossTV (link) I have followed MeetTheBoss for a while now and really like the executive viewpoints, the high quality video, and the interesting discussions. This is not all HR content, but I found over 30 minutes of HR specific, strategic discussions within a minute or two of searching.
  • Human Resources Magazine (link) while they haven’t updated their channel in a while, I found some great content that would be worth reviewing.

Learning HR doesn’t have to be difficult or painful! Yes, some lessons have to come with experience and a series of trial and error, but you can pick up much of the knowledge you need from these types of resources.

  • What questions do you have about how to learn HR?
  • What is your biggest challenge in this area?
  • What has worked for you?