This week I was approached to complete some HR informational interview questions by a young lady heading back to college for a master’s degree in HR. I’ve answered similar questions before, and I have always had a heart for students looking to break into HR, so I obliged. As I responded, I wondered how others would answer and what advice they would share with someone preparing to enter this amazing profession of ours.

Would you pick a question and give your own answer in the comments section below? I used these informational interviews years ago before I got started in HR, and the responses helped me to hit the ground running when my entry level HR career took off.

HR Informational Interview

  1. What are the main duties of someone in HR? It depends on the position, but an HR generalist typically touches a variety of areas, such as recruiting, compensation, benefits, employee relations, training and development, and safety.
  2. What kinds of problems or difficulties occur in performing these duties? I’ve found that in general, companies and leaders that do not value HR are the biggest stumbling block to success. If they don’t believe that what you’re doing is value-add and benefiting the organization, then no matter what you do there will always be a limit on the positive impact you can have.
  3. What kind of rewards or enjoyments does this work provide? I would say that HR pays fairly well, if you are competent and willing to work hard. Beyond that, the satisfaction of helping families with their benefits, working with an employee to develop themselves for a promotion, or helping to coach managers through challenging times are some of my favorites.
  4. What characteristics do you believe are needed to be successful in Human Resources? Usually this question is met with answers like “confidentiality” or “multitasking.” I’ll take a different approach: you need to have a sense of humor. This job can be draining if you don’t have an outlet. Imagine having to terminate someone through no fault of their own simply because the money isn’t there to support the position. Do that often enough without a release and you start to lose your mind. For me, a sense of humor is one way I can get through those tough days and stay fresh.
  5. What kinds of knowledge and skills must someone have to be successful in HR? The basics of HR include recruiting and staffing, managing employees, labor relations, risk management, benefits and compensation, etc. The more nuanced things include this list of the top five senior HR leader competencies.
  6. What else should someone thinking of getting into the HR field know? It will be nothing like you expect from the textbooks. You will learn about 10% of what you need to know to be successful with a degree in HR. The other 90% comes from doing HR every day.
  7. As I said I have a B.S. in Family and Human Services. Do you think that my background will influence me, positively or negatively, in the field of HR? I think you’re probably going to be very caring and considerate of the differences people have and what that enables them to bring to the table. The only concern is a lack of business-mindedness that is a critical part of HR today. If you can’t speak the language of the business leaders and only talk about morale and such, you won’t have any credibility.
  8. Why did you decide on a degree in HR specifically and not another Business-type degree? I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be in HR–I just didn’t know it was called HR. My parents owned a small business and had constant challenges with hiring, benefits, retention, etc. I always thought I would get a degree in management to figure out how to solve those kinds of problems. When I got to college I realized that this “HR thing” was exactly what I had always wanted to do!
  9. What exactly is your current position and what does it entail? Currently I’m not in a traditional HR role. I am working as a research analyst helping some of the largest companies in the world by creating research, publishing case studies, etc. I spend much of my time writing and creating research from primary survey data.
  10. Why haven’t you made a switch in career fields? If you have, why did you return to HR? Some would say that I did by stepping out of the traditional HR role, but I like to think that now I can help employees at a hundred companies instead of just those at the one company I was at previously.
  11. What general advice do you wish people told you about HR before you started? I did many interviews just like this one, so I had most of my questions answered early on. The only thing that would have helped more would have been more general in nature. I would have liked to know that companies often don’t change, even when they are on the wrong path. My first HR job was for a company that ended up going over the financial cliff because our leadership was unwilling to make the changes necessary to improve the business.
  12. Any specific advice for me? Especially concerning pursuing a Master’s Degree and what to do before and during the program. I’d spend as much time shadowing and talking with in-the-trenches HR folks as possible. Sign up for Twitter if you’re not already there and follow conversations like #NextChat. This will help you find other HR leaders that are worth following. Look for other HR blogs that will help you see through the eyes of accomplished professionals, such as HR Capitalist, HR Ringleader, and HR Schoolhouse. Good luck!

What do you think? Did I steer her in the right direction with the informational interview questions? Did I miss anything critical? 

I’ve been putting together a series over on my other blog about SHRM’s new Human Resources Young Professional project, and the series has covered some of the major issues identified by new HR pros. Those issues include lack of credibility, lack of challenging work, and lack of a definite career path. It’s a great read even for those of you who are experienced HR ninjas, because these topics are ones that reach out and touch everyone in our profession from the newest intern to the most senior VP.

I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with managing or interacting with new HR pros. Are they up to snuff? Are they lacking in some pertinent skills (writing, communication, professionalism, etc.)?

hrci exam student exemptionThere seems to be a segment of the HR population that cares a lot about certification and puts a certain amount of “weight” in the PHR or SPHR designation. While not all of us are raging fans of HR certification, I\’d like to know your thoughts on HRCI changing the requirements for students and recent graduates. Starting in 2011, that segment of the HR population will no longer be eligible to take the exam. Continue reading

shrm student chapterA few weeks back, I dropped by another NASHRM student chapter meeting. I was blown away by the amazing speaker. Tim Grey from AMCOM stopped by to give a short lecture on federal HR and its differences from the private sector. I must say that I was amazed. I probably looked like I was ignoring him, because I had my phone out typing on it most of the time. I was making notes as fast as I possibly could. It’s interesting, because that snuck up on me. I was sitting there listening and suddenly realized that he was passing out some golden truths that I shouldn’t be missing! Enough warm fuzzies, here are a few sound bytes from the session:

  • Policies are easy for private sector. Hate it? Change it!
  • Public sector is built on laws and any change is going to take a lot of work.
  • All federal employees have to take the oath of office. I had no idea.
  • We can hire someone off the street tomorrow if we need them to fill a position. The federal sector can’t.
  • “Right to work” doesn’t apply to federal employees.
  • In a weird twist, sometimes Tim gets calls from attorneys for legal advice pertaining to federal employment laws. (Can he bill them at $150 an hour?) :-D

Strategic planning? You better believe it. Make it happen or you’ll always be a clerk.

  • One of HR’s many roles: help managers know the rules so they can be effective (and legal).
  • If you want to have an impact on the future of your organization, you must know the mission and vision first.
  • The aging workforce is a big problem for the federal sector. 25% of employees could retire today, and 40% could by 2012.
  • If managers don’t know statistics like the one above, they could cripple the company by making choices that disregard the upcoming disaster.
  • Effective HR strategies can help to solve problems like the aging workforce.
  • Years ago, HR strategy looked up to 18 months into the future. Today that could be up to 10 years, depending on the size of your organization.
  • I know you may be technology-averse, but you have to see and understand technology changes, because you have to train employees to be ready to meet those challenges head on.
  • You need to be forecasting and planning ahead. Use the data you have. Even a 25 person company with 2-3 years of history can do something useful with the data.

HR is usually an afterthought. It’s actually one of the most important parts of the business. Demonstrate your value.

As you can plainly see, there was some good stuff going on at that lecture. I am thrilled that I had the opportunity to be a part of it. There was also a great little story that Tim shared about a recruiting problem they were having at one location. I hope to be able to expand on it in a future post.

If you’re on Twitter, I usually use the #NASHRM tag when I’m tweeting from one of these SHRM student chapter events. Feel free to follow along.

SHRM Chapter Leadership Guide

Last Thursday morning, I was plopped in a chair at the business administration building at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. No, I haven’t decided to return to school. But I have decided to get involved with our student chapter. Why? Because they need it.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was a recent graduate. Fresh from the college experience, I searched dutifully for my first HR position. Since we’re all professionals here, I’ll go ahead and say it: it’s pretty darn hard to get your first job in HR. Most jobs require experience, and experience only comes after you get a job. It’s a catch-22.

Anyway, back to the student chapter. They need some leadership. They need some mentoring. Because while some of them may have experience as interns, not every company treats their entry level workers as they should. And they are going to be the next generation of HR professionals.

It doesn’t take much time. Get in touch with your local SHRM chapter. Find out if you can mentor a student, speak at a student chapter meeting, or even act as the liaison between the professional and student chapters. Decide how much time you have to spare and go for it. I guarantee it will make you proud of your profession.

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SHRM Chapter Leadership Guide

We can all learn from someone

We can all learn from someone

I apologize for the problem with the post this morning. Issues have been fixed. If you see anything that’s not working correctly, let me know. Thanks!

Whether purposefully or not, leaders are mentors. As the term “leaders” implies, they are usually at the forefront of the action. And the younger and/or less experienced people in the workforce look to them for guidance. What exactly is a mentor? Well, gives us this short and sweet rendition:

Mentor-a wise and trusted counselor or teacher

You can mentor someone on purpose. There are formal programs that have well-developed strategic plans and goals for these relationships. You can also mentor someone informally through your daily actions. You might not even know that you’re being observed, but leaders are hard to ignore.

Want a chance to be a mentor or a mentee? Consider starting a mentor program in your organization or in your local area. Even if it’s a group of two (mentor and mentee), it’s still worth the effort if both parties have clear expectations and “feed” the relationship regularly. And if you prefer not to start your own, then check out the mentor program that NASHRM has put together.

Have tips for developing a mentor program or on how to get the most out of the relationship? Leave a comment below so everyone can learn from your experience.