Tomorrow night I’m going to talk with some local HR students about what “real” HR is like outside of the classroom and the textbook. We’re going to discuss what the actual workload is like for an entry level HR professional. Even though it is routine for me, it’s like a secret formula to these students.

And it has to stop. 

It’s been going on forever

I went to college purposely to get my degree in HR. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I worked my tail off to learn everything I could. And yet, when I got into my first HR job, I found out that 80% of what I needed to know about HR had never even been explained.

One of my earliest blog posts in my career (I’m not linking here because the writing style back then embarrasses me a bit) was on this topic, and I’m amazed that in the years since I graduated, not a single thing has changed for many students.

I receive emails on a weekly basis from a variety of people, and all of them are reading from the same script. “I got my degree and now I’m trying to get into HR, but all the entry level jobs require HR experience. How am I supposed to get in?”

You know it’s true. I know it’s true. And yet, here we sit. Some of you already have your job and have forgotten about those who walk the same path you once did. They still need you (and me) to offer advice and inspiration.

Let’s set them up for success, not failure.

What we can do about it

This year one of my personal goals at work is to evaluate and test an intern program. I recently learned of another local company with a wildly successful HR internship program, and I wanted to get some pointers from them but their HR person just left. If you’ve done this before and have ideas to share, please feel free to email me.

The interns coming out of the program rave about the experience, and this thing was set up as an unpaid internship, so you know the experience had to be powerful and valuable to receive that kind of feedback.

Look for opportunities to do exactly what I’m doing tomorrow. Contact your local university or community college and see if you can stop by and talk with a class or some students after school about what we do and why it is a great career.

HR-we need some PR

Look at the stereotypical “bring your dad to work” elementary school program. You have the “cool” ones–firefighters, police officers, etc. Then you have the “blah” ones in suits. If you can’t explain what you do to a third grade child maybe you need to stop and figure out what the heck it is you do! By the way, I’ve had to talk with my wife’s third grade class dozens of times, and I’ve tweaked my response to “I help recruit great people to come and do work that they love. We make games that teach helicopter pilots how to fly.” That’s pretty darn cool for the kids to hear, and it opens the door for me to explain at a high level what I get to do on a daily basis.

I know we’re talking about college students, not elementary school kids, but the idea is the same.

I once heard an HR “professional” tell a group of college students that “HR was a terrible career choice” and that they should “start over and pick accounting, finance, or anything but HR.” Yeah, that guy needs to quit his job, go home, and shut up. This is an amazing profession; I just think we need better marketing/PR.

This week/month/year, look for opportunities to influence the next generation. Even if 99% of the kids you talk to end up going into another profession (and statistically, that’s probably a good estimate), they still have a positive connection with HR lodged in their brains. It can’t hurt, right?

Digging deeper

Entry level HR CourseI have developed a video course to help entry level HR pros find and get their first job and then knock it out of the park. If you are an entry level HR pro or someone looking to get their first HR job, I highly encourage you to check it out!

The course is made up of over an hour of video content, several bonus eBooks, and weekly articles and assignments to help the training “stick” for the long term. These skills will carry you through your entire career; you just need to take the time to learn them!

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.)?

gen y generation differences stereotypesOne thing I often look back and realize that I miss is the interaction and discussion in my college classes. The ones that I learned the most in were not just a professor spouting meaningless information from a podium. The really great classes had a lot of student interaction, and that was facilitated best by a good professor.

This has been on my mind in the past week as I\’ve followed the conversation on Gen Y, generations, and stereotypes in this post. The comments section is probably 3-4 times as long as the actual post, but it has some great discussions that I feel are necessary. 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

Want to get mentored? Well, you’ll have to wait until next year. This year’s participants in the NASHRM mentor project were announced last week, and I am thrilled to be on that exclusive list. The mastermind of this project, Rusty Brand, passed along this comment:

We believe that the mentor program has the potential to bring tremendous value to the career development of our members.  NASHRM has been considering the idea for a few years and we are excited to get it off the ground in 2010 under the title of Mentor University.  The plan is to utilize a variety of approaches including group, peer, and flash mentoring as well as the more traditional approach.  HR Pros will have a chance to network and engage in a smaller forum and focus their time on areas/topics that are of interest to them, helping them to take the next step within their respective careers.  Its going to be a lot of fun!

Someone asked me the other day why I would use my own limited time and money for this project. My reply: why not?!? You probably know how hard it is to break into the HR field and advance through the ranks. This experience is going to put some of that hard-to-reach information at the fingertips of the next generation of HR leaders. If the others are as excited as I am about this, then it’s going to rock.

One thing that really excites me about NASHRM Mentor University is that the leaders have purposefully kept the group small enough to encourage discussion and interaction. That’s one thing I learned at HRevolution earlier this month. The smaller sessions encouraged a lot of ideas and chatting, but the larger groups were more subdued. The smaller the group is, the more people can absorb and interact. Look for some great posts to come from the interactions facilitated by Mentor University.

In recent months, there has been a firestorm of discussion online about the future of HR and where the profession is going as a whole. Will the job functions of an HR pro change radically in the next several years, or will it stay pretty much the same? I encourage you to read some of these thought provoking articles and think for yourself. If it\’s staying the same, what do you want to be doing? If it\’s changing, will you be ready?

This is Your Brain on HR-Discussion on HR\’s recent changes and its bifurcation into two main functional areas. When you finish this one, I think you\’ll be inspired.

Re-Branding HR-Revolves around the bad rap HR gets in most organizations and how to make it meaningful again by redefining its core concepts. This one\’s my favorite.

Blowing up Human Resources-Challenges the direction of our profession and its inner workings. While I disagree with this one, it will give you some interesting ideas.

Photo by paulsimpson.