You're about to graduate and the panicky “How am I going to support myself?" sensation has likely kicked in. Your fantasy job might center on a cool start-up, or maybe you see yourself at an iconic corporation. I'll bet you never considered that a career in human resources is an excellent way to propel yourself into either kind of company.
Every company, across every industry, needs HR to manage its workforce. Even tiny start-ups without the critical employee mass to hire a full-time HR person use third-party providers, meaning job opportunities abound in agencies as well as in individual businesses. And as business becomes increasingly global, companies are hiring HR people like never before—the employment of HR specialists is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020.
But what does being an "HR specialist" really look like?
A Day in the Life of an HR Pro
Before I started my career in HR, I thought my job would be sitting behind a desk all day, listening to people complain about problems at work and dispensing motherly advice. To say that I learned otherwise would be a colossal understatement. The first shock was learning the extent to which HR is law-driven (a plus for me, as I'd been accepted to law school, but realized that I didn't want to be an attorney after all). And during the 14 years I spent in HR, so much changed that I also had to develop skills in data analysis and software—aspects that certainly weren't part of the HR practice when I began my career.
Today, these aspects of the job have evolved into full-time specialties. From recruiting to data analytics to mergers and acquisitions, the growing industry of HR can provide an interesting career opportunity for nearly anyone. As founder of Rising Star Resumes and a long-time HR professional, I've worked with recent graduates as well as mid-career professionals to help them land a job that's a great fit for their skills and personality.
One of the best hires I ever made was Katie, a drama major who needed a job while waiting for her big break. I hired her because she had taken challenging courses in college, so I knew she was smart, and because her work-study program showed me that she could multi-task. She's now the head of recruiting for a SaaS company.
Regardless of college major, if you emphasize the skills you have for a particular specialty, you can get in on the ground floor. Below are the most common career tracks within HR, along with details on why it might be a great fit for you and how to market yourself for the position:
● Who's it's great for: If you have an outgoing personality and you enjoy growing your professional and social network, recruiting will give you the satisfaction of making the perfect match between a candidate and an employer.
● What skills to emphasize: Research and networking skills are vital, as well as a deep love for learning. Recruiters are always networking, sourcing candidates and openings, and doing in-depth research about different industries.
● How it's changing: It used to be that a recruiter placed an ad in the newspaper and waited for resumes. Now, recruiters may use job boards to post openings, but increasingly, it's all done through social media. Twitter and LinkedIn are where today's recruiters post jobs and search for passive candidates.
2) Employee Relations
● Who it's great for: ER is driven by employment law and psychology; this is a great track if you love analyzing how people think. You will gain a solid understanding of how to manage disciplinary and harassment issues, create performance assessments, and write employee manuals and policies.
● What skills to emphasize: An understanding of human behavior and great negotiation skills—if you studied psychology or participated in debate or student government, highlight these experiences.
● How it's changing: Employment law changes from time to time, and differs from one state to another. It's important to stay on top of federal and state labor law.
3) Human Resource Information System (HRIS) Management
● Who it's great for: If you love IT and systems, this sub-specialty is for you. Companies with employee populations of over 100 (especially those with global offices) need people adept with software systems to manage their employee data.
● What skills to emphasize: List all the software programs you're familiar with, as well as any computer courses you've taken.
● How it's changing: HR has become increasingly data driven. Employers love analytics, and the HRIS manager owns the data.
4) Mergers and Acquisitions
● Who it's great for: Do you love learning about other cultures? Are you uber-organized? M&A specialists are tasked with managing how employees transition when their employers merge or are acquired. Employees are anxious, and it will be up to you to communicate expected changes openly and clearly.
● What skills to emphasize: Excellent project management, study abroad experience and foreign language abilities are all valuable skills for working on M&A.
● How it's changing: Today's global business environment means that M&As will continue to trend. Global HR is the fastest growing specialty in HR.
5) Employee Benefits
● Who it's great for: Understanding employee benefits can be challenging, so if you're comfortable interpreting highly complex documents and enjoy helping people understand their benefits, this may be your niche. You'll also be advocating for your employees with insurance companies when problems arise.
● What skills to emphasize: Analytical skills are important, but you also need to demonstrate excellent writing skills in order to communicate complicated benefit information to employees.
● How it's changing: The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has made this specialty even more complicated and Employee Benefits experts will be needed as coverage expands.
Good luck, graduates!