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Is a human resources career right for me?

Rewarding and challenging, a human resources career puts you at the center of a business or organization.
Written by Melissa Sartore on

Working alongside people and processes makes a human resource career rewarding and challenging.

A human resources career involves serving as an arbitrator, a supervisor, a coordinator, and a teacher. Human resource professionals interview and hire new employees, oversee benefits programs, manage payroll, and facilitate communication between management and staff.

To find out if a career in human resources is right for you, keep reading. 

Advice from a human resources professional

Tina Hawk, a white woman with long wavy hair, smiles in a headshot.

Tina Hawk's HR career has spanned industries over 25 years. She currently oversees the people and talent teams for Inflection, parent company of GoodHire, a provider of background checks for small and mid-size businesses. 

Tina previously headed up the global HR operations for Conduit Global, an international business process outsourcer. She also held several executive leadership positions at TriNet. 

Tina Hawk holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Missouri State University and in her spare time is an avid traveler, foodie, and wine connoisseur who enjoys spending time with her family.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

ZDNet: What type of person is successful and thrives in an HR career? 

Tina Hawk: I've worked with so many amazing HR professionals in my career, and they each bring their own unique attributes. I would say that they all share a passion for people and the ability to navigate complex situations with a high degree of confidentiality.

ZDNet: What type of person may not be the best fit? 

TH: HR professionals wear many hats and must be able to thrive in fast-paced, ever-changing environments with flexibility. Many times the right answer begins with "It depends." If someone needs rigid structure or absolute certainty when solving complex matters, HR might not be the best fit.

ZDNet: What are the most rewarding aspects of your career? 

TH: The ability to motivate and activate colleagues toward a common goal and mission.

ZDNet: What are the most challenging aspects of your career? 

TH: Keeping up with the ever-evolving regulatory environment, particularly when working in global companies.

ZDNet: What's a typical day for an HR professional? What tasks do you typically work on? 

TH: HR is all about communication, so lots of meetings both formal and informal, emails, and phone calls. That's all part of creating that connectivity that permeates all facets of HR, whether it's receiving feedback, setting goals, planning for growth, evaluating policies or practices, etc.

ZDNet: Who do you communicate with? 

TH: Literally everyone in the organization. Each role is critical to our success, so it's important to stay connected with colleagues in every area of the organization.

ZDNet: What kind of hours do you keep? 

TH: I'm straddling a few time zones. My typical day is 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and most nights, I'll hop back online after 9:00 p.m. to clear out my emails or plan for the following day.

ZDNet: Since becoming an HR pro, has there been anything about the role that you didn't expect or anticipate? 

TH: There are so many dimensions of HR. There is no way to anticipate everything a role may require, and roles tend to form around people over time. This is actually one of the many things I love most about HR.

Day in the life of a human resources professional

No two days in the life of a human resource professional are the same. HR duties vary depending on the business or organization's size.

In a small business, human resource workers might handle:

  • Hiring and firing
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Employee training
  • Employee relations
  • Conflict resolution
  • Personnel record keeping

At large corporations and organizations, a human resource professional may specialize in one area — recruitment, benefits, or retirement programs, for example. 

Human resource professionals work with staff and employees at all levels within a company or organization. They may meet with managers and executives to coordinate organizational needs while talking to entry-level workers about grievances and problems. 

Their duties require patience, flexibility, and communication skills. 

Lifestyle of a human resources professional

As an individual who provides information to executives and entry-level staff alike, human resource professionals typically work in an office setting. Remote work may be an option, too.

Because human resources careers include so many duties and responsibilities, the pace and expectations of a human resource job can be quick and exciting. Adaptability helps human resource professionals thrive when they need to shift focus quickly from one task to another. 

With technology and the workforce constantly changing, human resource professionals attend continuing education programs to learn new skills and changes to existing practices. 

Salary expectations as a human resources professional

The salary you can expect as a human resource professional varies by location, education, and experience. 

A human resource major with a bachelor's degree has the knowledge and skills for entry-level human resources jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for human resource specialists was $63,490 in May 2020.

Human resource managers earned nearly twice that with median annual wages of $121,220 in May 2020. Experience coupled with an advanced degree or certificate and continued education can lead to higher-paying human resource jobs. 

What does it take to become a human resources professional?

Low-level human resource jobs may not require a degree, but most employers prefer candidates who have experience or training. 

Human resource professionals need to know the ins and outs of budget software, benefit and compensation programs and policies, and regulatory requirements. 

A human resources certificate equips you with basic knowledge and skills for a human resource position. In contrast, a bachelor's degree in human resources provides a comprehensive understanding of HR's many facets.

An human resources master's or HR doctorate enhances prior knowledge and skills. 

After earning a degree, you can supplement it with training in specific areas. A graduate certificate in human resources, for example, may emphasize leadership, conflict and negotiation, or talent management.

If you have previous experience working as an office manager or in business, transitioning to human resources can be relatively easy. Transferring to human resources from another industry may require coursework or training in organizational development, digital human resources, and talent acquisition. 

What skills do I need as an HR professional?

Soft skills, also called people skills, help human resource workers communicate with and relate to their fellow employees. 

Hard skills include using computer technology, evaluating employees, and analyzing data. Human resource jobs may also require management, presentation, and marketing abilities.

Below are a few more essential skills for human resources careers.

Hard skills

  • Using human resources information software
  • Onboarding practices and procedures
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Negotiation skills
  • Benefit and compensation allocation

People skills

  • Active listening
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Time management
  • Adaptability
  • Problem solving

In conclusion

Diversity within human resources, opportunities for growth in the field, and the ever-changing employment landscape might make an HR career intriguing. Understand the role of a human resource professional to decide if a job in HR meets your interests and career goals. 

If you want to take the next step, explore the training options linked above.

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