Building a career in HR

This entry is for all those who are starting their career in HR, whether it’s by choice or by chance. And also for a certain young, talented and somewhat impatient HR practitioner (A.C), who’s recently asked me a ton a questions pertaining to this very topic.

This is a very interesting topic for me to blog about. For one, I embarked on my career in HR purely by chance. I got my education in computing, and after finishing a PeopleSoft upgrade project with the HRIS department, I was offered the option to stay on with the company and move on to the other less “techie” roles within HR. I took the plunge and the rest is history.

Being a HR practitioner for more than 10 years now, I came to appreciate the complexity of the trade. I agree that the administrative and “boring” aspect of the job still exists, and rightfully, they should. However, the role a HR practitioner had since evolved, allowing various specializations to develop over time.

This gave rise to the question of “specialization” for many of us. Should I start my career as a “generalist”? Which “specialization” is more suitable for my personality? Or even, which “specialization” pays more?

No, I’m not going to be answering all those questions here. We all have our opinions, and to be honest, there is no right answer to these questions.

The truth is, each specialization within HR is closely knitted and related to each other. There is no way you are going to be able to function with a silo mentality, without interacting and working closely with others.

The worst thing that can happen is when the walls come up and each of the functions starts acting independently. When this happens, “HR” as a department loses its ability to function collectively, causing inefficiency which many of us attributes to a “lack of communication”. (I happen to find that “excuse” most cliché)

So, if we are looking at becoming (or grooming) good HR practitioners, shouldn’t we be trying to break down that silo mentality that’s plagued many modern HR organisations?

There is no silver bullet, but I’ve always been a big fan of job rotation. Personally, I’ve rotated within and out of the HR organization, building strong knowledge and awareness of the functions I’ve served in. The cumulative experience resulted in a strong sense of appreciation of the blind spots and pain points in each of these functions.

I came to realize that within each of functions, there are blind spots with how we go about performing our jobs. Sometimes, these blind spots result in less than ideal downstream effects, which add on to the tension and conflict within the organization.

The solutions to these problems often involve policies, procedures and processes being setup, resulting in a systemic breakdown of communications, where everything is being “spelt out” clearly, thus it is assumed to be understood by all. I call this the “Clear as mud” syndrome!

Thus, like it or not, every HR practitioner should plan in their career rotations into the different HR functions. Don’t tie yourself down with choosing something that you’re passionate with too early on in your career.

I would try to tackle the function which I find most challenging (or hardest to understand/ appreciate).

Be patient. If you think you can learn everything in a month or two, you are better off reading a book. Sometimes, it takes a few repetitions (or cycles) for the problems to surface, thus by slapping on a new job title on your name card is not going work. Especially when things are not going your way. That’s part of the training as well. If things are going too smoothly, you’re not digging hard enough.

Lastly, seek our mentors to help guide you along. This will save you a lot of pain with banging your head against the wall and potentially save your life when you decide to drown yourself with the water cooler.

Enjoy the journey. The thing about career building is, every part of the journey is different. The different jobs, departments, companies and people come together to give you a different set of experience. Some good, some bad. Learn from it; copy the good and remember the bad. Keep a list.

One day, you will be running a HR department of your own. Bring out that list and you will know what you need to do and what you need to avoid.

Have a good career!



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