Jobs in Human Resource Management can literally give you the power to control the careers of hundreds or even thousands of employees.
Hari Raghavachari started a 2-part series add some clarity to the field of Human Resources (HR).
Here’s the second part.
How to get an HR job?
The two most common entry routes to an HR career are:
– Undergraduate or (in India) an MBA or Masters in HR –> followed by either a functional entry or into an HR specific Leadership Development Program (LDP). You would enter at notch or two below manager level and work your way up.
– Mid-career transition into HR –> in the context of someone’s career development towards senior business roles, or a full transition into HR. Many HR managers / directors would have transition mid-career into HR from other functions in the organization, like finance, operations, or marketing & sales.
Most MNCs will have a healthy mix of the two.
So what could a human resource management (HR) career look like?
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll stay with the scenario of an MNC.
With few exceptions like some company’s Global HR Leadership Development Program (LDP) where one might have an early career international assignment / rotation, most HR careers in MNCs start out local. You would normally have to go through early career rotational positions in administration, employee relations and IT platforms / L&D; with some companies offering business partner assignments at a junior level.
It would take between 5-7 years for you to be considered for mid/senior and potentially international HR roles in any of the above sub-functional areas. In this period, you will have achieved or acquired competence and skills in a combination of the below areas, all underpinned by a solid understanding of your business & industry:
– Professional expertise in at least one area (except administration), with strong knowledge of another; perhaps with some time leading a small group of people. Example – you have specific and applicable experience in the area of mid-senior management recruiting, compensation and retention.
– You are an authority on corporate HR practice, organizational strategy. Example – you are an expert in running corporate / regional LDPs, and could potentially be considered a candidate to run a Global LDP; alternatively – you could be considered for a business partner role in a centralized or center –led global function like Strategic Procurement
– Solid experience in HR led projects or Business initiatives. Example – you have contributed to / led a major HR Information System upgrade for the local subsidiary of the company; or have successfully managed the HR aspects of integration of a major acquisition (including sensitive areas like employee retention or termination when that needs to happen).
Achieving a combination or all of the above is necessary for the visibility required amongst the senior people who evaluate you for global / corporate / partnering roles in HR.
Going further – your career could go one of several ways:
– Senior HR and leadership roles within your companies
– With professional qualifications through your career, into Organizational Consulting
– Executive Recruiting
Options are wide… but like any other career, you’d need to work your way up!
So what sort of a person do you need to be?
Aside from all of the functional and leadership skills for the role, good to great HR people have a certain personality that lends itself easily to HR. The GM of HR in the company I joined at 22, said two things were most important for HR people to have – a sense of humor, and a very thick skin! 14 years of experience later, innumerable interactions (& some unpleasant runs-in :-)) with HR colleagues – I couldn’t agree more.
Alongside skills and personality, you need to be viewed by ALL your co-workers as a sensitive, empathetic yet appropriately assertive leader, and a flawless communicator. HR people are the least understood (therefore often least liked) people in an organization because they’re seen as the messengers and executors of (nearly always unpopular) change – you wouldn’t be jealous of an HR Director when he/she runs an organizational restructuring or job/role/compensation recalibration program.
They hold sensitive and confidential information about employees (compensation and performance reports). They are aware of organizational politics, generally not a pleasant experience. It makes their role in the company inherently secretive, as they have to be extremely careful about what they speak, to whom they, when, why and how! They can’t blab, which sometimes goes against human nature :-). Most of their co-workers will NOT have the maturity to understand, and that’s what makes HR so poorly understood!
Bottom-line – you need to strike the balance in maintaining the relationship with your colleagues, while not losing sight of how sensitive what you know really is. It takes time to build this skill.
After all of that, what does education in / for the field look like?
To start a career at the administrative levels, a degree is pretty much enough. But this blog is intended for career aspirants, so the below would cater to those.
There’s no specific undergraduate degree necessary to start a career in HR – period. However, most large companies in India prefer to recruit their HR staff from business or specialist schools offering specific PG or Master’s or MBAs with specific electives in HR. To enter as HR associate, the path of least resistance would be to aim for one of the Top 10-15 schools in India, where all of the major corporate houses recruit (entry level or lateral) – the IIMs, JBIMS, MDI, IMT, SPJ, FMS, XL, TISS, NMIMS….
There are many who ask me about going abroad for specialized Masters in HR or similar education. Unless you’re very sure that there’s a job waiting for and / or you can afford the attendance costs – this is not a good idea. As previously mentioned, HR is an enabling and fairly local function from early to mid-career levels. It requires a strong understanding of local culture, including native fluency with the local language. Like marketing and similarly culture oriented functions, HR recruiting at the early career levels in any market would prefer local talent.
You need think very carefully about what you bring to the table to compete with the local talent. You “could” come back to India immediately, but would you be able to compete again with Indians who did their Masters / MBA in India, and are preferred by companies recruiting for their Indian operations? Chances are low, therefore wouldn’t your expensive foreign education towards an HR career be a waste?
An HR career can be fulfilling and rewarding, but you need to take the long term view on how you’re going to get there. I hope this blog post offers you an independent perspective on what you will see in this career, and how you can plan it.