What’s it Like to Work in Human Resources?

When I tell people that I work in Human Resources, they usually bring up Toby from The Office or assume that my role is largely administrative. However, most of the people that I know working in HR Generalist roles have really dynamic positions that can involve duties like setting the recruiting strategy for their organization or even planning large scale employee recognition events.

What’s it like to work in Human Resources? The typical experience of a human resources professional is largely dependent on the size of the company they work for, their industry and the company’s culture and their view of human resources.  

Regardless of the size of a business, it is important that employees feel motivated and engaged to help the organization meet its objectives and that’s where Human Resources comes into play.  Although it was once seen as a strictly administrative function, HR professionals are increasingly being viewed as strategic partners who are able to support business strategy through mastery of the various HR functions.  Although this still isn’t the case at many companies. Ultimately the goal of a strategic human resources professional is to ensure that a business is staffed effectively with employees who are productive and committed. They are able to do this by developing a talent management strategy that focuses on acquiring and retaining employees with the skills that align with a company’s needs, building and maintaining a positive company culture, establishing a competitive compensation and benefit package, and ensuring that an organization is a place of continuous learning so it can respond to dynamic changes in the marketplace.  A business must effectively manage its human resources if it wants to be successful and HR bridges the gap between employees needs and management wants.

HR in Small Businesses vs Large Firms

The role that HR plays in an organization is dependent on its size.  In very small firms that have fewer than 15 employees, an office administrator is usually assigned the tasks of coordinating human resources responsibilities such as posting job ads, completing new hire paperwork, tracking time off and leaves and processing terminations.  As a company nears 50 employees and there are increased reporting requirements, there’s usually a need to have an office manager or dedicated HR professional handle the more complex issues that arise. Due to the company size, the person in this role will most likely be an HR Generalist who has a strong grasp on the compliance issues that need to be monitored so the company doesn’t accidentally run afoul of them. It’s not until you move into larger organizations that have around 200 or more staff that you will start to see larger HR departments with specialists who focus on one or two HR functions and an increased focus on analytics.

Does HR Have a Say in Hiring?

Recruiting is the marketing arm of the human resources function and savvy corporate recruiters use the 4Ps of marketing to attract candidates with desired skill sets to a company. Except here the product is the company, the price is compensation, the place is the work location and promotion is the communication method.  With increased competition for talent, recruiters have to be able to communicate a compelling employer value proposition and use multiple channels to attract quality candidates. Simply posting on job boards isn’t enough any more. 

HR’s role in the hiring process starts well before a job ad gets posted.   HR will work with managers to perform a job analysis to determine the key qualifications that a candidate needs to be successful in a role. Then, HR will use this information to research the market rate for comparable positions in their target area and they will work with managers to develop an appropriate salary range. The information obtained from a job analysis will be used to produce a job description that includes:

  • Job Title
  • Objectives
  • Duties and Responsibilities
  • Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Additionally, HR must ensure that all job postings comply with Federal and local laws.

HR must determine where to advertise their open job requisitions.  Recruiters must frequently analyze responses to their job postings and look at not only the number of responses they receive, but also the quality of candidates obtained through their search.  Some recruiters are also targeting passive candidates through social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram where they are better able to display a company’s brand and culture and have a more casual communication with potential candidates. As soon as responses start coming in, HR is responsible for screening resumes and selecting candidates who best meet the jobs requirements and those will then be passed on to the hiring manager for review.  It is ultimately up to the hiring manager to determine who gets offered a job, but HR is involved every step of the way.

Is Training Part of Human Resources?

Training and Development is a key HR function that involves ensuring that both staff and leadership have the necessary soft skills and technical ability to help the business meet its objectives.  A training matrix is a visual tool that helps human resources and management identify the desired competencies for a position and the training that a specific employee needs to become proficient. Companies can develop training matrices for specific positions or for classes of employees.  As an example, new managers will need to understand compliance issues while field employees may need to meet certain safety requirements.

How Does HR Balance the Demands of Employees and Management?

A core part of HR’s role is to serve as a bridge between management and employees. Truthfully, it occasionally feels like you’re walking a tightrope.  You’re in a position where you have to be an employee champion, but at the same time, you have to make sure that staff are complying with company policy and performance standards.   As an HR Generalist, you will need to build relationships with your management team so you can understand their challenges and present carefully considered solutions for their business and staffing issues.  And you want to make yourself available to staff so they feel like their issues are being heard and addressed.

Since HR is in contact with employees at every stage of their lifecycle with the company they get to deal with positive aspects like onboarding, orientation and recognition to the negative aspects like disciplinary actions and terminations.  It can be fun to celebrate special milestones with employees, but you have to be able to flip the switch to be firm, yet fair, when taking corrective action. It can be challenging to connect with employees when you have to maintain a degree of separation.  You want to be personable, but not get too personal.

An HR professional has to navigate a very complicated relationship dynamic. So, it’s very important to be able to communicate effectively and to use good judgement.  If management and staff are able to understand the rationale behind a decision then they’re usually more receptive to it. 

Does payroll fall under HR?

In smaller companies, HR may also handle payroll responsibilities.  What this involves depends on your industry and employee base. For example, I work for a construction and real estate development company so all of our field employees use a mobile app to submit time cards and their hours and wages are recorded against specific jobs.  Someone on our administrative team is responsible for auditing employees time cards for accuracy before they’re transferred to payroll and we have a Staff Accountant/HR Assistant that processes the payroll and submits labor cost reports to management for review. You may find in some other companies that payroll falls under the Accounting or Finance department.  In either case, HR will usually still bear the responsibility of making sure that employee personal info and wage information is correctly entered into the payroll system.

Related Questions

What should I major in for human resources? To enter a career in human resources, you should have a degree in Human Resources, Business or a related area of study.

What are entry level HR job titles? Entry level job titles for human resources include Human Resources Coordinator, Human Resources Assistant or Human Resources Administrator

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