It’s easy to see why some people balk at the idea of working in human resources and recruitment. After all, HR is often the face of bad or frustrating news—for example, they’ll be the first point of contact if there’s a payroll dispute, an office conflict, or a sudden redundancy; and they’ll also be the people screening your job application, and analysing your professional and academic history. It’s a position of authority that often seems to invite hostility, so it’s worth asking—why would anybody want to pursue a career in HR or recruitment?
As it turns out, there are a lot of encouraging answers to this question. In fact, we’re convinced that, on balance, the positive aspects of working in HR far outweigh any of its shortcomings, making it an appealing option for intelligent and ambitious graduates who want a career that emphasises interpersonal skills and cultural change. Here are five reasons to consider a career in human resources and recruitment.
In 2016, the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) published a report (“Expectations and Experiences of Work1”) that summarised the results of a survey of 437 HR professionals. Some 85 percent of them said they were ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ satisfied with their work, and a key reason for that was the sense that they could make meaningful contributions to the organisations that employed them. Little wonder—after all, nine in ten HR professionals, and eight in ten executives, believe that “HR has an important role in influencing and shaping an organisation’s culture through good people management practices."2
In a separate AHRI report, Hugo Bague, the Global Head of Human Resources for Rio Tinto, expanded on what this cultural leadership might look like for HR professionals3: It means focusing not only on administrative systems and processes, but also on cultural markers such as an organisation’s vision, values, and organisational philosophy, all of which are best united by ‘shared basic assumptions about the way an organisation operates’.
Leadership in this area, he argues, is best supplied by HR professionals, who know the organisation from top to bottom, and can influence its operations by promoting a shared culture. In other words, as a HR professional, you’ll be in a position to change not only the business processes of an organisation, but it’s overall ethos. “Arguably no function is better placed to influence this critical business opportunity,” writes Bague, “and [as HR professionals] we must grasp it with both hands.4
According to the AHRI, one in five students who simultaneously work in HR (for example, while completing a masters degree) report that they were attracted to their career by the prospect of “working with people”. Granted, there might be a certain naivete to entering HR for this reason—the AHRI likens it to “[feeling that] the attraction of being an accountant is [the prospect of] working with cash”. Indeed, some HR professionals may work with, say, line managers, but not necessarily the people who report to them—a situation not uncommon in larger organisations.
However, the expectation that one will spend a great deal of time working with people is, for most HR personnel, not misplaced. Accordingly, the same student respondents cited above said that their most valuable (and frequently used) on-the-job skills were written communication, verbal communication, and teamwork. To quote a typical answer from one respondent: “I enjoy interesting challenges and for me, people provide the most interesting challenges in organisations”.
Millenials who enter the workforce now will change their careers an average of six times during their working life.5 There are various reasons for this, including relocations, shifting interests, the pursuit of higher pay, and the wish to try something new.
Fortunately, HR professionals are no more or less likely to switch careers than anybody else. However, there’s good reason to believe that they’re better positioned than many other professionals to make the switch if they choose to do so. With its constant exposure to various branches of an organisation, and emphasis on valuable transferable skills, such as interpersonal skills, business acumen, and the development of a strong work ethic, a career in HR lays a strong foundation for many subsequent roles. Hence, talented HR professionals often go on to pursue careers in areas such as management, consultancy, strategy development, and business with great success.
One thing that most student HR professionals agree on is that, from day to day, they confront a variety of challenges, from administrative tasks, like drafting contracts and reviewing applications, to more people-oriented tasks, like surveying employees to inform ideas on how best to implement new work strategies. As a result, many of the student HR professionals surveyed described their work in positive terms with phrases like “[it’s] challenging and covers a wide range of issues” and “my main attraction to the field is that it is so diverse, [so] I can look into OHS, recruitment, consulting etc.”6 Ultimately, what comes across is a sense that HR as a career in which you’re not destined to do the same thing every single day, which is encouraging news—as they say, variety is the spice of life.
A central question faced by HR professionals is the following: who do you serve? The obvious (and technically correct) answer is “the organisation that employs you”. However, this leads too often to the erroneous perception of HR professionals as being on one side, with employees on the other—an ‘us versus them’ model that miscasts HR professionals as serving interests other than those of the ‘human resources’ for which they’re responsible.
Fortunately, this belief doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For example, China Gorman, the CEO of Great Place to Work, a global human resources consultancy, argues that HR professionals should be seen as advocates for positive change who can bridge the gap between frontline employees and C-level executives. She writes: “as an HR leader, you have a deeper understanding of people, how they work, and the impact they can have on your company. [...] Regardless of your size, industry, current environment, or any other variable that may attempt to present itself as an obstacle, you can set the course for your company to develop a great culture.”
More often than not, she adds, this means listening to frontline staff and representing their interests in discussions with key decision-makers. More flexible work arrangements? Increased organisational trust? An improved sense of investment in one’s work, and a greater share of pride when that work is done well? All of these things are made possible by HR professionals who listen to their colleagues, advocate for them, fight the good fight, and create happier, more productive workplaces.