You don’t hear a lot of kids say, “When I grow up, I want to work in human resources.” In fact, I have met a lot of HR professionals who never set out to work in HR. Like me, I am sure many of you landed in HR at some point and decided that it was a good place to be. But there are also those who take an interest in the HR side of a business and set out to start a career in the field. Here are some tips for those getting started in HR, whether it is by choice or chance.
How HR Found Me
When I moved to Santa Cruz, CA in 2003, I had planned to continue working as a domestic violence victim advocate as I had been doing while finishing up my master’s degree in San Diego, CA. When the job I had hoped for fell through, I found myself scouring job postings and applying at temp agencies. The first (and only) temp job I was sent out on was as an HR assistant at a manufacturing and distribution company. I had never worked in HR before and did not think I would like it, but I figured I could keep looking for something else while I worked there. After all, it was only temporary.
Well, I ended up at that company for seven years and rose the ranks up to HR manager before moving on to an HR position at another company. During my time in that first HR job, I had realized how varied the job is. No two days are alike, and you often find yourself calling on a variety of skills: writing, research, creative problem-solving, training, basic accounting and more. I liked the challenge.
Get Ready to File & Enter Data
Remember John Cusack’s character in Being John Malkovich? In the movie, Cusack’s character takes a file clerk job. Because he is a puppeteer, his fingers are quick with filing stacks of paperwork. When I first started in HR, I wished for nimble fingers like Cusack’s character because that was how I spent quite a bit of my time in the first few months of my HR career. On my first day, my trainer led me to the file room, showed me a sample file, pointed to a towering stack of paper and told me to get to work. She said filing was a good way to learn some HR basics. She was right.
The employee file is at the center of recordkeeping in HR. Every HR person needs to know what a W-4 and I-9 are and how to complete them correctly. As I filed in those first few months, I took the time to look at forms, study them and understand what part they played in tracking an employee’s story. I also got familiar with the company’s HR database, which provided another level of understanding HR data, running reports and interpreting results. Although these tasks seem basic, they are important to know as you move up the HR ladder.
Learn Through Observation
Most of my HR training has been on-the-job, which is probably one of the best classrooms any HR novice can learn in. I put a lot of energy into listening to my colleagues. When they would discuss an employee issues, I would ask to sit in. I started volunteering to take notes during investigations, so I could learn what kind of questions were asked and how to get information from employees. I would step up when a colleague needed an extra person in the room during a termination to act as a witness. All of these things started to show me the skills necessary to move up the ranks in HR.
Attending seminars and reading HR material is a good way to supplement the on-the-job training. Also, it helped that I worked with people who did not mind my questions as I was learning the basics.
When you are starting out in HR, be patient. Even after more than ten years in HR, I am still learning new things. It is a huge field, and each year brings new laws, new technologies, and new approaches to old problems.