How HR Found Me. Tips For Working in Human Resources

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. Tips For Working in Human Resources

I had intended to carry on working as a victim advocate for domestic violence as I had been doing while completing my master’s degree in San Diego, California, when I relocated to Santa Cruz, California, in 2003. When the job I had hoped for didn’t work out, I was forced to go through job listings and submit applications to temp agencies. At a manufacturing and distribution company, I worked as an HR assistant for the first (and only) time as a temporary employee. I had never worked in HR before and did not believe I would enjoy it, but I reasoned that while there, I could continue looking for something else. After all, it was merely a passing thing.

I stayed at that company for seven years, rising through the ranks to become HR manager, and then I moved on to an another company to work in HR. I became aware of how varied the profession is while working at my first HR position. Every day is different, and you frequently need to use a variety of skills, including writing, research, creative problem-solving, training, fundamental accounting, and more. I enjoyed the difficulty.

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.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


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