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So you want a job in human resources?

Let’s face it, human resources (HR) isn’t really the most sought-after or glamorous job that naturally attract candidates. After all, I graduated with an Engineering degree and didn't even decide on a HR career from the beginning (long story, reach out to me separately if you're keen to know more). You’re not going to hear people say they want to be like me, but more often than not, they ask “Why work in HR?” I'll attempt to answer some of these questions here.

What does human resources mean or what is human resource management?

Human resources management (also abbreviated as HRM) is a broad term that covers a spectrum of functions associated with talent acquisition, people performance management and developing learning needs. The HR function ensure that companies adhere to employment compliance and execute best practices when managing their people in order to not only benefit the employees but also the organisation’s ability to grow. As you can imagine, all of the items that engages people are part of the HR world.

How can human resources improve the performance of a business?

HR professionals provide the necessary knowledge, coaching, legal and leadership advice, and talent management oversight such as manpower and succession planning that directly influences the success of the Organisation. Many of us are responsible for the culture of the organization to ensure that the organisation builds teams that inspires. It's no wonder many Companies are renaming the HR function to "People & Culture" teams in recent years.

HRM is also a strategic approach to people management. Effective HR management with proper interventions empowers employees to contribute effectively to the overall business direction of the Organisation and in order to meet strategic objectives.

Over the years, HR is changing its focus and driving away from traditional personnel transactions. In fact, most of these administrative services such as payroll and recruitment are increasingly outsourced. The HRM function is now expected to add value to ensure that employee programs have impact to the commercial motivation of the Organisation in positive measurable ways. The outcome of this value of HRM therefore explains the influx of HR Business Partnership roles we see in now the talent market.

What does human resources do?

The responsibilities of a human resource manager fall into three major buckets:

Talent acquisition (traditionally also termed as recruitment or staffing), to find and acquire skilled candidates for organisational needs and to meet manpower requirements. Compensation and benefits, C&B (also termed as total rewards in some Companies), a sub-discipline of human resources, focused on employee C&B policy-making.

While compensation and benefits are tangible, there are intangible rewards such as recognition, flexible working arrangements that many organisations are keen to provide.Performance management and employee relations, the process of creating a work place in which people are empowered to perform to the best of their abilities. This also include processes to manage poor performers that can be challenging to manage with line managers who have mediocre people management skills.

Due to human resources being a broad field, the daily tasks of HR professionals can be very different. Recruiters focus mostly on sourcing for talent, coordinating and interviewing candidates, while HR generalists are responsible for maintaining and streamlining processes to handle processes such as payroll etc. Additional activities can include employee engagement programmes like community outreach.

Essentially, the purpose of HRM is to maximise the potential of an organization by optimising the effectiveness of its team. This mandate is highly unlikely to change fundamentally, and the mission of human resources will always be to Recruit, Retain and Reward talent (or what I call the 3Rs of HR).

Is human resources a good career? What are the challenges of a human resources role?

As a HR professional myself, I observed that the importance of human resources to a company's overall health has grown dramatically, and this extends to small businesses and startups. While they may not generally have the same volume of HR requirements, they too face personnel management issues that can have a decisive impact on business health. A career in HR allows you to:

1) Be in a position of influence.

HR professionals have a unique perspective into the businesses they work for due to the nature of their job. Not only do they have a strong understanding of an organization’s priorities and challenges, but they also have the ability to influence the future of the company based on the employment decisions they make. Good HR professionals have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their companies, and they continue to try and make or sustain as an employer of choice.

2) Have the opportunity to change lives.

Many HR professionals have made positive impact on people just by turning up for work each day. The daily duties of the job make employees engaged and impacts happiness of the people and culture of the teams. There are so many stories and countless examples of ways HR professionals have a hand in helping those in need, and the list can go on and on.

3) Get to guide others in their careers. Some of you might know my favourite part of the employee lifecycle is conducting exit interviews. Not every employee has a clear plan or know what they aspire to achieve. HR professionals have the opportunity to guide and, where appropriate, coach and mentor employees toward pursuing new career heights. A lot of people think they know what they want when they resign, but then figure out it doesn't go with their career aspirations. As a HR coach, my job is to help them clarify the wants and needs, even if it means encouraging them to take another role elsewhere.

4) Enjoy a very different workday, everyday. You have to stay on your toes when you work in HR. One day you may be helping an employee navigate changes to their work or behavioural performance, while the next you could be dealing with the effects of new regulations. The variety of challenges are limitless.

"If you succeed you have an achievement, if you fail then you have a story to tell." - unknown

I myself love the variety and many of the challenge that can add alot of excitement to my life. Challenges like these can keep me engaged, no matter how long you’re in the job.

The New Expectations of HR

HR management definitely has its set of challenges. These include working around unpredictable schedules when coordinating interviews and handling sensitive issues such as retrenchments and people problems between managers and employees. You need to know when to attach and detach emotions, while being empathetic throughout.

"In HR, your problem is my problem, my problem is my problem" - Aaron

Gone are the days when HR merely executes directions from the management team. We are now expected to be present at the executive table and propose interventions to drive the business. The new role of HR involves strategic studies and executions to demonstrate our value by keeping their employer and company risk free from lawsuits and workplace chaos. HR must constantly perform the balancing act to support and collaborate with employees and the organisation. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of a HR function.

Now that you have a better idea and a whole list of reasons why it’s worth it to work in HR, is this the rewarding career you’re looking for? If it's still a yes, here's one bonus tip for you:

How to get into human resources?

HR is a field with plenty of growth and stability, human resources management offers many opportunities for fresh graduates. The best way to find out if being an HR professional is right for you is to get a hands-on feel for the role by doing an internship or start of doing some temporary HR assignments if you do not already have any academic certifications related to human resources. This was how I started my career with International SOS many years ago, thanks to the opportunity given by my first boss then.

For those residing in Singapore, you may also certify yourself as a HR professional through a structured assessment-based programme via the Institute for Human Resources (IHRP):

IHRP offers a holistic and rigorous certification designed for HR professionals. Whether you are an employer or a HR professional, certification has benefits for you.

Feel free to reach out to me if you need any form of career coaching or assistance.

More than happy to provide my HR 2 cents.


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