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What is HR? Your Guide to
Human Resources as a Career

A magnifying glass shows a question mark in its center an is surrounded by a group of people.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on April 25, 2024

Have you ever wondered how companies find the right people, create positive work environments, and get things done? That's where Human Resources (HR) comes in. HR professionals are much more than just policy enforcers, shaping the entire employee experience, helping individuals thrive and driving success for the entire company. And, if you're passionate about helping people reach their full potential and want a dynamic career with growth, HR could be the right career path for you.

After all, companies with engaged employees outperform their competitors by a staggering 202%! Such engagement is often due to strategic HR initiatives that foster a positive workplace by crafting policies, training programs, and support systems that make employees feel valued and motivated to give their best.

HR is about proposing immediate solutions to problems and building a sustainable future for individuals and organizations. In today's rapidly evolving job market, where technology changes how we work and skills needed for success evolve at lightning speed, HR professionals have become an imperative piece of this constant puzzle. HR offers a dynamic and exciting career path by finding talent who can adapt and thrive, creating workplaces that support employee well-being, and implementing strategies that align people with a company's mission.

9 Ways HR Teams Build a Better Organization

Think about your best work experience. Did you feel motivated, supported, and like your contributions mattered? Chances are, a strong HR team played a behind-the-scenes role in fostering that positive environment. Even if you see HR like paperwork and policies, its impact is much more profound.

From when a job advertisement catches your eye to the day you retire (and beyond), HR shapes the work experience. Let's explore how HR departments make a tangible difference for organizations and their employees.

1. Recruitment & Hiring: Finding the Right Fit

Finding the perfect person for a role is part art, part science. HR teams excel at crafting job descriptions that attract the best talent, utilizing various recruiting channels to reach a vast pool, and conducting interviews beyond the resume. Onboarding sets the stage for success, ensuring new hires feel welcomed, prepared, and integrated. HR's work here sets the foundation for a solid and productive workforce.

2. Employee Development: Fostering Growth

HR sees potential, not only current skills. Training programs, mentorship opportunities, and tuition assistance offered by HR departments empower employees to upskill, expand their knowledge, and reach new heights within the organization. This focus on development creates a win-win situation: employees feel valued and motivated, while the company gains a more capable and adaptable workforce.

3. Compensation & Benefits: Fairness and Attraction

Fair wages and comprehensive benefits packages are more than just perks – they're essential for attracting and retaining top talent. HR specialists analyze market trends, design salary structures that ensure internal equity, and negotiate everything from health insurance plans to retirement savings options. It's a delicate balance between company resources and employee well-being, a balance that HR is dedicated to getting right.

4. Policy Development: Setting Clear Standards

Clear and consistent policies are essential for any well-run workplace. HR teams draft and maintain employee handbooks outlining expectations for conduct, attendance, and other workplace policies. They guide employees and managers in navigating complex issues, ensuring fair treatment, and preventing misunderstandings. Clear policies foster a sense of trust and professionalism within an organization.

5. Performance Management: Nurturing Excellence

Beyond hiring, HR plays a crucial role in helping employees thrive. For instance, performance management involves proactive goal-setting, ongoing feedback, and coaching conversations. And, HR develops these systems, trains managers, and works with employees to address performance gaps and celebrate successes. This focus on continuous growth benefits individuals and the entire organization.

6. Compliance: Minimizing Risk, Protecting People

HR is the guardian of labor laws and regulations. You ensure the company remains compliant across equal employment opportunity, wage and hour laws, and workplace safety. This intricate knowledge protects the company from costly legal risks. More importantly, it ensures that all employees are treated fairly, regardless of background or role.

7. Employee Relations: Building Trust & Addressing Conflict

Workplaces are made of people, and with people, there can be disagreements. So, HR acts as a mediator, investigating concerns, resolving conflicts fairly, and fostering effective communication to maintain a positive atmosphere. You may also handle sensitive employee issues, offering support and navigating complex situations with empathy and confidentiality.

8. Company Culture: Shaping the Heart of the Workplace

Company culture is the collective values, attitudes, and the unspoken "feeling" of a workplace. And, HR shapes this through initiatives emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, employee recognition programs, and activities that build connection and community.

9. HR Analytics: Data-Informed Insights

Data increasingly drives HR. HR analytics involves collecting and interpreting metrics on turnover, employee engagement, training effectiveness, and more. These insights help HR teams spot trends, identify areas for improvement, and make informed recommendations that support the company's strategic goals.

Through these nine ways, it’s easier to visualize how HR professionals wear many hats and play vital roles within any successful organization beyond the day-to-day functions. Now, let's explore the diverse career paths HR has to offer.

These different paths offer options for growth and specialization, making human resources a career with plenty of advancement possibilities based on your skills and interests (human resources career ladder, human resources career progression). If you're drawn to this field, it's worth considering if human resources is a good career path and whether human resources is in demand within your desired industry.

6 Diverse HR Career Paths: Choose Your Focus

The dynamic nature of HR makes it a field ripe with opportunities for growth and specialization. Whether you're just starting in HR or seeking your next challenge, the diverse career paths within this field offer something for everyone. Your ambition and HR's ever-evolving landscape mean your career potential can be limitless.

Think beyond the traditional "HR Generalist" role. Within human resources, you can focus on a specific area like recruiting, compensation, training & development, or even strive for leadership positions within the function. If this dynamic, people-centered field sparks your interest, and you'd like to explore what a career in human resources looks like, let's look at some popular career paths in human resources.

  1. HR Generalist: The Versatile Foundation: HR Generalists are the multi-tool of the HR world. Often found in smaller companies, they handle various HR tasks, from recruitment and onboarding to policy updates and employee inquiries. This could be your path if you enjoy variety, problem-solving across various HR functions, and learning on the go. A generalist role is an excellent way to gain broad exposure to the field and discover your interests.

  2. Benefits Specialist: Well-being and Competitive Edge: Benefits Specialists focus on the programs that support employee health, financial security, and work-life balance. They analyze trends, negotiate with providers, design retirement plans, and ensure everything from health insurance to commuter benefits aligns with company goals and employee needs. This role is ideal if you're detail-oriented, analytical, and passionate about improving employees' lives beyond their paychecks.

  3. HR Manager: Leadership and Team Building: HR Managers oversee daily HR operations while also leading and developing their team. They guide employees, manage HR projects, ensure compliance, and often act as a bridge between HR and other departments. Strong communication, interpersonal skills, and a desire to mentor and lead others are essential characteristics of a successful HR Manager.

  4. Compensation Analyst: Fairness Meets Data: Compensation Analysts ensure employees are paid somewhat based on market data, internal salary structures, and individual performance. They analyze compensation trends, evaluate job roles, and conduct salary surveys to maintain competitiveness. If you love numbers, have an analytical mind, and understand the impact of pay on employee motivation and retention, this could be a rewarding path within HR.

  5. Talent Acquisition Specialist (Recruiter): Finding the Perfect Fit. Recruiters are the talent scouts of the HR world. They excel at sourcing, screening, interviewing, and ultimately bringing the right people into the organization. This role requires strong communication, understanding of the company's needs and culture, and some salesmanship to attract top candidates in a competitive market. Recruiting could be your calling if you're a people person who thrives in a fast-paced environment.

  6. Training & Development Specialist: Cultivating Growth: Training & Development Specialists empower employees to reach their full potential. They design and deliver training programs ranging from onboarding new hires to upskilling teams in the latest technologies. This role is perfect if you have a passion for teaching, enjoy identifying skills gaps, and find satisfaction in seeing employees learn and grow.

An Infographic Titled 'Six Human Resources Career Paths' with the description of six HR roles and what they do.

12 Reasons Why Human Resources Makes a Rewarding Career

By now, you're starting to understand what human resources does and the diverse careers this field offers. However, a deeper question remains: Is human resources a good career path for you? HR isn't just a job – it's a career with the potential for long-term impact, growth, and personal fulfillment.

Whether you're a recent graduate searching for a dynamic field or a seasoned professional considering a change, human resources might be the perfect fit. Let's explore why you should choose human resources as a career, highlighting the benefits of this profession and some of the essential skills that will set you up for success.

  1. People-Centered Impact: If you find satisfaction in helping others succeed, HR offers ample opportunities to do just that. From guiding employees through career development to designing programs that enhance well-being, your work directly impacts people's lives.

  2. Growth and Advancement: Human resources is growing, and there is a demand for skilled professionals across industries. With a commitment to continuous learning and a drive to lead, there are ample opportunities for advancement within the HR career ladder.

  3. Variety and Challenge: No two days are ever the same in HR. You'll tackle various tasks, from recruiting top talent to resolving workplace conflicts and analyzing HR data. This field will keep you engaged if you thrive in a dynamic environment where problem-solving is critical.

  4. Strategic Influence: The question "What is human resources?" goes beyond day-to-day tasks. HR plays a pivotal role in shaping organizational strategy. You'll collaborate with leadership to design policies, implement initiatives, and make decisions that drive the company forward.

  5. Data-Driven Decision Making: HR analytics is a growing and in-demand focus area. If you enjoy using data to gain insights and solve problems, HR offers opportunities to interpret metrics, uncover trends, and support strategic decisions with evidence.

  6. Competitive Compensation: HR professionals are responsible for designing pay structures and enjoy competitive salaries and benefits. If financial security and fair compensation practices are vital to you, is HR a promising career? The answer can be a resounding yes.

  7. Work-Life Integration: While many HR roles have the traditional office setting, the increasing focus on employee well-being and flexibility is changing the landscape. HR professionals are often at the forefront of implementing remote work policies, flexible scheduling, and initiatives supporting work-life balance, making HR an excellent option for those who value this balance.

  8. Transferable Skills: The strong communication, problem-solving, and project management skills honed in HR are highly valued across industries. Even if you eventually pivot careers, your HR experience will be a significant asset.

  9. Building a Positive Workplace Culture: HR initiatives significantly create a positive and inclusive workplace where people feel valued and supported. If you're passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), an HR career can drive positive change in this area.

  10. The Human Side of Business: HR offers a unique perspective on the inner workings of a company. You'll understand how employees impact business success, gain insights into leadership strategies, and see how decisions are made in the real world of work.

  11. Continuous Learning: The world of work is constantly evolving. Where do human resources work? At the forefront of managing that change. From new technologies to shifting employment laws, HR professionals must be lifelong learners to stay ahead.

  12. Personal and Professional Satisfaction: A career is a chance to make a difference, challenge yourself, and continuously grow. If helping others, shaping the future of workplaces, and constantly learning excites you, human resources as a career has the potential to be personally and professionally rewarding.

An infographic titled '12 Reasons Why Human Resources Makes a Rewarding Career' shows 12 text boxes with a summary of the key points described in the text of the blog post.

Getting Started in HR: Your Action Plan

Phase 1: Self-Assessment & Exploration

  • Identify Your Interests: Be honest: Are you drawn to data analysis, conflict resolution, training, policy, etc.? Understanding your natural leanings helps narrow down HR specializations.

  • Assess Your Strengths: Are you organized, empathetic, or persuasive? HR needs a mix of skills, and identifying your strengths will guide your path.

  • Explore HR Career Paths: Go beyond the "list" in this blog. Read job descriptions in detail, even if you still need to be qualified, to see what specific roles entail.

  • Research the Field: Search for articles and videos about current HR trends (e.g., remote work, DEI, data analysis). This exposes you to the evolving landscape.

Phase 2: Gaining Knowledge & Experience

Education Options To Consider:

  • HR Degree (Bachelor's/Master's): Provides a strong foundation if your career change is drastic.

  • HR Certifications (PHR, SHRM-CP): Demonstrates knowledge, especially if you already have a relevant degree.

  • Online Courses & Workshops: Great for focusing on specific skills (compensation, recruiting, etc.).

Network & Build Relationships:

  • Informational Interviews: Connect with HR professionals on LinkedIn or through professional associations. Ask about their paths, daily work, and field insights.

  • Job Shadowing (If Possible): Even a day observing an HR team provides real-world context.

Build Your Skills:

  • Volunteer in HR-adjacent Roles: Nonprofits often need help with onboarding, policy creation, etc.

  • Freelance Projects: Platforms like Upwork sometimes offer short-term HR tasks that build experience.

Phase 3: Entering the HR Workforce

  • Tailor Your Resume & LinkedIn: Highlight relevant skills even if from unrelated jobs (e.g., leading a team project = leadership potential).

Entry-Level Opportunities:

  • HR Assistant/Coordinator Roles: Get your foot in the door in a generalist role.

  • Internships: Many companies offer HR internships for students or career changers.

  • Target Smaller Companies: They often need generalists, offering broader exposure early on.

  • Leverage Your Network: Let those you've connected with know you're actively job-seeking. Often, the best opportunities aren't publicly advertised.

Important Notes:

  • Career paths are NOT linear. Start with recruiting and then move to benefits. This is common in HR!

  • Continuous learning is critical: The HR field changes rapidly. Commit to webinars, conferences, and upskilling to stay competitive.

  • Find Your HR Community: Professional associations offer resources, events, and a network of like-minded individuals for support.

An Infographic titled 'Getting Started in HR' showing the steps to becoming started in the Human Resources professional field.

Key Insights

  • HR Drives Impact Beyond the Day-to-Day: Many think of HR as just rules and paperwork. However, HR professionals create the systems, programs, and culture that directly impact employee experience. From the moment you start a new job to long after you leave, HR plays a crucial role in how you experience the workplace.

  • Find Your Fit Within HR: HR isn't one-size-fits-all. Do you love analyzing data? Enjoy solving problems? Passionate about teaching others? There's an HR specialization for you! This field offers diverse paths for growth, letting you shape a career that aligns with your interests and strengths.

  • HR is a Career, Not Just a Job: With a commitment to continuous learning and a drive to contribute, HR offers pathways for advancement and increasing responsibility. It's a dynamic field where you can make a tangible difference while building a long-term, fulfilling career.

  • HR is Evolving with the Workplace: Technology, shifting employee expectations, the focus on well-being – HR is at the forefront of managing these changes. If you are a problem-solver who wants to shape the future of work, HR provides an exciting and ever-evolving career path.

Key Questions to Ask

How does HR go beyond simply handling paperwork and policies to make a real difference in organizations?

HR has a direct impact on employee experience. They design policies that ensure fair treatment, develop training programs that help employees grow, create compensation packages that attract top talent, implement strategies to foster a positive culture, and much more.

How does HR play a crucial role in shaping the future workplace, especially in light of changing employee needs and expectations?

HR is at the forefront of trends like remote work, flexibility, and a focus on employee well-being. They analyze data to make informed decisions, implement policies that support a changing workforce, manage new technologies, and ensure the workplace remains productive and supportive for employees.

How does HR contribute to a company's success beyond attracting and hiring the right people?

HR contributes to company success by ensuring a fair and positive work environment through policies, designing competitive compensation and benefits, offering training for employee growth, building a solid company culture, and using data to guide strategic decisions.

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