Future Friday: Advice for Future HR Professionals

by Michael Haberman on January 10, 2014 · 7 comments

A friend and colleague, Bill Ramsey, asked me the other day what I would tell a high school senior, who had expressed an interest in human resources, about what they should be doing to prepare for a career in HR. He thought I would be challenged by this since I write about future HR. So here is what I think the top # things should be.

Core competencies

A lot has been written by SHRM in conjunction with Dave Ulrich and others about the competencies necessary to be considered to be a professional. These include strategy, business acumen, global awareness, technical ability, relationships, and more. Let’s face it if I tell this to a high school student they will be overwhelmed. May HR practioners are as well. So I am going to skip that and get to my list.

Foundational education

The importance of a strong foundational education cannot be over emphasized. This doesn’t mean necessarily that you need to go get a degree in human resources, though there is nothing wrong with that. A business degree will certainly help. But more importantly the mix of subjects to study is more important. In the mix should be the following:

  1. Finance – Understand the language of business
  2. Sociology – Understanding how people interact with each other within society
  3. History – The tools change but how we interact with them and each other doesn’t necessarily
  4. Programming – everyone should understand how to code, especially as it relates to mobile devices. The logic and problem-solving is important.
  5. Robotics – Robot technology will be such an important part of HR you had better understand them.

The problem with this is that you will not be able to find this mix in any college program. So you are going to have to engineer this yourself.

Additional skill sets

Learn how to be a speaker. Yeah I know you don’t like being in front of a crowd. Get over it. In HR you will have to make presentations. If you want to progress in your career this will be critical.

Be a reader and read more than business. Eschew business books in favor of novels. If you want to be in the “people” business novels teach you much more than business books. Novels are all about how people interact with each other. Novels tell you much more about emotion and relationships than do business books. Novelists are much more observant than business writers. Sex, romance, pain, deceit, friendship, leadership, engagement and more are found in novels. History is a good second choice. You learn from other lives. Here is a list of CEO’s favorite books.

Learn to think for yourself. Yes, there is safety in being part of the herd, but in reality it is not the leader of the herd that gets consumed. It is the follower the lions pounce on.

Last piece of advice

My last piece of advice is DO NOT start in HR right out of school. Get a job in sales or operations or accounting. Learn about management, leadership, dealing with people, authority issues, discipline, hiring, and terminations by actually doing them. Believe me it will make you a much better HR professional.

Sign up for free HR Solutions updates via email

Omega HR Solutions, Inc. uses creative human resource solutions to provide answers to time, money and service issues with employers and their employees. Visit our Products and Services page for more information or contact us to learn how we can help your organization.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Trish McFarlane January 10, 2014 at 9:31 am

Mike, this is excellent advice. I especially like that you skip the more overwhelming items that a person would learn over time and get down to what a young person can realistically tackle. Being able to actually understand what it is like to manage people, encourage a team and ultimately fire someone are all so valuable when becoming a HR professional. I’d also add that I’d tell anyone going into this role because “they love working with people” should take a long, hard look.

While HR does in fact work with many people, being the HR pro at a company can be a lonely job. You’re never really able to be friends with anyone. You are an island in the organization and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a few other HR people on the island with you. You have to play cop, disciplinarian, psychologist and many other less than glamorous roles. For the right person, it’s the greatest gig in the world!!


Michael Haberman January 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

Thanks for the comment Trish. I thought about saying something about “I like to work with people” but opted not to, so I appreciate you saying it. HR indeed can be the loneliest job in the company. Hmmmm sounds like a blog post.


Greg January 10, 2014 at 9:59 am

Looki8ng good my friend!
Great advice and insights for those contemplating a career in our profession. I would think any person considering entering or switching to HR would benefit from this advice.
Thanks Mike!


Michael Haberman January 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thanks Greg. I actually thought I looked a bit pasty but then I figured it is January after all. I agree with you that many people and not just students could learn from this. I appreciate your input.


Uk Consulting February 5, 2014 at 6:33 am

UK consulting provides the best HR consultancy service in delhi/NCR for middle to high profile job requirements.


eli October 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm


This is great advice! What advice would offer someone (me) that wants to do a career transition into HR? I’m 28 & have a masters in social work (not sure if that’s relevant), but no HR experience. Any advice/suggestions would help.



Michael Haberman October 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

Often the route to HR is to start with a small company and take on those responsibilities since many people don’t want to do them. Or you can go to work for a staffing firm and get a foot in the door there. I would take classes in HR and read as many blogs as you can so that when you are talking HR you sound like you know what you are talking about. You are right in thinking your social work background is not relevant. HR today is about business orientation, so take business classes as well. It is somewhat of a conundrum about getting started in HR, you need experience but no one will hire you to give you the experience. Remember however, everyone who has ever been hired has some experience with HR.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: