Last week, a final year MBA student wanted me to coach him, as he was keen to move into HR, in itself a little unusual career choice. In talking to his university career manager, he was an excellent student with a passion for HR. Now HR is not always seen as the preferred choice for ambitious, talented and commercially orientated graduates, which is his profile.
At times, I am still amazed and also a little disappointed, when I read the criticism by HR people of HR and it’s value to the business. The ability of HR professionals to denigrate their own profession is simply a mystery, and a classical case of being your own worst enemy.
Choice of Industries
HR is one of the few career disciplines, where you can move from one industry to another, with little difficulty, using your HR toolbox to make a company a great place to work.
During my HR career of 30 years, I have been privileged to work in a multiplicity of industries:
- institutional sector (Air Force, a scientific research company, an university) – using the intricacies of precedents to develop policies;
- services sector (two IT companies) – trying to understand the complexities of frame relay systems;
- the tough world of manufacturing (a secondary steelmaking operation – explaining the shaking of the office building during interviews after the pouring of each heat; and a carpet manufacturer – getting used to the smells of making rubber underlay);
- the dangerous mining sector (drilling, shaft sinking and tunneling group – going 2 miles underground in a new gold mine shaft); with
- a major stint in FMCG (two dairy companies and an international brewer – hearing 30,000 bottles filling per hour on the packaging line and developing an incredible thirst).
Choice of Roles
Though the career path of HR has changed with various specialization fields, such as Employee Relations, Learning and OD, a generalist role really shapes the bread and butter operational skills, such as recruiting.
Working my way up from an entry position as a Personnel Officer with a Psychology degree, it didn’t take too long before manager was added to my title. As Industrial Relations was the fast track in the early eighties, I decided to do a post graduate degree, and soon after, got my first CHRO role at the age of 26, and the youngest executive in the company (who says you can’t be ambitious in HR!). Functional specialist roles in Talent Management and OD contributed to further studies, before moving again into CHRO roles in NZ and Australia.
Choice of Countries
Despite different employment legislation, it has been great to live and work in different countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and currently Australia. One major benefit with a change in government is a major review of employment legislation, which is presently the case with the Fair Work legislation in Australia. A similar situation occurred in NZ when Labour came into power in 1999.
Choice of Careers
Being in HR and wearing many hats, made the transition into a line management role with P&L responsibility possible. It is only when you have 500 real (external) customers, that you understand the various priorities our internal HR customers are facing on a daily basis. Due to specialization in OD, there has also been the bridge to external consulting, working with some great companies and clients.
A Final Observation
There are great opportunities to develop a long and rewarding career in HR, where you can play a significant role in developing capability within organizations, by attracting and developing people.
HR offers great choices, and if I could have my career over, I wouldn’t hesitate to again work and achieve success in HR. My oldest daughter is also working in HR. Would you recommend HR to your son or daughter or to a keen student?