I fell into HR by chance, I’d always had a strong sense of social justice and after a few dead end jobs in banking and customer service to work around my kids school hours I managed to score a temp admin job thanks to a friend who worked in a recruitment agency. I had always picked up systems and programs pretty quickly so I taught myself Excel & building Access databases (remember those) and managed to move on to a support role for the CEO of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. I was then approached by their Senior HR Officer to see if I had ever considered a career in HR, and after googling what a HR Officer does 🙂 I jumped at the chance to make a career move. That was 14 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Over the years I’ve obtained formal qualifications, filled my head with all sorts of knowledge and taken some jobs that involved massive learning curves and leaps of faith.
HR has a few different specialties and if you are in a city and working in a corporate role you can normally be lucky enough to focus your skills in one particular area such as organisational development, compensation & benefits or recruitment, but in a town like Kalgoorlie you need to be across a bit of everything.
I believe the perfect person for HR has a particular type of personality; easy going & able to put people at ease; empathetic; considered; resiliant; approachable; non-judgemental and a strong sense of personal integrity. When you work in HR you are engaging with a diverse bunch of people of all different nationalities, sexual preferences and personality types, if you tend to let your personal beliefs dictate your level of professionalism then HR isn’t the career for you.
Particularly if you undertake recruitment activities you are the first impression of the company for new & prospective employees, as a result they tend to bond to you and will always stop in to say Hi or say g’day if they see you in town. A few years ago I did a new mine start up and recruited about 150 employees over a span of a few months, I prided myself on the fact that I remembered everyone I recruited and loved catching up with them on site visits, however, now that I’m on the wrong side of 40 its a little harder to remember everyones name, but I still get a kick out of being highly regarded enough that former employees will come over to say Hi when they see me out and about.
You also see the very best and very worst of your company, management and the employees. You find out who’s a quiet achiever, who has a massive heart, and often disappointingly, who needs to recalibrate their moral compass.
Employees can share their mental health issues with you when they come seeking support, they tell you about the deaths of family members, they get diagnosed with terminal illnesses, they get bullied, they resign, they get promotions, they have babies – you’re privy to a lot of personal information and you need to be able to find a way to cope. Often it can be hard for HR to make friends at work because you can’t discuss your work day nor engage in idle gossip of others. You need to be acutely aware that you are present for watershed moments in employees’ lives and how to be respectful & kind in the moment without carrying the burden of the company’s actions.
You need to have a good understanding of the business, have a bit of finance knowledge, be strategic and have the confidence to speak up when a decision made higher up the food chain is going to have negative repercussions for the business. When it comes to employee issues you’re often seen as the goal keeper when many times the ability to actually do something is out of your control because managers and supervisors love nothing more than to hide stuff from you. It can be hugely frustrating a lot of the time.
What I’m attempting to convey is HR is scary; its hard; its confronting; it requires a thoughtful considered approach; it requires an open door; its hugely rewarding; its soul crushing; its innovative; its strategic; its continuous learning – its every single part of the business because the policies and initiatives you create as HR is what helps build the culture of the organisation and employee capacity, which together with the other functional areas of the business, ultimately determines how much your customers & clients value the organisation.
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