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How to Build Your Career in HR and PeopleOps

The titles, skills, resources, and avenues to consider as you embark on a career in HR.

Alina Neverova
Global Talent Acquisition Expert
Contributing Experts
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A HR leader mentoring entry-level HR professionals as they build an HR career path.
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Embarking on an HR career path offers a journey filled with professional growth and opportunities. A clear career trajectory in HR clarifies your role within an organization but also guides your career advancement.

A well-defined human resources career path helps you set realistic goals, focus on skill acquisition, embrace HR technology (such as HRIS and recruitment software), and prepare for future roles. Such a path is not just a sequence of HR job titles; it's a commitment to continuous learning and development, ensuring you remain a valuable asset to your organization and achieve personal career fulfillment.

In This Article


Understanding the HR and PeopleOps Field

Human Resources focuses on effective people management. It encompasses a range of functions, including recruitment, performance management, training and development, and employee relations.

Traditionally, people view HR as a function dealing with the administrative aspects of an organization's workforce. The advent of People Operations has transformed this perspective.

PeopleOps extends beyond traditional HR roles, emphasizing employee development, engagement, and retention. It's a strategy that views employees as more than resources. Instead, modern PeopleOps views a workforce as vital contributors whose growth and satisfaction are crucial to organizational success.

84% of HR functions were restructured in the past two years. The field is undergoing a significant transformation. This shift highlights the evolving nature of HR roles and the increasing strategic importance placed on People Operations within organizations. It also highlights the necessity for HR teams to adapt and embrace new skills, preparing them to handle the ever-changing demands of the workplace effectively.

Building a Strong Foundation for Your HR Career

Based on the accumulated expertise of the SSR network, we have compiled core steps you can take to build a solid foundation, setting you up for success in the world of HR.

Understand the HR Landscape

Gain a clear understanding of what HR entails. It's a field that extends beyond hiring and firing, encompassing employee relations, benefits management, training, and compliance with labor laws.

Familiarize yourself with these areas to appreciate the scope and impact of HR.

Cultivate Relevant Skills

Focus on developing core HR skills such as effective communication, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. These skills are essential in navigating the complexities of workplace issues.

Network in the HR Community

Engage with professionals through LinkedIn, attend industry conferences and join HR-focused groups. These connections offer mentorship, advice, and insights into emerging HR trends and best practices.

Gain Practical Experience

Internships, volunteer positions, or part-time roles in HR-related areas are excellent ways to gain this experience. Notably, volunteering for HR-related projects offers a dual benefit: it provides hands-on experience and helps expand your professional network.

Through these experiences, you can connect with seasoned human resources professionals and peers, gaining mentorship, support, and potential job leads.

Leverage Educational Resources

Read HR-related books, sign up for HR newsletters, follow industry blogs, and participate in online forums to stay informed and engaged with current HR issues and innovations.

Keep building out your resume with various HR certifications. A lot of these are free or well-priced and offer valuable insight.

HR professionals undergoing training for skills development.

Education and Qualifications

Generally speaking, a career in HR begins with traditional education. Master’s or Bachelor’s Degrees in Human Resources Management, Business Administration, Psychology, Sociology, and Industrial Relations are particularly relevant, laying a solid foundation for understanding its principles and practices. These faculties equip you with critical skills and knowledge for a successful start in the field.

Among the myriad qualifications HR specialists require, these stand out for their critical importance:

Financial Acumen

As an HR professional, you'll be involved in budgeting for the HR department, managing costs related to recruitment, employee benefits, training, and more. Knowledge in finance helps you make informed decisions, ensuring that the HR functions align with the organization's overall financial health.

Consider taking financial management or accounting courses to bolster this aspect of your skill set.

Legal Expertise

HR professionals are on the front lines of ensuring compliance with labor laws and regulations, both domestically and internationally. This includes understanding the legal nuances of employee relations, contracts, workplace safety, and equal employment opportunity.

Pursuing a minor in law or specific courses in employment or labor law can be immensely beneficial.

Cross-Cultural Competence

In today's globalized workforce, being knowledgeable about different cultures and employment practices in various countries is a significant advantage. This qualification is especially important for multinational companies or businesses that plan to expand internationally.

Courses in international business, cross-cultural communication, or even language study can be valuable.

Technical Proficiency

In the digital age, proficiency in HR Information Systems (HRIS) and HR data analytics is increasingly important. Being able to manage employee data, analyze workforce trends, and make data-driven decisions is a valuable skill.

Familiarize yourself with popular HR software and take courses in HR data analytics and information technology.

Developing Key Skills

Incorporating the T-Shaped HR Competency Framework into your skill development strategy can significantly enhance your effectiveness and impact as an HR professional.

This framework emphasizes the importance of both a broad understanding of essential competencies and deep expertise in specialized areas. Here's how you can integrate this model into your skill development:

Core Competencies for All HR Professionals

  • Business Acumen: Understand the business environment in which you operate. This includes knowledge of your industry, the business model of your organization, and how HR contributes to the company's goals and success.
  • Data Literacy: Develop the ability to interpret and use data effectively. In HR, this means understanding metrics related to employee performance, engagement, and turnover and using this information to make informed decisions.
  • Digital Agility: Stay abreast of the latest digital tools and platforms used in HR. This skill involves more than just using technology; it’s about leveraging it to streamline processes, improve employee experiences, and facilitate data-driven decision-making.
  • People Advocacy: Be a champion for employees. This involves understanding their needs, advocating for their well-being, and ensuring fair and equitable treatment across the organization.
  • Execution Excellence: Focus on delivering results with high quality and efficiency. This skill is crucial for building credibility and demonstrating the value of the HR function.

Specialist Competencies

In addition to these core competencies, consider specializing in one or more of the following areas:

  • Leadership: Develop skills in leading teams, driving change, and inspiring others. This specialization is particularly relevant for HR professionals aiming for leadership roles within their organizations.
  • People Experience and Culture: Focus on creating a positive workplace culture and improving the overall employee experience. This includes everything from onboarding new employees to employee engagement strategies.
  • Business Transformation: Equip yourself with the skills to facilitate and manage change within the organization, especially in times of growth, restructuring, or shifts in strategy.
  • Talent Growth: Specialize in talent management and development. This involves recruitment, retention, succession planning, and career development strategies.
  • Digital HR: Gain expertise in the digital transformation of HR processes. This specialization is increasingly important as HR increasingly relies on technology for analytics, recruitment, and employee engagement.
  • People Operations: Develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of HR, including policy development, compliance, and HR service delivery.

Resources for Skills Development

Career growth in HR requires continual learning and skill development, whether transitioning from another profession or advancing within HR. Courses and online platforms could assist in this ongoing development; here are a few examples:

  • Oxford Home Study Centre: Offers free courses focusing on HR management, recruitment, development, and staff training.
  • AIHR Academy: Enables human resources professionals to engage in real-world projects and case studies.
  • Coursera: Provides access to online courses from top universities and companies.
  • SocialTalent: A leading e-learning platform dedicated to hiring and talent management.
  • Josh Bersin Academy: Features short online programs on vital HR topics.
  • LinkedIn Learning: Offers a wide range of video courses by industry experts, including HR.
  • OpenLearn: Provides a free course on "Human resources: recruitment and selection."
  • Udemy: Boasts a vast selection of online courses in HR and recruitment.

Navigating Entry-Level HR Positions

Let’s explore some common entry-level positions in HR and PeopleOps and how to choose the one that’s right for you.

Common Entry-Level Roles in HR and PeopleOps

  • HR Assistant: In this role, you'll handle administrative tasks such as maintaining employee records, assisting with payroll, and responding to HR inquiries. It's ideal for those who are organized and detail-oriented.
  • Recruitment Coordinator: If you have a knack for identifying talent and enjoy the hiring process, this role involves assisting with recruitment efforts, coordinating interviews, and managing candidate communications.
  • Training Coordinator: This role suits those interested in employee development and training. Responsibilities include organizing training sessions, maintaining training materials, and supporting employee development programs.
  • HR Generalist: In a broader role, an HR Generalist gets involved in various aspects of HR, from recruitment to employee relations. It’s perfect for those who want a holistic view of HR functions.
  • HR Coordinator: Focused on improving employee experience and workplace culture, this role involves implementing people-related policies and initiatives. It's suited for those who are people-centric and passionate about creating a positive work environment.

Choosing the Right HR Role for You

  • Assess Your Skills and Interests: Reflect on your strengths, skills, and areas of HR that excite you. Are you good at organizing and managing data? An HR Assistant role might be suitable. If you’re interested in the recruitment process and engaging with people, consider a Recruitment Coordinator position.
  • Research the Roles: Understand what each role entails. Look into the day-to-day responsibilities and long-term career paths they offer. This will give you a clearer picture of what to expect and how it aligns with your career goals.
  • Seek Informational Interviews: Talking to professionals already working in these roles can provide valuable insights. They can share their experiences and offer advice on starting and progressing in these positions.
  • Consider Your Long-term Goals: Think about where you want to be in the future. If you aim to specialize in a certain area of HR, choose a role that offers relevant experience and growth opportunities in that direction.
  • Evaluate Company Culture: The company you start with can significantly impact your career. Choose an organization whose values align with yours and offers a supportive learning and growth environment.
  • Be Open to Learning: Whichever role you choose, approach it with a willingness to learn and adapt. Entry-level positions are learning grounds, and the experiences you gain will be invaluable as you advance in your career.

Specializing in HR, Talent Acquisition, or Recruitment

The HR field is multifaceted, with a wide range of specialized roles that cater to different aspects of employee management and organizational development. Each area offers unique challenges and opportunities, allowing you to tailor your career path to your passions and strengths.

These roles can be broadly categorized into several key areas:

Recruitment and Talent Acquisition (TA)

This category (which includes recruitment, TA, and sourcing) concentrates on attracting, hiring, and retaining talent. It encompasses the entire recruitment process, from identifying staffing needs to onboarding new hires.

Examples:

  • Technical Sourcer: Specializes in identifying and attracting talent, using various tools and platforms, including social media, job boards, and networking events, to connect with potential candidates.
  • Talent Acquisition Specialist: Focuses on attracting and hiring top talent, including developing sourcing strategies and managing the recruitment process.
  • Recruitment Coordinator: Handles logistical aspects of recruitment, such as writing ​​job descriptions, scheduling interviews, and liaising with candidates.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Manager: Develops hiring policies and programs to create and foster an inclusive workplace.
  • Employer Branding Specialist: Develops a company's reputation and attractiveness as an employer.

HR Operations and Strategy

This category involves overseeing the operational aspects of HR and aligning HR strategies with business goals. It includes policy development, HR planning, and overall management of the HR department.

Roles in this area ensure that the HR department effectively supports the organization's strategic objectives.

Examples:

  • HR Manager: Oversees various aspects of HR operations, including recruitment, training, and policy formulation.
  • HR Business Partner: Aligns HR strategies with business objectives and works closely with management teams.
  • Employee Engagement Coordinator: Implements initiatives and programs to improve employee satisfaction and engagement.
  • HR Compliance Officer: Ensures that labor relations, HR policies, and organizational practices comply with the employment law and relevant regulations.
  • HR Analytics Specialist: Uses data analytics to provide insights into workforce trends and HR strategies.
  • Internal Mobility Specialist: Focuses on facilitating the movement of employees within the organization, whether for promotions, lateral moves, or transfers to different departments or locations.

Training and Development

This area is focused on enhancing employee skills, knowledge, and competencies. It includes designing and implementing training programs, career development planning, and managing learning resources. This category is key to employee growth, satisfaction, and retention.

Examples:

  • Learning and Development Manager: Designs and implements employee training programs to aid professional development and skill enhancement.
  • Training Coordinator: Organizes and schedules training sessions and ensures resources and materials are available.

Compensation and Benefits

This category deals with the financial and non-financial rewards employees receive. It involves designing compensation structures, managing benefits programs, and ensuring competitive and equitable pay. Roles in this category help attract and retain talent by offering compelling compensation packages.

Examples:

  • Compensation and Benefits Specialist: Manages employee benefits packages and  programs, including benefits insurance, retirement plans, and other perks.
  • Compensation Analyst: Analyzes and develops salary structures and compensation packages.
  • Wellness Coordinator: Designs and promotes employee wellness programs.

Advancing in Your HR Career

As you progress in your HR career, the opportunities to ascend to higher-level positions become increasingly tangible.

Moving up the career ladder in HR is about expanding your influence, refining your expertise, and leading the way in shaping a positive workplace culture. Let's explore some high-level positions you might aim for and how you can achieve these esteemed roles.

High-Level HR Positions

HR Director

As an HR Director, you oversee the entire HR department, strategize HR initiatives that support organizational goals, and ensure compliance with employment laws. It's a role that demands a comprehensive understanding of all HR functions.

Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

The Chief HR Officer is a C-suite executive role, often reporting directly to the CEO. This position involves strategic planning at the highest level, focusing on aligning the HR strategy with the overall business strategy.

CHROs are critical in shaping the company culture and leading transformational change across the organization.

HR Vice President

A VP of HR typically sits between the HR Director and the CHRO. An HR Vice President drives HR strategies, mentors HR leaders, and collaborates with other executives to ensure that HR policies and practices support the organization's objectives and values.

Pathways to Advancement

  • Gain Diverse Experience: This might include working in different HR specialties, such as recruitment, employee relations, or compensation and benefits.
  • Demonstrate Business Acumen: You should be adept at linking HR initiatives to business outcomes and articulating this in a way that resonates with other business leaders.
  • Be a Champion of Change: Show that you can lead and manage change effectively. This involves being adaptable, forward-thinking, and skilled at managing both the human and technical sides of change.

Utilizing Career Development Tools

HR Career Map is an interactive tool designed for HR professionals to explore various roles within the HR sphere. It helps you understand your career growth and visualize your career path.

Starting from detailed information about each role, you can switch to career growth mode to plan your desired career trajectory, considering factors like salary and career advancement timelines. It’s useful for understanding different positions' hierarchical structure and strategic impact.

T-Shaped Assessment evaluates participants across four key competencies and eleven dimensions critical for modern HR professionals. By comparing your results with the global HR population it serves as an ideal starting point for career-oriented HR professionals, especially when used in conjunction with the HR Career Map.

Leveraging Certification for Career Growth

Studies have shown that HR professionals who undergo certification programs can increase their earnings by up to 44% over their careers. Investing in continuous learning through certification underscores your commitment to the profession and keeps you abreast of the latest trends and practices in HR management.

Some of the most renowned certification programs include:

  • AIHR: Which offers a fully accredited course library of domain-specific HR certification programs online.
  • HR Certification Institute: A renowned resource for continued education in HR.
  • SHRM: Provides a competency-based HR certification program.
  • Sourcing Certifications Program: Delivers top-tier sourcing training and credentialing services for talent professionals globally.

Staying Informed and Adapting

Diverse Media Consumption

To stay informed about the latest HR and People Ops trends, it's crucial to broaden your media consumption beyond HR-specific content.

Engaging with various business-related media, such as TechCrunch, can provide a wider perspective on industry trends and technologies that may impact HR practices. This holistic approach enables you to anticipate changes and understand how broader market trends can influence HR.

Following Thought Leaders

Social media platforms offer direct access to the insights and experiences of thought leaders in HR, recruiting, and sourcing.

You gain valuable perspectives and ideas by following experts whose expertise aligns with your career goals. Notable figures include Jan Tegze, Shally Steckerl, Hung Lee, Sara Dalsfelt, Alla Pavlova, Irina Shamaeva, Josh Bersin, Balazs Paroczay, and Amy Miller.

Following these or other professionals can offer real-time insights into the latest HR trends, strategies, and tools.

Engaging in Online Communities

Online communities and groups can provide support, knowledge sharing, and professional growth. I prefer Facebook groups related to recruiting, AI, and the IT industry in general, such as:

Seeking a Mentor

Having a mentor can assist in navigating new challenges, seeking advice, or adapting to industry changes. Platforms like MentorCruise and the Women in Tech Mentoring Program offer opportunities to connect with experienced professionals who can guide and support you in your HR journey.

A mentor can offer personalized advice and insights invaluable for professional growth and change adaptation.

Conclusion

The definitive HR career path is constantly evolving, influenced by technological advancements and changes in workplace dynamics. To be successful, focus on developing a broad skill set, engaging actively in professional networks, and seeking mentorship to gain insights and opportunities.

Embrace a people-centric approach, where your role transcends administrative duties to impact organizational success through its people strategically. Your career as a human resources specialist is not just about achieving professional milestones; it's about making a meaningful difference in the lives of employees and the organizations you serve. Stay adaptable and receptive to feedback, and let your passion for people and organizational excellence be your guiding light.

Alina Neverova
Global Talent Acquisition Expert
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Alina Neverova is a Global Talent Acquisition Expert with over six years of experience in recruiting. Alina has worked with top international companies from the Fortune 500 list, starting her career in a recruiting agency before moving into IT 4 years ago.

Alina has successfully built recruiting processes from scratch, hired over 120 specialists in two years for an IT startup, and built a strong recruiting team. Her areas of expertise include building hiring strategies, training recruiting teams, hiring planning, automating sourcing processes, utilizing AI in HR and recruiting analytics.

She holds a Bachelor's degree in Administrative management from the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine

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