We Just Aren’t Sexy Enough! The Future of HR – Part One.

My team decided it was time to get an HR intern. With each candidate I met, I asked why the interest in HR and I found it fascinating that almost every one of the kids I met with said:

1. They knew they wanted to be in the business world,Justintimberlakesexyback368546

2. They decided to pursue their degree in business administration… and,

3. Once they started getting immersed in their business courses, they realized they didn’t like numbers or, that they weren’t good with numbers.

GASP! Is that shocking to anyone else? I can’t help but to liken that to being one of two gals at a bar with a fellow wandering over to chat with me because… well, he struck out with the other gal. How flattering! Because these students couldn’t hack the accounting and finance courses they were taking, human resources conveniently just became more interesting to them. Does that make us a second string choice? Is HR not sexy enough to choose as a first string career? And is HR really just a landing ground for those who can’t count? Where’s the respect?!

Before my first “office job,” when I thought about the business world, I thought… Marketing – sexy. International finance – sexy. Investment banking – really sexy. Human resources – huh? The profession of HR never crossed my mind, and I’m not sure if I would venture to call it sexy even today. HR pros aren’t regularly highlighted on the cover of business mags let alone featured in articles. It isn’t the most lucrative of careers within the business world either (read: dirt pay, at times). So I guess I can’t really blame these kids for choosing HR as a potential career as an after thought… we don’t quite have a sexy reputation. And there are actually many who don’t even trust us. (Just read the comments here!)

So, it begs the question – what’s stopping us from being the sexy gods and goddesses we know we are inside? We serve a vital function. Every organization needs rock-star HR pros – and I’d argue that there’s a shortage of great HR professionals who really get it. So what gives? Why aren’t we in greater demand?

Share your thoughts. In the meantime, stay tuned for part two on my take of the future of HR – I’m bringing sexy back.

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. KQ says:

    Sad but true view of HR by college students and business people alike. But to be really successful in the field you have to be able to do the numbers. If you want no respect, don’t do the numbers. If you never want a seat at the table, don’t do the numbers.
    Business is numbers!

  2. Jessica Lee says:

    KQ – Couldn’t agree with you more. We have to do numbers! Metrics, benefits, total comp, salaries, 401K, budget planning… I could go on…

  3. Katherine says:

    Why are HR people always talking about getting a seat at the table? They need to learn to SET the table! Put a place setting for yourself. Eventually your team will get used to seeing you there and you’ll be invited to their tables as well. Make a contribution. Don’t wait to be asked.

  4. Not Sexy enough?? LOL, not only do most people consider us not sexy, they consider us downright butt ugly! So how do we change that? Well I agree with KQ above that you have to know the numbers. It is how “business” talks. Not knowing the numbers is the lazy way out. And we in HR have allowed our members to be lazy. We should DEMAND that HR managers, practioners and representatives know the company numbers as well as anyone else. But we don’t, we only select for soft skills. So shame on us that do the hiring.
    We can sell the position as powerful, that will make it sexy. I know that when I was recruiting I was all powerful. NO ONE came to work for the company without going through me (well except the sons of the president.. I had no control over that. lol). That kind of power can be “sexy.”
    So my solution:
    1. Demand that HR incumbants have the same set of business skills as other department incumbants/recruits
    2. Market the “power of the position”, both internally and externally.
    Just a thought.

  5. HR Wench says:

    Had a meeting with a personal trainer a few weeks ago. He asked me what I did for a living. I said “human resources”. He replied, “oh, so you write people up?”
    Yeah. Something like that.

  6. Ann Bares says:

    Great post, Jessica – I’ll be interested to see Part 2.
    It is disappointing to hear what you are experiencing with the intern candidates. Clearly we have an image problem whose roots can be traced as far back as college coursework.
    I agree with Mike – we have to demand more of ourselves, starting with a grounding in business fundamentals. And then … a marketing makeover?
    HRW – maybe somewhat better than “oh, so you fire people?” Then in the next breath, they want advice on – actually – how to fire someone.

  7. I agree with all of the above but with one additional item. Here is where I probably start to hack people off.
    HR is notorious for not being accountable. People hang out in the HR space for what seems like an eternity regardless of the actual results they achieve. Could a sales manager stick around in a company without proving their worth through increased sales, improved revenues, bigger margins, new customer growth etc.? Of course not.
    HR, beyond just having metrics to report and an ability to understand them must show how they impact and drive the business. Then, using those numbers, they have to demonstrate improvement or get fired. It is that simple. I blame the CEO’s and leadership in corporate America for continuing to allow for laziness and lack of business measured productivity to continue to exist in HR. Hold HR accountable to results the same way every other aspect of the business is held accountable and if there are no results replace them.
    The growing trend to place business leaders with no HR backgrouond from other disciplines into key HR leadership roles is the direct result of lack of talent in HR.

  8. Jessica Lee says:

    katherine – no doubt. like ann bares and others have said, just get your cookie and sit down. check out this post here –
    hr wench – i wonder if he had been “written up” himself… and perhaps that has been his only and likely a most horrible experience with HR types. how many pushups did he make you do afterwards?
    ann – i really think that how HR is positioned as a part of management courses in business school has an impact. will note this when i do my part 2.
    michael – here here! what metrics do you think really matter though?

  9. KD says:

    First up, Homula’s fired. That sure was a short run on FOT….
    Just joking MH! Measurement’s always a problem, give us a flavor of what you would have in mind if you were the CEO (which you are) of Homula Enterprises, and we were your HR Director (god help us). How would you measure success?

  10. Jon Morris says:

    I would disagree that ‘every organization needs rock-star HR pros’. The entire HR function is completely expendable. Line managers could hire and train, finance could do benefits and comp etc etc. Sure there may be an employment related lawsuit but HR is typically on the reactive side of those anyway.
    That is why HR is not sexy. It is not a true business function like sales, marketing, accounting, finance. HR despite its best efforts to reposition and rename itself will always be a spender of the company’s money and never a generator. The sexy people are out there cutting deals and moving product.

  11. Jon Morris says:

    I would disagree that ‘every organization needs rock-star HR pros’. The entire HR function is completely expendable. Line managers could hire and train, finance could do benefits and comp etc etc. Sure there may be an employment related lawsuit but HR is typically on the reactive side of those anyway.
    That is why HR is not sexy. It is not a true business function like sales, marketing, accounting, finance. HR despite its best efforts to reposition and rename itself will always be a spender of the company’s money and never a generator. The sexy people are out there cutting deals and moving product.

  12. KD says:

    Jon –
    Why you were busy cutting deals and moving product, you clicked “submit” twice…
    I’m just saying…..

  13. Clearly Jon has never worked with a rock star HR person.
    True, all of the other functions could split up the work as he stated. But here is the problem I have with that. First, it would take away time and energy from what they do best (finance, engineering, sales, strategy, marketing, R&D etc.). Second, how often do you see line managers focused only on skill set when they are hiring without considering work style, communication skills etc. and then having to fire and re-hire someone a year or two down the line (talk about “spending the company’s money”)?
    You know, it occurs to me that for the most part I’m preaching to the choir here. So I won’t spend any more time arguing the point. You all get it.
    Jon doesn’t.

  14. Jon Morris says:

    Out of respect for this pro-HR community, this will be my last post.
    To say somebody doesn’t ‘get it’ is like calling them stupid or weird. It is not a very constructive nor intelligent comment to make.
    To your point about HR screening for communication skills etc, that would be great if there was a measurable difference in retention rates between companies that use HR recruiters vs. line managers.
    But there is not.
    Worse, HR can screen OUT candidates for reasons that only they know. Many HR Recruiters question candidates from an assumed superior position of psychological insight which is usually completely unfounded. I think some recruiters need to be reminded that unless you have the letters PhD after your name, you are not in fact a psychologist.
    Just part of HR’s continual need to justify its existence.

  15. Jessica Lee says:

    Hi Jon – I appreciate you visiting our blog and taking the time to leave comments. I wouldn’t want you to feel like you should have to stop reading or giving feedback though!
    We can agree to disagree… but let me try to share with you a bit more on why I think every organization needs HR rock-stars.
    There are definitely some people management issues that I’d love for my line managers to take care of independently… but I have a team oriented bent and just don’t feel that the best decisions are made in silos. I also don’t want to leave it to my line managers to have to remember every policy or process… and they shouldn’t have to do a whole lot of hunting or investigating to find out what kinds of decisions have been made on similar people management issues across the organization so that they can be consistent and fair.
    Many facets of HR are expendable and can be outsourced – but that’s if you view the role of HR as solely functional (benefits, compensation, recruiting, etc.) My role as an HR pro is not limited to those expendable activities – I’m a business partner to line managers and help them solve any and every issue related to their team’s growth, development and general well being. Being a people manager isn’t easy, so I’m there to be your sounding board, a gut checker, a voice of reason… and I’ll even play bad cop for you at times!
    I know that quite easily, you could turn to another line manager for all of those same things I say above… but trust me! I’m going to have the benefit of dealing with the issue you’ve brought to me because I’ll have dealt with it time and time again, and therefore just might have the insight to try to help you solve it immediately. I see this as my job – and your fellow line manager just might not want to be bothered because as we can both probably agree, the issues get ugly and aren’t always fun.
    Come back and visit, and even come back and comment. I welcome it!

  16. John says:

    I’ve been an HR consultant for 26 years. I’ve had the pleasure of my own personal development seeing HR “Departments” that run the range from top notch partners with the “C” suite, to functionally incapable of comprehending their role with human beings and the law.
    If ya wanna be sexy, learn strategy. Assist your CEO and President how to tie strategic objectives to hiring, rewarding, and assessing good from bad performers. Learn what criteria is related to an assessment of good performers, and tie your hiring goals to these criteria.
    You’ll find your phone ringing and the “C” suite looking to the HR department that assists senior executives in finding and nurturing the talent that adds value to line production and distribution functions.

  17. KD says:

    Jon –
    Couple of points…
    I was having fun with you when I pointing out you clicked “submit” twice. I loved the contrast to the cutting deals quote – priceless….
    The Kris that posted the one before JLee’s last one is a different Kris than me – regular reader, valued reader, not a recurring contributor – but valued just like your perspective…
    We’ve been talking a lot about how the function is weak, in both HR and Recruiting as a whole. We’ve got multiple contributors that have said that, so your take is nothing new, but it’s good. Drop by and say it, and I’d like to hear how you think it can get better.
    If you don’t want to give thought about how recruiters and HR folks can be better, than one comment is probably all you have anyway…If you’ve got thoughts on how to make it better, stop back by early and often…
    Michael Homula – perhaps you can encourage Jon since he’s in your space regarding HR on the whole…

  18. Gerri says:

    Hello: I would like to say that in today’s world that it is imperative that an HR person have a well rounded education. The skills needed are accounting, finance, marketing, communications, organizational leadership and development, business law, psychology, sociology, as well as the many human resource management courses that we all took. There is no place in the global economy of today, if the HR candidate is unprepared. I have degrees in Accounting, Business Management, Organizational Leadership and Human Resources. I am always surprised when recruiters ask me why I have an accounting background when I am seeking Human Resources positions. Human Resources is such a broad spectrum of information: benefits, payroll, training and development, compensation, recruiting, personnel administration, diversity, and the list goes on. An HR professional might not be sexy, but they can be prepared to do the job.

  19. L. A. Copp says:

    What’s sexy? If don’t think HR is necesarily sitting at the bar. As an industry sometimes we are down the hall waiting to be invited to the party. In order to be on the A-list we need to be perceived as an essential business investment, and an integral part of the business cycle. If we do this, the players will follow.

  20. Tim Ruef says:

    Michael Haberman makes some very points. We need a paradigm shift. I have a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, but chose marketing because that’s where the clout and action was. That was 28 years ago, and now I’m back on the people side of the business in executive search. I love this work. While I thorougly enjoyed the visibility, decision making and big budgets of my marketing career, my real love is dealing with people. Its a shame that an HR environment didn’t exist then to attract me.

  21. MSS says:

    It is HR’s responsibility to educate business leaders on the value they bring to the business. I have a Masters in HR, my SPHR, and 14 years HR experience. I am on my company’s management team and lead weekly meetings with our top leaders in which we discuss HR issues and their impact on the business. In my 1.5 years with this company, I have saved the company over 20% in benefits costs without reducing employee benefits, saved 50% in payroll processing/software costs, and hired over 20 top performers, of which there has been zero turnover. Set goals to add value or cut costs and go do it! Business leaders respond to results. Gain their respect and you will have a seat at the table. We can bring sexy back!

  22. MoralesCarla says:

    I had got a desire to make my organization, however I did not have enough of money to do it. Thank God my close colleague suggested to take the loans. Thus I used the commercial loan and made real my old dream.

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