“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
“I Wanna Be a Cowboy”
==Single from Boys Don’t Cry (2002)
==Grand Theft Auto – Vice City Soundtrack
Raise your hand if you grew up dreaming of a career in HR. It’s Ok, I’ll wait.
No one? Of course not.
The dirty little secret of HR is that most of us didn’t have a master plan to end up managing people functions and maximizing human capital ROI inside the modern workplace. We grew up with bigger dreams, which is cool because no one grows up dreaming of being a Director of Account Management, a Financial Analyst or a Marketing Manager, either
Those dreams all suck when you’re 16.
Instead, the teenage version of ourselves dreamed of being a movie star, a recording artist or a professional athlete. The freaks among us were entrepreneurial from the time they were five and likely knew they’d own their own business. The rest of us float, usually until the time we pick a major in college, at which time our career paths and ambitions solidify.
But the choice of HR as a career path happens later than most on average. For all the undergraduate programs in HR, the ubiquitous nature of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the increasing importance of the Human Capital function, many meaningful HR pros don’t solidify a path into HR until they’re in the workforce doing other things.
Translation: Many HR pros will tell you they “fell” in to HR.
FALLING INTO HR IS THE NORM, NOT THE EXCEPTION
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other things people fall into:
–A bad relationship
–Lucky circumstances in life
–A habit of eating a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream at 9am nightly.
That list tells you falling into things can be a blessing and a curse – it’s all relative to the outcome. From my experience talking to the talented high performers who make up the world of HR, here’s some common ways people “fall” into HR without a real plan enter the function that’s loved and hated by so many:
1–I started from the bottom now I’m here. You are a bootstrapper! Right out of college, these people took entry level roles in our function, usually doing transactions as a HR Coordinator, payroll specialist or similar role. They enjoyed the function and in many cases, rose to run the whole damn thing. HR pros who find themselves entering the function in this manner have the greatest opportunity for career path growth in HR with small and medium-sized businesses
2–I’m a people person. I am good with the ***damn people. These HR pros were generally present in a company and got identified as someone who was “good with people,” and subsequently flipped into the HR function from another department. When looking at this group, “Good with People” is a broad designation that can mean they are extroverted, a good listener or willing to take large amounts of bullshit and abuse without exploding. It can also mean skill in actually solving other people’s problems and maximizing their performance inside the organization. While the latter designation is preferred, being labeled as “good with people” is rarely that deep.
3–I’m a corporate paratrooper or a HIPO– I got dropped into the function on an interim basis and never left. Big companies have rotational programs for high potential employees as part of succession strategies, and HR is generally part of that rotation. From time to time, HIPOs are rotated into HR, love it, are highly effective and never leave or come back to HR after their rotations are complete. In other circumstances, high performers are parachuted into HR on an interim basis to put out a burning dumpster fire and find their perfect match and stay for the good times.
4–A friend or mentor had an opening, looked at you and said, “WTF?” From time to time, the path into HR is based on friendship, with a high performing HR leader developing mentoring relationships with young professionals outside the organization and bringing them in when they have the opportunity. This generally involves the HR leader in question selling the non-HR talent on the fact that a career in HR is a good thing. The protégé decides to trust the HR mentor, take the job and the rest as they say, is history.
5–I was good at a specialty related to HR and ended up running the whole HR show. Feeder groups for HR include some specialties that are considered a distant or related cousin to the HR function like training or recruiting. This close proximity to the HR function provides a natural exposure and transition point to HR for the professionals in those functions with the chops to handle the chaos that awaits them in the big show.
6–I failed in another job at our company – and they moved me into HR so they didn’t have to fire me. I didn’t want to include this one, but no rundown of all the ways people fall into a HR career would be complete without it. HR has a reputation in some company cultures as a backwater, a way-station for average people doing average things. This leads to the perception that good people struggling in other areas can be dumped in HR. This seems to be decreasing in frequency, but it’s a historic reality of our lives together in HR.
You can probably add to the list of ways that people fall into HR. If you’re an HR pro who has an HR degree and has always possessed the clarity that comes with knowing you’d be in HR since you were 12, Godspeed to you. Don’t #### your dream up.
There’s a festivus for the rest of us in HR. And it’s the norm.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.