Absolutely No ####### One Grows Up Dreaming of a Career In HR

Kris Dunn Uncategorized 11 Comments

“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.”
==Steve Jobs

“I Wanna Be a Cowboy”
==Single from Boys Don’t Cry (2002)
==Grand Theft Auto – Vice City Soundtrack


NOTE – Kris Dunn is running a “Falling Into HR” series this week at The HR Capitalist.  Go check it out Monday through Friday of this week.  This is the first post in that series.

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.


Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other things people fall into:


–Heroin addiction

–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

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.

Comments 11

  1. I totally feel this. I fell into HR (was on a development/fundraising track, the office manager quit without notice, and I was like “hmm, never thought about being an office manager before” and the rest is history.

    I agree this is totally normal! Which is why I hate seeing job postings for “entry-level” HR assistants and coordinators that want an HR degree, or an HR professional certification, or 3-4 years of relevant experience if you’re lacking either. HR, of all departments, should know that those are not the building blocks of the next generation of successful HR people! And yet we see that *all the time* in job postings.

    1. Kris Dunn Post

      Kim – this is where I point to the part of the post where I don’t offend people who have always been HR, which is more common these days than it was coming up for anyone over 35:

      “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.”

      LOL – thanks for checking in.

  2. I’m number #5. Was having a bad day as a Benefits Manager and in frustration I shouted “I’m sick of Benefits” before I knew it I was in HR. It’s true what they say – “watch your mouth”. LOL

    1. Kris Dunn Post
  3. Totally agree. Although I’m the rare person who learned about being an HR Leader in high school (2003) and decided to pursue the path through college, and am now happily in an HR Director role, I know I’m in the minority.

    When it comes to filling roles on our HR/People team, I really like hearing stories from people describing how they “fell” into their passion in HR (if applicable!). The ops or finance experience someone might have prior to getting into HR is super valuable.

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  4. I had a Godmother, a Personnel Manager at Macy’s, tell me when I was a senior in high school that she thought I had the talent to be a personnel manager. So I found two colleges with that as a major, applied to both, and got in to one. After graduating into a recession I joined VISTA and got my “master’s degree in life”. Took me a few more years to get that first personnel position and have been at it for 38 years. What I quickly learned is that to be successful in Human Resources I had to want to learn the business of the company. My success has been the ability to bring into the organization people with the talent needed to contribute to that business. Note, I did not say the education and experience needed. I said talent because experience and education are not the first criteria. This is the mistake made by HR administrators. The CEO who explained this concept best was Jack Welch of G.E. A hiring decision maker with an entrepreneur’s perspective already knows this in their gut. If the hiring decision maker thinks HR is a purely an administrative function they will have a very marginal organization.

    1. Kris Dunn Post
  5. I came in with #1, except I started at the bottom right out of high school, not after college. I was a junior file clerk in the financial department of a large international engineering/construction firm. In a year or so I was paying out expenses to relocating employees. An opportunity arose in HR (actually Personnel then) and I moved over to the bright side. I immediately found it more gratifying because now I was able to find ways to say yes to managers and employees and get more into what HR should be doing. Reinforcing Peter’s comment on talent, I rose to the position of Corporate Employee Relations Manager of a multi-billion dollar firm without a degree. That probably does not happen today. I did go back to school and got my degree.

    Over the years I had opportunities to be assigned to several nuclear facilities as an HRM, the hardest I work and the most fun I had working. The evolution of the discipline from personnel to human resources has been quite a ride. It is much better being engaged in the strategy and development than the old fashion role of company cop.

    1. Hey Vince –

      It’s interesting that the degree requirement might stop you from that path today, but it looks like it’s boomeranging a bit back the other way…


  6. Quite a big shout out that can be applied to anyone who is bored on a rainy day.

    I am not in HR but I can tell you that most HR should be proud of their work, since you guys are the ones that help us to get better work conditions so we can love a job that can be challenging sometimes. HR help us achieve our personal goals over the long run. I know that everything that make my job better was provided by the HR’s hard work. Don’t forget the place HR has in people lives just because no one tell it to you.

    Plus … Truth is… I wouldn’t want to be most things I wanted to be as a kid, because that kid wasn’t that bright 😉

    Great subject Kris, you were right on so many points, but I wanted to point out the fact that not everyone’s dreams are work related.

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