Looking for a Career in Human Resources and/or Organizational Development?
As the Owner of Organizational Development Solutions and a frequent Blogger on this site, this Consultant receives countless inquiries from students, other HR professionals, as well as those looking to make a career change into an HR related discipline.
More often that not, their first question is “I want to pursue a career in HR or OD and would like to know what recommendations or suggestions you might have for me?” In recent months, as the economy has worsened, the number of these types of inquiries has increased significantly to nearly one per day.
Thus, given the vast amount of interest that evidentially exists, this Consultant decided to post a Blog for all of those individuals considering a career in human resources and/or organizational development. And, like any career change or long term professional objective, the first step toward planning for a career in HR or OD begins with research and homework.
To begin with, it’s somewhat important to decide whether or not you are open to relocation, or whether you definitely want to remain in the San Diego area. Why is this important?
Location, Location, Location…
It is important to understand how the demands for labor are different for smaller companies compared to that of larger organizations. For Example, in San Francisco and Los Angeles you’ll find a fair several large employers, where as 90% of the employers in San Diego’s economy are considered “small employers” employing less than 600 workers.
Some of the major differences include the following:
- The larger an organization gets the more sophisticated and specialized the job functions become; conversely, the smaller the company is the more critical the need to hire “Generalist’s” that know a great deal about many things as opposed to “specialist’s that are experts about a few things.
- Suffice it to say, there are very few Regional or National positions in San Diego; therefore, jobs like VP of Compensation & Benefits or VP of Training & Development will be hard to find in San Diego as compared to other major markers like San Francisco.
- On the other hand, HR Manager roles where the incumbent wears many hats that includes compensation, benefits, employee relations, recruiting & hiring and training are common and, in a good economy, plentiful. Small employers need and want Generalist’s that can perform multiple disciplines/functions rather than Specialist’s that are limited in their scope and function.
- Larger companies have much larger budgets and “usually” a great deal more bureaucracy; therefore, in many sectors of the economy, small companies are more able to respond to fluctuations in the marketplace quicker and with greater ease compared to their Fortune 500 counterparts.
- For a recent college grad, or someone just entering the field of HR, seeking employment with a small organization is going to expose you to many of the HR and OD disciplines and allow you to gain insight into a variety of differing functions unlike a Fortune 500 company where you’ll presumably be pigeon holed into one specific area such as recruiting, training or benefits.
- Few small employers will have a formal training program let alone employees holding the position of Trainer while large employers might, for example, have an extensive training and development function.
- If becoming a Trainer is your ultimate career goal, you should research the marketplace and identify which employers (and sectors of the economy) would actually hire someone with a background in training and development without the need to be accountable for other duties and responsibilities such as hiring, employee relations and benefits.
Organizational Development is another extremely popular discipline that many young workers are interested in exploring. In fact, dozens of the recent inquiries that have come into ODS have explicitly asked “What educational and/or professional experience would prepare me for a career in OD?”
OD is a highly specialized function that is not going to be found in the vast majority of small employers. Like the training and benefits functions, the small amount of OD work that does exists within these small companies will be performed by a Generalist. However, as competition for talent intensifies in the coming years due to high number of baby boomers that will be retiring, OD will increasingly grow in demand.
The HR and OD Jobs that Exist in small areas
That said, if your intent is to find an OD job in in a smaller city then you’d better develop yours skills as a HR Generalist because stand alone OD positions are extraordinarily rare. Even at the Consultant level, employers want OD Consultants that can add value in other ways. For example, any employer with 50 or more employees in California MUST provide their management team with two hours of training in sexual harassment every other year which, like many other regulations in this state, is unique to California alone.
Therefore, many organizations in small counties are required to conduct sexual harassment training. Typically, however, sexual harassment falls within the domain of a core HR function rather then that of OD. While OD encompasses leadership training, it does not ordinarily delve into state jurisdictional issues like the statutes found in California.
Although, by becoming a subject matter expert on the harassment and discrimination laws in California – particularly as they relate to conduct and behavior of a sexual nature, you’re going to have a much easier time marketing your OD services because of your ability to “cross-over” and assist them with compliance issues such as this.
Understand how California is unique and different
For those of you that don’t have an appreciation for just how different the employment laws are in California, as compared to the other 49 states, please check out the following statutes:
1.) California is the ONLY state in the State in the Country that recognizes stress as an
occupational illness (thus, can complicate performance management actions like
putting worker’s on probation).
2.) California is the ONLY state that has paid family and medical leave (FMLA).
3.) California is the ONLY state that requires an Employer to pay over-time wages after 8
hours in a day – verses after 40 hours in a week – as is required in the other 49 states.
As a result, if you plan to stay in a small area and pursue a career in the field of HR and/or OD, it’s essential that you develop your skills and competencies in several HR functions. Therefore, while your ultimate career goal might be in training, benefits, OD or even compensation, if you don’t have a basic understanding of the employment regulations – and the myriad of complex employment laws in California – you’re going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a job.
The Antiquated HR Business Model
From an educational perspective, many individuals (particularly those that work for small employers) who hold the title of HR Manager (and even Director in some cases) were organically grown. In other words, they were originally hired as an Executive Assistant or some other support function and, as the company grew, they were given duties that involved recruiting and benefits; thus, as the company expanded so did the scope of their accountabilities.
As a result, many employers in San Diego County, for example, employ HR leaders that weren’t formally trained or educated in the field of HR and, more often that not, these “Leader’s” are viewed as tactical, reactive and, in some cases, administrative – with the HR lead reporting to someone on the finance or operations team. Unfortunately, this antiquated HR model is not only ineffective but – because HR is housed within one department – it communicates to the rest of the staff that the HR function applies to only one function or sector of the business rather than across all business functions, thus, making it much more difficult for the HR function to be successful.
Furthermore, without the HR lead reporting to the President or CEO, they are often left out of critical business decisions that force them into that tactical reactive role. Accordingly, those HR professionals that were formally trained, educated and mentored as strategic business partners will usually balk at going to work for a company that does not employ the more contemporary perspective of what a true HR business partner can do for the organization.
Contemporary HR Business Partner Model; Educational Requirements
In 2009, most organizations are looking to hire HR Managers that possess a bachelor’s degree and many want them to be credentialed and certified by SHRM (the Society of Human Resource Management). However, there’s a strong growing trend requiring those in senior management roles to hold a Master’s degree in a related discipline such as counseling, human resources, or an MBA.
In truth, a Master’s degree today resembles what a Bachelor’s degree was 40 years ago; it’s become one of the basic qualifications employers seek in the ideal candidate and it’s not limited to HR. Whether your field of study is a more traditional business discipline (like accounting or finance) or operations, a Master’s degree is almost expected when you get to senior level positions within most organizations. Moreover, it almost goes without saying that this trend is only going to increase in the future; therefore, today’s young workers are highly encouraged to not only obtain a Bachelor’s degree but to eventually pursue and acquire an advanced degree to ensure their upward mobility within the organization.
How to land that first job
Once you have that degree in hand, then the task is one of deciding how to secure that entry level HR position. Probably the most common method (and certainly one that prepares you well for advancement) is recruiting. By securing first a Recruiting Assistant or Coordinator role, most of those entering the field of HR will find themselves thrust into the position of recruiter within a short time.
As a recruiter, you become the company’s subject matter expert on EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) regulations; and, if the company does business with the federal government, you’ll also become well versed in Affirmative Action Plans. It’s also a great way to stay on top of the “pulse” of an organization; you discover what parts of the business have higher turnover rates than others; what parts of the business are more accomplished then other divisions. You’ll also be privy to many management decisions with regards to expansions, promotions, terminations and any restructuring that is being planned. In addition to being the first person many of the new hires will have met, you’ll be building highly effective – and interactive – partnerships with management personnel on a daily basis.
The Forecast for HR and OD Positions
While the forecast for the HR profession is extremely optimistic and positive – particularly when the baby-boomer generation begins to leave the workforce in large numbers and companies are forced to turn their attentions to things like employee satisfaction, staff retention, succession planning and flexible work arrangements.
On the other hand, in poor economic times like we’re currently experiencing, it’s also the first department companies look at when layoffs begin. Why? Because many senior leaders still possess that outdated notion of what HR is and isn’t; as a result, they tend not to see HR as capable of impacting the bottom line – whether it be saving the company money or increasing revenue.
While this old school paradigm will continue to erode and change as companies mature and become more sophisticated, in the short term it looks somewhat grim. In a market where small employers make up 90% of the market, HR positions are getting extremely difficult to find. In fact, an HR Manager at a recent meeting was quoted as saying that the HR function is many San Diego companies is feeling under attack as they are the first one’s on the chopping block.
So, while the long term looks extremely promising, in the short term many HR professionals might have to leave the field in order to find work to pay the bills. Given the fact that every Analyst you hear or read about is of the opinion that this downturn has no end in sight, if you’re an HR professional already employed and/or living in another state the best advice is to “stay put” until the market changes.
Final Thoughts and Considerations about a Career in Human Resources
Having had the opportunity to work within many different organizations over the years as both an employee and consultant, the one skill that’s going to assist you the most in a career in HR or OD is your ability to communicate effectively. Far too many HR Professionals are viewed as the company’s police department that administers and adjudicates policies and procedures; however, that perception is not going to win you over any converts or fans.
For that reason, the best advice this Consultant can give anyone entering this field is to not be too “stiff” (and rules orientated) or too “loose”; instead, always try to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the people; treat everyone with respect and take the appropriate action when it’s necessary. Always be approachable, maintain a high degree of integrity (like never even think about dating in the workplace) and become an expert at playing the devils advocate – challenge workers to think differently about management and challenge management to the perceptions workers have of them.
It’s a unique and delicate job and not one that comes easily to many incumbents. While you can have all of the degrees and work experience in the world as an HR professional, if you don’t possess integrity and are viewed with respect from those within the company then you’ll never be successful in your role.
Mike Russell is a seasoned professional with three decades of experience in the fields of HR and OD. In addition to having a career trajectory of HR Generalist to a VP within ten years, Mike also has a long and successful background as a Consultant/Business Partner to CEO’s, Presidents and Executive Directors in both the private and non-profit communities across a wide spectrum of industries.
As the sole-proprietor and owner of Organizational Development Solutions (ODS), Mike partners with business leaders committed to insulating their organization(s) from potential liability, increasing organizational effectiveness and adding shareholder value.