How HR Professionals Can Advance Their Career

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Mar 25, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Now is a great time to work as a human resources (HR) professional. It’s a jobseeker’s market, and employers need skilled professionals who can staff a range of mission-critical roles. That means there’s lots of room for advancement if you’re proactive and motivated.

Advancing in the HR field might require you to get out of your comfort zone or learn new skills. It isn’t always easy, but it can be very worthwhile to consciously move your career forward and get out of the entry-level jobs that offer low pay and repetitive work.

Not sure where to start? Here are some ways to move toward your career goals in human resources.

Building your professional support network

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Caesar didn’t do it by himself. Likewise, you’ll need to build your professional network if you want to get ahead and find a great HR position.

Much as we’d like to believe that hiring decisions are all skill and experience-based, people who work in human resources know that connections matter. We’re biased toward people we know and have an existing relationship with.

It’s only natural that people tend to go out of their way for people we know personally. We build bonds of trust when we get to know someone, and we’re more likely to hire or recommend for hire a person we know, rather than a candidate with a stellar resume whom we’ve never met.

In addition to opening up opportunities, building your network can help you learn more about the industry and give you insights on the latest trends and best practices. Finding a mentor is a great way to involve yourself in the HR community and to gain all the industry-specific knowledge you can.

A fair and equitable work environment for all

As an HR professional, you probably already know how important diversity and inclusion are in the modern workplace. Hiring a diverse team is important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s important to include different perspectives on teams. But in addition to these points, it’s also good for a company’s bottom line. Research shows that inclusive teams just make better business decisions—87% of the time, in fact.

Any advanced position in the field of HR will involve navigating the issues and challenges involves in creating a fair and equitable work environment for all. You have to be willing to have tough conversations to create and enforce policies that promote inclusion.

Diversity doesn’t just mean having employees of different races or ethnicities represented—it also means having people from different backgrounds, of different ages, and with different perspectives contributing to the team. Other factors, like sexuality, religion, and disability, also contribute to diversity. An inclusive workplace is welcoming and supportive, offering every employee respect and collaboration. Inclusion makes teams stronger and leads to reduced turnover.

Really understanding diversity and inclusion is shockingly rare among organizations. While around 70% of companies believe that they are doing well in attracting and retaining diverse talent, a mere 11% fully understand diversity and inclusion in the workplace. HR professionals can position themselves competitively by learning about this important issue in the field and becoming experts in creating an inclusive work environment.

Advanced education is essential in the field

Advancement isn’t only about who you know and where you’ve worked. If you want to rise up in the ranks within the HR field, then you might need to hit the books and pursue an advanced degree. While it’s not always necessary to have an advanced degree in a field related to human resources or business, like an MBA or a Master of Science in Management, it definitely helps you to land a desirable position and build the skills you’ll need to communicate with employees and build a strong candidate pool.

Not sure which degree is right for you? It can help to look at job postings for your dream HR position. Aim for the stars—you’re only doing research. Don’t just dress for the job you want; learn for the job you want! Look at lots of different postings to see which degrees are in the highest demand for HR professionals before looking into any programs.

You should also think about any skill gaps you may have. You don’t need to know everything about running a business, but HR has its hand in every department in an organization. Having a working knowledge of how a business is run can really help you to be more effective in human resources by allowing you to understand what employees in every department are going through.

Today, there are more options than ever for learning. You can earn an online master’s degree, brush up on specific skills using eLearning platforms, or go to school part-time. It’s important to continue learning throughout your career. Don’t just get the degree and be done with it—think about your career as just a long-term learning experiment.

Getting the point across: Professional communication

Many of the biggest problems that HR professionals come across within their organization have to do with poor communication. Business communications are quite different from casual interactions with friends and family, and not everyone knows the etiquette of communication with others in the office.

In HR, you might be called upon to act as a mediator. Misunderstandings due to poor communication often occur and can magnify small problems, blowing them out of proportion and creating tension in the workplace. You yourself need to become an expert communicator so that you can help your team members build their own communication skills for a more harmonious and productive office.

According to Suzanne Rohan Jones, an adjunct professor for the online psychology program at Maryville University, “a lack of communication makes productive and collaborative work efforts difficult for individual employees, teams, and managers.”

Good communication often stems from having high levels of emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence has to do with empathy, self-awareness, and emotional management. By working on your own EI, you can help others discover tools for coping with their emotions and communicating with their coworkers.

“When an organization offers a business structure and culture that encourages questions and feedback, individual employees are more likely to be engaged and retained in their positions.  This job satisfaction and communication will also positively impact the effectiveness of work teams, whether the team is composed of members in the same office or located in remote locations,” Jones adds.

Consider specializing

There are HR professionals working in every field, but not that many people in the industry specialize in specific areas or fields. To become even more attractive to companies that need HR help, you could specialize in a certain HR activity, like hiring and training, or a field like biotech. Not only can you focus on an aspect of HR that appeals to you, but you may be able to command a higher salary and improve your ability to serve the organization you work for.

Get out of your comfort zone

You can’t advance your career inside your comfort zone. If you want to climb the corporate ladder, then it’s important to realize that you will need to push past your normal tendencies and make an effort to motivate yourself toward self-improvement.

We often underestimate just how scary personal and professional advancement can be. It seems strange to fear the changes that come with personal growth, but you need to realize that this discomfort is absolutely normal and necessary when up-leveling your career.

HR is a competitive space, but if you can show that you’ve got the drive, initiative, and skills to lead a large HR team, then you should be able to work your way up into the most satisfying and well-paid careers. Don’t be afraid of change—growth is uncomfortable, but it’s worth it in the end.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.