Think you might want to work in HR? You gotta love people first.

This summer marks my 20th year in the human resources industry. It's hard to imagine that I earned my degree in HR, eager to make a difference in the lives of working people THAT long ago. A lot has changed over the last two decades for many human resource professionals. We've gone from being stuck in an office pushing paperwork to being active decision makers in our companies. The business world continues to evolve in many incredible ways, but at the heart of it all one thing remains - it's the love of people that drives our every action.

Wait...record scratch...did you say, "HR loves people?" What??!! Aren't most HR people a bunch of snobby, judgmental, looking-for-reasons-to-fire-everybody busybodies? Employees whisper behind our backs and avoid telling HR certain things. Watch a few popular television shows and you'll likely come across examples of human resource officers who are portrayed as villains. Either that, or we are looked at as the coffee-chugging director of people who rattles out rules and workplace policies that make everyone's eyes roll. It's not a pretty scene.

The truth is (shhh don't tell anyone) is that human resources professionals actually get involved in this line of work because WE LOVE PEOPLE. There, I said it outloud!

It may not seem this way, and I get where all the "Negative Nancy" stuff comes from. There are too many HR people who either forget this fact or they get so stressed out and overworked and overrun by employment laws and corporate politics and recruitment quotas that they let themselves become ineffective with people skills.

When I worked as a staffing manager (one of my first gigs in HR), I can remember thinking to myself, "If one more person walks through that door today with a stupid reason why they can't go to their assigned job, I am gonna lose it." But, instead a really great candidate would walk in and after engaging with them in some conversation about their career, I would get excited about being part of that again.

If you are considering getting involved in a career in human resources, it is critical that you are honest with yourself about your love of people. Ask yourself the following questions to examine how deep you are willing to go in terms of a successful career:

  • How much do you love being around and helping people? (Even the most difficult ones)
  • Can you picture yourself having the primary task and responsibility for the well-being and effectiveness of other people?
  • How willing are you to walk the delicate line between what the company expects and what people expect?
  • When there are conflicts between others and you, how will you handle it?
  • Are there personality types that you simply cannot get along with, or that annoy you?
  • What if your boss asks you to fire an employee and it goes against your values as an HR professional - would you do it?
  • How do you deal with things when people let you down or break your trust?

These are just touching the surface of what the average human resource professional must experience in his or her role. This doesn't even cover things like knowing ahead of time about pending changes in a company or industry that can have seriously negative consequences for people. Bearing the guilt of this can be a terrible burden. When employment laws change, health care reform crumbles, and leaders turn into losers, how will you stand strong?

The next generation of human resource professionals has got their work cut out for them. In many ways, technology has made things more efficient, but it has also complicated things. It's no longer just about knowing the laws and advising others how to follow them. Human resources now has the ultimate role of being influential in the lives of so many more people. We breathe life into our organizations, the cultures, and the career outcomes of hard working individuals more and more every day. We shape the experience of employees and advise our leaders on how to keep them engaged.

All of this is good, but at the same time, it requires a special kind of person with a huge capacity for caring about people. Before you commit to a career in HR, be sure you have a heart that's big enough to do the job.

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