Human resources (HR) is constantly evolving, driven by the forces of technology and changing expectations of employers, employees, and job seekers. From a largely administrative role involving recruitment, salaries, and appraisals, HR is now transforming into a strategic partner of top management, looking to match talent strategies with organizational priorities and working together for success.

Technology has transformed many industries and taken away some jobs, but it has created some others too. The end result is that people will always be needed and so will HR professionals to manage them.

Read on to know the top tips for those looking to plan an HR career:

Should you choose a career in HR?

Too many people think they are cut out for a career in HR as they are “people persons”. That may be a helpful quality in certain HR tasks, such as building recognition programs or helping with new benefit enrollments. However, there will also be policy enforcement, violation investigation, and layoffs and terminations. The main requirement is to understand the needs of the business and craft policies accordingly. Company and employee advocacy must be balanced, but the former gets a slight edge always.

Choose HR to make an impact, to help others, and to change the narrative for the profession. HR is no longer just administration, but is now paving the way forward and impacting lives around the globe.

An HR degree may not be enough

Management programs in college are good to instill knowledge in HR professionals, which is key in compliance matters. Not everything is so clear cut, and experience helps here. It is advisable to supplement studies with an internship or a part-time job, as the experience will give an edge when looking for a full-time position.

Often, a master’s degree works where an undergraduate program might not. Undergraduate marketing and management programs, for instance, may not open doors by themselves, but a master’s degree gets more prominence. For other courses or non-HR disciplines, it is important to articulate – on the resume and in conversation – how the degree and experience relate to HR functions. This could be the edge in landing an HR job.

For instance, IT degrees are useful in HR information systems and HR analytics roles, while psychology and other human behavior studies are relevant to training and employee relations. It is also a good choice to supplement degrees with one of the HR certifications, as a proof of being up to pace with current policies and practices as well as knowing how to implement academic knowledge in a practical way.

Is it better to be an HR generalist or a specialist?

It boils down to preferences. A specialist is a subject matter expert, the go-to person for assistance in the particular domain. A generalist gets experience of every HR aspect – from benefits and payroll to employee relations and more.

Experience is needed to pick up more specialized skills in an HR career. To develop investigative skills, take notes during employee interviews. To conduct orientations and onboarding, sit in on employee orientation sessions, offer to help prepare slide decks, and get familiar with company policies. A candidate could also pick one of the best HR certifications to pick up skills for specialized roles.

Opportunities in this regard can differ as per company size. A smaller company is likely to offer a generalist role while at a bigger employer, the role could be highly specialized. Both have their positives, but the focus should be on opportunities and teams that offer freedom, support and resources to suggest fresh ideas that may not always work, as well as the chance to bring about real improvements in the organization.

When will you be ready for a managerial role?

Coaching and mentoring are key skills for HR professionals looking to move to managerial positions. Broad experience of HR helps more than specialized competence, as an HR manager must be strategic and know how everything one does has an overall impact on the business. It helps to demonstrate the positive impacts of and returns from actions taken.

To this end, some particular actions to take could be:

  • Special projects to add to the resume
  • Building relationships with business or operation managers
  • Being collaborative
  • Sharing useful knowledge
  • Finding a mentor

Getting mentored is useful

Finding a mentor can be invaluable, and it helps to set expectations to steer the relationship clearly. It is good to identify:

  • Learning objectives
  • A timeline
  • Method of communication
  • Meeting frequency
  • Anything the mentor would like to learn

Similarly, when the end date arrives, it is good to

  • Assess career goals
  • Determine next learning requirements
  • Identify the right guide

It is not possible to rely just on the chance of meeting the right mentor. To ensure the right progress of an HR career, it is good to intentionally seek out someone as a mentor. And this person need not be chosen basis seniority or title, but could be just slightly senior or even a peer.