What You Should Know About a Career in Human Resources

What You Should Know About a Career in Human Resources

In the cult classic black comedy “Harold and Maude,” 19-year old Harold says to 80-year old Maude, “You sure have a way with people.” Ruth Gordon as the free-spirited Maude replies, “Well, they’re my species!”

If people are your species, then you might enjoy a career in human resources. If the term isn’t familiar to you, it’s what used to be called personnel or sometimes human relations and is now often referred to as people operations or human capital management. In the most wide-ranging terms, it’s the management of everything related to the employees of an organization.

A company’s most important asset is its human capital, so a human resources manager’s role is to ensure that all employees are nurtured and supported with programs, policies and procedures that help them succeed and in turn help the organization succeed.

In most organizations, the HR department is responsible for:


Coordinating with individuals or department heads who have need for new staff members, the HR department manages everything involved with talent recruitment marketing efforts, which may include participating in job fairs and recruiting on college campuses. HR also manages interviewing, skills testing, substance testing if required, reference checking and selection of final candidates for positions.


HR generally sets salary levels in accord with company policy and surveys of compensation in comparable positions in the field as well as in the company’s geographic area. It also administers raises and salary bonuses.

Personnel Policies

HR managers develop and oversee personnel policies and provide guidance in workplace conflict resolution and disciplinary actions if required. This includes understanding and applying laws and regulations regarding gender and other forms of discrimination as well as monitoring lesser infractions that might disrupt the workplace.

Career Development and Training

Human resources provides orientation and training for new hires, and oversees continued career development and training programs for all employees. This might include designing team-building exercises, leading seminars and classes in-house and arranging for off-site seminars and training sessions. Counseling toward promotion may also be one of the services that HR performs.

Benefit Programs

The HR department develops and oversees employee benefits and wellness programs, including health insurance, pension plans, workman’s compensation and the like. It is also administers OSHA and other safety programs and is the primary contact for work-site accidents and injuries.

Employee Services

In large organizations, human resources may administer nutritional and food service programs, childcare facilities, health and physical fitness programs and counseling services.

Employee Recognition

As part of its mission to build and sustain employee morale, HR may administer recognition programs ranging from bonuses, awards, gifts and contests to company events and parties.

Separation Process

Administration of lay-offs and firings and the details involved with leaves, retirements and resignations are also part of the tasks of the HR department. This includes managing severance pay, settlement of benefits, return of company property and oversight of non-compete and non-disclosure agreements.

Coordination With Labor Unions

If some or all of the organization’s employees are unionized, HR staff may be responsible for coordinating negotiations and overseeing compliance on both the union’s and company’s parts.

Overall Responsibility

As you can see in most of the tasks of HR, a solid understanding of labor and employment law is a basic requirement. To do the job well, you don’t have to be a lawyer, but a master’s degree in employment law will give you the knowledge and tools to deal with all of the policies, procedures and day-to-day decisions that should be compliant with the increasingly complex world of state and federal laws and regulations. Not only will an advanced education in employment law enhance your ability to do the job, it will enhance your value as a member of the company yourself.

Specialties in HR

While in a small company one person may manage the entire range of HR responsibilities, in larger organizations there are a number of specialized positions. If you are thinking of human resources as a career, here are some of the job titles out there in businesses and nonprofit organizations:

  • Recruiter
  • Employment and placement manager
  • Training development specialist
  • Benefits specialist
  • Employment services manager
  • Employee assistant plan manager
  • Compensation specialist
  • Job analysis specialist
  • Training and development manager
  • Benefits counselor
  • Labor and employee relations manager
  • Personnel analyst
  • Human resources information system analyst
  • Work-life manager
  • Organizational development consultant

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