How did you wind up in HR?

Did you find HR or did HR find you?

It’s an interesting field we’re in and this is a question I like to ask HR people. How the heck did we wind up here in the first place? I like to say that I found HR. I was managing a department for a non-profit organization and considering the salary I felt like a non-profit myself. So I did an analysis of every aspect of my job (not even realizing that this was a very HR-like activity) and found that all the parts of the job I liked fell under an umbrella called human resources. Before I started this process I don’t think I even knew there was such a field. But I did my own recruiting and training for the department, handled whatever issues arose among the team, restructured responsibilities according to people’s abilities, and did the occasional termination. I was an HR person before I even knew it. So I went back to school to complete the transition and twenty-five years later, here I am.

I’ve met a lot of other people who seemed to have fallen, meandered, or been pushed into HR because of what was going on in their organization. There was the accountant who was as good with people as she was with numbers so when the HR Manager at her firm left they told her she was now running that department along with her own. I know a couple of office managers who, as their organizations grew, morphed into HR positions simply because they knew everyone and had processed everyone’s paperwork. Admin assistants have managed this same trick, often via benefits because they’re the ones who helped everyone fill out the forms.

The path to HR is not cut and dried. It’s certainly evolved from the days when all Personnel had to do was make sure that everyone got paid on time and there was plenty of cold beer and watermelon at the company picnic. Our profession has gotten more specialized yet it sometimes seems that there are as many ways to become an HR professional as there are HR professionals. More and more people study human resources in college or graduate school and certification is both a path and a goal. And yet at conferences I still meet a lot of people who say, “I never planned to be in HR.”

So how did you wind up in HR? Please share your story below because there’s a lot we can learn from each other’s journey.

Only the best,

14 thoughts on “How did you wind up in HR?

  1. A million years ago, as I was working on my under graduate degree, I accepted a 2-day temp assignment stuffing envelopes for the President’s Christmas Party (Now that I think about it, he probably shouldn’t have had me working on his party and charging it back to the hospital, anyhoo….). He was so impressed, the hospital kept me for 9-months then told the HR Department to hire me for “whatever.” Thus began my illustrious career in HR.

    • Thanks Alicia! I had a job once that I took for one day and left eight years later. And I know a recent grad (May 2012) who had a 5 day stint in an HR department turn into 10 months.

      I’m equally impressed that you were able to impress your way into a job with your envelope stuffing skills!
      Only the best,

  2. I was working in a bank (many, many years ago) and had the opportunity to attend a supervisory skills workshop. I was so impressed with the two facilitators and even more amazed that such a job existed. I kept in touch with them (the term “networking” wasn’t invented yet) and one of them had gotten promoted and offered me a job as a trainer. From there I went into a generalist role and built a team that included a guy who had been working in a not-for-profit….

    • Careful Pat! Now people will know who to blame!

      You took a chance on someone with a combination of working in a challenging environment and a sound HR education. You always said you didn’t really take that great a chance, you knew what you were doing. I can’t thank you enough for being so perspicacious. Ron

  3. I stumbled into HR through the back door when It was still called Personnel. I have often joked that the name was changed because no one could spell personnel, one “n” or two, one “l” or two.

    As a young married college student I dropped out of school while my wife completed her degree. I had been working a couple of years as a painter working for a major engineering construction when I decided to return to school. I was looking for an office job that would allow me to stay clean enough to go straight to class from work. During my job search I dropped by the office the engineering construction company to see a friend. He introduced me to the Personnel Manager. The next day I received a call and an offer of a job in the mail room. Six weeks later the Personnel Manager called me into his office and told me he was looking for an interviewer trainee in the craft employment office. He remembered that I was going to college at night and that I had experience working in several craft positions before I started painting. He felt my experience in the field and the fact that I was pursuing a degree made me a good candidate for the job. He wanted to know if I was interested in the job. Of course I was. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

    I spent 30 years with that company. They provided an educational assistance program which enabled me to complete my college education and get a degree in Human Resources. They afforded me the opportunity to grow and experience domestic and International assignments. I was fortunate to experience situations that required me and my team to unravel some very complicated employee relations situations. I had the opportunity to work in all areas of HR as well as the Safety Department and in the Law Department where we established an ombudsman and assistance program for injured workers. All of that prepared me for the next 15 years of when I worked in the upstream oil and gas industry.

    I may have stumbled into HR through the back door but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. While working as a global HR leader I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and mentor many who continue to grow their HR careers.

    Whether HR finds you or you find HR make it fun and enjoy the ride.

    • Roger, when I started the sign outside the door read “Personnel,’ but we hung another that said “Human Resources” below it. It sounds like you made some excellent decisions that led you to where you are today. You may have backed into HR in that it found you, but you seem to have been doing the right things then and since to achieve all you have. I love your combination of real work experience, an HR education and that coupled with line assignments. Seems like it’s been quite a ride. Thanks for your comment, Ron

  4. Posting a few comments that came in via other social media:
    Tina from the Mid-Atlantic States said, “I had planned to start my career as a secretary (yes I’m dating myself with that term) and then move up to an office manager type position. I landed the secretary job at a self insured life insurance company in their payroll and benefits department. HR was not a field then, and “personnel” was just whoever did the hiring and firing. As the department secretary I rotated among all the sub departments of payroll, retirement, medical claims processing, STD, LTD and WC learning about each thoroughly. COBRA and FMLA came along over those years (again, I age myself) and I learned these from the ground up. I spent 18 years in that role loving most every moment of the variety of work. The company closed and I was forced to look elsewhere for work and determine what I was going to be in life career wise. While sticking with what I knew, a couple of job hops and technical skills advancement landed me in my first real “human resources” department where I quickly moved up through recruiter, generalist and then to consultant, all the while continuing my education and obtaining HRCI certification. At that time I knew that HR would be my life long career. It is a challenging field that requires continuous learning, and that aspect is one of the greatest appeals to me. In my current role, I provide training and consulting services covering the entire field of HR from employment law to payroll and employee benefits. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career. Can’t wait to read about other’s journey into the field.

  5. Another comment:
    William T. from Florida wrote, “I was assigned the background investigations on all new hires. From backgrounds I ended up in the interviewing process and recommendations. Within a couple years I was involved in HR disciplinary investigations and promotion boards. I just ended up taking on more responsibilities as the years went by.”

    A classic example who came in through the recruiting door, developed his skills and built a career. Thanks for your comment William!

  6. Linda Sibley of Orlando, FL came to HR via a less pleasant route. Her story: ” I started my career in HR after experiencing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace as a single working mother. It infuriated me that back in the mid-1970s, there was a total lack of compassion, empathy and open mindedness from those sitting above the glass ceiling for driven, hardworking, passionate women, such as myself, who simply desired life-work balance, fair pay, flexibility and opportunities to improve ourselves and advance. Once I obtained a foothold in the HR realm, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be….”change agent” is in my DNA and I know this is where I belong! To me, HR is a form of activism, and I love working to make a positive difference and/or change in either the workplace or the lives of our employees; no matter how trivial.”

  7. Gerry S. from the UK writes: “I was destined to go to university to become a dietician! Having held a Saturday job in retail since legally able to do so; I was spotted by my first great mentor who had me work the holidays in HR (Personnel as it was known then without giving away my age too much!) A life changing moment; I have spent over 35 years in the field now and rarely get bored with the events human nature presents. That said the people who still don’t know that great management of their team is the answer to most problems in their business are somewhat tiresome!”

    Those of us lucky enough to have been mentored like Gerry know how valuable the experience is! Ron

  8. Lisa C. from Houston, TX (is there any other?) came to HR as a PT temp and never left! Now it’s on to her SPHR!

    “By accident. I replied to an ad for a part-time job that fit my schedule. I had been an admin and this position was an admin in an HR Department. My manager became my mentor and took me from a part time temp who knew little about the ins & outs of HR to a successful Assistant Manager of my HR department. I had no idea how fulfilling it could be but I love helping & supporting my team. Between Safety, Worker’s Comp, Onboarding, Training, Recruiting, Unemployment, WC, etc, I have become a well rounded HR Professional. Now, on to the SPHR exam to add to my credentials!”

  9. Another comment from “across the pond”! Lisa G. from a town near Manchester, UK added how she got into HR: “I joined the Abbey National as a part time cashier after my children had both started school. I enjoyed the job, it was flexible enough to fit in with my childcare arrangements. After about 6 weeks I attended the official ‘off the job’ induction programme [what is commonly referred to as ‘orientation’ in the U.S.] that was really brilliant. From then on I decided that’s what I wanted to do, so I was fortunate to have a manager who encouraged me with my aspirations and went on over a 9 year period to develop in learning and development, recruitment, leading the training team for a period, undertaking leading edge recruitment projects (at the time). The rest is history as they say!!”

    • Lisa,
      You’re not the only person who became enamored of HR after seeing a good trainer present. My first boss in HR (comment above) followed a similar route. Thanks for your comment! Ron

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