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What does being an HR Professional really mean?

February 26, 2015


Whenever I hear people talking about ‘ HR Professionals’ I always wonder who these people are? Am I one? How did everyone in this room get to be one? Who decides what professional means? Or is it simply that we are working in the HR profession?


While a profession is a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science, the word professional can mean a person who is an expert at his or her work or it can simply mean it is related to the profession. There is a very big difference in these meanings and I worry that those who aren’t experts are making it harder for those of us that are – by providing poor advice, by not understanding and therefore not fulfilling compliance requirements, by being poor communicators or by not keeping up to date with HR developments.


In my own experience I have commenced in several jobs where the person before me didn’t know enough about how the job should be done and didn’t care enough to want to know. In one position the last HR person was disliked by most of the staff and there were harassment claims made against him for his behaviour in the workplace. How could that person say he was an HR Professional? How did he get another job? I then had to prove myself as an ‘HR professional’ and earn the trust and respect of staff so they didn’t think one HR professional was like the next. Of course in any new role, there is always a stage of people getting to know you and your style but I have found this to be a frustrating experience.


I also worked in a large Government organisation where the Senior Managers would place team leaders from regional offices who weren’t coping in the workplace into HR for ‘a rest’. Yes they actually said that. If only those Senior Managers had stopped and thought about how undervalued their HR staff felt. It was as if the people management side of this business wasn’t important and therefore anyone could sit in and do an HR job. Needless to say, I moved on soon after that.


What I’m not saying is that everyone in the HR profession must have a swag of qualifications or even any, I do think that there are some essential qualities and skills required to be an HR professional –

  • You should actually like people – why would you choose this profession if you don’t – sadly I know many who don’t like people at all

  • You should love to learn – the world, the workplace and the rules for everything change all the time and you need to be able to harness that knowledge and be able to pass it on

  • You absolutely need great listening skills. This is the key to great communication skills – people want to be heard, they want to know you are listening. You may not be able to solve the issue but the fact you have listened is often the most important part.

  • Organisational skills are important especially if you are a generalist and/or you run an HR Department on your own – you can plan your day as much as you like but you never know when the next crisis might hit or when someone might need five minutes (which is never five minutes) for a quick chat

  • Record keeping skills are paramount – when that unfair dismissal claim hits your desk you will really regret not having written the critical file note on someone’s performance or not having asked your managers to record incidents in their diaries

  • You need to be ethical and seen to be so – HR is the great bastion of confidentiality and you will not have a ‘professional’ reputation for long if you don’t own this one

  • You need to be working in and with the business and not sitting in isolation as HR –you must learn what the other professionals in the workplace do and what makes your business successful (see point 2 – love to learn)

  • Unless you work in the perfect workplace where everyone gets on with everyone else, conflict resolution skills are also pretty useful. These skills go nicely with listening and you can save a lot of heartache, paperwork and money for the company if you can assist people resolve issues in an informal way before things get too heated.

These are my thoughts, do you agree or have any to add?

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