While formal education provides a solid foundation for a career in human resources (HR), there are certain invaluable lessons that can only be acquired through hands-on learning. As aspiring HR professionals enter the workforce, they often realize that real-life scenarios and practical challenges present unique opportunities for growth that textbooks simply cannot capture.
Here, 18 Forbes Human Resources Council members delve into the untold aspects of HR that are rarely covered in school but hold immense value in shaping a successful HR career. These experiential lessons go beyond the theoretical realm, equipping HR professionals with the insights and expertise needed to excel in their roles.
This has been a critical piece of development for any human resources team I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Understanding the interconnectivity of each vertical within your organization allows you to make impactful business decisions through the HR lens. Focus on developing your skills outside the HR function to become a better business partner. – Nicole Devine, PBO Advisory Group
Although the full moon syndrome has been thoroughly debunked by science, ask any HR person worth their salt, and they will tell you that the number of strange employee issues inevitably increases around a full moon. It sounds ridiculous but it is totally true! – Tracy Cote, StockX
I’m so thankful for earning my master’s in human resources and organizational development. It’s been an invaluable asset. With that said, the classwork did not cover how to build a culture, how to align and cascade organizational goals or how to build and coach a world-class team. I also believe that critical thinking, creativity, change management and project management need to be more embedded into the foundation of these programs. – Liz Corey, Velosio
I learned the power of reading the tea levels—that not all situations are alike. The ability to predictively analyze employee sentiment through walking the floor and through numerous one-on-one conversations allowed me to develop the right people strategy as the situation warranted vs. a standard textbook employee model. I have gained the ability to adapt to change and help build organizational resilience. – Vineet Gambhir, DataLink Software
The technical side of the craft is the easier part. The leadership required to influence key stakeholders, coupled with a deep understanding of the business, becomes increasingly more important as your roles grow. Understanding when and how to lead change is as important as what change should happen. – Andrea Ferrara, PepsiCo Beverages North America
Through an extensive HR career, my ability to put myself in others’ shoes and remember to seek to understand has been incredibly valuable. I love to mentor and coach other leaders to do the same. It leads to better skills in developing teams, conflict resolution, de-escalation outcomes and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and entire organizations. – Bernadette Robertson, GLIDE Foundation
Give employees ownership and freedom, and the best results will come out. Also, effective communication requires repeating and repeating key pieces to focus on a company-wide level since employees miss the key things. – Matt Strauss, RiseKit
Adapting to and navigating various HR policies and organizational rules can be more complex in practice than what is portrayed in textbooks. Real-life situations often involve diverse opinions and unique circumstances that you may not have encountered before. In such scenarios, being able to listen and engage in dialogue actively becomes crucial in the implementation process. – Evgenia Pavlova, ECM Space Consulting
One thing I didn’t learn about HR in school but have benefited from through hands-on learning is the importance of relationship building. HR goes beyond policies and procedures and centers around people. Building strong relationships with employees, managers and stakeholders is crucial for success. – Srikanth Karra, Mphasis
You need to know the clients, the products, the capabilities and the market to fully understand the impact of HR decisions and actions on the company, employees and the bottom line. To truly become a business partner, you need to understand the challenges and pressures felt by all facets of the organization, not just HR. – Laura Giangiuli, CALIBRE Systems, Inc.
It is not only one of the most important life skills everyone needs, but we use it all the time in HR. We often see skills that support resourcefulness such as creative thinking, building resilience or developing a growth mindset being taught. However, the understanding that all of these skills need to connect together to live a resourceful life is missing. – Natalie Gleeson, LIWA Trading Enterprises LLC
Building and maintaining an incredible work culture requires focusing on reputation as well as reality. If your reputation as an employer (your employer brand) is at odds with the culture you’re trying to create, it can work against you by deterring great prospective talent or souring existing talent. Working on your employer’s reputation and the employee experience simultaneously can amplify results. – Nicole Fernandes, Blu Ivy Group
I learned so much while earning my MSHR degree, but book learning did not prepare me for all of the myriad of HR issues that are dealt with on any given day. Experience has taught me how to have and how to coach leaders on crucial conversations. I’ve learned to not make assumptions. I’ve learned how to train other leaders on HR topics and issues and I’ve learned to trust my HR gut. – Sherrie LeCheminant, Blackstone Products
Only through the crucible of hands-on learning in HR do professionals truly grasp the delicate art of balancing the ruthless demands of business with the delicate needs of people. The battlefield of practical experience forges HR warriors who can navigate the complexities involved in this process. Collaboration, empathy and strategic finesse eventually become their formidable weapons. – Sudhir Singh, Sound Agriculture
An often-overlooked skill that is critical for HR professionals is listening. I reach out to my team regularly to gather feedback and coach. Listening can be challenging when it involves hearing about a conflict or managing a termination but an openness to all feedback truly enhances my ability to be effective. – Leigh Yanocha, Knopman Marks Financial Training
I have spent decades in many countries and cultures learning about people, relationship dynamics and how to authentically connect with people. I did this by spending time respectfully listening, asking questions, watching how people interacted in different situations and learning what uniquely motivates them. This has helped me understand the importance of global scope to HR. – Susan Tohyama, Ceridian
One aspect of HR that was not heavily focused on in school, but has been one of the most beneficial management skills I’ve acquired through hands-on experience, is the deep impact of empathy in leadership. Management theory can teach us processes and procedures, but understanding people’s emotions and responses, and learning how to navigate them, can only be honed through practice. – Laura Spawn, Virtual Vocations, Inc.
Building relationships in HR is key to success. From setting up one-on-one meetings with department heads to having an open door for all employees, you must establish trust and competency within an organization. Part of this is truly understanding the company and its products. Understand the core of the business and it will make it easier for you to set team goals and communicate with leaders. – Erin ImHof, CertiK