Human Resources Professions

From start to finish If you've ever interviewed for a job, you've probably met with a human resources assistant or director. HR professionals are the "people people" at companies. They follow the careers of employees throughout their term of employment; they file the paperwork when someone is hired and file it when that person retires (or is "downsized"). In between the coming and going, they also track employee absences and job performance, process promotions, supervise benefits packages, and listen to employee grievances. If an employee has a query or a gripe regarding pay, retirement or benefits, he or she talks to someone in human resources. In addition, HR professionals organize any employee outings or community outreach programs -- the fun stuff!

Human resources personnel are also instrumental helping businesses grow by recruiting new employees. They post new job openings; review applications and resumes; interview and test applicants; and hire based on each department's needs. Part of a HR assistant's or director's job is to screen applicants, deciding who gets to the next level of the interview process. Human resources assistants also handle internal recruitment, notifying company employees of openings within the firm and matching qualified applicants to the position. And if that's not enough, HR personnel generally dish out the acceptance and rejection letters to candidates.

HR personnel listen to both employee complaints and concerns. They also work with management to institute policies designed to take into account the "people" aspect of the business, such as incentive compensation plans. As their goal is to create the most productive work environment possible, HR professionals must have expert people skills.

Some companies have one HR manager or staff who handles all employee-related issues, from recruiting and training to safety and workplace issues, to health care and other benefits. Other companies, however, need different HR professionals for different areas and hire HR professionals who specialize in those areas. For example, a construction company will require a health and safety professional who focuses on workplace safety to make sure all their construction sites are safe. Let's explore some other areas of specialization for human resources professionals.

Diversity and EEO Management

Attention to diversity issues has become increasingly important in the past decade; many companies now boast a chief diversity manager. Managers and department staff members would be tasked with attracting top multicultural talent, and might work with the recruitment division. They would also try to engage national agencies (like INROADS, Black Enterprise, Society of Hispanic Professionals, and possibly build in-house minority-based peer groups.


Certain human resources personnel are responsible for making sure the company adheres to the requirements of the ERISA and OSHA regulations promulgated at the federal level. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act were established to, respectively, protect employee benefit (pension) plans, and enact basic standards to ensure workers have protection against injury or illness (governing minimum space per worker, air quality, construction, and machinery use, for example).

Executive Search

Executive search firms cover two realms: contingency and retained. "Retained" recruiters are hired by the top firms to find a candidate to fill a (usually C-level) spot, while those working on "contingency" are looking for good candidates (from anywhere) and must "push" them to find a corporate taker in order to get paid. Executive recruiters need a wide body of contacts, and a lot of patience.

Health and Safety

Company officers in this area would be responsible for addressing potential issues such as flu shots, notification of building maintenance problems, fire safety and emergency plans, drug policies (and testing), smoking, visitor policies and first aid. (Some of these may overlap with the security division.) If relevant policies are not in place, the health and safety manager would need to establish and document them, and ensure that all company personnel are informed.

Labor and Employee Relations

Only in certain industries (i.e. manufacturing) does a labor relations manager actually get involved with "labor" as in labor unions (which means collective bargaining, strike actions, contracts). Everywhere else, the post deals with the day-to-day of the working environment -- disputes (including sexual harassment), general employee welfare, and the transmittal of information from management to the workers.

Management Development and Training

The development and training unit of human resources must prepare the company's greener employees to one day take the place of managers who move out of the company. (In other circumstances, it helps retrain workers whose responsibilities are undergoing major shifts and provides orientation for new hires.) Training and educational opportunities may aim to boost job skills or enhance interpersonal or leadership skills.

Organizational Development

Some of the duties performed in this area may intersect with those of employee development and recruitment/staffing; the three often compose one unit. At its basic level, organizational development concerns the departmental structure of the firm -- how divisions and personnel are organized and interact with each other -- job design, and the organization's structural efficiency (or lack thereof).

Payroll and Benefits Administration

In the best of all possible worlds, the payroll administrator makes sure that compensation is calculated fairly across all departments, by managing the system of pay grades (and bonuses) and the methods by which workers are evaluated. Benefit managers disseminate information on the insurance, pension, stock and other schemes available to employees. Any position holder must keep on top of federal and local regulations (i.e. those on minimum wage or income taxes). Compensation and employee benefits managers often have to weigh the needs of the employees against the firm's program costs.

Recruitment/Staffing Manager

Recruitment and staffing is responsible for seeking out the human "resources" that are necessary for a company's strategic growth.Personnel may find prospective hires through job fairs or college events -- some travel may be required.The department manager is apprised of current and future requirements from other division heads.

Training and Staff Development

Training and development, sometimes called training and learning or learning and development, is the most common HRD function when it comes to developing and growing talent in an organization. Almost every organization has some sort of training function, whether it's one HR staff member responsible for training new employees or a team of trainers, instructional designers and evaluators. So what exactly is training and development? It's a way to make employees in an organization perform better in their jobs and grow their careers. Depending on how progressive a company is, training and development can take on many different forms, from classroom training to conferences to self-study course. It may be a six-month intensive leadership development program or a one-hour course on presentation skills. But regardless of the size of a training program or how innovative a training and development function is, if your HR career heads in this direction, the basic responsibilities are the same. The first responsibility training and development professionals take on is what's called needs assessment. This refers to the research behind determining what kind of training is actually needed in a company. Say a technology company is launching a new product offering. It will need to develop training for the sales force on that product, so that they understand how the product works, who it's for and why a customer should make the purchase. In this case, there may be a training manager deployed to meet with the product team and the sales director to assess what exactly the sales force needs to be trained on. Needs assessment is also done in response to a problem training might solve.

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