The HR Newbie's Cheat Sheet

There’s something I love about working with young, aspiring HR professionals.  They’re hungry to grow, don’t have any of the misconceptions about HR (yet) and have a real opportunity to dispel some of the myths about the value of HR. 

One of the things they always ask is “how can I learn more about what’s happening in HR?” That same sentiment is often echoed from seasoned tech and business professionals transferring over to HR for the first time. They may be working on a new tech product or be asked to rotate through HR. Either way, understanding the function is key.

The most important thing you can do if you’re new to HR is to learn the profession. Understand its roots, and pay attention to what HR leaders and professionals do every day: their challenges, their priorities and their agendas.

So here’s my cheat sheet: after almost 17 years in HR, my recommendations on the quick way to immerse yourself in the world of human resources.

1) Learn the HR Basics

I describe HR as two camps: HR development (developing and growing people) and HR management (managing the business of people in your organization). Both are essential to an organization. A quick HR search on Amazon will yield dozens of books you can start with. Laurie Ruettimann’s I Am HR is a great current perspective on the profession and my Guide to Human Resources, while dated, will give you the basics of the function and the sub-professions and competencies within it. You should also consider HR certification and/or education in HR if you haven't already.

2) Get Involved Globally

Every industry has its associations and organizations and HR is no different.  Beyond the politics and debate about which are best, here are some of the ones to investigate. Membership can be pricey but your company may cover it, especially given the research and learning offerings that associations now provide. Wikipedia has a good, basic list of associations to join in HR including the perennial standby: SHRM. The HR Policy Association is a good place to understand the Chief Human Resources Officer’s (CHRO) perspective. Sub professions like training, compensation and industrial and organizational psychology also have their own associations in ASTD, World at Work and SIOP among many others.

3) Look Locally

Most of the associations have local chapters, but HR Professionals often take things into their own hands, starting their own HR organizations. In recruiting in particular, there are strong local recruiting organizations in Atlanta, Minnesota, Seattle and here in my hometown, Washington, DC. These local groups are great for networking, learning and sponsorships.  But depending on your specific interest in HR, ask around.

4) Read. Then read some more.

Sometimes I think there are more people blogging about HR than there are HR professionals. Either way, it’s important to understand what some of the key voices are saying in the industry. There’s a great list of blogs at HRBlogger and on our blog here at exaqueo, we round up talent and HR news every week.  Here are some of the ones I read regularly and have bookmarked in Feedly that are partial to my focus areas in HR below. These are just the tip of the iceberg, so as you grow in HR, be sure to ask “what are you reading?” to curate your own list.

I also subscribe to several SmartBrief publications including Workforce, Leadership and Careers that compile relevant articles and land in my in box.

5) Learn who you can learn from.

Like any profession, HR is a big clique. There are many close networks of people who have been working together for years—so it’s hard to figure out who’s who. There are literally dozens of lists of top HR influencers—the key is to find who’s influential in your space and follow and learn from them. An exhaustive list is impossible but some of the influencers for me include:

One of the best things you can do is seek out conferences in your profession to meet speakers, professionals and leaders. My advice? Pay special attention to leaders who are working inside HR organizations, or have the experience of being in-house. In my opinion it’s a very important perspective that not all pundits, consultants and vendors have.

6) Seek out scholars and journalists

It’s also key to know who’s researching and studying HR with an academic or journalistic lens. I like to follow local reporters like those who write for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post here in DC. But you can investigate who’s on the beat in your city.

Nationally, it’s important to know who the recognized voices are in HR and workforce topics. People like Peter Cappelli, George Anders and Dave Ulrich.

The graduate HR programs at Michigan, Cornell, BYU, and my alma mater, Vanderbilt are also well known and have some great scholars and classes.

7) Don’t Forget the Law

Depending on where you’re based, understanding the local, state and national laws are absolutely essential. In the U.S., that means government sites like the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and its subset of agencies including: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA) and the Office of Labor-Management Standards.  Unless you’re an attorney, it’s also helpful to make sure you have access to one, or know who your company employment and labor attorneys are—they’re valuable resources for questions and interpreting the law.

So, where to begin? It’s all a learning process. I could never read, learn, study or master all of the topics in HR, but the key is to focus. Figure out what your interests are (Recruiting? Labor Relations? Employment Law? Compensation and Benefits?) and start there.  Then ask for help, advice, suggestions and links. Plenty and plenty of links!

Have a resource you love? Especially in an area I don’t cover? Add it below!

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