How many times have you looked at employment listings and seen postings seeking candidates with excellent communication skills, organizational abilities, leadership skills and other traits that have nothing to do with knowledge or skill in the field? These days, employers don’t want employees who are merely technically capable and able to perform the tasks of the job. Instead, they are seeking employees with abilities beyond the basics – employees who, for lack of a better term, are the complete package.
Perhaps these intangible skills are most important in a field like human resources. In the past, HR functions were largely transactional; representatives handled paperwork, managed the hiring and firing process and handled employee issues in accordance with company policy. Today, though, human resources fills a more strategic role. Professionals no longer just push paper; a great deal are experienced professionals with advanced degrees extend into the boardroom. This is where professionals are expected to provide insight and guidance to top executives from a human resources perspective.
As a result, the traits of a successful HR professional have extended beyond the traditional requirements of good organizational skills and an understanding of company policies.
Communication is Key
Study after study has pointed to one key ability as the number one most important trait for HR professionals: communication skills. Considering the important role that HR plays in relaying information between executives and staff, poor communication skills could be disastrous. Nearly everyone has encountered someone who lacks the ability to communicate effectively – and chances are it has led to confusion, frustration or even worse. An HR manager needs to be able to express him or herself clearly both in speaking and in writing, to co-workers at all levels.
And it’s not just about clearly explaining policies or benefits to employees. Those working in HR need to be able to handle conflict and defuse potentially explosive situations by communicating calmly and competently.
Willingness to Learn
While communication is the number one skill listed for HR professionals, another important trait is a willingness to learn new information and strategies. The world of HR changes rapidly, between constantly shifting labor laws and trends within the industry, to changes within individual organizations. While many professionals enter the field with an advanced credential like a master’s degree in human resources they need to continue to learn, through certification programs, seminars or continuing education courses. Learning new skills and information – and communicating the new knowledge back to the organization – is critical for a successful HR career.
Ability to Think Strategically and Lead Change
In the face of a challenging economy, advancements in technology and new developments in management and leadership theory, organizations are in flux. The old ways of doing business are no longer effective and as a result, businesses need to adapt if they are going to survive.
The decisions regarding change are no longer happening in the vacuum of the executive boardroom. Businesses have begun utilizing all of their talent and often call on human resources to provide a workforce perspective to discussions. No longer is HR just a repository for resumes – professionals work closely with leadership to develop strategic plans, offering insight and guidance on how changes will affect workers and how to communicate new initiatives to the staff. HR also provides guidance on compliance issues, and feedback on how employees are reacting to the changes or proposed changes.
As a result, HR professionals need to have a background in leading strategic change, decision making and leadership – in addition to strong communication skills.
Of course, there are traits that all human resource executives need to possess that will always be important, no matter how much the industry changes. The ability to multitask and manage multiple priorities, maintain discretion and confidentiality and organize mountains of important information – and relay that information in a timely manner – are all important for professionals who want long and successful careers in the human resources field.
Above all, though, communication is king. When planning your studies to enter the field, be sure to include several communication courses and develop your ability to speak and write clearly. Do so and you’ll be well-positioned to land an enviable job in human resources.
This article was written by Maria Mason. Maria has worked in HR and Management for almost four years. She recently decided to further her career with a master’s degree in management, and has been taking online classes. She expects to have her degree within the next year.