Is "Human Resources Manager" really a great job or is Money magazine lying to me?
April 3, 2008 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I noticed that Human Resources manager was on Money Magazine's "Best Jobs" list. I want to hear from people with experience in the field - is it all it's cracked up to be?

For the record, I'm changing careers, and wrapping up a MA in Organizational Psychology (starting my thesis RIGHT NOW!). While my focus is coaching, organizational development, and diversity training (and I'm currently doing my field placement in this area), I've considered the field of HR as well.

The fact that HR manager appeared on this list of "best jobs" piqued my interest. However, I don't know if it really is a good job to have. (Or, indeed, if these lists of "great jobs!" really mean anything, but that's another post.) So I'm seeking opinions from people who are HR managers, have held that job, know the field well, and so on for an insider's report. Is it really a fulfilling job that's fairly easy to enter and pays well, as per Money magazine?
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, great job, by the way, on getting this far on your MA! I too have an MA in I/O Psych, and I have been working in the field of OD ever since I graduated about 10 years ago. I can tell you that this field is a lot of fun, it pays very well, and it presents a lot of career growth. You have a lot of options - you can do internal consulting, you can be part of a global OD team for a corporation, you could work for a large consulting firm, etc. It all depends how much you are willing to work, travel, and manage.

I was once offered a position to lead an HR center, but I knew that I did not want to do pure HR transactional work. I was not interested in managing benefits, payroll, etc. But I know, as the article points out, that these days HR managers are being asked to take on roles that have more to do with strategy, training and employee development.

All that to say, that I would stick to OD work, which in my opinion is more rewarding than doing pure HR work. Of course, an HR manager may disagree with me.

My two cents.
posted by sargento29 at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2008

I tend to think being an HR manager would be one of the worst managerial/executive jobs you could have at an organization, period. For one thing, HR managers and directors are not the ones steering the ship, and must instead work to please the needs of either the CEO or the functional department managers who are in fact the ones demanding new staff.

Basically, the HR manager must deal with the stress of finding suitable candidates in a reactive rather than strategic way. Added onto that is budget constraints. CEOs, etc generally want to hire great candidates that add value to the operation, but are unwilling to pay for that performance. And then they wonder why they can't fill the positions.

HR managers are also responsible for retention, which is also hard if the company is unable or unwilling to spend on benefits. It's a challenging and thankless position, if you ask me.

There is a growing trend towards "talent management" that sees HR managers playing more strategic roles in their companies in order to address skills shortages, etc. But it really depends on the willingness of the CEO and other members of the executive team to provide HR managers with a seat at the table.

The problem is, it's difficult to track and link the economic contribution of an HR manager to the overall success of a company, which in turn leaves HR managers with little social capital to play with. In short, HR managers are often considered to be pretty interchangeable.

All I know is that, as a consultant in the tech industry, I have found HR managers to be an incredibly neurotic bunch. I much prefer working with senior software or manufacturing managers.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2008

The problem is, it's difficult to track and link the economic contribution of an HR manager to the overall success of a company, which in turn leaves HR managers with little social capital to play with.

To be fair, you've just described the situation faced by almost every non-revenue-driving position in almost every company: HR, IT, legal, adminstrative services, etc.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers! I have to wonder, who comes up with these "best jobs" and what are their criteria? Because it doesn't sound like the HR manager job is all it is cracked up to be. I'm glad to know, though, before I actually invest heavily in my career.

Sargento29 - I'm so glad to hear the greatness of the I/O field. I'm a psychology and social science junkie, but wanted to actually earn a decent living without a PhD. Thus, org psych. I'm having a great time getting my MA.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:16 PM on April 3, 2008

I have an honours I/O undergraduate degree and have been working successfully in an HRM role for 4 years. I found it to be an easy and interesting transition from my university experience into the "real world". Also, you might find that joining your state or province’s HR Association such as CHRP can help you move up on the pay scale.
posted by saradarlin at 11:25 PM on April 3, 2008

A big part of HR manager's work, not mentioned here, is not only hiring, but firing. But doing it in a way that doesn't get the company sued. Doesn't seem like this part is much fun to me (unless you have a sadistic streak or like risk-taking in a hyper-litigious world), especially with the economy going down the tubes and much increasing layoffs and firings certain to be occurring almost everywhere in the coming months or years. For this reason, HR managing promises to be one hell of a stressful job now and in the future.

Besides this, with few exceptions, HR managers are never the brightest bulbs in an organization, from what I have seen in every place I've worked. Which I never understood, as a company's employees are truly most company's most valuable assets, and having people and management in HR who are really on the ball - especially in identifying and wooing and keeping talent - is a vitally important task, and I say that as person who is not in the field. And in this light, maybe the name "Human Resources," with its dead matter or thing-undertone ("resources - yeah, that's things like coal or oil or corn") should be re-named with something having a humanistic undertone, like "Talent Management," or some such.
posted by Kellyu at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been in HR for 10 years and I'm not sure if I'd agree it's one of the best jobs - so much depends on the company itself.

My employer (Fortune 300 company) puts a lot of the accountability on the management team. As a department manager, you are held accountable for the performance of your team. My role comes into play when issues arise. I'll work with managers on drafting a warning document, preparing for a termination of employment, strategy on how to fill the open position, but the managers are the ones executing. I've never fired anyone, but have sat in on (and help prepare for) dozens of separations.

Where HR falls short is not proving the value it bring to the organization - it's seen as a requirement instead of a true partner. There is also the perception that anyone can do HR work (i.e., "I started as the part-time receptionist and before I knew it became the HR Manager!"). It all depends on how the organization defines HR and what HR is held accountable for.
posted by Twicketface at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2008

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