HR’s landscape might not resemble the stock market’s ebb and flow. But it does bring surprises and even risks that newcomers like you must know to plot your next career move.

Your Here and Now

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably new to HR. You might have earned a degree, maybe even landed your first HR role. And now you want to focus on next steps.

College gave you the vocabulary and first principles. Your new job has put some experience under your belt. It’s also made you look ahead and ask some questions, such as, ”Do I need more training?” or, ”What insider advice can help me shine?” and even, ”Where’s the money?”

Those questions ground you in the here and now. They force you to take stock of where you’re headed.

We wanted to know what about HR has stayed the same and what is new. We wanted to suggest ways for you to find a niche, plot your path, and rise above.

To navigate this vast topic, we started with workplace numbers that assessed the profession’s market standing. Then we spoke to experts who everyday put these questions into perspective for HR pros. Their advice, along with our take on trending reports, narrowed our focus to key career indicators that can help you decide what comes next.

HR’s Firm Footing

The latest jobs statistics show that HR is still a top career pick:

  • Job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 5% for HR specialistsand 9% for HR managers. Both estimates are on par with other professions.
  • Employment prospects appear solid. The national average hiring rate and number of job openings continue to rise. These numbers tell HR practitioners their core functions – recruiting, screening, and onboarding – are still needed in today’s market.
  • Salaries range between good and excellent. Data for 2016 show the median pay for HR specialists was $59,180, with most earning between $34,770 and $101,420. The median pay for HR managers was $106,910, with most falling in the range of $63,140 to $193,550.

Other indicators come from:

  • LinkedIn’s 2017 salary report, which said an HR senior vice president is one of the top twenty highest-paying positions. These executives had a median total compensation of $272,000 and median cash bonus of $57,500.
  • US News & World Report’s best business jobs rankings, which listed an HR specialist position as a sturdy career choice.

Laws Create Risks and Opportunities

That market indexes predict steady job growth for HR is reassuring. Even better is knowing what could affect that growth and, by extension, your career. One source of both risks and opportunities is employment law.

The opportunities in employment law come from regulations that businesses must comply with. These regulations are complex and ever-changing. Much gray area surrounds them. If you can master the ins and outs of compliance, you’re likely to be on any CEO’s killer team.

As for risks, find out how employment law has burdened HR by reading this interviewbetween executive Jeremy Hertz and HR consulting firm Alltrust Insurance. Hertz, recently appointed as Alltrust’s vice president of compliance, drew on his experience as an employment lawyer to detail how companies become embroiled in costly litigation when they don’t heed laws requiring employees be treated fairly and policies be applied consistently.

Compliance laws aren’t alone in holding risks that employers can’t afford to overlook. These laws do as well. Particularly thorny are ethics laws, which can drive a wedge between HR and corporate leaders. This scenario is familiar to career advancement coach Lauren Milligan of ResuMAYDAY who told us why some HR pros leave their jobs: ”Company managers don’t abide by state laws relating to safety, transportation, hiring practices, filing paperwork, etc., and expect HR to falsify paperwork or coach employees to lie in order to protect the company.”

Choosing an HR Path

A common question of HR newcomers is whether they should become generalists or specialists. Both positions are in demand, according to data collected by consulting firm Randstad. But which suits you best?

”If you’re a person who can switch roles and priorities quickly, be an overall, broad-reaching expert and want to have direct impact and influence as a company stakeholder, a generalist would be a good role for you,” said Milligan, adding that generalists tend to work for startups and small to mid-size companies.

Specialists, on the other hand, are sought by larger companies where budgets allow separate departments to limit their focus. ”Specialists pick one area of HR and obtain deep and comprehensive skills in that area. These could include recruiting and staffing; training; labor and union relations; organizational development; payroll and benefits; diversity and engagement, etc.”


Your decision, said Milligan, also depends on whether you’re a process- or people-driven type of professional.

”For the most part, those in HR should enjoy working with people because so many areas of HR require it. However, as a specialist, there are certain areas that are more process driven than people focused, which is good news for those who would prefer to work alone or with minimal collaboration.”

”The More You Learn, the More You Earn”

That’s not just according to billionaire businessman Warren Buffet. It’s a fact supported by wage indexes, such as LinkedIn’s 2017 salary report. HR professionals with advanced degrees and licenses will see a salary bump.

There are at least nine certifications to choose from, depending on your education and background. These are offered by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). How each type is esteemed by employers is discussed in this article at Human Resource Executive Online. The consensus? It’s still open for debate, but either certification is better than none at all.

On the subject of certification, Judith Lindenberger, president of The Lindenberger Group, told us recently that those entering HR would do best to first obtain the SHRM certification but not necessarily stop there. ”If you are going to do a specialty, like organizational design or training, it would also be helpful to obtain a certification in management training.”

For other options, check this list of free line education for HR management and recruiting classes.

Be a Rising Star

It’s announced by every career expert out there: HR has a new role, and it demands strategic thinking. But what does that look like in practice?

For one thing, it starts with paying closer attention to your own CEO. What’s keeping him up at night?

That question is what pushed Mandi Morrissey, HR manager at Tru Vue/Apogee Enterprises, to solve the glass and acrylic manufacturer’s high absenteeism. Morrissey’s strategy was to alter the pay scale and offer incentives. Her decisions brought the company’s 100 percent turnover rate down to 35% and increased its 48% attendance rate to 75%.


And that’s not all she accomplished. Morrissey used the experience to engage employees. She showed them how their misdeeds had damaged profits and their own pockets. She told them their absences resulted in money being lost rather than being invested in an employee bonus pool they each would share.

Morrissey proved she could become the business partner that today’s CEOs are looking for.

You can do the same. Start with this advice from Joel Trammell, CEO and founder of Khorus. Trammell ticked off a short list of expectations that CEOs have for HR. The strategic thinking and employee engagement that Morrissey showed both made the list.

If Morrissey and others like her become your HR model, the rewards will eliminate any doubt that you chose the right profession.

An Emphasis on Digital

As people focused as the HR profession is, it’s not immune to the technological advances reshaping businesses everywhere. The HR novice who aims high must add technical skills to her toolbox.

Lindenberger agrees. For HR generalists, she sees special value in applicant tracking software, HRIS, and analytics.

Technology’s impact on business was also the main discussion topic for the 1,261 CEOs surveyed by professional services firm KPMG for its 2017 Global CEO Outlook. A majority of 61% of the CEOs reported frustration that new business models are failing to produce successful results. Furthermore, 47% admitted they’re concerned that their business isn’t adapting to new technology as quickly as it should be.

Here, again, is another opportunity. Become tech-savvy so you can help executives and employees develop these skills. You’ll be sought by companies that can’t afford a talent shortage.

final thoughts

Final Thoughts

Demanding bottom-line results from a corporate team isn’t new for CEOs. But expecting HR to help drive them is. These new challenges will be hard for any HR professional to dodge, especially when business leaders are attracted to operating models like this one from professional services company Accenture.

The emphasis in Accenture’s blueprint is on a strategic-thinking, business-partner HR type. Nothing could be further from the hiring and firing that summed up HR functions in the past. But, as we’ve seen, resourceful HR people can turn challenges into opportunities and then some.

This is what Susan Meisinger, author and former SHRM CEO, wants HR practitioners to understand. For years, Meisinger gave career advice at HR Executive Online. Her last column had notably well-timed words for pros like you who want to tap into their creative sides. Meisinger suggested asking yourself this question:

”How can I add value and become essential to my organization?”

Answer that and you’ll find your open road.

By Michele Vrouvas