Would You Survive a Day in the Life of an HR Consultant?

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It’s your job to interact with hundreds of people a day. You know intimate details of their lives. You deal with their drama, concerns, and their livelihood. You’re in charge of whether they have health insurance or not! And yet, you never see them?

In the business of people, is it possible to work remotely or as a contractor? This is the question Human Resource Manager and Consultant Mika Barrett asks herself every day.

Mika’s career journey is not typical of an HR professional. Recruited by Target as a college student, she was able to get hands-on human resource management experience early on. Now, she works for a human resource management firm as an HR consultant and she shares with us what it’s like to work remotely with 40+ companies.

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Why Human Resources?

Mika attended the University of Redlands and double majored in Business Administration (Managerial Studies), and Philosophy. With her interest in business and people, Mika figured Human Resources was the perfect place for her.

She has to admit, though, that she was naive about what it was like to work in HR. Because she enjoyed working with people and had a background in philosophy, she thought it would be an easy fit. But she soon found out that HR is much more than just dealing with people. It is a combination of both administrative tasks and all of that intangible, touchy-feely people stuff.

Her day-to-day life is filled with employee compliance, working with company cultures, employee relations, employee and employer communication, and management. It is a nice blend of both administrative duties as well as the relationship and cultural side of things.

How she skipped a few steps in “typical” HR career development:

Mika feels that she was really blessed when it comes to her job search. Target recruits really heavily on campus and she made it known to them that she was interested in the field of HR. They hired her after she graduated to work as an HR manager. She ended up working for them in their HR department for a year and a half before deciding that she wanted to move back to Washington.

This really opened up a lot of doors in the field of HR for Mika. A typical “entry-level” HR management job requires you to have at least two to three years of experience under your belt. Most recent graduates are unlikely to have that (or any) experience to put on their résumé. It’s much more typical to start with more of a clerical job and then work your way up. Through her recruitment with Target, Mika was able to get over a year of experience.

How she found a new HR job in Washington:

After moving back home to Washington, Mika used craigslist as her main job search resource. She also made use of her new location and allowed herself to benefit from being in such close proximity to Portland, Oregon. Because of the influx of new businesses in that area, the demand for HR management is high.

She was also not afraid to make use of her network. Her current company is a sister company to her father’s employer.

[Editor’s note: Remember, don’t discount anyone in your network. You may view your parents as dorky, old folks, but you never know who’s in their network or their friends’ networks.]

What it’s like being a Human Resource Manager Consultant:

Mika’s title at her new company is Human Resource Manager and Consultant. This means that she does a lot of contracting work and has clients all over the country. Because of this, her day consists of a lot of client calls and a lot of prep for those calls.

In the morning there’s usually a huddle where everyone talks about changes that have occurred with clients or different things that have come up recently with their clients.

Then, the next couple hours are spent doing more of the administrative side of things like writing job descriptions and creating performance review packets. Those hours are also spent strategizing how to help current clients with employee relations issues (when people are not performing their best or getting along well).

This is followed with prep time and actual calls with clients. They’re all over the country so communication is mostly over the phone for all their HR needs.

At the end of the day she has meetings to recap and discuss what is happening within her company and their clients.

Mika has to admit that work as a consultant does take some getting used to. Even though she has experience working as an HR manager, what she doesn’t have experience in is managing 40 different clients and all of their different needs and expectations. As a part of a consulting firm you have to be able to deal with all of the different company cultures and the needs of all your clients as opposed to just one staff.

It can also sometimes give the relationship between Mika and her clients a transactional feel. Because she’s working as a consultant, clients are coming only when they need something or if there is an incident that needs to be taken care of. Mika feels that her strength really lies in building real, long-term, genuine relationships and so it can often be challenging to try to fit this into a consulting setting.

But she still gets to do her favorite part of the job.

Mika’s favorite part of the job is dealing with employee culture and motivation as well as performance management—the part of the job that is all about creating healthy and engaging places to work.

What other recent graduates interested in Human Resources should know:

Keep your options open when looking for positions. Mika was fortunate to get her position at Target and gain those necessary years of experience in this field, but she still suggests that you apply to everything and anything. The first step really is to get those years of experience under your belt so that you can enter into the field.

Yes, there’s so much that you can read and learn through articles, blogs, or getting a degree, but there’s really no better way to learn and implement what you’ve learned than just being in the trenches. Figure things out along the way as you’re working with a company. That’s how the skills and information really sink in.

Also, a good thing to be aware of is the fact that HR is a position that not all companies understand the true value of. There are some great companies out there that do see how positively HR affects their organization. But, unlike a finance or marketing manager, it is much more difficult to see the impact HR is making on the bottom line. So in ways, it can be a pretty thankless job, but there are companies out there that do see the relation between a good HR staff and employee productivity. Look for those companies and also keep in mind that the work you do is very important, whether the “boss” sees that or not.

Homework time! Mika met with Target’s University Recruiters, voiced her interest in Human Resources, and ended up getting the job. If there’s a field you’re interested in, do not be afraid to go career fairs or other university recruiting events. Let them know you’re interested!

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