Human Resource Management: The Basics

Human Resource Manager

Okay, media. Give it to us straight.

Are Human Resource Managers hottie headhunters like Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits? Or are they somewhat depressing middle-aged men like Toby Flenderson from The Office?

Because although Toby is a total sweetheart, I’m much more interested in being the type of person who gets Justin Timberlake at the end of a movie… just sayin’.

So, what is working in human resource management really like? Would I be a cute recruiting heroine or a scapegoat for Michael Scott?

The truth is, I’d probably be a little bit of both.

As an HR Manager, you’re in charge of everything that deals with making the human resources (people working for an organization) as productive as possible. That means making sure everything is running smoothly so that both employers and employees are satisfied and motivated.

What does that entail, exactly?

Human Resource Management: The Non-Negotiables

Human Resource Management requires a combination of emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and business savvy. Human Resource professionals must balance the company’s goals and bottom line with the well-being of its employees.

This means that HR managers not only have to be able to deal with all sorts of different personalities in an organization, but also have a strong working knowledge of the business side of things.

Necessary Skills for Any HR Professional:

  • Strong writing and communication skills
  • Basic knowledge of business skills (but really, the more the better)
  • Knowledge of employment and labor laws
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Flexibility
  • High level of analytical and strategic thinking
  • Patience
  • Resilience

The responsibilities of an HR professional vary depending on the organization they work for. Smaller companies may have one or two representatives whereas larger companies may have a large team with people specializing in different areas.

Some of the Different Roles of a Human Resource Manager:

  • Recruiting / Hiring

For this role, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the company. What are its goals? How is it changing/evolving? Then, you have to be able to identify the type of employee or contractor that will succeed in taking the organization where it needs to go.

Those in charge of recruiting and hiring must be able to match character traits with companies’ goals and be able to identify whether someone is going to be a cultural fit or not. They also have to be able to attract talent to the organization.

James Nguyen, a recruiter for a global employment agency, says, “Many people come from different backgrounds—my job is to map their work history and judge if they have the tools to succeed and grow in their environment and potential role.”

Because this position also entails explaining business policies and working conditions to future employees, it’s important for HR professionals who deal with recruiting and hiring to be well educated in employment and labor laws.

Possible tasks for someone in this role:

Attend job fairs

Write job descriptions

Create recruitment plans

Review résumés

Conduct interviews

Do background checks

Contact references

Make job offers

Negotiate salaries

  • Training / Employee Development

This is an important part of creating a successful business. It takes more than just hiring someone to ensure they’ll be an asset to the company. The role of Training and Employee Development is focused on making sure employees are as productive as possible.

Possible tasks for someone in this role:

Conduct surveys

Interview management and staff

Assess current employees’ and new hires’ productivity

Develop training programs

Organize extended education programs

Initiate mentorship programs

  • Organization Development

Organization development is all about making sure the company, as a whole, is working together effectively. This involves working through changes occurring at a company, identifying issues in different departments and figuring out ways to fix them, and assessing current business methods to see if they can be improved.

This HR role requires the ability to analyze data while also having strong communication skills. You’ll need to be able to assess a situation, figure out how it can be improved, and then translate that message to the workforce.

Possible tasks for someone in this role:

Create team-building workshops

Identify and fix organizational problems

Initiate plans and projects to measure performance

Align productivity with the organization’s goals

Assess current business processes and improve if necessary

  • Salary and Benefits

A background in accounting doesn’t hurt here. It’s also important for an HR specialist in this department to possess a working knowledge of local and state level laws so that they’re familiar with everything their employees are entitled to.

As Heather Clark, the Director of Human Resources with The Huntzinger Management Group Inc. says, “Payroll goes wrong? Take that right to the top of your list. There is nothing that will upset your employees more than an inconsistent and incorrect paycheck.”

Possible tasks for someone in this role:

Create benefits package

Maintain relationship with insurance company

Stay up-to-date on policies

Explain benefit options to employees

Take care of 401k plans (and other non-cash benefits)

  • Dispute Resolution

This role requires you to have a thorough knowledge of the law on both the employers’ and employees’ sides. The goal is to come to a compromise with as little cost as possible (legal costs or costs to workplace via disruptions like strikes). It’s also important for a person in this role to be able to look into the future to come up with preventative measures.

Dispute resolution requires a large amount of emotional intelligence. The best possible outcome would be to give both parties what they want. In order to do this, you have to be able to put yourself into each of their shoes and find a solution that will appease both.

“Managing personalities is one of the hardest things about the job and I’ve found that the only way to be really successful here is to be someone that people feel that they can trust.” – Katie Kerr, HR Officer at GRID Alternatives.

Possible tasks for someone in this role:

Advise and counsel employees and management to prevent conflicts

Work with disputing parties to come to a contractual agreement

What You Can Do to Get Experience:

It’s recommended that you get your bachelor’s degree in Human Resources or a corresponding field such as Business Administration, Commerce, Accounting, Psychology, Sociology, or another social science.

Because there are so many different ways to specialize in HR, most professionals also recommend that you do an internship. That way you can figure out which type of Human Resources position interests you.

Sheri Mazurek explains that restaurant or retail jobs can help you to develop some of the necessary skills that HR professionals need like recruiting, training, supervising others, and interacting with many different types of people.


Want to know a little more about what it’s like to be a recruiter? Check out our post, “When YOU Make the Hiring Decisions: What It’s Like to Be a Recruiter.” gives an in-depth look into different career paths available within the field of HR.

Susan M. Heathfield of gives a detailed description of what Human Resources Management is and links to many other resources that help paint a clearer picture of the field.

Homework time! Interested in a job in HR? Consider one of the majors recommended above, or just taking a few related classes. Start conducting informational interviews to try to figure out if you’d prefer more of an HR generalist role at a small company or a specialized role at a larger company. Then, don’t feel like you have to jump straight into the field. Spend some time working different jobs and get some life experience that will allow you to understand both employees and employers.

Want to know more about specific jobs in HR? Read our interviews with HR professionals.


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