When you’re new to the world of human resources, you must act as a sponge soaking in everything around you. This can get overwhelming and exhausting as you learn new policies, new jargon and new systems.
To be successful in HR, you need to possess a wide variety of skills in communication, management, and organization. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the human resources industry is projected to grow 9 percent by 2030, so this expansion will affect the way we approach our work in HR—we should all be in a growth and learning mindset. So, if you’re relatively new to the field and are feeling overwhelmed, don’t panic. You are in good company in a field of professionals who are devoted to continual improvement! This blog will explore the top skills for new HR professionals to give you a jumping off point.
The Top Hard Skills for HR Professionals
- Working Knowledge of Technology
Because HR professionals are required to juggle so many people and systems at once, it’s crucial to be familiar with the tools your organization uses so that you can do your work efficiently and without error. This will include being familiar with various software applications, such as applicant tracking systems, human resource information systems, payroll, and benefits. Some organizations will lump these systems all into one software, but some organizations still use several different software systems. Knowing how to balance using various programs and familiarizing yourself with programs that integrate these systems will help you do your job well.
- Knowledge of Legal Processes
With varying labor laws from state to state and updates to these laws every few years, it’s important to have a firm grasp of any changes in your organization’s legal obligations to its employees. Not only will you need to maintain a firm understanding of compliance, but you will also need to be able to synthesize dense information to break it down to managers and employees.
Skills related to finance are especially important for those who work with payroll and benefits or want to do so. Furthermore, human resource professionals are usually expected to have a strong understanding of budgeting needs and concerns. Your hard skills in finance can include certifications, software you know how to use, and courses you’ve completed. Regardless of how you choose to continue learning about HR finance, these skills tend to change quickly, so plan to continually work to learn new things in this category to stay competitive in the HR market.
- Recruiting and Onboarding
While most HR teams have designated recruiters, smaller teams may share these responsibilities. All HR professionals should have up-to-date knowledge on what attracts key talent so that they can help lead their organization to exist in a competitive space within their industry. Recruiting and onboarding requires confidence with applicant/new employee tracking software programs, social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and learning management systems. HR will also need to have a strong understanding of budgets for salary negotiations and will need to be able to guide new employees through compliance training. Through it all, HR team members will need to keep strong notes on the progress of applicants and news employees to gather data related to retention, training costs, and ROI.
- Working with Data
HR teams are largely responsible for keeping track of data across all sorts of systems. Businesses need HR to train a keen eye on any and all trends in the workplace, from budgeting trends to employee behavior. HR professionals should have a firm grasp of working with both qualitative and quantitative data and should be able to condense complex information into working points that help lead the business in the right direction. Not all HR team members will be expected to work with the data, but the more confidence you have with numbers and synthesizing information into reports, the further you will go in your job.
- Records Management
Being able to keep clear and organized records of your business’s employees and its systems requires working knowledge of various software programs, keen organization, and follow-through. This skill combines many of the following soft skills with technology-related hard skills—you need strong professionalism, time management, organization, and more to be a good records keeper, but you must bring that all into understanding the best programs and systems in which to apply these skills.
Since HR helps to bridge the gap between a company and its employees, your communication skills are among the most important to develop. It’s imperative that you can advocate for employees who need your support while also being a strong, diplomatic representative of the organization. Communication skills in HR include hearing and understanding others, the ability to speak to a wide variety of audiences, storytelling, and so much more.
Gallup research indicates that employees are more likely to leave a job at an organization that doesn’t prioritize strong communication practices. As an HR professional, you can develop strong communication habits within yourself so that you can help your company improve in this regard, as well.
- Critical Thinking
The ability to analyze information and make strong decisions based on that information involves critical thinking. As you grow in your role, you will want to distinguish yourself as someone who is reliable. Critical thinking will help you make good decisions in hiring, navigating conflict, and dispersing news.
- Equity & Inclusion
While it is expected for HR professionals to be able to relate positively to anyone at the organization, HR is also responsible for helping the organization improve its culture about issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. When HR can help promote a sense of equity and inclusion within the workplace, employees are more likely to stick around long-term and will be more productive. This is a recruitment and hiring concern, and according to Glassdoor, nearly one third of applicants would skip over applying to a company where there is a lack of workforce diversity. Instead of treating these issues like an afterthought, HR professionals can organize incorporating DEI into major systems and structures.
HR professionals work in teams with one another to support the organization, but they also must have the tools necessary for engaging with teams outside of the human resources umbrella. You will need to work well with management, upper leadership, and any other employee who needs support. Think of it this way: as an HR professional, you should be so good at teamwork that you could effectively bridge any hierarchical gap within your organization.
There’s no doubt that the human resources world has plenty of room for advancement. It’s a varied and diverse career path that can offer you a wide variety of experiences. That said, you’ll need to sharpen your leadership skills to take advantage of all the field has to offer. Being a confident leader means that you can make tough decisions, act with integrity, build relationships and present yourself as dependable to the people around you. Leaders also have a strong positive influence on those around them. Practicing leadership can and should start now, in whatever role you’re currently performing.
In HR, you want to model what you expect out of your peers outside of human resources. This is where professionalism comes in—how you conduct yourself in the workplace. This should be tailored to your company’s culture and should match expectations set by leadership. This can include the language used at work, how employees dress, being on time for work, proper email etiquette, etc. Pay close attention to the professional expectations set at your workplace, as you may need to write them out in formal documents or verbalize them to employees.
- Career & Self-Development
This soft skill can be largely dependent on what kinds of professional development opportunities your business invests in for its employees—but working to advance yourself and your career can always be an endeavor you commit to yourself, if necessary. For example, simply reading this article and reflecting on ways you practice these skills and/or how you can build these skills is a form of career development. At the end of the day, focus on areas for improvement that will give you a sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals.
- Time Management
Often, the HR environment is fast-paced and can be demanding. Knowing how to limit distractions for yourself, commit to timeframes, practice mindfulness and focus while at work will help you improve productivity and be a time management champion.
- Strategy & Organization
Having a strategic mindset will help you lead your business to success from your seat in HR. While you may not have a role that requires heavy participation in developing strategic vision for your company, the more you can practice this small-scale, the better you will become at organizing yourself and your teams around common goals so that you can implement complex strategies. Furthermore, this will help you grow in areas such as project management and/or training and development.
- Flexibility & Adaptability
When you set your sights on helping an organization grow and expand, or if you stay with one company long-term, your flexibility and adaptability will be put to the test. This involves being able to handle change gracefully and to model that to your fellow employees. If there are market shifts, management turnover, strategy overhauls, etc., there will inevitably be stress from the resulting uncertainty. Navigating this by organizing yourself and your teammates around common goals, clear communication and positive mindsets will help with leaning into uncertainty and becoming a flexible worker.
Thinking ahead is one of the best skills an HR professional can work on, and we don’t tend to talk about it very much! Once you’ve developed strong critical thinking skills, you can apply them to how you prepare for possible conflicts or changes within the workplace. Being perceptive and noticing trends will help you to prepare for whatever comes, and this, in turn, helps you build a strong reputation as someone who is knowledgeable and dependable.
- Coaching & Management
Depending on your role, you may have some responsibilities related to employee learning or new hire onboarding/training. You should be able to work either individually or in groups with people to share information. Coaching can also be useful in navigating conflict and lending support to managers.
- Emotional Intelligence
This skill speaks to the ability to name and understand emotions, both within yourself and within others. Seeking to understand our behaviors through the lens of what thoughts and feelings are contributing to them helps us develop patience and empathy. This can help reduce burnout and can contribute to a healthy workplace culture.
- Active Listening
When you are actively listening to someone, you are giving them your full attention. This means that you are listening to understand, you are retaining what they are saying, and you are asking questions to seek clarification. You can use both verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate that you are engaged with someone who is speaking—in fact, you will likely do this naturally as you tune in to the speaker’s body language and tone. One good way to practice active listening is to reflect what you’ve heard back to the speaker. This gives them an opportunity to correct any potential misunderstandings, and it will help show that you are invested in what they’re communicating.
- Cultural Awareness
Building cultural awareness requires some skills around building systems and carrying out goals. Yes, cultural awareness involves being sensitive to cultures outside of your own and seeking to understand, accommodate and celebrate those cultures in the workplace. However, cultural awareness under the scope of human resources also involves paying attention to the organization’s culture—how do behaviors and practices in teams allow space for diversity? How does your organization’s culture celebrate differences? Are there areas for improvement—and how can you contribute to positive change?
- Discretion & Confidentiality
Naturally, many of the conversations you will have over the course of your career in human resources will require discretion and/or confidentiality. Being aware of the legal duties you have to protect information is one thing, but you should also be able to use your critical thinking and judgment to know what non-protected information to share and what should be held back out of respect.
- Work Ethic
When you focus on the quality and integrity of your work, it can be said that you have a strong work ethic. Operating with a sense of altruism can help you develop a positive work ethic that sets you apart as an example of respect, dependability and leadership. Be careful not to confuse work ethic with the idea that it is okay to step on others, work unrealistic hours, or take shortcuts to get to the top. Work ethic is guided by a set of moral understandings that lead one to perform from a place of alignment with themselves and their organization’s culture.
We are all faced with challenges and problems that seem to have no answers throughout the course of our careers. How we handle these instances says a lot about who we are. The ability to stay calm in a crisis, think ahead, and use critical thinking all factor into how we solve problems.
- Motivation & Influence
As you progress in your career, you will start to see your leadership skills grow. You will want to align yourself with positive influence and be a benevolent motivator. This will help to bring out natural skills in your teammates and will help you gain trust from your peers.
How to Organize All This Information into Action Steps
We get it: there is so much to process when it comes to assessing both your hard and soft skills as an HR professional. It can be difficult to know how to move forward with some of these concepts—and soft skills are particularly challenging to work on, since a lot of it deals with subjective matter.
KnowledgeCity offers organized courses and reading material that can help you practice new behaviors and set achievable goals. For example, you can sign up for a free trial to access over 20,000 training videos for HR professionals, including subjects on business, finance, technology and more.
Need a little more direction than that? We’ve got you covered—once you’ve signed up for your free trial, we recommend starting with our soft skills library. Here, you can access courses on a wide variety of skills covered in this blog article.
Take some time to reflect—what areas of improvement feel most imperative to tackle first? See what comes up as you start developing these skills. Where do you notice other skills naturally improving as you expand your perspective and your focus? Where are there gaps that deserve more attention? Using KnowledgeCity’s library and resources as a framework will help you stay focused and keep accomplishing your career development goals.