12 things to learn if you want a career in HR

Tom Haak

If you want a career in HR, you better think twice. The HR landscape will change dramatically in the coming years. The more general jobs will largely disappear, and specialist jobs will be dominant.
If, after careful considerations, you still choose a career in HR, what should you learn?
Below a first list that will keep you busy for a while (no guarantee for success). I did not include all the basics that you can find in the HR-handbook, because I assume you have covered those.

1. Chinese

The future of work is in the east. If you have learned Chinese, this will be a great asset. Language skills are important anyway. We once had an intern who spoke five of six languages. In no time most of the international communication with our team went through her, and she nearly made us obsolete!

2. The tools for collaboration

Collaboration is important today and will be important in the future. Make sure you master all the tools of collaboration. Setting up and directing virtual meetings. Designing virtual workspaces. Understanding cultural differences.

3. Networking

Your value is largely determined by the value of your network. Your network in the organization where you work, and also outside. If an issue arises, are you able to quickly tap on your network to find people who can help you to find a solution? Networking can be learned, and it takes a deliberate effort to build and maintain your network.

4. Listening

Listening is probably the most important communication skill, and also the one that is very difficult to master. If you are a good listener, people will be attracted to you, because there is such a lack of good listeners.

5. Antifragility

For an explanation of the concept ‘antifragile’ I refer to an earlier blog post: “Global Collaboration, part 5: We need more antifragilista”. Antifragile is a new word invented by Nassim Taleb. “Some things benefit from shocks;  they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk and uncertainty”.
To grow and to flourish global companies will benefit from more people with antifragile characteristics (“Antifragilista”).

6. Social Media

To be successful in HR, and in fact in any leadership role, you need to be social media savvy. Today it is Yammer, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more. Tomorrow the social media landscape will be different, and you should be at the forefront, to help others.

7. A broad business knowledge

A broad business knowledge is required of every HR professional. It’s not about HR, but it’s about the business, and how HR can contribute. Only too often HR takes HR as the starting point, and not the business.

8. Finance

HR and Finance are growing closer together. HR can still learn a lot from the approach and tools of Finance. Drawing relevant information out of a big data pool requires specific skills. Talent management will continue to be important in the coming years. Talent management is about identification and development, but also very much about measurement. Where is the talent? How is talent performing? How can we make the best fit between the challenge at hand and the skills and wishes of the talent?

9. Building a team

It’s never about you alone, it’s always about you and your team. Are you able to build a strong team? Do people like to work with you? Are you able to attract and develop new talent?

10. Storytelling

Storytelling is increasingly important. If you have a plan, are you able to tell a story that will convince others? If you lead a team, are you able to tell a story that will engage the team to join you on the travel into unknown territory?

11. Design

HR professionals need to be HR-architects. With the available modules, you have to design interventions that have the biggest impact with the least effort. You also have to design solutions that can be replicated, and that are viewed as attractive by others.

12. Travel

You cannot learn about other cultures and the world if you stay in your home country. Travel when you can. Become a global citizen.


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