Top 12 HR Skills Employers Want (and Need)

Here are the top 12 characteristics that are important to screen for when looking for HR talent.

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Human Resource professionals wear many hats. In the morning they may be interviewing a potential new hire, in the afternoon they may be terminating a problem employee. Today they might be working on employee development plans, and tomorrow assessing new health insurance coverage. The role of the HR requires professionals who are flexible and able to shift gears quickly — from compliance officer to employee advocate, from rule maker to chief happiness officer.

The nature of the work means discretion isn’t just required, it’s mandated. When dealing with employees and candidates, confidence in the person you’re talking to is key to candid dialogue. If that confidence doesn’t translate into confidentiality, HR has a problem. Discretion may be the first trait you consider when looking for top talent for your HR department, but there are many other characteristics that are important to screen for. 

1. Stellar communicator 

Start with strong communication skills, both verbal and in writing. These are the people who represent your organization:

  • To the public when recruiting,
  • To employees when planning, and
  • Internally and externally when resolving problems

A strong communicator doesn’t just orate: they explain clearly and persuade effectively. HR often has to relate bad news. While they shouldn’t try to spin it into something wonderful, they should be able to discuss it plainly and professionally. Written communications must represent the organization skillfully, with no errors or omissions. 

2. Highly organized

A strong HR professional is highly organized. They stay current and respond to requests to fill a wide range of needs from a variety of stakeholders. They meet deadlines, timelines, and stay on top of necessary follow up and follow through. The volume of data and duties — from applications to offer letters, leave requests through retirement requests, and everything in between — requires someone who can keep on top of things, keep them structured, and never miss a beat.

3. Multi-task master  

A typical day in HR can mean switching gears dozens of times, keeping a variety of tasks moving forward at once. They may be interviewing a candidate for a specific position, but have other current and potential openings in mind. HR is often checking and responding to emails and requests while on hold for a reference check. For those who aren’t able to manage more than one task at a time, and do all successfully, the department may not be a good fit.

4. Subject matter experts

HR professionals may specialize in one area of the function, but they need to be adept at every discipline within the group.

HR professionals may specialize in one area of the function, but they need to be adept at every discipline within the group. The Learning and Development Manager may be working to create and curate learning, but they have to know how to do so equitably. The Benefits Administrator may spend their day reading potential contracts and policies, but they’ll need to be well-versed in how the choices they make today impact recruitment and retention for the organization.

Most HR professionals start off as generalists, acquiring an in-depth or working knowledge of every aspect of the function. That cumulative knowledge will help inform and serve them and the company, if they choose to specialize within the department. 

5. Sales superstar

Human Resources is as much about sales as any other area of the company. They’re selling:

  • The organization to potential hires
  • New policies and procedures to existing employees, and
  • Management on the latest best practices and tech to make their and employee’s job more rewarding and effective

There’s more sales in HR than most expect. Top sellers are able to read the room and adapt to their audience in an instant. They can help a nervous candidate shine, help a hesitant employee discuss what’s bothering them, and convince others that the newest policy, procedure, idea, law, or tech will make everyone’s work life better. 

6. Creative thinker

The ‘same old, same old’ will never apply in HR. Outside-the-box thinking is the only way to keep up with changing market conditions and talent requirements and demands.

Recruitment tactics that worked last month are netting zero results today. The rollout of the ‘newest’ is lagging behind projections and expectations. HR professionals don’t just wait for things to change. They look for creative solutions to overcome problems and objections, then move forward. Sometimes it requires reinventing the wheel, sometimes it’s time to look for help from others. However, the ‘same old, same old’ will never apply in HR. Outside-the-box thinking is the only way to keep up with changing market conditions and talent requirements and demands. 

7. Multi-functionality

From employee advocate to company gatekeeper, HR professionals need to be adept at shifting priorities and personas as needed. That can mean turning from an empathetic ear to a staunch proponent of company policies in the same meeting.

In addition to priority changes in the blink of an eye, HR will have to be well-versed in all company rules, legal requirements, and the cultural imperatives of the organization. A professional who can’t see how best practices and mandates can overlap, sometimes in conflict and sometimes blurring the lines, will have a challenging time working in HR. 

8. Resolution manager 

HR is called on to help with conflict management (sometimes refereeing) on a routine basis. They have to go further. Conflict management suggests you’re simply managing the situation. HR professionals have to be resolution managers. They look for ways to solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction and within the guidelines set by the company and the law. When managers are unable to come to a satisfactory outcome, HR is available to provide suggestions, support, and solutions. 

HR professionals have to be resolution managers. They look for ways to solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction and within the guidelines set by the company and the law.

9. Objective advocate

There can be no favorites when it comes to HR, unless you’re discussing what kind of goodies to serve at the company picnic. Objectivity and a lack of bias, conscious or unconscious, is key to the role. Company policies must adhere to equally and for all employees, regardless of status or tenure. Providing help, resources, and solutions must be carried out without favor or fear of reprisals. Recruitment must be blind to any factors beyond skill and qualification. No matter how much you like or dislike the employee or candidate, impartiality and objectivity are key. 

10. Long-range planner

HR professionals may spend a good portion of their work week dealing with the now, but the future is always top of mind. That newest interview looks promising, but will they make it to the 1-year, 3-year, 10-year anniversary? Change is coming, in the form of market conditions or tech. How can HR prepare their organization and their workforce to adapt? Managing individual talent for today is important: managing their training and growth within the company is vital. HR professionals plan every step in the employee journey, from recruitment to retirement. They plan for organizational success,  leveraging human capital to benefit the company as well as each employee.

11. Advocate for all sides 

HR represents the employees and the organization at the same time, even when they have conflicting agendas. The role of HR has evolved over the decades from compliance officer — protecting the company from the risk its employees present — to an advocate for both sides of the management aisle. The balancing act can be tricky, but the best HR professionals understand that what’s good for the employees is good for the company and vice versa. They’re able to advocate from both perspectives to create plans and solutions that serve both in the short-term and for the future.

12. Genuine warmth

HR professionals are the ambassadors of your organization when it comes to hiring and supporting employees. It’s not enough to say you’re a ‘people person.’ HR has to genuinely like working with people — helping them start their careers, working with them to develop and realize goals, and having a stake in their success. They need an empathetic mindset when delivering bad news or making hard decisions. They may have to terminate an employee, but they can do so with grace and dignity. HR team members must have a caring interest in their staff members individually, as teams and as part of the overall organization.

The role of HR is so varied, it’s easy to see why there’s rarely a boring day in the department. With so many areas to cover, and so many specialties within the group, HR professionals may be trained in a single discipline or wear many hats. However they serve the company and employees, these overall traits help wherever and whenever they’re called upon.

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