Skip to main content

HR can be a challenging profession to get that first break into, part of the reason for this is the lack of a clear and well-defined career path. Take something like law, the steps to becoming a lawyer are well defined, however, this isn’t the case for human resources. Indeed those of you who have read my post The best degree(s) for a career in HR will know that I gained a six-figure income without having an HR degree – I actively avoided them. So here’s what I did, I applied for the unpopular or less ‘sexy’ areas of HR and played to my strengths. For most people, I talk to either in HR or wanting to get in, being employed as an HR Generalist is the goal, it is probably the most competitive area of HR to get into. Other areas such as payroll, data, and policy are less popular – less popular means less competition.

Let's focus on the payroll as that’s how I got my start. Most people tend to think of payroll as time-sheets and calculating leave balances, the truth is the calculations are taken care of by the HRMIS (Human Resource Management Information System), what payroll people do is much more interesting. The key aspect that payroll is involved in which you can leverage right through your HR career is interpreting employment contracts – both at the individual level for executives and the larger organization-wide contracts that cover many employees. People will call and ask about allowances, overtime, maternity leave (indeed for a multinational I was the first port of call for maternity leave queries in my first role), exiting arrangements, important stuff for an HR person to know about. There’s also another aspect of payroll which is important for you to be able to demonstrate, trust, having the trust of your manager is one of the most important aspects of HR. By beginning your career in payroll you’re able to demonstrate from day one that you can be trusted with confidential information, and can be relied upon not to speak of it to anyone else.

So there you have it, by all means, keep applying for those ‘sexy’ Generalist roles, but please do consider areas such as Payroll – you may find like I did that its a great start to your HR Career. Why not take a look now with Indeed and search for Payroll jobs in your area to see what your options might be.

Brendan Lys
By Brendan Lys

Operating at the intersection of Human Resources and Data Science, I leverage extensive specialist experience within Human Resources, with the methodologies and approaches of Data Science. This focus on the discovery of actionable insights from data, has been applied to areas such as: remuneration & benefits, workforce planning, recruitment, health & safety, diversity, and training. But what does the application of data science to HR challenges and opportunities actually look like. Within an HR framework the data we work with typically comes directly from our HRMIS, an advantage of using data science methodologies is that we can bring in additional data either held within the organization or from external sources - data which is out of reach from a pure HR analytics approach. Consider for example position descriptions, these contain a wealth of data that we typically ignore as its not in a analysis ready format. A side project I'm working on currently (April 2019) is using text mining on job descriptions to provide insights into which job family the position may fit into. The insights of my work have been enjoyed by organizations across a diversity of sectors including: Government (Australia and New Zealand), ASX and NZX listed companies, utilities, not for profit and higher education.