Updated June, 2021.
“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people not on strategies.” - Larry Bossidy
It's tough to argue with Larry Bossidy—renowned business leader, author, speaker, and now retired CEO of Honeywell.
Bossidy was never an HR manager, but there’s no doubt he understood the enormous value of recruiting, nurturing, and retaining top talent.
He knew that business success is intrinsically linked to employee success. And who monitors and cultivates employee success? The human resources team.
That’s why HR has risen in stature to occupy a central role in business. Organizations must compete for the best workforce—and only talented HR professionals can give them an edge.
Exactly what are companies looking for when hiring human resources managers? They’re looking for candidates with a specific set of core HR competencies.
Take a look at the top 10 skills you need to work in HR.
1. Employee Relations
“Employee relations” is an extremely common HR term. What exactly does it mean?
In a nutshell, employee relations refers to the relationship between employers and employees.
Or, the relationship between employees as a collective and the company they work for. This relationship includes several dimensions, including:
Positive employee relations are the cornerstone of a healthy and productive workplace. Each side feels they are getting what they need to prosper and grow, and the whole company benefits.
This is no small task! In fact, much of what human resources professionals do revolves around employee relations. This isn’t so much a single skill as a skillset.
Employee relations encompasses every other practical HR skill on this top 10 list. From recruitment and hiring to conflict resolution and performance management—everything comes back to the quality of the relationship.
Is there trust, satisfaction, motivation, and transparency?
Grasping the fundamentals of employee relations is fundamental to working in HR. Treena Chabot, HR instructor and Principle Consultant at TREE for Supervisors explains:
“Employee relations is one of the most important skills for human resources professionals. This is a key factor for success, not just within the HR department, but for the company as a whole.”
2. Recruitment, hiring & onboarding
Recruitment, hiring and onboarding are core pillars of effective human resources management.
A company’s staff is its most valuable asset. HR is responsible for attracting and securing that talent, which takes real strategy and skill.
The process involves several different processes and tactics, including:☑️ Knowing which channels to use for recruitment
☑️ Defining the specific competencies, attributes, special talents or traits required for each role
☑️ Writing a customized (not generic) job description that accurately reflects the position and its requirements
☑️ Creating a pre-screening assessment to quickly eliminate unqualifed candidates (see some creative HR screening tools here)
☑️ Developing a standardized list of interview questions to eliminate bias and guesswork
☑️ Deciding how responses to your interview questions will be evaluated (what constitutes a “good” response; what kind of answer are you looking for?)
☑️ Being clear about salary, benefits, and other incentives
☑️ Creating a comprehensive onboarding process that includes a company handbook, benefits information, job responsibilities, required documents, etc. (see a great guide on onboarding here)
That point we just made about a standardized list of interview questions? This is a good example of where compliance comes into play.
HR managers need to know what they can—and can’t—ask during the hiring process. They must ensure their list of interview questions is compliant with the legislation in their jurisdiction.
Certain topics are legally off-limits, such as queries about sexual orientation, marital status, religious beliefs, and disabilities.
Many hiring managers have accidentally stumbled into legal messes because they weren’t up to speed on workplace legislation.
Of course, in addition to hiring, compliance impacts many other areas relevant to HR, including:☑️ Minimum wage
☑️ Statutory holidays
☑️ Vacation and leaves
☑️ Notice of termination
☑️ Severance pay
☑️ Workplace health and safety
☑️ Employment equity
If you want to work in HR, you must understand the workplace legislation in your province or territory. The last thing any company wants is a lawsuit!
Plus, compliance is a cornerstone of good employee relations and a positive work culture.
4. Human resources information systems (HRIS) software
If you want to pursue a career in HR, you need to know your way around HRIS software.
There are many different software tools out there, but their goals are essentially the same: to streamline and consolidate key HR functions, like:☑️ Payroll
☑️ Compensation management
HR analytics is another fast-growing area. Employers want human resources managers who can collect and analyze data, visualize trends, and gather insights into HR performance (using industry standard tools).
5. Business acumen
At first glance, “business acumen” doesn’t really sound like an HR skill. But the truth is, effective HR departments are not silos. They must be fully integrated into the company and play a part in major decision-making.
This means HR managers must understand their company’s business goals and ensure human resources policies are aligned with those objectives.
HR leaders without business acumen can’t participate in strategic decision-making at the higher levels. They don’t grasp the nuances of operations, finance, and strategy for their company.
Without that understanding, it’s difficult to develop HR initiatives that can truly support company success.
Brian K. Dickson, Sr VP-Professional Development and Global Ops, SHRM says business acumen is among the most important skills for HR leaders:
“The one thing that stands out at the senior levels and where we see a real gap is business acumen.
Business acumen is the ability to understand how the HR policies and practices are contributing to the strategic objectives of the organization and creating practices that support those business objectives.”
6. Confident communication
In a recent interview with Kompass, Treena Chabot (our own HR instructor and industry veteran) pinpoints “self-confidence” as a fundamental HR skill.
Being unable to confidently express policy recommendations and communicate with team members can seriously undermine your success in this field.
“HR managers often face push-back when they try to implement new policies in the workplace. In some cases, the company has only just created an HR department, so the concepts are new.
In other situations, people are defaulting to old habits and reluctant to change. In any case, persuasive and confident communication is key for HR managers. It’s the only way get employees on board and gain support from company leadership.”
Bottom line? Employers are looking for HR professionals who have the confidence and clout to get things done.
7. Conflict resolution
Conflict is a fact of life in every business and organization. Whether it’s colleagues facing off, manager-employee tensions, or a new hire who doesn’t meet expectations—HR must be ready to step in with solutions.
This includes strong skills related to mediation, team building, and progressive discipline.
Effective HR managers know when to step in, how to de-escalate conflict, and when to deliver warnings or notices of termination.
This is a key component of employee relations, and an essential competency for HR professionals.
8. Performance management
Employees who feel undervalued, overworked, or ‘stuck’ in their current position almost always end up quitting.
The research confirms what most of us already know. People quit because:
☑️ Their workload is too heavy
☑️ They feel unappreciated
☑️ There is no path to advancement
☑️ They don’t receive quality feedback
☑️ There is no opportunity for professional development
These are all performance management issues—a key function of the human resources team. Performance management is an ongoing cycle.
The goal? To engage with, nurture, and retain great employees. The process typically includes:☑️ Regularly communicating with employees about their experience at work
☑️ Setting clear expectations for performance
☑️ Regularly evaluating performance
☑️ Providing corrective action when needed
☑️ Providing coaching
☑️ Helping to set and achieve goals
☑️ Checking in for feedback and to evaluate progress
Employee churn costs companies a lot of money. A good performance management program can make all the difference.
That's why companies want HR managers with strong skills in this domain.
9. Training and development
Training and development is a core function of human resources management. It includes targeted skill-building to help employees perform their jobs better right now—and long-term development to help people build skills for future growth.
The HR team must ensure the training and development opportunities they provide are relevant, timely, and aligned with business objectives. This requires the following skills:☑️ Assessing employee goals
☑️ Recognizing skill gaps
☑️ Pacing training activities to avoid information overload
☑️ Selecting quality, flexible training and development programs
☑️ Developing customized training options that respect different learning styles
☑️ Continuously evaluating and improving training systems
10. Adaptability and continuous learning
None of the HR skills listed here can be fully mastered without the ability to adapt and keep learning. HR teams deal with people. And people are notoriously unpredictable!
Plus, we live in a time when the very nature of work is in flux. Work-from-home is changing the dynamic, and so are expectations around employee engagement, workplace culture, and work-life balance.
It’s a time of change and great opportunity. Companies are looking for HR leaders with the skills and attitude to embrace the challenge.
Learn more about Human resources training
Are you considering a career in human resources? Are you a business manager who needs help developing core HR skills?
Consider the targeted, flexible Human Resources course offered at Kompass. It’s a 12-week course, delivered online, and taught by experts.
Chat live with a Kompass Advisor to learn more about the training. Or click below to see a detailed course list, tuition costs, and instructor information.