What Veterans Can Expect in an Human Resources (HR) Career

career
U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Frankie D. Moore

Unlike some civilian career fields, human resources (HR) is found in all branches of the military. For me in the Army, it was the S1 shop, responsible for personnel support — that included pay, leave, awards, evaluations, personal records, event planning and promotions. In the civilian world, it’s pretty much the same, with the added duty of recruiting.


HR can be an attractive career if you’re a transitioning veteran. The barrier to entry is generally lower than many more technical jobs that require certain certifications. Of course, it helps if you worked in personnel in the military or if you have certifications such as Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), or Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). But if you don’t, you still stand to transfer the skills you learned in the military to an HR career. As long as you enjoy working with people — HR is generally a collaborative job — you’ll be fine in this field.

Day-to-Day

Let’s take the HR job of recruiter (also known as talent acquisition) as an example. You might start your day updating job descriptions on your company website and communicating with various department heads to ensure their requirements are captured in the description. Next, you could be checking applications and screening potential applicants to schedule for an initial phone interview. Depending on where you work, you might also be responsible for LinkedIn outreach and posting jobs on various recruiting websites. Your afternoon likely includes speaking to candidates on the phone or in person, and following up with any people in the pipeline. Communication is key in this role, as you’re dealing with nervous interview candidates who likely have questions for each step of the process.

For another example, as a human resources associate or manager, your duties will depend on what your workplace dictates. You might be in charge of the executive team’s schedule, event planning and scheduling, office policies (vacation, maternity leave, sick days, etc), setting up new employees with their benefits (healthcare, 401(k), etc), ordering office supplies, and addressing any personnel complaints or issues.

While you can absolutely be an introvert and succeed in this job (I interviewed a few for this article), an extrovert may have an easier time adjusting to the constant communication needed for this job.

Salary

According to PayScale, the median salary for an HR generalist is $51,780 and $47,800 for recruiters. As a career that doesn’t require a Master’s degree or a STEM undergrad degree, salaries aren’t sky high. However, you should also take these numbers with a huge grain of salt as location and company can add tens of thousands to those numbers. For instance, as an HR manager in New York City, you can make in the hundred thousand or more range (with a decade or more of experience). Another point to keep in mind is that recruiters often make commission. Each person you place in a job (if you work for a staffing/job hunting company) will earn you money, with compensation often calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s negotiated salary.

If you’re driven, competitive, and value independence, you could always strike out on your own as a recruiter after getting a few years of experience. That’s what happened with the recruiter my company contracted; he ended up starting his own operation and charging more, which my company eventually agreed to pay because he had proved his consistency by always sending us excellent candidates.

Perks, Hours, Etc

For the most part, most HR roles involve minimal travel. The exception is if you become someone’s personal assistant, but in general, in HR you hold down the fort in the office. From what I’ve observed in 14 years of working in various industries, HR staff work hard (and often are the first ones in to work in the morning), but don’t usually work extremely long hours. That seems to be reserved for sales, engineering, lawyers, and finance, but that’s just my anecdotal observations. Your boss or organization norms will ultimately determine what type of hours you work.

As part of the administrative/human resources team (often grouped under operations in many companies), you have the perk of inside knowledge. Recruiters have the scoop on what candidates are in the pipeline, general salaries, and whether the company is growing or not. You’ll likely be privy to event planning, such as holiday parties or corporate retreats as an HR associate, and also possible office operations such as what food gets catered or ordered (especially in a startup environment).

One aspect of your job if you move up to a management role, for instance, is helping to formalize the processes and culture of the company. That could mean suggesting initiatives such as diversity hiring or inclusivity committees, or starting internal groups for morale such as book clubs, lunch and learns, or a company kickball league.  

Last Word

Like sales, HR is a career you generally don’t need to go back to school for. Your military experience, especially if you served in an orderly room, S1 shop, or other personnel support role, is all valuable experience that you 100% can translate in your resume, cover letter, and interview. You’ll need to read up on the civilian equivalents for some of the duties you performed, but overall it’s a pretty clear connection. And, even if you don’t have totally relevant experience, recruiting/talent acquisition is somewhere you can start at entry-level and quickly move up after proving yourself. It all depends on what direction you want to go. Try reaching out to someone with the career you’re curious about to get more specifics; all it takes is an email (or LinkedIn message)!

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