You guys! I got my very first email asking for advice! I’m a guru!
(I’m totally kidding. I’m a college student and office manager. Take everything here as mere suggestions and feel free to tell me I’m wrong in the comments.)
Thanks for the follow on Twitter. After reading your bio I thought that we might have a similar path.
I have been an Office Manager in the architecture industry for 22 years (20 with the same small business). The past few years I have taken an interest in HR – in wanting to help others succeed in the workplace, etc. Unfortunately, my current employment does not allow me to gain any HR experience as we have a solo HR person who is not really forthcoming. My Masters is in Organization and Management and I am not ready to spend a bundle more money for another degree in HR. Can you give me any advice on how you are organizing your self-study? I just joined SHRM and will start networking with the local chapter but besides that I am overwhelmed with where to start … so many twitter feeds, blogs, articles, etc. Are you focusing on a specific area? Not having HR experience I am not sure what area I would like best.
Dear K -
Thank you so much for writing me! This made my day!
I think we do have a similar path with the office manager/self-study bit, but we differ in that you have a LOT more education than I do. In fact, with a Masters in Organization & Management, I bet you already know a lot more than you realize. Do NOT go back to school and spend more money on an HR degree. (Anyone disagreeing with this opinion, please let me know in the comments, but I really think further spending in that area won’t get you the return on investment that you would hope.) Plus, you might delve further into this and hate HR. If you do some self-study and love it and want to become the world’s foremost expert, decide that later. For now, no.
Also, I know it’s super easy to get overwhelmed with the Twitter, blogs, articles, etc. Don’t stress too much over this. You’ll never read or absorb it all. Just take in what you can reasonably handle without stressing yourself too much. An article or two a day that you really absorb is better than 12 that you don’t. Also, the blogs aren’t so much actual lessons as people delivering different ideas and opinions. They are great, certainly, but you’ll want to start off with a knowledge base that will allow you to get more out of the blogs, the tweets, and endless stream of information on the internet.
I did a review of 2 iPhone apps that I currently have on my phone. I still use them and quiz myself when I get a moment. These have helped because they’ve given me insight into areas of HR that I didn’t even know existed, and thus am weak in. I never had to utilize them before. If you go that route, keep a pen/notebook handy and jot down some terms or laws that you don’t know. Even if you get the answer correct, if the term was unfamiliar, jot it down. They won’t teach you all the principles, but they’ll point out what you don’t know and you can research later.
When you look at the apps, or even just that post to find a list of the various areas of HR, follow the blogs/Twitter accounts of businesses in that area: benefits brokers, insurance companies, HR outsourcing, payroll companies, staffing agencies, recruiters, risk management, employment law firms, etc. Rather than individual people musing and giving their opinions, the businesses themselves often have blogs about laws, policies, and information that will count more as a lesson.
Some that I highly recommend: Winston Benefits, Insperity, Infinisource, My Back Office, Monster Thinking, Workplace Prof Blog, Winston & Strawn, LLP and Presidio Group. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.
Also, joining SHRM was a great idea. I hope you joined your local chapter as well as national. National SHRM puts out HR Magazine, which has excellent articles and even if you don’t understand 100% of it, it will point you in an area that you can research more. Also, reach out to your local SHRM officers. I’m not sure how your chapter works but in Baton Rouge they have a general meeting approximately once a month. They may not have speakers lined up months in advance, but they generally have some idea of a topic a couple months ahead of time. It may be as general as “safety”, but you can ask about upcoming topics and study beforehand so you’ll be able to engage more fully in the meetings. The SHRM website also has good articles and chats where you can ask questions and engage with other people.
Also, I’d encourage you to try again with the HR person at your office or maybe even a little higher up. Do not approach this as you trying to do their job (or neglect yours), but just say you’re interested and feel that some cross-training would benefit the office. You’d like to learn enough to be the “emergency backup”. Not only will it help you learn a little more, it really will benefit your company. This person could become ill, take another job, get hit by a bus or win the lottery and leave you all in a lurch. This is especially true in a small office which has a smaller talent pool to draw from. There is no job on Earth that doesn’t need an emergency backup. They don’t need to know 100% — just enough to keep things from falling apart till everyone adjusts.
As for me, my plans for self-study have changed/evolved a bit. When I first started this blog in January, I had recently been unemployed and did this as a way to reach out, get more knowledge and not drive myself crazy at home with nothing to do. I’ve since taken a job with a content marketing firm that assigns me articles and blog posts to write for our clients, many of whom are in HR-related businesses. These require research and just doing that has taught me a lot. I know that’s a bummer to say since not everyone has the ability to do this on the job and it’s one of the reasons I’m suggesting you try again, as nicely as possible, with your HR person at work.
In the meantime though, I’m reading blogs, I’m researching for work, I’ve occasionally got guests on this blog teaching me things (and I need to do more of that). A delightful friend from Twitter, Liz Rominger, has agreed to loan me a SHRM PHR Learning System for the summer. They are very expensive and I cannot afford one on my own, however, they are much less than a degree in HR, so perhaps you can. Or maybe someone in your local SHRM chapter can loan you one. Maybe even your local library…I never thought to check there. You can even find older ones on eBay for a few hundred bucks less because they’re somewhat out of date. We all know healthcare has changed since 2009, but the general principles in the rest of the materials are still the same and you can (and should) study the PPACA from multiple resources elsewhere anyway. I wouldn’t go any older than 2009 – 2010, but that’s an idea. Anyway, I’ll be borrowing Liz’s learning system once I finish finals on May 7, through about Labor Day. I plan to go through the system in the order SHRM presents it and will post blogs on my progress.
I hope you’ll keep me informed of your progress as well! Hopefully we can learn from each other over the summer, but believe me, this is much more than a summer endeavor! HR Pros are required to get continuing education for a reason. Things change and the learning is constant. This will definitely not be an overnight process for either of us, but we’ll get there!
Take care and good luck with your studies!
Did I miss anything guys? Any additional advice you’d offer to K or advice of mine that was awful? Let me know!