Why Not HR?
It’s been three years now that I have been answering this question, initially at mock interviews, later on at real interviews, and post-cracking TISS, to curious relatives at family get-togethers (“but why didn’t you take up marketing, beta?). For the students of HRM & LR at TISS, Mumbai, this one phrase functions as a genuine question to self, an interjection, a cause for self-reflection, and a cool catch phrase to emboss at the back of your hoodie! Seriously though, at times all I want to ask is “BUT WHY NOT HR?”
During my summer internship, I had to take some interviews of sales executives of the organization. Since they were all geographically dispersed, I scheduled the interviews after a workshop they were all attending together. Out of curiosity, I also attended the workshop myself. It was about accelerated sales: how to get your customer to open up to you, how to leave a good impression on the customer, and most importantly, how to be sincere before the customer. The facilitator was giving practical tips, throwing in keywords that come in real handy when sealing a deal. It caught my interest and I improvised my interview flow to incorporate what we had just learnt in the workshop. This set of interviews actually went better than the ones I had taken prior to attending the workshop!
This got me thinking: sales wasn’t even my domain. Yet, it was highly relevant to what I was doing in my project. It’s time we recognize that the different functions within an organization flow from one another and are shaped by one another. A very harmful cliché that gets associated with wanting to take up HR is “I like people”. But pretty much everybody working in an organization deals with people. Yes, even the finance guy will send across ripples that ultimately affect people. Even if the interface is not direct, as is the case in sales or in HR, the people-focus of an organization is hard to ignore in any vertical. Then how does liking people have anything to do with HR?
If you are someone considering a career in management, I feel that the first step in the right direction is to acknowledge that every function is equally important (yes, even so-called support functions such as HR!). Once you acknowledge the full range of specializations that are laid out in front of you, only then can you make an informed decision. There will be plenty of biases that you will be subjected to even before you start preparing for your B-School journey. People will tell you how a certain specialization has better job openings, or some such unsupported, unscientific fact. Think for yourself. The proverbial joke that HR gets subjected to is: HR toh bas Rangoli banati hain. At a recent internship at an FMCG company, I saw the marketing team going berserk for a week as they planned out making a Rangoli as part of a branding activity! But surely, no one talks of Rangoli and Marketing in the same breath? So yes, clichés are harmful. They might end up making you take up a role that you will hate for the rest of your life. Instead, why not be open-minded and see where your interest and competency actually lie?
Most of us go through the rigour of an MBA only once in a lifetime. It makes sense to be well-informed then. Along with all the preparation for cracking competitive exams, also spend some time getting to know what works for you. I must admit, I had always had a bias towards HR. As a former translator, I had, in fact, had no intentions of studying management, till I stumbled upon a translation project with an acclaimed HR consultancy firm, it was serendipity because I discovered genuine interest for this specialization…it just felt right! It made me start considering the idea of switching to a career in management, in HR specifically. While considering such a huge career leap, I reached out to several people within my circle and random strangers off LinkedIn (most of whom were kind enough to oblige me with my silly questions, so yes, people are kind and you should never ever hesitate to reach out for help!). I wanted to know if I am a good fit for the HR function. Luckily for me, someone asked me why I was considering only HR. I should look at the entire gamut of options and then make a choice. Thank God I got this good counsel, it might just have saved me a lifetime of what-ifs!
Ultimately, my decision to pursue HR was a combination of personal and professional reasons. Some of the metrics that went into this decision were: what am I good at, what sort of work do I want to do, what are the challenges I am ready to accept. At the end of the day, I realized I don’t mind being posted at a remote factory in a plant HR role, but I might not be very comfortable with travelling long distances to meet distributors. I realised I was more inclined towards making policies than supply chain management. And thus, out of all my personal inclinations and capabilities, I decided that this was the road for me.