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5 Things You Need to Know About HR (That They’ll Never Admit)

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the folks in the HR department can have a significant impact on your career. From compensation to promotion decisions, many people underestimate the role of HR and what a difference it can make if they’re on your side. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

The next time you see the HR rep coming your way, don’t duck into the copy room or act distracted at the water cooler. Smile, say hello and keep these tips from an HR insider in mind:

1. Remember that HR works for your company, not for you

Sure, HR wants to support employees, but at the end of the day, they’re working to serve the best interests of the company.

So next time you’re wondering why the benefits package was cut, why so many loyal employees were let go in the restructuring or why they’re supporting a manager who was in the wrong, remember HR is paid by the company, not you.

2. Keep in mind that all employees are NOT treated equally

While HR managers will talk about everyone being talented and valued, they don’t believe they’re equally talented or valued. At virtually every large organization, individuals are classified into different groups or categories — for example, “high potential.”

You quite likely won’t know they exist, or more importantly, which group your manager has put you in. But these classifications can affect everything from your development opportunities to the likelihood of a promotion or pay raise.

When it comes to compensation, salaries can vary hugely even when two people are doing the exact same job. If you suspect you’re underpaid, it’s never too late to brush up on your negotiation skills.

There are countless HR policies companies will point to in terms of process, fairness and equality. But for every policy, exceptions can be granted. Who do those exceptions apply to? That brings me to…

3. Make a good impression, because HR’s opinion of you absolutely matters

While your manager is key to your advancement, HR can also have a big impact on your career — both positively and negatively. If they see you as the girl who’s enthusiastic, committed and articulate, people will hear about it. If they see you as the guy who’s always complaining, late and too cool for school, people will also hear about it.

So when HR is sitting around a table with the management team discussing who gets promotions, who to send to the executive development program in London or who to put on a new, high-profile committee, you obviously want to be on their good side.

HR is also the first to know about new roles opening up. Not only do you want to be recommended; you also want to make sure you’re considered in the first place. Despite what you might think (or what HR will tell you), many jobs are never advertised.

This is important because quite often, junior employees don’t have a relationship with anyone in HR. And if you don’t get to know them, they probably won’t know who you are (and therefore can’t help you). Sometimes, all it takes is a short meeting over coffee to discuss your learning and development plan or to get their input on the implications of a big project you’re supporting.

On the other hand, if you do have a relationship with the department but feel like your personal brand is lacking, do a little humblebragging and gradually build up your reputation.

4. Be careful what you discuss with HR

Though you want to build a relationship with HR, you also need to be conscious of what you share. Don’t assume your one-on-one conversation is a confidential discussion.

You can always ask for something to be kept private, but if it’s really something you don’t want known more broadly, it’s probably better not to test your luck. People who work in HR are so accustomed to dealing with sensitive information that discussing something you see as very private can happen easily.

5. Share the love with HR, too

HR is often on the receiving end of a lot of complaints. From “I wasn’t paid on time” to “Why does it take so long to hire someone?” to the ever-popular “Do we really have to waste our time with another HR meeting?”, HR reps hear their share of whining.

Like any department that often receives critical feedback, showing your appreciation for HR’s work can go a long way. Of course your feedback should be genuine, but if you show the love, it’ll often work in your favor. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Now that you have the inside track, go ahead and reach out beyond those scary HR doors. Just be careful!

Kari Reston is the Founder and Chief Executive of boredomtoboardroom.com, where she shares honest advice as well as secrets from HR and the corporate world to help her subscribers find work and build successful careers.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Rich J.

    As an HR Pro and Recruiter, I love this article. So much truth! #4 is an excellent point. I tell people this all the time. It’s not always about breaching trust of individual. Sometime what’s shared needs to be shared with someone else for legit business reasons.

  • Boredom to Boardroom

    Thanks Rich. Absolutely! And sometimes employees ask you to keep something between the two of you, which is fine except for the fact that you’re then limited in terms of how you can help them.

  • http://www.friv250.friv200.com/ friv250

    Your content for this article is obviously intended to provoke thought in the reader. I can tell because it made me think about the many points you stated quite clearly. I really like your style.

    • Boredom to Boardroom

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it and that it was food for thought :)

  • CAL

    Thank you for this article! The article was straight to the point and understandable. I had personal experiences with the 1st 3 and believe me when I say – HURT is the only way to describe the experience. If only this article could have been available for me as I endured the pain. Still healing …

    • Boredom to Boardroom

      Hi Cal! Thanks for sharing, and I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately I know you’re not alone! At least it sounds like you took a lot of learning from it and can hopefully apply that knowledge going forward? PS. Please don’t lose hope in HR! There are still some great people there :)

  • Tony Goddard

    Hi Kari
    I was an HR Director prior to establishing my Executive Coaching business. This has enabled me to see things from an HR perspective but also as an outsider in the companies from my current clients. There are a number of points about HR that I highlight to clients and they are often surprised.
    What I would say is that the power of HR wanes more when making senior internal appointments. This is particularly the case where the HRD does not hold much influence with his or her peers. Also where the intended appointee is supported by the CEO and other key players.

  • Steph

    Yep, this isn’t fun fair soccer, it’s your career. If you expect that top performers and average to below average performers will be treated the same, this should be your wake up call. If you don’t know which of those categories you fall in, ASK. It’s up to you to manage your career and part of that is asking for feedback, absorbing it, and making changes based on what you’ve heard.

    • Boredom to Boardroom

      Absolutely agreed Steph! It’s up to each person to manage their career… Yet many people expect the company to do it for them.

  • Pyrrho Nist

    That’s what we need. More advice from a HR “professional” telling us how important it is to validate the meaning of their work. Worthless, inefficient, incompetent, and the greatest barrier to talent recruitment. Waiting for the day when “HR” becomes a historical fad of what not to do.

    • Boredom to Boardroom

      Hi Pyrrho. Thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in the article, the feedback definitely needs to be genuine. I understand lots of people dislike their HR teams and they often have good reason to feel that way. But I would caution you that they can probably sense your feelings towards them and fairly or unfairly, it probably won’t work in your favor. Also, pls know that HR plays out differently from company to company. Like all things, there are great and bad examples.