Humans of HR: Experience in HR

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This article was updated on July 22, 2018.

In the first installment of "Humans of HR," Scott Smith shared his experience as the only employee in human resource management at Tax Management Associates, Inc., based in Charlotte, North Carolina. So how does a payroll specialist working in accounting and finance in the U.S. Air Force morph into a civilian HR director? With a couple of twists and turns. In this second installment, the HR director shares his journey and experience in HR.

Why Did You Get Into HR?

I went to school for accounting and did payroll in the military for five years. I worked in accounting, but I realized that's not what made my heart sing.

So, I worked in hospitality operations doing customer service training. Then I started doing orientation training, and I helped with benefits enrollment meetings, because I was the trainer and facilitator of all kinds of meetings. I began helping HR with more and more HR generalist projects.

That's how I built my experience in HR. I enjoyed it, and I felt like I had a knack for it. And I put into practice the customer service skills I learned working in hospitality when I interacted with employees. It seemed like a good formula, and it worked. People responded to it, and once there, I thought, "This is great. I like helping people."

What Are the Differences Between the Military and Corporate HR?

When I first got out of the military, I worked in hospitality. In the military, there's a regulation for everything. If you want to know where you should file something, or how long you should keep it, there's a regulation.

In my first civilian job, the organization was in a transitional state, shall we say. It was probably more loosey-goosey than other hospitality operations, but in hospitality, everything is wishy-washy, right? It's kind of like when somebody asks you a question in HR.

You see, in hospitality, you might have a policy, but you don't follow it all the time. You can make exceptions for customers. So, it was a little nutty that I would ask five people a question, and I'd get five different answers on how to do something. That was a big adjustment.

I learned and grew over time. I learned how to be flexible, and that sometimes there is gray area. I think that helped make me an effective HR person.

How Did Your Experience in Accounting and Finance Help You When You Moved Into HR?

Well, I think understanding the back end — what happens to all this information and data and why all these things are important. A few years ago, I worked in an organization where HR didn't have a good understanding of accounting and the impact of these things. They did not have a good benefits process for unenrolling terminated employees. Once they discovered the problem and corrected it, the firm wound up paying thousands of dollars in unnecessary premiums for employees who had been gone for quite some time.

So, having an understanding of how financial statements are put together and the impact of all those sorts of activities and actions is helpful.

What Did You Understand From the HR Perspective That You Didn't Understand Before?

That things aren't black and white. In accounting, everything is, well, black and red. I think most accounting-minded people don't like it when the answer to a question is, "It depends." And that's almost always the answer to a question in HR.

What Advice Do You Have for Those Who Find Themselves Moving From Public Service Into the Private Sector?

I realize now, with the leadership skills I possessed at the time coming out of the military, I had far greater responsibility than civilians my age. I was responsible for lots of things — people, equipment, expenses, financial resources — that other people my age in the civilian world wouldn't be responsible for. So, the confidence, the leadership skills and the discipline you learn in the military will translate and will get you far.

Want more Humans of HR? Check out Part 1 on Human Resource Management and Part 3 on Customer Service in HR.