Are You Talented Enough For HR?

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I’ve been reading a lot this week about the job market and hiring practices and how to pick the best employees and avoid the worst. And all of this has got me thinking about gifts.

Not the gifts that you get for birthdays and special holidays, but the gifts you’re born with — like mathematical gifts, or the gift of gab, or the gift of intellect, or what have you.

And the reason I’ve been thinking about gifts and the workplace is that it seems to me that sometimes we are reluctant to recognize gifts and their importance in doing a bang-up job.

Not anyone can do HR

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, authors of Now, Discover Your Strengths (an oldie but goodie) get the idea of gifts. They call them “talents,” but the idea is the same. The point is that all of us have the ability to naturally do some things better than some other things, and these abilities are ours to discover and develop, but we can’t manufacture them.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about this concept in relation to HR, because I’m of the opinion that there are still far too many people who think that anybody can do HR, and it’s just not true.

I know because I went through a string of HR personnel who were terrible at it. They either lacked the detail orientation, or the critical thinking skills, or the analytical skills, or the head for employment law concepts, or something. And these were smart people.

It wasn’t until I started complaining to a wiser friend of mine about some task the most-recent hire had been unable to perform — “I don’t understand why _____ can’t get this right. It’s so simple!” — and my friend saying, “I don’t know Crystal, it sounds complicated to me,” (and this man was a veteran leadership trainer studying for his Ph.D) that the light bulb went off. Yes, the task was easy for me, because of my abilities. Oh …

That’s when I started paying real close attention to traits, even testing for them during the hiring process. After that, I started hiring people who were right for HR.

Doing it right takes a lot of gifts

So what am I saying? Two things: First, I completely agree with Buckingham and Clifton when they write that it is not true that anyone can learn to be competent in anything. Second, if you’re in HR and do it well, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s an accident. It’s not.

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Which isn’t to say that people who try their hand at HR and aren’t very good at it can’t do other things fabulously well. They probably can. As I said, everyone has abilities.

But it’s completely false to assert that because way too many people fall into HR and do “OK,” anybody can do it really well. Nope. As with most anything, those who do HR really well just make it look easy.

So here’s my question: If you’re responsible for hiring and developing HR folks, are you doing so with an eye toward the gifts needed for the job? Actually, let me back that up a bit — do you even believe in the concept?

If not, I urge you to revisit your thinking, because the type of HR that we all say we want to practice — that is, the kind that goes beyond the transactional — requires a whole lotta gifts. I’m talking things like empathy, courage, humility, wisdom, and the ability to be comfortable with and effective despite a certain degree of change.

And again, while many HR professionals do “OK,” I think the profession, as well as the organizations and employees we serve, deserve a lot better than that.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


4 Comments on “Are You Talented Enough For HR?

  1. Crystal – Amen! I couldn’t agree more that HR ain’t for everyone. To do HR well, really well, requires a unique set of skills and abilities, along with a health dose of intellect, because the practice of HR is anything but simple. And therein lies the problem. Because of its increasing complexity, what was already a hard job is becoming more difficult, and more important, requiring even more of the HR ‘secret sauce’. Many (I won’t say most, even though I want to) HR practitioners don’t really understand what it is they are supposed to be doing, so they circle the wagons and crank out activities that have questionable strategic value. Everybody gets frustrated because the needle really isn’t moving much, and the function takes it on the chin from all quarters, causing HR people to complain mightily about lack of respect and organizational credibility, wondering why the ‘seat at the table’ is so elusive.

    Thanks for your spot on observations.

  2. Amazing insights about special abilities (gifts) required
    for a HR. In the modern day world where lots and lots of people are passing out
    as HR graduates and taking up HR jobs, it is difficult for the recruiters to think
    through what a person’s real gift is, especially when they are all trained to
    showcase all the required attributes. The real hurdle is in finding out their
    real gift or talent in them.

    1. Thanks, Neel. This is an interesting comment, and I think there’s more than a little truth to it.

      “it is difficult for the recruiters to think through what a person’s real gift is, especially when they are all trained to showcase all the required attributes.”

      Recruiters/hiring managers also may be tempted to conclude that because someone HAS done something (and wasn’t fired–or at least isn’t admitting to being fired) that he or she did it WELL. Not necessarily true. Exposure to a task doesn’t mean you’re any good at it.

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