A Career in HR? The Cynical Girl (@lruettimann) and I Discuss

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Laurie Ruettimann and I love Human Resources in very different ways.  She is a consultant and disaffected practitioner.  I am a professor.  We have very different  messages for our chosen profession.

Here is a letter Laurie received from a graduate student at an elite university.  We wanted  to apply different perspectives and respond to this young gentleman directly.

Dear Laurie,

I just read your article “A Letter to the #shrmstudent Conference Attendees” and I must admit I am a little surprised.  I might be slightly scared.  I am currently following a master’s degree in HR.  It was a tough choice because it is tremdendously expensive.  I have a passion for HR, though, and it’s worth it.

But your article kind of lost me, to be honest.  I can hardly ignore your opinion.  You said that HR is a career for older people.  Can’t I be sure that I want to have a career in HR at the age of 23?

Plus, I was told I could make way more money in HR.

Anyway I hope you can answer my questions.  I really look forward to your reply.

We see three questions in this letter.

1.     Is HR a good career move?

2.     Should a student pursue HR right out of college, or wait to enter the field?

3.     Can you make any money  in Human Resources?

From Laurie Ruettimann:

I stand by my original article.  Human Resources is a lovely career choice, but I think it’s a mediocre choice compared to all of the cool things you can do when you are 23 years old.  Additionally, HR is the corporate department that most closely parallels parenthood.  With age comes wisdom.  Many of the best Human Capital Management practitioners in the world are over the age of 50 and have seen every aspect of business – from operations to customer service – and apply that expertise to HR.

Of course you can make a lot of money in Human Resources.  The median pay for a Human Resource Manager is $99,180 per year.  But, I’m not sure that is a lot of money to someone who spends tens of thousands of dollars on a degree.  And for those of you who are bad at math, remember that median is not average.

From Dr. Stollak:

The beauty of the educational system, particularly in the United States, is that you get exposed to a wide range of occupations and career choices since you begin schooling.  You will take classes in the hard sciences, the arts and the humanities, and the social sciences.  You may change majors a couple of times.  At most higher education institutions, you will not only have to take general education classes, but a core curriculum as well.   If you choose a degree in business, you will be exposed to the fields of accounting, finance, marketing, management, international business, as well as HR.  If after those classes, along with an internship, you find yourself with a passion for HR, why not pursue it?  Our school emphasizes the notion of vocation as a calling.  And what better calling is there then HR in helping others find their calling as well.

Just because you pursue a career in HR right away, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from knowing the other parts of the business.  Spend some time on the assembly line if you work in a manufacturing plant.   Go out on a sales call with your sales representatives.   By understanding the various functions, one can better demonstrate the value HR can deliver.

As always, salary doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  What’s the alternative?  If we look at the same data for the top 20 highest paying occupations, 13 require additional education and training, which could mean even more debt.  Further, 10 of the 20 are in the medical and legal field; avenues that you might have already considered and chosen not to pursue.

What are your thoughts?


If someone has a true passion, they should pursue it. That said, how many college students/new grads really know what their true passion is? I don't know the actual # (if there is one), but anecdotally I can tell you that not many of my peers did. I certainly didn't.

Furthermore, while your young you can take risks, fuck up, and then recover. How many people have had the idea, chosen the safe route, and then regretted it. A TON.

And, finally, I value the education I received from an accredited business school. But, boy do they not prepare us for reality. I had this conversation the other day with my partners in our business (that is loosely related to HR). I can think of really 2 things that I use today that I learned in Business School. And, I think I probably could've learned those skills regardless. The projects I was working on in my 5th year of University are not applicable in the slightest to the realities of the business world - small business nor MNC.

by Anonymous on June 26, 2013 at 10:54 AM. #

As someone who is a CHRO by day and adjunct HR professor in a prominent MBA program at night, I can address from both sides of coin.
I love Laurie but don't always agree with her. The issue with careers in HR is it takes 10-12 yrs to get to doing the sexy stuff. Till then its benefits admin., chasing resumes around the organization and running corporate town hall meetings...but stop and ask what happens in other industries...accounting takes that long to be a manager and longer to be a partner in public, marketing you do glorified administrative work, financial services - can you say Gofer as in go do this or that. So if your passionate and want a career in HR go for it. you can make good money and have a satisfying career too.
And yes there will be stress and moments of regret, just like every industry!

by The Team*** on June 26, 2013 at 4:07 PM. #

We need more 23 year olds in HR!

by DavidKovacovich on June 26, 2013 at 4:10 PM. #

I am about to be a 23yr old with a Masters Degree in HR. I recently got my first HR job. Now what has set me apart is my passion.
If you want something real bad you will put in the work to get it. Sometimes I see that some of my peers feel entitled to start getting those high salaries straight out of school, let me tell you it ain't happening!

Theres always going to be challenges, and I think this is true in any field. Once you are in it doesnt get easier.

I'm glad I chose education first, it gave me a broad understanding of how HR works and how business works. Getting the education might not give you the answers but it does give you the tools to learn and most importanly the need to always ask questions.

by Jackie on June 27, 2013 at 8:14 AM. #

Excellent post! Very encouraging as a blogger myself.

by help me find a job on July 4, 2013 at 1:52 AM. #

Great post, you really know the subject well. I've had many ups and downs with my career, but since I got my brand new erp system, Microsoft Dynamics, running my own company isn't that hard at all.

by klotylda on October 18, 2017 at 8:18 AM. #

Wow, thank you for such a broad explanation on this matter.

by Unknown on October 22, 2018 at 3:50 AM. #

Quite insightful. Well, I am looking for a solar street light service. Any suggestions?

by The Nerdy Beans on November 6, 2018 at 3:45 AM. #

Leave your comment