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HR professionals must have life experience

A wide range of experiences, including of other business functions, is key to HR's ability to empathise and be objective

HR professionals must have life experience to be credible and gain trust, according to group HR director at Computacenter Barry Hoffman.

He qualified though that having such experience isn’t age-dependent. “It’s not an age thing. You can have not much life experience at 50 and lots at 27,” he said. “The really good HR people are the ones who are solid, sensible, objective and empathetic with different points of view; they’re not massively judgemental.”

He added: “There’s something about personal credibility. That’s needed everywhere [in all functions] but as an HR person you’re often dealing with sensitive, complex, confidential stuff – because it’s to do with people.

“One of the things about HR is you need life experience; as an HR person I need to understand about life. I need to understand is that person having marriage problems, financial problems; do they have kids; do they have a mortgage? Do they have school fees to pay, do they have an ex-wife? There are all sorts of things related to life that don’t come in to other functions.”

Those heading up HR teams can help accelerate the rate at which people gain life experience by pushing team members to take on ambitious projects and roles, he said. “We are very hot on secondment. We push people out into the business and we take people from other areas into HR.”

Individuals should also push themselves to gain new experiences, he added. “Even if you’re relatively new in your business, by going out and running a team -by going out and experiencing suppliers, contacts and customers, other senior managers and people in different functions- that experience allows you to come back into HR a stronger HR person.”