HR Leads Business

Aug 23, 2021 | Stephanie Runyan, PHR, HRCI Director of Learning

How to Learn HR Skills on the Job

It can be overwhelming to perform a job without proper training, just as it’s frustrating to be stuck in training when you’re ready to get to work. Which is why HR is such an appealing and unique field: You can acquire much of the knowledge and HR skills you need while working.

“80% of the content in HR can really be learned on the job,” says Nina Xue, PHR, people operations manager at Vivvi. “It’s really hands-on.” Whether you’re just now pursuing a career in HR or have been in the field for years, learning and then applying your HR skills on the job will help you cement your understanding of HR skills and concepts.

Here are three ways to leverage your daily routine as a learning resource.

Discover What You Don’t Know

You can’t direct your learning without knowing what you need to learn. Which is why you need a comprehensive understanding of HR concepts so you know where to start. Refer to resources like the HR Body of Knowledge or HRCI’s exam content outlines to develop learning goals.

These types of documents provide a framework for connecting concepts to actions, advises Kari Michael, PHR, recruitment team lead at HCA Healthcare. They help you gain a clearer understanding of HR’s core knowledge areas and where they overlap with your job.

You don’t have to do it all alone. Find a mentor to help you harness your job as a learning resource. Many organizations have a mentoring program already in place which can be a great way to get started. If your organization doesn’t have a mentoring program, reach out to your manager, for example, or someone in the field who you look up to. They can help expose you to different facets of HR, Xue says, and help guide and oversee your learning. To keep your learning on track, set specific learning goals to achieve between mentor meetings.

Connect Concepts With Actions

Applying HR skills and knowledge is an important part of HRCI’s exams, not to mention an excellent way to improve at your job. Remember, there should be a real connection between what you learn from studying best practices and how you can implement them on the job. “A lot of book knowledge that you read up about are things that you would retain and then apply to your daily responsibilities and tasks,” Xue says. “You can really see how they align and connect together.”

Once you’ve laid out the big HR skills and concepts you want to pursue, identify where they come up in your daily routine. If there are concepts you don’t apply in your regular work, you can ask to help on a project that lets you apply them. “Don't be afraid to tap people on the shoulder and say, ‘How can I help you?’ if they've got some big projects coming in,” Michael says. It’s a chance to stretch your HR skills and potentially expand your network simultaneously.

Write and Reflect

Reflection is an important part of learning. Keep a journal to track what you learn each week, month or quarter — whatever cadence fits your learning style. You can connect these with mentorship meetings to demonstrate your progress over time. Reflect on how the actions you’ve taken in your role connect to the bigger HR skills and concepts. (It also helps ensure lessons aren’t forgotten; it’s easy to be so focused on getting your job done each day you lose track of something you learned.)

Of course, if you really want to solidify your knowledge, there’s always a great test: teach someone else. “Take those opportunities if something new is introduced or you have a new hire join the team,” Michael says. After all, to teach something, you need to understand it. If you can help someone else become effective at their job, you will be furthering your HR skills and starting to harness your own HR potential.