Practice Makes Proficient: You Know HR. Can You Do HR?

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP March 26, 2020
By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP

Note to my fellow HR professionals: This article was written before the world pandemic. The topic area is talent acquisition, which may be on hold for some people (retail, travel, etc.) and accelerated for others (health care, eldercare, etc.). Read it now if you need it as a distraction or save it to come back to when the world calms down. Whatever your situation, remember that you still need to develop yourself going forward.

Lately I've been thinking about the knowledge-driven aspects of HR and functional expertise. Over the last year in this column, I've covered each of the HR behavioral competencies in the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge® (SHRM BoCK®) and suggested ways to develop higher proficiency levels. My mantra is "Practice Makes Proficient," meaning that the only way to develop behavioral proficiency is to be active in that development. (Just reading a book about communication or listening to a lecture on critical thinking will not develop your behavioral competencies.)

The other piece of the SHRM BoCK is the HR knowledge we need to be successful. Because information is easily attained, it is sometimes confused with knowledge. It's easy to assume that you don't need to do anything active to get functional knowledge—you can just look everything up.

But information has no value on its own. It needs action to have value. For example, take the fact that unemployment has been low. On its own, that information has little value; you have to process, interpret and analyze it. When you consider the fact and determine how it will impact your organization, then it becomes knowledge. The concept of "practice by processing information" applies to developing one's HR expertise and knowledge.

Over the next months, we will explore how to develop your knowledge of HR functions. We'll look at a functional area in the SHRM BoCK, identify the behavioral competencies that align with it and describe activities that will help you develop the knowledge.

Talent Acquisition is the first functional area we will explore. (When I ask my HR colleagues what their greatest challenge is, more than 90 percent say, "Getting the right talent." Talent acquisition is difficult these days due to retirements, social demands for time off, changes in immigration law and trends, technical developments, and more.)

The SHRM BoCK defines Talent Acquisition as a function that "encompasses the activities involved in building and maintaining a workforce that meets the needs of the organization." The most closely related behavioral competencies are Business Acumen, Critical Evaluation and Consultation:

  • Business Acumen involves applying one's knowledge of the organization's business operations, functions, products and services in order to implement HR solutions and inform business decisions (such as decisions on talent acquisition).
  • Critical Evaluation involves benchmarking HR initiatives and outcomes (such as those concerning talent acquisition) against the organization's competitors and other relevant comparison groups.
  • A proficiency indicator of Consultation is the provision of guidance to non-HR managers regarding HR practices (such as talent acquisition), compliance, laws, regulations and ethics.

It's easy to see how behavioral competencies help support the function of building a workforce that meets the organization's needs. But to be effective, you have to have knowledge of Talent Acquisition's key concepts. These are identified in the SHRM BoCK as: approaches to employee onboarding; approaches to sourcing; employment categories; job analysis and identification of job requirements; job offer contingencies; job offer negotiations; methods for creating and maintaining a positive employer value proposition and employment brand; methods for external and internal employee recruitment; methods for selection assessment; and metrics. (See the text of the SHRM BoCK for more details.)

Ideas for Developing Your Knowledge of Talent Acquisition

 On the job:

  • Attend management meetings that discuss business planning and take notes; later, ask business leaders questions to gain understanding of business issues.
  • Schedule meetings with managers in other departments to ask them about what their departments do and how HR can support their talent acquisition goals.
  • Volunteer to be on an organizational task group set up to solve a significant business problem; develop your business knowledge and relationships.
  • Work with IT to research, plan and initiate campaigns to recruit new employees using social media, including augmented reality and video branding.
  • Consider how the culture of a particular department or group influences the behaviors in that group to understand their talent needs.


Coaching and mentoring:

  • Evaluate your weakest area in talent management and seek a mentor who is an expert in that area to coach you.
  • Pick your strongest area of talent knowledge and volunteer to coach someone in that discipline.
  • Seek out a mentor or coach who frequently sees things differently than you do and ask them for feedback on your actions and decisions.
  • Seek out a mentor who is a professional consultant in HR or a related business and ask them to help you develop your skills.


Professional and community activities:

  • Join or attend events and meetings of chambers of commerce, trade associations or other business groups to develop sourcing networks and participate in discussions.
  • Volunteer or join the board of a nonprofit to contribute your HR business knowledge and to learn from other volunteers.
  • Join and participate in groups relating to small business on social media sites, such as LinkedIn.
  • Participate in external forums that discuss current government and regulatory issues and future trends and think about how this information affects your talent needs.
  • Volunteer to do projects and solve problems for nonprofits or small businesses through organizations looking for professional assistance in the area of talent management.


Reading and research:

  • Read books on talent acquisition and related competencies:
    • HIRE with FIRE: The Relationship-Driven Interview and Hiring Method (Dandyworx Productions, 2019) by Denise Wilkerson and Randy Wilkerson.
    • Common Sense Talent Management: Using Strategic Human Resources to Improve Company Performance (Pfeiffer, 2014) by Steven T. Hunt.
    • Developing Business Acumen (SHRM Competency Series: Making an Impact in Small Business) (SHRM, 2016) by Jennifer Currence.
    • Applying Critical Evaluation (SHRM Competency Series: Making an Impact in Small Business) (SHRM, 2017) by Jennifer Currence.
    • Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die (Wiley, 2013) by Eric Siegel.
    • HBR's 10 Must Reads 2016: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016).
  • Read articles and listen to TED Talks on creative recruiting techniques.


Educational activities:

  • Attend business seminars and lectures on talent acquisition outside of your organization.


Phyllis Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).

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