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Get the Most Bang for Your HR Education Buck

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I just graduated in May and began working as an office administrator. I've taken on management responsibilities, as my boss would like to focus on other things (we are a small team). I spoke with my employer, and he would like me to educate myself on the additional responsibilities, which include managing all HR duties. I am trying to decide how to do that. There are so many options, from taking a fundamentals course to working toward a master's degree. Can you suggest how I can get the education I need for the best value, whether it be by taking a few classes, obtaining my certification or going all the way for a master's degree in human resources?

Good question. You work in the real world now, where time is a precious commodity, and your company wants this job done now, not in a couple of years. Your boss wants to see change happening quickly—change that supports his goals. So by all means, pursue ongoing professional education and certification, but address now how you are going to do the job you have.

How to Get Started

Management wants you to build an HR department that supports company growth plans. This is an opportunity to gain access to the circle of influence at your company, because you have a boss with growth plans who recognizes that having a solid HR infrastructure will play a significant role in achieving those goals.

You are faced with a rare opportunity. Research the questions you'll need to ask to get a firm grip on the company's business goals. Then sit down with management and ask away. Perceptive questions show your knowledge and engagement and demonstrate to your managers that they put the job in the right hands. 

To answer your challenge, I started my research on the Internet using the phrase "Build HR department from scratch" and—surprise!—the first result was a link to some great practical advice on the SHRM website, Starting an HR Department from the Ground Up, which in turn links to articles that take deeper dives into the specifics of such a challenge. 

Next, try variations of your search phrase. Spend a couple evenings doing this research, comparing everything you read to your current situation, and you will be prepared for that first meeting with management. Then you can refine and clarify the goals and timeline of the program so you can begin to prioritize the steps that will take you along the right path. 

How Can You Support Company Growth?

The company's business goals for the next two or three years are your priorities, because your plan needs to put a firm foundation under the business vision and support projected growth. 

When you and your managers have defined and prioritized the specific deliverables, you will be ready to dig deeper to reveal the steps required for implementation. 

Access ongoing input from the best HR people in your area by becoming a regular and active member of your local SHRM chapter. Additionally, use the organization's groups on LinkedIn and Facebook to ask for advice. 

Then, in your next management meeting, outline the deliverables agreed on and cite your prioritization and program-implementation plans, based on your SHRM connections' best practices and principles. 

As a SHRM member, utilize members-only resources as you determine the best way to order the progression of your ongoing education while succeeding in a full-time job. This will support your work, and your management may pick up some or all of your educational costs. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions (SHRM, 2018), is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today. 

SHRM Education empowers you with the knowledge and skills you need to grow your expertise and drive your organization forward. Learn more at


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