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I’ve worked in human resources since 1995. Young men and women look to me as a role model, and I love being a mentor. I’ve worked with SHRM and several universities to help graduates find careers within HR that align with their talents and dreams.

When I ask young HR professionals why they want to work in HR, they have one standard response.

“I like people.”

I love that answer because HR professional must have three core competencies: data fluency, business acumen, and empathy. If you get the empathy part right, you’ll be given an opportunity to develop data and business skills throughout your entire career.

There’s a misperception in the marketplace, however. Older HR leaders are telling new employees that you can’t be nice and work in human resources. I must have missed the email, but new HR departments are built on a consultancy model where everybody wears tailored clothing, works in imaginary open office environments that enable productivity, and uses an iPad to communicate relevant information.

And you can’t care about your workers’ feelings.

I think that’s all wrong — especially the part about the open office environments — but also about the fact that HR can’t like people. It’s ridiculous. If you want to hate people and have a job, go work at the DMV or in procurement. Those are two places where you can follow the rules, please your superiors, and call yourself “fair” while acting like a jerk.

Insecure HR leaders who don’t have the support of the CEO will try to garner favor with the executive leadership team by talking tough. But seasoned HR professionals know that you can’t be influential without being nice. The two go hand-in-hand because nice is a synonym for likable. And, in fact, “being nice” is what sets the modern HR professional apart from bots and algorithms that can already solve problems faster and more efficiently than the average Susy SPHR.

Do you want to stay relevant? Want to earn the favor of your senior-level executive team? Want a promotion? It’s not that complicated. Be nice, work hard, and learn the ins and outs your business.

That’s not just good advice for HR, by the way. It’s good advice for any corporate professional under the age of 35. People who don’t want you to be nice are the ones who see your kindness as a threat, and they don’t have your best interests at heart.


  1. “Do you want to stay relevant? Want to earn the favor of your senior-level executive team? Want a promotion? It’s not that complicated. Be nice, work hard, and learn the ins and outs your business.”

    That’s good advice for everyone of every age and field. No one likes to work with or for a jerk.

  2. Love it. The last 10 years of my HR/Patroll/Employees Services practice, I’ve been working for tough bosses that see time spent with the employees as a distraction, at the best, from business objectives. And all these years have been tough to find support for a different approach with less Excel/Meetings time and more time talking/listening to employees. We need to find the right balance instead of just getting rid of time talking with the employees.

    • Or as an anonymous Japanese manager said during the 1980s, “Treat people like human beings and they react like human beings. What’s so hard about that?”

  3. Great point here. It’s the approach I’ve always taken and so far it’s worked for me!
    “It isn’t just for HR but for all professionals” – I completely agree with you but I’d also add.. this isn’t just for the under 35’s! All ages could benefit from this advice.

  4. Ten or so years ago, I remember asking a young and quite senior “big HR” professional just the same question.

    “I like the power,” she replied.

    Same planet, different worlds…

  5. Good article in terms of core competencies. However, few things are blown out of proportion or are incorrect. No real HR professional will ever advise being anti people approach

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