The Laughing Crow is a moniker whose voice I borrow: a rascal who is abrasive but honest, curious, and outgoing.
Choosing a Major in college can be hard if you know what kind of industry you might want to work in, but not sure what are the best options to get in. It makes perfect sense that if you want to be a lawyer, that you study law. Or that you study medicine if you want to become a doctor. These types of professions are intricately linked to your studies, so choosing them is a no-brainer.
But if you want to join one of the less defined professions, like Marketing or User Experience, suddenly there are much fewer options when it comes to dedicated studies. Now, you have to look at what skills are in demand for those fields, and what Majors will provide it for you.
For Human Resources (increasingly named People & Culture), the main skills are business related (managing the administration and payroll), career related (recruitment, training and talent management) and compliance related (diversity and inclusion, workplace safety, mobility and dismissal).
So what types of Major support these roles?
General HR Major
There is such a thing as a Major in HR, or personnel studies, depending on your state or country. Rather than focusing deep on a single line of skills, these Majors often revolve around other Majors, and how they apply specifically in an HR setting.
For example, the following topics will be included in almost all cases:
- Labor Law (a subset of Law)
- Personnel Administration (a subset of Finance)
- Learning & Development (a subset of Pedagogy)
- Conflict Management, Labor Relations, Performance (a subset of Psychology)
- Diversity and Inclusion, Workplace Environment (a subset of Sociology)
While the Depth of these topics is often comparable to the "main" Majors they are styled after, their breadth is more limited because they focus primarily on their applications in business and workplace environments.
When you choose this Major you generally also choose a Specialization, which is the topic that will be the main focus for your studies. For this purpose, it pays off to think if you want to focus on being an HR Developer later (focus on Sociology and Law), a L&D Specialist (focus on Pedagogy and Psychology) or maybe advance into HR Management (focus on Sociology and Psychology).
Choose this Major if: you want to have a broad set of skills that allows you easy access to the HR field.
Avoid this Major if: you are not sure you want to work in HR, because your studies will have a more narrow focus and you might need additional studies to pivot into another career.
A Major in Law is a tough degree, with big demands on your focus, brain power and commitment. It may seem strange to then go into a career in HR, rather than focus on becoming a lawyer.
But fact is that Labor Law and Immigration Law are too pillars of HR in which there is often a lack of skilled people, and you will find that most Law departments in large companies have people specialized in Business or Contract Law. But the hiring of people and their mobility is not their specialization, so this is a way into the HR department that is an struggle (as there are not many companies that have a dedicated labor lawyer on their HR team) but offers a unique possibility for them and a line to HR Management for you.
Another great way of utilizing this education is to become an independent contractor and advise on the hiring, firing and migration of employees. This is an area where companies of all sizes struggle to comply, and if you can smooth this progress it will be very valuable.
Choose this Major if: you are creative but have a strong feeling for rules and regulations. It helps if you have a sense of social and political moments, and have a flair for languages.
Avoid this Major if: you are looking for an easy study and a prepared career path in HR. You will have to forge your own path very often, and if you want to continue on to a career in a law firm instead, you might not have the specialization and experience that is most in demand.
Psychology as a Major
Psychology goes in-depth into the workings of the Human mind, how people relate to one another, and how perception, emotion and thought come together to produce our reactions to what happens in the world around us. It is a very valuable Major to have in general, and it straddles the line between the social and medical sciences. In many countries, it is considered a medical school Major, and the general expectation is that you want to have a career in mental health services.
But this Major also has great benefits in HR, because it ties in directly to performance management, recruiting, negotiation, learning and conflict management. These are the difficult but rewarding moments in HR, where a sound education with appropriate experience can make the difference between great success and dire consequences.
Just as with Law, the Psychology Major is tough, but also provides a strong base for people aspiring an HR Management position. The field of psychology itself has less of an expectation that you join a firm, although there is the idea that psychologists mostly work as therapists. Likewise, it is an excellent basis for a freelance or consulting position, where you specialize in for example union negotiations, workplace conflict resolution, or Learning & Development.
Choose this Major if: you are fascinated by the Human mind and how people interact with each other and respond to their environments. You are observing, and have the capacity for both empathy and emotional distance as required. You like shifting between a personal 1:1 perspective and a broader perspective across the company.
Avoid this Major if: you want to deal with the easier day-to-day aspects of people management, as your Major thrives on the unusual situations that occur at cross-departmental level and across companies, markets and countries. Also avoid Psychology if you want to focus solely on HR, because of that same cross-departmental connection.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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