How HR Job Seekers Can Cash-in on the Big Data Craze

Career Blog

Business people in front of math formulas

Not all number crunching takes place in finance and operations. To be effective, even relevant in the future, employees in every department need to have at least basic analytical skills. Even Human Resources, a discipline traditionally known for “people skills” must embrace this shift if they are to be taken seriously.

The Challenge

High performing HR professionals help business leaders manage their people data with the same rigor and discipline they do their financial data. At the same time, they balance this science with the art of leadership development and talent management. This takes more than form-driven processes and antiquated thinking.

If a candidate wants to be seen as a strategic he/she can’t dodge the ROI question. Every area of HR from staffing and training to compensation and workforce planning, must produce tangible results such as reducing costs, increasing quality, mitigating risk, or offering insights that enhance value. So before you interview, know your organizational history (IT made the shift. So did QA.) and how you will contribute in a data-driven world.

For example, if you’re interviewing for a talent management position, don’t assume you can solve the performance / potential equation by bolting on “best practices” from other organizations. The 9-box paper shuffle produces a lot of activity, but few results. In the new world, HR must deliver actionable insights and strategic value or walk away from the game entirely.

Opportunities Abound

Ever since Human Resources caught on to the Big Data craze many companies have sought the numerically inclined to fill a variety of positions in workforce analytics. These roles help companies monitor their total cost of workforce (TCoW) – keep labor costs growing below revenue and profitability. They also help ensure a healthy span of control for managers and appropriate number of leadership layers relative to the size of the company. In addition these roles, which span from entry-level analyst to senior strategist, calculate the ROI for the HR project portfolio and typically establish and monitor the strategic scorecard for the department.

How to Stand Out From Other Applicants

Success in these roles naturally requires advanced problem solving, financial acumen, and keen understanding of an ever-increasing array of data crunching software. Just as important however are conceptual flexibility, strategic thinking, and exceptional written and verbal communication skills.

The latter skillset is often the hardest to find among traditional number crunchers and a prime potential point of differentiation. Doing the work is valuable, but unless you can present your findings to a variety of audiences, your efforts will likely go unnoticed. To shine in a shifting organizational value set, HR analysts must also have top-notch consultative selling skills. When discussing your work with those not as numerically in-tune start with the proverbial bottom-line and then answer the following questions to help validate the actions you’ve recommended:

  1. Is the number or data set big or small? This provides context.
  2. Is it expected or unexpected? This speaks to forecasting ability and potential organizational impact
  3. How should we feel about it? Clarifies whether it is good or bad news.
  4. What should we do about it? Sets you up to discuss your solution.

Professionals across the organizational landscape will have to get more comfortable dealing with data if they are to succeed. At the very least when discussing your results at performance review time be sure you can articulate in a metrics-based fashion the What? So what? and Now what? You can always leave it to chance, but it’s doubtful that you’ll be satisfied with the other guy’s answers.

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