5 Things You Need to Know About HR (That They’ll Never Admit)

Oct 21, 2013 - Joe Matar

Love 'em or hate 'em, the folks in the HR department can have a significant impact on your career. From compensation to promotion decisions, many people underestimate the role of HR and what a difference it can make if they’re on your side. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

The next time you see the HR rep coming your way, don’t duck into the copy room or act distracted at the water cooler. Smile, say hello and keep these tips from an HR insider in mind:

1. Remember that HR works for your company, not for you

Sure, HR wants to support employees, but at the end of the day, they’re working to serve the best interests of the company.

So next time you’re wondering why the benefits package was cut, why so many loyal employees were let go in the restructuring or why they’re supporting a manager who was in the wrong, remember HR is paid by the company, not you.

2. Keep in mind that all employees are NOT treated equally

While HR managers will talk about everyone being talented and valued, they don’t believe they’re equally talented or valued. At virtually every large organization, individuals are classified into different groups or categories -- for example, “high potential.”

You quite likely won’t know they exist, or more importantly, which group your manager has put you in. But these classifications can affect everything from your development opportunities to the likelihood of a promotion or pay raise.

When it comes to compensation, salaries can vary hugely even when two people are doing the exact same job. If you suspect you’re underpaid, it’s never too late to brush up on your negotiation skills.

There are countless HR policies companies will point to in terms of process, fairness and equality. But for every policy, exceptions can be granted. Who do those exceptions apply to? That brings me to…

3. Make a good impression, because HR’s opinion of you absolutely matters

While your manager is key to your advancement, HR can also have a big impact on your career — both positively and negatively. If they see you as the girl who’s enthusiastic, committed and articulate, people will hear about it. If they see you as the guy who’s always complaining, late and too cool for school, people will also hear about it.

So when HR is sitting around a table with the management team discussing who gets promotions, who to send to the executive development program in London or who to put on a new, high-profile committee, you obviously want to be on their good side.

HR is also the first to know about new roles opening up. Not only do you want to be recommended; you also want to make sure you’re considered in the first place. Despite what you might think (or what HR will tell you), many jobs are never advertised.

This is important because quite often, junior employees don’t have a relationship with anyone in HR. And if you don’t get to know them, they probably won’t know who you are (and therefore can’t help you). Sometimes, all it takes is a short meeting over coffee to discuss your learning and development plan or to get their input on the implications of a big project you’re supporting.

On the other hand, if you do have a relationship with the department but feel like your personal brand is lacking, do a little humblebragging and gradually build up your reputation.

4. Be careful what you discuss with HR

Though you want to build a relationship with HR, you also need to be conscious of what you share. Don’t assume your one-on-one conversation is a confidential discussion.

You can always ask for something to be kept private, but if it’s really something you don’t want known more broadly, it’s probably better not to test your luck. People who work in HR are so accustomed to dealing with sensitive information that discussing something you see as very private can happen easily.

5. Share the love with HR, too

HR is often on the receiving end of a lot of complaints. From “I wasn’t paid on time” to “Why does it take so long to hire someone?” to the ever-popular “Do we really have to waste our time with another HR meeting?”, HR reps hear their share of whining.

Like any department that often receives critical feedback, showing your appreciation for HR’s work can go a long way. Of course your feedback should be genuine, but if you show the love, it’ll often work in your favor. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Now that you have the inside track, go ahead and reach out beyond those scary HR doors. Just be careful!

Kari Reston is the Founder and Chief Executive of boredomtoboardroom.com, where she shares honest advice as well as secrets from HR and the corporate world to help her subscribers find work and build successful careers.