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A Day in the life of a Human Resource Business Partner (HRBP)

As a career coach, I often see people struggling to find the right people to connect with for an informational interview. One of my closest friends from college, Michelle, had a great idea to participate in an informational interview with me directly and I am excited to share Michelle’s work as an HRBP with you.

Michelle has over 15 years of experience working in Human Resources in major corporations such as Visa and Meta. She is really passionate about her work and I am excited to provide an opportunity for you to learn more about the HRBP role.

The questions denoted in bold below are a typical example of the types of questions I like to ask when performing an informational interview but they can be tailored specifically to whatever role you may be seeking.

If you have ever wondered what an HR Business Partner does, here is an opportunity to hear it from Michelle directly!

What is an average day like for an HR Business Partner?

I never have a day that’s exactly the same. It's almost impossible. Instead of day to day, it’s easier to share the way I think about my role which is to drive multi-year talent strategies within the business team that I partner with. In the past 15 years, there’s been a focus on how to achieve organizational goals through talent. In Human Resources, we look at how we work through change, maximize impact and scale through leaders and executives in support of business goals.

In my daily work, I support leadership, build trust and create an effective partnership in order to address talent issues. I help leaders prioritize their needs and lead initiatives that allow employees to do their best work. This can vary but does generally happen through performance reviews, employee engagement surveys, talent development work and identifying opportunities for career growth and expansion.

If I am coming into a new team, I would look at performance, engagement and attrition data. I also have anecdotal conversations to understand what the business is doing and what their goals are. I then merge my own research to fill in any gaps in the data to help business leaders identify areas they might want to focus on.

I’ve found throughout my career that coming in with a cookie cutter template doesn’t always land well. I like to approach creating the strategy organically and putting pen to paper on what to prioritize. For example, we may want to look at compensation or developing talent at a certain level. We then have a plan for the year that gets revisited regularly to ensure we are continuing to work towards the most important talent priorities..

An HRBP role can also vary based on the organizational health of the business team they support. I use data a lot in my job to understand the needs of that specific team and understand the story behind their talent. For example, if over 50% of the managers are new this would signal that more support around leadership training is needed or if there is a trend we can follow that shows that people are leaving after 2 years, we will want to dive into that further. Based on these types of trends, we set annual plans and track the progress together through the year.

Another part of my role involves cross-functional partnerships. This could be coordinating across business units or coordinating with other HR colleagues. In the companies where I've worked, there are annual cross-functional initiatives that I play a key role in. Another HR colleague may be the person creating the tools and timeline and my role is to work with the business leader on what to do with the outcome. For example, if we use a new employee engagement tool within the company, I partner with my business leaders, we look at the results from the tool and figure out how we want to use it. We set plans that we regularly revisit together throughout the year. I enjoy this process as it helps me get feedback, understand how I am meeting the leaders expectations and what I can do differently.

What do you like about your job?

I like that it bridges HR and the business. I get to be in both worlds and participate in the creation of resources on the HR side and I get to implement it directly within the business team.. I like that my work impacts the culture. It’s important to me personally. I get to see the impact of when an employee has the right skillset and how it helps them succeed. I get a lot of satisfaction supporting teams to be high achieving!

What are the challenges of your job?

The biggest challenge is that there are a lot of moving parts. You have your whole day mapped out and then something comes up. You have to be organized but be flexible when you need to change quickly. The CEO could change directions and that changes us. I work on both a strategic level and operational at times and part of the challenge is knowing when to be operational versus strategic. On one side it makes it challenging but also fun.

Do you get into employee relations work?

Employee relations is handled differently in each company. At larger companies, the employee relations team is typically a separate entity due to the scope of the work. However there is a close partnership between an HR Business Partner and Employee Relations Partner as they navigate supporting employees.

What does it take to be successful in this role?

I’ll break it down into 5:

  1. Business acumen- I have found that strong business acumen builds credibility, trust, respect and a seat at the table with the leaders you support. Understanding the work is critical to drive talent initiatives.

  2. Ability to influence- As an HRBP, you act as a key, influential partner to leadership teams. Being able to effectively influence enables you to drive the people agenda.

  3. Analytical mindset- Data is a big part of the job. Being able to synthesize data related to the talent population allows you to understand the “story” of the people and create talent priorities around that story.

  4. Leadership capability evaluation- part of the role involves diagnosis of specific needs for leaders based on the business’ goals. You sometimes need to evaluate if you already have capabilities in the team. If not, how do we get there? You may need to assess, diagnose and execute. The main goal is to help build a high performing team.

  5. Trust-building- build trust with employees and leaders within the business unit you work with is key. Sometimes it takes time to build trust with leadership.. Additionally, you need to build trust within the HR function. Who you might need their support in an area you haven’t done before and you need guidance on or feedback.

I feel like HR sometimes gets a bad reputation in some orgs. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about HR professionals?

I think most of my colleagues would agree that we are seen as the police or that we say “no” more often then “yes.” I’ve been fortunate to work at places where HR is valued, respected and has a seat at the table. If you’re looking to enter the field, I recommend exploring what type of reputation the HRBP team has at the company. On the other hand, if a company has a less favorable HR reputation, perhaps you could be the change to turn that around!

What do you wish you knew before going into this line of work?

Earlier in my career, I wasn’t as bold and brave in pushing back. I started my career feeling junior and green and I felt like I had to be somebody different in order to do a good job. Once I started being myself and speaking up even if it wasn’t popular, I think it positively impacted the way people saw me. I wish I had been a little bolder earlier. It took me longer and it’s ok, it was party of my journey

The HR role is an important role. So many people and companies value your expertise. If you show up as your authentic self, you might grow faster than if you are trying to fit the mold.

If someone were to think about doing a career pivot towards an HRBP role, what type of training, degree, coursework is needed?

There is always a way to transition in. I started as an entry-level HR Generalist focusing on the Operations aspects of HR, and later transitioned into a strategic role. Some HR professionals earn their Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification, earn their Masters or even MBA, which would all be very helpful in the role but not typically required in my experience. If this type of role is of interest, I recommend starting by reaching out to people in the HR community to have conversations.

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