To win readers over we need to write characters so authentic they feel like real people. How do we do this? By brainstorming a character’s backstory, personality, needs, desires, and their day-to-day world. Lucky for us, one aspect of their daily life is a goldmine of characterization: the type of work they do.
Think about it: a job can reveal personality, skills, beliefs, fears, desires, and more, which is why Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi created The Occupation Thesaurus, a writing guide that profiles 124 possible careers and the story-worthy information that goes with each. To help with this project, I’m sharing my experience as a Human Resources Specialist below, in case this career is a perfect fit for your character!
You can find the full list of Contributed Occupation Profiles and check out The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers at Writers Helping Writers.
OCCUPATION: HUMAN RESOURCES SPECIALIST
Human resources departments within an organization serve as a bridge between employers and employees. They provide assistance with everything from benefits to disciplinary action. This role places them in dual positions, sometimes as an advocate and sometimes as the opponent which makes it a unique and challenging part. They are often given the privilege of private and confidential information by both parties. A specialist (sometimes also called a generalist) might have the role of performing multiple functions including but not limited to: benefits administrator (health, life, dental, etc.), employee training, human resources information technology, disciplinary actions, workers compensation administration, mediator between employees, and employment law education.
A business administration degree emphasizing human resources is a benefit but not required. Additionally, there are many organizations that offer memberships and continuing education for certifications as human resources generalists, specialists, and managers. The duties can be learned on the job, but if you’re competing for a position, favor will most likely be given to someone possessing a certification and/or degree. The biggest educational/training component is continuing education as employment laws often change and the mandatory requirements to comply with OSHA, ADA, etc. for businesses are crucial.
A KNACK FOR LANGUAGES, BLENDING IN, CHARM, CREATIVITY, DETAIL-ORIENTED, EMPATHY, ENHANCED HEARING, EQUANIMITY, EXCEPTIONAL MEMORY, GAINING THE TRUST OF OTHERS, GOOD LISTENING SKILLS, GOOD WITH NUMBERS, HAGGLING, INTUITION, LEADERSHIP, MULTITASKING, NETWORKING, ORGANIZATION, OUT-OF-THE-BOX THINKING, PEACEKEEPING, PROMOTION, PUBLIC SPEAKING, READING PEOPLE, RESEARCH, STRATEGIC THINKING, TEACHING, VISION, WRITING
SOURCES OF FRICTION
Employees who try to work the system by filing false claims of discrimination, abuse, harassment, workers compensation injuries, etc.
Dealing with problem employees can make the human resources person cynical
Spouses and significant others of employees who demand information they aren’t privy to
Employees who hold a grudge or take revenge after disciplinary action
Knowing something about an employee i.e.) medical history, that they’ve been dishonest about on benefit forms
Remaining neutral in a mediation situation between employees and/or supervisors and employees
Working long hours during benefit fairs, transitions, layoffs, etc.
Remaining calm in chaotic or high-pressure situations
Helping employees who are disabled by a work-related injury, retiring, etc.
Dealing with rude people
Meeting deadlines for health insurance, government forms, etc.
Supervisors who try to work the human resources person for confidential information
Sometimes others in the office will view the human resources employees as snitches, spies, or traitors making their circle of trusted co-workers very limited
Because they’re also in the role of administering the company rules and regulations, they live in a glass house and some employees make it their mission to watch for anything the human resources person might do wrong
Mentally unstable employees might threaten the human resources person when they’re terminated
WRITERS SHOULD KNOW…
This is a highly emotionally and mentally exhausting job with little reward. Doing a great job on a lay off situation doesn’t make for a lot of friends. Burnout is a huge factor, especially in regards to benefit and workers compensation administration. The competition is tough because a company with over 400 employees might only need 2 human resources people.
It is also rewarding to help employees through a personal or professional crisis. Or to be the one to call and make the offer of employment.
When it’s good it’s great when it’s bad it’s awful.
Have any questions about this job? I’d be happy to answer. Just leave a comment below!