Holly Harn is a seasoned human resources professional.

As a senior director of human resources at a non-profit university in Savannah, Ga., Holly daily resolves a wide variety of HR challenges – issues ranging from recruiting and retaining top talent to developing metrics to measure results.

Focused on one day becoming a vice president of human resources, Holly decided to pursue an online bachelor's degree in human resource management from Saint Leo University.

"I really appreciate how every day can be different in human resources," Holly says. "The field allows people to add to the strategic value of an organization, while connecting with employees and business partners."

HR: A strategic business partner

Holly's career started in insurance. Hard work and educating herself about the business enabled her to advance until she eventually managed accounts for a third-party administrator on the service side of the industry.

She was doing well, but when she received an offer to work as a benefits specialist in the HR department of a medical device company, Holly jumped at the opportunity.

"I started learning about retirement plans, pensions, recruiting, payroll and employee relations. It was a great opportunity to shift my focus and see HR from a broader perspective than I did as an employee," she says.

From the medical device company, Holly transferred to a non-profit-university. Over the past eight years with the university, Holly has continued to advance in her career, moving from focusing on benefits to overseeing compensation, recruiting and communications.

Today, Holly is involved in HR at a high level with responsibilities that are closely tied to the university's strategic plan.

"We are results-focused and try to tie everything we do to the university's strategic plan," she says. "HR departments have to be a business partner within organizations and that means showing the value and impact of HR on a business."

Taking the next step with a degree from Saint Leo

Earning a bachelor's degree is a personal goal for Holly – one she says makes perfect sense.

"Even though I've been in HR for a while, I love learning new perspectives I can apply to my current position," she explains.

"I love the program. So even though I spend lots of hours studying, it doesn't seem all that overwhelming.

Holly says that one of the valuable aspects of Saint Leo's online HR management program is that it gives students the tools necessary to analyze and evaluate an organization's strategic goals and processes. Courses cover best HR practices and provide parameters students can apply to a variety of scenarios.

Through experience, Holly has learned that when dealing with HR issues, nothing is ever neat and simple. Complications are inevitable. "But I feel better equipped thanks to the courses I've had with Saint Leo."

One such course has been statistics. Holly says reporting and metrics are a growing focus for her, particularly to show results of new HR initiatives or programs. With data and statistics becoming increasingly important to make decisions, Holly appreciates that the course focuses on the application of data and numbers specially in HR.

"Data is becoming such a big part of our daily routine. I learned so much about how to use statistics strategically in HR."

Holly adds that beyond the technical courses, having an analytical and broad perspective is extremely beneficial in the HR field, as well as good writing skills.

Getting started in HR

For those thinking about a career in HR, Holly suggests talking with a variety of HR professionals with different areas of expertise – compensation and benefits, recruitment, training and development, and employee assistance – to get the big HR picture.

"HR requires you to interact with a lot of people, so that should be something you are comfortable doing. It's said a lot, but things are always changing, so you have to continue learning all the time."

Holly also emphasizes the importance of understanding the core business of the organization you would like to work for, as well as its mission and goals.

"To be happy in the long-term, I always suggest to people that they find an organization with the same values they have."

HR: Making a difference for employees

Since HR professionals are continually looking to improve employee experiences, Holly says keeping up with trends in HR is key to a successful career.

"The more you can do to help employees, the more satisfying a position in HR can be. It's so rewarding when you can make a difference for others. And that's exactly what HR is all about."

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Image credits: Ruslan Kokareav on Shutterstock.com and courtesy Holly Harn