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Darla Moore School of Business

Selling human resources

USC joins eight universities to promote HR through TikTok videos 

When most people think about human resources, they envision an HR administrator who hires, reprimands and fires employees. While the “fun police” stereotypical image of HR is embellished by workplace sitcoms such as The Office, the high-achieving students in some of the United States elite HR master’s programs are working together on a campaign to dispel these stereotypes and to highlight the strategic relevance and dynamism of the HR profession.

Sponsored by USC’s Center for Executive Succession and hosted by the USC Master of Human Resources program, the event includes master of HR programs from the University of South Carolina, Cornell University, Texas A&M University, Penn State University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, Utah State University, University of Minnesota and Ohio State University.

A committee comprised of Moore School management faculty, staff and students selected the programs at the beginning of the fall semester. The participating university HR master’s programs were chosen based on whether they had established in-person programs, students possessing academic accolades such as high GPAs and GRE scores, and solid reported student internship and alum job placement rates. They were also selected for their alumni’s high salary potential and program return on investment. 

Each school nominated three students to participate in the event; the students were randomized into eight teams and competed for $28,000 in total awards. The competition's main aim was to persuade undergraduate students to apply to graduate HR programs by using the popular social media platform TikTok.

While conceptualizing their TikToks, the master of HR candidates were asked to include quantitative and anecdotal references to the field of HR’s shrinking workforce, dynamic workplace environment and uncertain industry future.

Several Fortune 500 company Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) hosted by the Center of Executive Succession agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic and HR’s response to its’ challenges propelled the HR profession to the forefront of strategic decision-making. These leaders, with over 100 cumulative years of experience in HR, visited campus to jump-start the competition. They participated in the event and engaged the students in a panel discussion. These leaders included:

  • Pam Kimmet, chief human resources officer for Manulife
  • Tim Richmond, executive vice president, and chief human resources officer for AbbVie Inc.
  • Marcia Avedon retired Trane as CHRO, now serving as an executive in residence for the Center for Executive Succession.
  • Dave Ulrich, a University of Michigan Ross School of Business management professor and renowned researcher, author, and speaker about HR and managing organizations.

After the panel discussion, all student teams were given one day to conceptualize, create and edit their video. They utilized USC’s campus facilities and mascot, Cocky, to develop the TikToks. The TikToks were limited to two minutes and ranged from student interviews, dancing, pie making and graphically showing the perceptions versus reality of human resources. Watch the TikToks.

Once the videos were completed, they were judged by Moore School undergraduate students from eight classes, primarily freshmen and sophomores, who were given six subcategories to vote on. They judged the persuasiveness of the TikToks in attracting them to the HR profession.

For the first round, the eight teams earned $14,000 for categories: funniest, most creative, most influential, best visuals, best audio, and overall best (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place). Each of the eight teams could only win one of the prizes, but every team won an award.

“We tried to make sure the undergraduate students didn’t judge too harshly,” said Mazen Aziz, Moore School Master of Human Resources program director. “We wanted their fresh perspectives on the content and the HR field. Attracting the best talent into the HR profession requires a multifaceted approach that dispels stereotypes, highlights the profession's strategic role and appeals to the next generation via their favorite modes of communication.”

“Correcting misunderstandings about human resources is crucial in impacting the future of HR,” said Nicole Ennis, a Moore School MHR candidate competing in the TikTok competition. “Human resources is so much more than employee relations, forms and paperwork, benefits and leave; human resources employees are business partners that are helping their business succeed by working on top-priority projects.”

To assess the long-term effectiveness of these TikToks, the eight teams are currently competing through Nov. 27 to win additional prizes; 1st place, $8,000; 2nd place, $4,000; and 3rd place, $2,000. The winning criteria are based on views, likes and shares of the TikToks. As of mid-October, the top video had more than 40K views.

The TikTok competition was supported by The Future of HR 2022 Conference sponsor AbbVie, which elected to donate the proceeds of that conference to the USC MHR program to facilitate the TikTok creation.

-Marjorie Riddle Duffie, Sydney Hankinson

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