Graduate Spotlight: Matt Barron, MS in Human Resource Management


HR Business Partner, Matt Barron

Matt Barron at his desk, preparing for class. Photo: Matt Barron

Matt Barron began his career as a Technical Recruiter, had a brief stint as a Sales Consultant, and then moved back into recruiting. Stepping away only reinforced that his calling was a career in Human Resources. “It’s become somewhat cliché, but it’s the ‘human’ aspect of HR that makes it such a rewarding field. Getting to know people, their personal and professional goals, and helping them achieve that and moving an organization forward at the same time.” He currently works as an HR Business Partner at Disney Streaming Services, supporting their San Francisco Bay Area employees and the Client Engineering business unit.

Matt spent a considerable amount of time deciding on the right master’s program. “USC’s program is unique in that it was designed to be 100% online from its inception. Other programs I evaluated felt like their remote programs were just bolt-on features to their in-person programs. USC has a long tradition of excellent post-undergrad programs, so I knew that a program built on that success would be a powerful experience.”

How did you embark on a career in the HR field?

My first role in HR was as a recruiter for a contingent staffing firm. Talent Acquisition is a key part of the HR field, and my position at the time was unique in that I worked for a large company based on the East Coast that had a satellite office in San Francisco. This meant that many HR onboarding processes were up to us because we did not have any operational staff.

I eventually grew into a role that combined the experience I had gained as a recruiter with the opportunity to learn more about employee relations, talent management, onboarding/offboarding, and other parts of the employee lifecycle. I jumped at the chance and really dove into the work. The company gave me a ton of opportunities to learn and grow in the field of HR, and it absolutely set me on the path I’m on today.

What are some hurdles that you have faced and how did you overcome them to be successful in your career?

The hurdle that seems to consistently present itself in my career is the need for learning agility.  Early in my HR career, the biggest roadblock was the regulatory and operational knowledge required for those early responsibilities. Being new to the field, it required a lot of self-education. These days, as an HR business partner, I am learning the business processes, industry landscape, and technical requirements of the groups I support. Growth in HR, especially for me, required learning to learn in new ways and doing so quickly. I’m not writing code, but I need to understand what technical skills and development languages are used for current and future product requirements – and that’s something I couldn’t have foreseen before becoming a business partner.

What are the core principles of your work in HR?

Balance, active listening, and trust are my core principles for work and life. As an HR professional, and especially as an HR business partner, you are often in the position of needing to find a balance that supports both the individual and organization without serving one group at the expense of the other. This means you need to look for opportunities to creatively approach your work by listening to your leaders, employees, peers, and yourself.

Being able to build trust is the most critical skill for any position in HR. As an advocate for employees, you must be able to be trusted and be known for not only hearing your employees (e.g. actively listen!) but also ensuring that they are feeling seen and heard. The ‘say-do’ correlation is the cornerstone of this trust. Be transparent about what you will do, consistently do what you say you will, and if you can’t – be honest about why.

In addition to your MSHRM degree, you have various HR certifications. What are the benefits of each?

I have a PHR, PHR-CA, and SHRM-CP as well as the MSHRM. The difference between the certifications and the master’s degree is that the certifications are focused much more on regulations, requirements, and operations – essentially HR administration. The MSHRM program teaches you to think strategically and empowers you to develop a higher level of HR thinking, focusing on driving change and growth. For example, a certification might focus on educating you on compensation practices by teaching payroll requirements and legal requirements for compensating employees. The compensation education at the MSHRM level would teach you about designing a compensation philosophy and its components that focus on attracting or retaining employees by offering different benefits or driving growth by incentivizing specific behaviors.

In other words – certifications teach you to “do HR,” and the MSHRM will teach you to “think HR.” These areas of education complement each other by allowing you to see both the strategic and operational side of the same coin and enables you to develop both strategy and implementation plans.

How were you able to immediately apply what you learned from the program into your day-to-day work?

When you’re learning to think strategically about HR, you begin to see challenges and solutions in a different way. Changes in business objectives necessitate changes in HR strategy, which can (and should!) result in furthering business objectives. Understanding the intersection of this relationship is critical to understanding the transformative power of HR.

One of the courses that really brought this to light for me was Talent Management – it was the most transformative course I have taken. I began to see the relationship between all the different areas in HR – compensation, benefits, performance evaluations, etc. – and how those relationships could be leveraged to drive business transformation. Understanding talent management cycles helped me to develop new processes, learning and development tools, and performance evaluation programs which increased efficiency and reduced cost.

After graduating, you became an Ambassador for the MS in Human Resource Management program. Tell us about your experience as a former Ambassador.

Speaking to an Ambassador is a valuable opportunity for prospective students to hear directly from graduates of the program – and it’s something I wish I had access to when applying to different graduate schools. I spoke with people in HR with graduate degrees, but they weren’t 1:1 comparisons. When I spoke to prospective students, I answered some of their biggest personal and professional questions as they consider making a big investment in themselves. It can be an anxious time, especially when juggling a career, a family, and school – as many of the students do.

Learn more about the MS in Human Resource Management program.

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