‘What It Looks Like to Dream and Fly’

MBA graduate Hal McKinley ’19 embarks on a career in human resources at Northrop Grumman
By Laurie McLaughlin |

When he started his graduate studies at UC Riverside’s School of Business, Hal McKinley ’19 (MBA) took most of his electives in finance. “At the time, I was planning a career in finance, but throughout my experience at UCR, I saw more doors open for me in human resources,” he says. 

Indeed, a door swung wide open at Northrop Grumman in Virginia, where McKinley is currently a human resources business partner. “A classmate referred me. I wasn’t looking to go into the aerospace/defense industry, but Northrop provided me great opportunity and was one of the first large corporations to see my value,” he says. 

McKinley is responsible for multiple business functions on recruitment, succession planning, retention, compensation, and employee relations. “I get to coach leaders and help employees navigate challenges in and outside the office,” he says. “My technical finance skills are beneficial as I look at compensation strategy and tell stories through data about retention, growth, and diversity goals. But the root of my passion is helping people find their way within their careers and personal lives.” 

The aerospace/defense industry provides stability, he adds. “But more than that, it offers career mobility. And, I love the ‘9/80’ work schedule—off every other Friday—which allows my wife and me to have a better work-life balance.” 

Helping Others Take Off 

From Murrieta, California, McKinley is the first in his family to graduate from college; he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management at Virginia’s Hampton University, a historically black university (or, HBCU). “I wanted to graduate from an HBCU and a UC. I left home to get an education and bring my experiences back to my community.” 

He returned to the Inland Empire after graduation for reasons similar to his current motives as a human resources professional: “I knew I would be able to help my two younger siblings with their college journeys,” he says. “I wanted to be present to help them succeed. I am proud of being a trailblazer and want to ensure the success of my family.” 

With the opportunity to live at home and earn an MBA, McKinley chose the A. Gary Anderson School of Management. “At UCR, I earned an education locally and made it a point to show the kids in my community what it looks like to dream and fly,” he says. “The Inland Empire may not be as celebrated as Los Angeles or Silicon Valley, but we are loaded with talent. 

“I just want to show the IE kids that they can be great and make an impact through higher education.” 

McKinley also serves on the board of the Riverside chapter of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA). “I initially joined to network and to be mentored by other local HR leaders. The PIHRA members are a great support team, and serving on the board provides a place to give back to those who have been a resource for me,” he says. “I highly recommend students take advantage of local organizations like PIHRA.” 

Flying Into the Future 

As McKinley looks ahead, the skies are wide open. “I am taking it day by day at the moment, but next steps will lead to a director of human resources position. Long-term I see myself launching my own company,” he says, and adds that his education has helped him form technical, business, and people skills. “I’m able to speak the language of different areas.” 

A panelist at a recent online forum featuring alumni sharing their stories with prospective students, he imparted his job-seeking tactics, which included taking an unpaid internship because the exposure and experience would create opportunity and attending career fairs at other universities and institutions. McKinley told participants: “Riverside County and the Inland Empire have a lot to offer in business careers. It’s the future of California. … So, dream big, and be patient.”


Hal McKinley (left) and classmate Octavio Davila (right) networking in front of the AGSM Career Development Center