Several years ago I did some really interesting research into what HR hiring managers wanted from candidates applying for entry level HR jobs. I wrote about some of the findings in two ultimate guides:

However, today I’d like to dig deeper into the concepts from the research to help illuminate what we as HR leaders see as valuable in candidates with little to no actual experience working in the field.

Top 5 Characteristics Ranked Most Important by HR Leaders

This graphic shows the data rankings of the top things that HR leaders are looking for from entry level applicants.

how to get into HR (without experience)

Source: upstartHR.com research study

  1. As you can see in the research, HR-relevant skills in a non-HR job are the preferred currency for candidates seeking HR positions. I’ve always called this “doing HR where you are,” because there are aspects of many jobs that are “HR lite” in function, such as training, budgeting, or coaching. Being able to show those skills is the closest many candidates come to being able to prove their HR credibility without actually having demonstrated experience in the field.
  2. The next most valuable piece is HR internship experience. Working as an HR intern can fall on a wide spectrum, from grabbing coffee (waste of time) to shadowing and supporting various facets of the HR team (valuable). It’s possible to differentiate in an interview which experience someone had, but candidates are also struggling to get internships and other opportunities. Some of the internship job postings I’ve seen ask for one to two years of HR experience as qualifications, which is completely backwards for a position that’s supposed to be an entry point into the profession!
  3. Continuing the conversation from the previous point, paid HR experience is the next most requested characteristic from entry level HR candidates. At the same time, this is incredibly challenging to get for many individuals. I even profiled a letter recently from someone that was torn about getting into HR because of the bad reputation our profession has, so there are a lot of moving parts here.
  4. The next item on the list? A degree in HR or a related field. This has some measure of value, because it teaches some of the basics, but it’s also well known that higher education is behind the rest of the corporate world by a fairly significant margin. I talk about that in my post about how to learn HR for free–my degree taught me about 20% of what I need to know to be successful in this profession, and the other 80% came from boots-on-the-ground work and experiential learning.
  5. The last of the top five preferences when hiring entry level HR candidates is a history of networking with HR professionals. From my experience, this helps to diminish some of the unknowns and surprises involved in jumping into a new career track. Additionally, it gives us a chance to do some informal background checking to see what others think of these candidates based on their experiences and interactions. Because HR is so integral to business operations, that kind of informal background checking is a very common activity in this field.

Soon I’ll take another look at the final five items in the top ten list, but in the meantime I’d love to hear from you if you’re trying to get into the profession or if you’re hiring these kinds of individuals. Are these on point? What has been your experience? 

My good friend Alison Green over at Ask a Manager passed me this question she received because it’s HR-centric. I think many of you will get value from what could have been just another private email conversation, so I’m sharing the question and response here. If anyone else has comments PLEASE add them below, because we’re all better when we help each other, right?
Dear Alison,
I’m currently in my final year of high school and strongly considering pursuing an HR designation in post-secondary. Reading through your blog, I am very often reminded that HR exists primarily for the company (preventing lawsuits, attracting and retaining talent, etc.) and issues that employees have are resolved with the company’s best interests in mind. As such, I can understand why HR can sometimes gain a reputation for being useless (even if I do find it somewhat discouraging).
That being said, I would like to ask you for your input on what an effective HR manager should be like in terms of going above and beyond to support employees when the job description may not ask for it.
I’m thinking especially on how you would advise someone on the HR side to handle a situation where, for example, a department manager is out of control (but not doing anything illegal) and because of nepotism, is safe from consequences or intervention? If HR’s hands are tied, how could HR still go on to assist the employee even though the root cause isn’t solved?
How can HR still be supportive to employees in situations where the company calls for neutrality (or even to side with the company when it is ethically at fault)? And vice-versa?
I think overall I am just experiencing a sense of helplessness when I read stories with negative experiences with HR. On one hand, I can understand that there may be certain legal and logical restrictions to what an HR rep can do that sometimes the employee can’t see. On the other hand, I don’t want to be someone who just throws her hands up and says, “There is nothing I can do for you.” and adheres to the bare minimum requirements.
Is this something that will get better once I have more experience? Am I just being too emotional or naive about my job expectations? If so, any input on helping me recalibrate?
-J

Thank you for being very clear about your questions and concerns, J.

HR does exist to protect the company, and this is still prevalent thinking in many organizations. However, it’s also true that many forward-thinking firms are offloading these compliance-related functions to legal and are focusing more on how to improve employee performance, create better working environments, drive worker engagement, etc.

5 characteristics of a great HR manager Continue reading

Recently a friend was applying for a job, and she came to me for help with preparing. She had worked with the firm for some time, and the opening was for a more senior position she was hoping to achieve. We took a little time to make sure the resume was presentable, and then we went to the fun part: a strategic plan.

Together, we developed an action plan for the first six months after she got the job that would allow her to be more effective than the previous leader, generating new business for the organization. We included discussions around business development, customer satisfaction, and employee relations.

And she got the job.

This is an incredibly powerful practice, but hardly anyone actually does it. Here are a few options for you to leverage this approach next time you’re looking for the right HR job.

Keys to Success

The first mistake people make is thinking that this just needs to be in their notes or in their head. Not true. This plan needs to be a physical thing you bring with you to give to the interviewers during the conversation. The simple act of giving them something they don’t already have puts you in a different light. Instead of just focusing on you, they are also focusing on your ideas and your insights, which (if they are good ones) can give you a leg up over the competition.

The second piece of advice is to make it attainable. Don’t throw twenty things on there, and don’t put one on there, either. Every company has something they can change, improve, or update. Ultimately, they might take none of your suggestions, but the goal should be to present a powerful case for why the things you mention are worth exploring.

How to Put this into Practice: Never Worked There

It’s challenging to do this from the outside, but with HR we have at least one avenue into the organization that others can’t leverage: the recruiting function. From the first moment you find a job ad, start making note of things that could be improved, changed, or modified.  Here are some ideas:

  • Job ads: are they written in a way that appeals to job seekers? Are they using good search engine optimization techniques to be found more easily by candidates?
  • Interview process: are communications and instructions clear? Do you know what to expect and who you’ll be interacting with?
  • Assessments: does the assessment add value? What is the perception from the candidate side–are the questions relevant and helpful?
  • And, of course, we could examine it through the perspective of the candidate experience. For instance, did you get any notification when you applied? Was mobile apply available, or did you have to use a desktop? Could you do one-click apply with LinkedIn, or did you have to manually enter every piece of information?

Whether you’re bringing in some research to offer context or you’re just giving an observation based on your perceptions (or both), you can make your point in a tactful manner. That’s a key to this entire approach, because if done poorly, it will make you look less qualified.

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in Non-HR Role

If you have experience with the company already in a non-HR position, you’re in even better shape for helping to illuminate some of the areas of improvement. Remember, this isn’t a gripe session or a chance to air grievances: it’s a process improvement approach. Some ideas on what to talk about:

  • Modifying the onboarding process to get employees up to speed faster.
  • Changing the performance management system so that it actually encourages performance, not hinders it.
  • Offering niche voluntary benefits that appeal to one population or another in your company, such as dependent care or elder care. Or you can go the rock star route, offering something like a ski house for employees to use (one of our previous guest authors, Jane Jaxon, used to offer this as a recruiting tool at her company).

The entire purpose of this exercise is to show that you’re going above and beyond the basic job duties, looking for ways to innovate and bring additional value to the business. Again, I have to remind you that the way you approach this matters just as much as what you actually propose. You have to be careful to point out opportunities for improvement in way that doesn’t indict those that put the processes in place (or those that continue to manage them, for that matter).

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in an HR Role

If you have worked there in an HR role and this is a promotion opportunity, then you have the biggest advantage of anyone else in the running, because you know what is working and what isn’t. You also have the biggest challenge, because you are familiar with the inner workings and might not be immediately aware of any innovative ideas for how to improve your practice.

If that’s the case, I would encourage you to do more reading, listening, and consuming of HR and business-related content to help broaden your horizons and help you understand some of the ways that exist to improve your processes and approach. Think about the evidence-based HR approach that I wrote on recently–it is a great way to help you examine and propose solutions to problems that others might have already given up on solving.

As an HR professional, I am used to being on the interviewer’s side of the hiring table. That makes it easy for me to forget all the hard work candidates put into preparing for their interviews—well, some candidates. There are also people who waltz in totally unprepared, which makes me wonder whether they really want to be hired.

These 21 tips from Company Folders reveal the things prepared candidates do before, after, and during their interviews. Knowing these prep strategies will help you discern which candidates did their homework—and which ones didn’t—so you can get a better idea of who will make a good employee. Besides, it never hurts to brush up on interview etiquette; one day, you may find yourself on the other side of the table. Continue reading

I originally wrote this for a friend over at Horizon Point Consulting. I think it’s going to be interesting for you guys as we head into the end of the year and start thinking about our careers, accomplishments, and the path ahead. Enjoy!

I couldn’t sleep. It was 4:17am and I had stared at the clock for half an hour. Might as well get up and get started. I rolled out of bed with a big smile. It was my first day as the new owner of Lighthouse Research, and I felt like it was what I had always been preparing for all throughout my career.

This scene played out a few months ago when I took over an HR technology research and advisory services firm, but I’ve been an entrepreneur for quite some time now. I started the journey back in 2009, and I have continued my “side hustle” over the years. Looking back, it has been an incredible joy. I’ve taught myself many new skills, had the opportunity to work with and meet some very interesting people, and grown by leaps and bounds professionally.

I completed some research in October 2016, and the number one thing that my audience was curious about was how to get into contracting/freelancing either as a part time or a full time opportunity, so I know this is top of mind for many people. Maybe you’re one of those people as well? If so, I’ll give you some helpful advice and insights that I have picked up along the way.

Handling a Second Job/Gig/Activity

As I mentioned, I’ve been doing something outside my “day job” ever since 2009. For most of that time, it has been this blog/business. However, I’ve also done speaking, training, HR certification study instruction for one test prep company, freelance writing, HR consulting, etc. Up until a few weeks ago I was working part time as an HR consultant to help stay plugged into the HR community, because I left my practitioner position back in 2014 to become a technology analyst/researcher.

Handling that second position is not always easy, but it’s doable. I have four kids. I go to church. I volunteer. I have other responsibilities, and I make sure they all get taken care of. Here are a few things to consider if you want to start your own side hustle:

  • Does your day job take up more than 60 hours of your week? If so, you probably can’t fit in additional work. It’s time to back that down, find another job, or put your side hustle dream on hold. Be willing to talk with your boss or explore other opportunities if it means you get to pursue the dream you’ve been holding back on.
  • Do you enjoy working on projects, connecting with new people, and wearing the “business” hat? I know that accounting, billing, etc. is one of the least favorite activities for many independent workers, but it is a part of life. Today there are many tools to help make this easier, from apps for tracking business mileage to online banking for keeping your business expenses/revenues separate from your personal funds.
  • Are you self-motivated? This is touched on below in the “passions” discussion, but it’s important that you can make something happen when it’s time to get to work. Some people don’t have the discipline to focus when nobody is standing behind them, and if that’s you, then you will have trouble making the transition to self-employment.

How to Monetize Your Passions

The first part is obviously to know your passions, right? Yet I see so many people that start off with the thought, “How can I make some money? What’s hot right now?” That’s a torturous path, because you can only work so hard at something that you don’t truly care about.

In my case, I started with something that was top of mind for me, but it also tied to an activity I love. Back in 2009 I earned my HR certification. During my preparation, I started writing my thoughts and study schedule online as a way to hold myself accountable. One week, I got off schedule due to a personal issue, and I received several emails from people asking where that week’s blog was! It was then that I realized that this was bigger than a project to keep myself on track—others were interested as well.

After I received my certification, I took my study notes, added some lessons learned, and started selling it from my website as a $19 eBook. I’ve sold hundreds of those since 2009, and I actually took it down a few years ago when I started selling a higher priced course that expanded upon the eBook content. I’m passionate about teaching and helping others, and I’ve received dozens of great testimonials and comments from students over the years that found value in the work I created.

That’s just one example, but hopefully you start to understand how this kind of business works. Questions? Feel free to hit me up at ben@upstarthr.com and I would be happy to help however I can.

Want More Information?

Do you want more information about a specific area of interest for you personally? Maybe you’re interested in learning more about the opportunities ahead? Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • I’m an entry level professional trying to find out how to make your mark on the world
  • I’m a mid level professional ready to advance to a leadership role
  • I’m a senior level professional wanting to do some speaking and consulting

Whatever your current position, I want to help give you actionable ideas and insights for how to move to the next step in your career journey from a series of experts who have already demonstrated success in your area of interest. Just enter your email below and I’ll be in touch soon.

 

Over the last week I’ve received more than half a dozen emails from people looking for their first foray back into the HR realm after making a move to a new city, taking time off for childcare/maternity leave, and other similar stories. It’s a challenge, but this is easier than breaking into HR in the first place if you have some sort of track record to point to. Often, those early experiences (whether in HR or outside) can help us by illuminating the activities we don’t want to do just as much as highlighting those thing we do want to do. Today I’m going to offer some practical tips and strategies to help those of you that are on the outside trying to get back into HR.

get a job in HR

The Local HR Group/Chapter

Let’s talk about networking. What? You’ve heard of it? Well, good. It’s a primary component of my advice for those people trying to break into HR. But I realized this week that I have a more radical view of networking than others. And no, not in the “annoy everyone around you all day every day” kind of radical view. I’m talking about the kinds of ideas and opportunities I create around me to find and connect with other smart people. Note: I hate talking about myself, but this is a good story that illustrates the point. If you have a good story, please leave a comment on this post so others can learn from your example as well!

When I was getting into HR back in 2009, I was much more shy than I am today. I didn’t have anything of value to offer the HR community. I was just one of many recent grads with a degree and a job that didn’t fit my long-term goals. So I went to my local SHRM chapter (CIPD for those of you across the pond).

Yes, this is a common step for many people. But what happened next is not.

Instead of going to events and trying to meet people, I decided to make people want to try to talk to me (remember, super shy here). I emailed the webmaster for the local chapter and asked if there was a way to help with the website and other duties. He readily agreed, and I started attending board meetings with a small group of smart, connected individuals in the local community.

Because I was a board member, the others quickly got to know me and my credibility grew. And I started connecting with others in the chapter over time.

About a year after I started volunteering one of the board members had a job opening. It was a stretch opportunity for me, but because she got to know me through my volunteer work, she knew I would be a good fit.

And then I stopped, gave up the whole networking thing, and forgot about it forever.

Heh, not really.

The next year, I decided to do something that nobody had done before in the local chapter. I started an HR book club as a way to connect to like minded individuals, learn some lessons, share some expertise, and read plenty of books.

Through the book club, I forged stronger relationships with some of the people I already knew, and I also extended my reach to others in the chapter that were interested in developing themselves through books. That year-long experience was a lot of fun, and I still talk regularly with one of my friends that I made in the group.

There have been other initiatives within the chapter I have participated in, but those are some of the ones that stick out as particularly innovative.

Find an HR Technology Vendor

This is another option that is completely different from pretty much anything you’ve ever been told, but it’s worth a shot (especially if you’re in or near a large city). HR vendors sell technology to companies, but their primary audience is HR leaders. I think approaching a vendor with an HR degree, certification, or background would make you more valuable than someone just coming off the street with no knowledge of HR, recruiting, and those aspects of the business.

The caveat here is that you’re probably going to have some level of technology savvy to pull it off. I’m not saying you need to be a code jockey, just that you can use technology and find your way around without a lot of fumbling and help.

There are providers across the world that offer these solutions, but if you’re in areas like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, etc. there are probably quite a few companies to pick from. If you want a list of company names to give you a head start, check out my How to Learn HR for Free post.

The Bottom Line

The one thing I want you to take away from this conversation is this: applying online, submitting resumes, etc. should only be 10-20% of your job search efforts, not 80-90% as is the norm. It will require you to get quite uncomfortable in many cases, but it’s also the key to creating the career path that serves you best.

What other questions do you have around the topic? Anyone else have a great story of how you’ve made it happen?