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? 

Yesterday I joined the “transitioning to an HR career” #nextchat on Twitter. It’s basically a discussion held on Twitter where people talk about a specific topic, and yesterday i was all about how to prepare for and break into a career in HR.

transitioning to an HR career.There was plenty of great discussion among the dozens of participants, but sometimes you just can’t fit all of your thoughts into the 140-character limit of Twitter. Below I’ve dropped in the questions and how I would have responded with a little more space. I love talking about this stuff and think it’s very valuable for the entry level (or soon-to-be-entry-level) HR pros.

Key question to kick it off: Why do I want a career in HR?

This question was thrown out early in the discussion and wasn’t even one of the prepared questions. However, I think it’s the key to the rest of the discussion about transitioning to an HR career. So many people think “Hey, I like people. Maybe I’ll do that HR thing.”

And it’s a tragedy. Continue reading

I\’ve been working with my local SHRM chapter to set a student program for job shadowing. Questions and ideas are bouncing around in my head, and it\’s going to be a great experience for both the students and the people who volunteer to help. I can still remember what it was like when I was trying to get my first job in HR (link), and I\’d have killed for a chance to follow around a local HR pro for a day to see what it was like. I\’m looking forward to helping them get their job shadowing questions answered!

What I plan to do

I\’m going to take some time first thing to share some of my own tips and ideas for someone getting started in the field. That will set the stage for the rest of the day as a learning experience.

Next I\’ll make sure I have a variety of tasks planned so they get a look at the facets of HR that I deal with-benefits, recruiting, employee relations, communication, etc. Some of those things are pretty routine for me, but for someone who is job shadowing, it would be pretty interesting. A few routine activities I might go with:

  • Answering benefits questions, looking up our summary plan descriptions for details, and making changes to someone\’s insurance/401(k)/compensation
  • Call a candidate to schedule an interview or to do a culture-based interview, work on an offer letter and salary package, or sit in on an interview (phone interview would be easier with this one)
  • Show how our performance management system works and what each person\’s responsibilities are
  • Give them a glimpse into the vendor selection process and how it works
  • Develop an employee communication with a specific management characteristic in mind (how to have tough conversations, for example)

One thing I will definitely not do is plan a party, talk about being a “people person,” or do anything else that HR gets stuck with that isn\’t really our responsibility. We aren\’t party planners, darn it.

Finally I\’ll wrap up the day with another short discussion on what they originally perceived and how it ended up being different. Interesting side note on this—I have someone in my office who is interested in getting into the HR field eventually. I could actually take that person through these exercises as well as a practice run and to give them the insights into the profession that they might not otherwise get. Fun stuff!

I\’ve also kicked around the idea of creating a short document to give them that allows the job shadowing student the opportunity to give feedback and take notes. I\’d personally like to see what they found interesting, because I plan to do it more than once and want to make it better for each person that visits.

Anyone else ever do a similar activity and have ideas to share? Does anyone have any job shadowing questions they\’d like answered? 

Recently Jason sent me an email about being in HR (entry level HR, to be specific). He gave me permission to post his comments and my responses below.

I actually stumbled upon your blog/site while searching for tips on how to land an entry-level HR position.

I am in the same boat as you (were) — currently in an HR position (internship) and dying to have more responsibility. I have applied for numerous HR positions, from small companies to large corporations. I am having the hardest time landing a full-time permanent job!

A little about myself, I graduated with my BBA in May of 2010. I then continued on to get my Master’s in HR (will be graduating this December!). Since Jan. 2010, I have held 4 HR internships… almost 2 years in the HR profession. Although, I feel that many employers do not consider this to be “2 years of professional experience”, as it is not 2 years of full-time and/or progressive experience.

May I ask, are you currently in the same HR Generalist position that you mentioned in your blog about a year ago? If so, how are things going? Is it what you expected it to be? Have you developed an interest in any particular area of HR now that you have had taste of all the areas?

I’m so stoked to have found someone in a similar position, a guy too! I’ve noticed that HR is a female dominated profession… what are your thoughts on this?

Hey, Jason! Thanks for reaching out.

First off, good for you in seeking to find ways to move up and gain more responsibility. Some people are content with never having responsibility at work (it’s safer, but less adventurous!).

Converting an internship to a job

It sounds like you have the education part down without a hitch, so let’s look at your work experience. Of those 4 HR internships, why did they end? I’m assuming your work is of good quality, because being able to take it further than a short term internship hinges on that detail. If I was in your shoes I would be talking with the company a month before the internship is over and looking for ways to make it a permanent/full time position. Bring some ideas for how to make the HR department better/smarter/faster. Show how they would benefit from bringing you on full time; don’t just make it about you needing a job, because that will get you nowhere.

We had an intern work for us this summer, and before she went back to school she asked how she could continue to work with us and support us remotely. We were able to let her complete some routine reporting tasks and she maintains a relationship with the company as she gets closer to graduation. Very smart move on her part.

If I looked at your resume, I would consider the HR internships to be “professional experience” unless something else on there indicated it was not. Some companies still waste/misuse their interns and use them as coffee carriers, but others actually give them challenging work that stretches their abilities for the duration of the internship. I haven’t seen your resume, but if you are including details about the work you’ve accomplished in the internship experiences, then that will give the employers the impression of professional or not.

My story

My current position as an HR Generalist was a slow (to me, at least) growth. I started as an HR assistant for another company a few years back. Last November, I came on with my current employer Pinnacle Solutions as an HR Specialist. Since then I’ve done everything from benefits to recruiting to employee relations and beyond, so my title was changed this summer to HR Generalist to better reflect my actual work duties.

My situation is somewhat unique in that I work for a small, growing company. I absolutely love where I work and what I do, and the professional (and personal) growth I’ve experienced in the past 10 months is astounding to me. When someone is in your position, it sometimes feels like you will never move up in HR. Then something happens (often unexpectedly) that sends your career through the roof. Looking back now if I would have had this job last year at this time, I would have been pulling my hair out. See, I have twin girls and they were about a month old at this time last year, so that would have been nuts. However, once things settled down at home, I found the perfect job for me. Sometimes frustrations can be blessings in disguise.

My (HR) likes and dislikes

This might surprise you, but I don’t particularly enjoy talking to new people face to face. I’m pretty darn shy. But, surprisingly, I have enjoyed recruiting and communications as my two favorite HR roles. Now, some would argue that neither of those is “real” HR, but since I’m at a small organization I handle everything in the recruiting process from the manager opening a requisition through to the orientation and onboarding process. Throughout that entire experience I communicate our corporate culture for new hires and help them to have a foundation for success from their first day on the job.

I’m not a fan of benefits administration, compliance tasks, or anything that requires hands-on administrative type work. I want to be engaging with staff, managers, and the senior leadership, not completing a form. However, since I’m at a small organization, I get to do each of those things as well as the fun stuff. It balances out. :-)

Tell the guys, we’re taking back HR

As for HR being a female-dominated field, I’d like to see some current statistics on that compared with the HR population a few years back. I’d like to think that more men are getting into it, but I can’t back that up at this time. It’s definitely an interesting phenomenon and I’d love to discuss more if someone has research to share. A good post I can recommend on this is one I wrote last year around this time called “Men in HR-A National Geographic Exclusive.” It starts off funny but has some great tips and pointers for a young guy getting started in the profession. If you’re a young lady getting started in HR, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out either!

Again, I appreciate you reaching out, Jason! I hope this answers your questions in a valuable way. If anyone else has questions or suggestions for post topics, please feel free to let me know!

entry level human resources

Stand out from the crowd! via differentperspective

After a long and arduous job search, I finally landed my first entry level HR position a while back.  And even after earning a degree in HRM and successfully completing the PHR exam, I was still unprepared for what lay ahead.  However, I have since realized that my high level of preparation beforehand was extremely helpful in getting me up to speed in my new position.  With that in mind, I have determined that there are at least three good ways entry level HR professionals can be more relevant in their new jobs.  Success in HR doesn’t have to be limited to the long-time veterans.  It is possible to overcome some barriers to entry by developing a reputation for being technologically savvy, networking with other HR professionals online, and having enthusiasm for the HR experience.

3 Tips for Entry Level HR Pros

Technology-The Great Equalizer

When I entered the workforce years ago, I realized that I had an edge on many of my coworkers, because I have always been interested in technology.  Tinkering with computers and testing software/hardware led me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for technology, and it also helped me to stand out in the workplace.  In my new position, I have already learned how to use the main HRIS software (Sage Abra, for those interested)  better than all of my coworkers, and I regularly get questions on how to do certain tasks and functions, even though others have used the software for longer than I have.

My advice for entry level HR professionals is to use technology to your advantage.  If you’re unsure of what software you need to be focusing on, or if you don’t have any experience with an HRIS, then focus on the common office software applications like Microsoft Office.  Be the go-to guy (or gal) when it comes to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.  Learn more about HR technology.  It’s the future and all that jazz.

Networking-Learn From the Best

I have met dozens of HR professionals online.  The ones I’ve met online are all superstars (okay, not all).  I’ve been wondering for a few weeks about how I can propose a new program in the workplace.  Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I asked some advice from my HR contacts.  Within an hour, I had great explanations and helpful tips from a handful of extremely helpful and knowledgeable HR professionals.  In the “old days,” that information would have been learned only through trial-and-error or some other equally difficult process, but I was able to avoid some of the mistakes of others (don’t worry, I’m certain there are plenty of mistakes left for me!).

My advice for entry level HR professionals is to get online and get involved with the HR community.  One fantastic lady I met online has been so helpful to me for the past few months.  I told her one day that I would love to repay her, and she replied, “You already have!  I’ve learned more about the upcoming workforce and how they interact just from being with you, and I would not have learned that if we hadn’t connected.”  It’s a give-and-take relationship, and you never know how your interactions will help someone else in the long run.  Invest time in your networking efforts, and it will come back to you multiplied!

Enthusiasm-Let’s Do it!

I’m the new HR guy.  I freely admit that a good bit of what goes on is still over my head, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.  Every single day/hour contains numerous learning opportunities for me.  I get into the details of things, because I want to not only know how things work, but why they work as well.  When someone mentions an idea, I immediately jump into the conversation.  I have a desire to help our employees grow professionally and personally, and since I am new to the HR world, I don’t see the barriers others do.  While it causes me to look silly sometimes when there’s a good explanation, it also provides opportunities when there isn’t one.  For instance, if something is done in the workplace simply because “it’s always been that way,” then I have the potential to change something for the better.  (I’m currently working on a situation like that, and I hope to share about it soon.)

My advice to entry level HR professionals is to take the initiative.  If someone gives you a stack of papers to file, do it quickly, and then see what else there is to do.  While a good part of my time is spent performing administrative tasks that would cause my eyeballs to explode if I did them all day every day, I get them done quickly and move on to more interesting and engaging tasks like creating methods for gathering turnover metrics, performing employee engagement surveys, and developing new ways to compensate employees for a job well done.  Be enthusiastic, and others will notice.  Be lackadaisical, and they will notice.  It’s up to you to make a good impression.

This is my own personal experience, and I would welcome any additional comments.  Would you prefer to work with someone who exhibits these three characteristics?

Entry level HR CourseI have developed a video course to help entry level HR pros find and get their first job and then knock it out of the park. If you are an entry level HR pro or someone looking to get their first HR job, I highly encourage you to check it out!

The course is made up of over an hour of video content, several bonus eBooks, and weekly articles and assignments to help the training “stick” for the long term. These skills will carry you through your entire career; you just need to take the time to learn them!