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? 

This week I was approached to complete some HR informational interview questions by a young lady heading back to college for a master’s degree in HR. I’ve answered similar questions before, and I have always had a heart for students looking to break into HR, so I obliged. As I responded, I wondered how others would answer and what advice they would share with someone preparing to enter this amazing profession of ours.

Would you pick a question and give your own answer in the comments section below? I used these informational interviews years ago before I got started in HR, and the responses helped me to hit the ground running when my entry level HR career took off.

HR Informational Interview

  1. What are the main duties of someone in HR? It depends on the position, but an HR generalist typically touches a variety of areas, such as recruiting, compensation, benefits, employee relations, training and development, and safety.
  2. What kinds of problems or difficulties occur in performing these duties? I’ve found that in general, companies and leaders that do not value HR are the biggest stumbling block to success. If they don’t believe that what you’re doing is value-add and benefiting the organization, then no matter what you do there will always be a limit on the positive impact you can have.
  3. What kind of rewards or enjoyments does this work provide? I would say that HR pays fairly well, if you are competent and willing to work hard. Beyond that, the satisfaction of helping families with their benefits, working with an employee to develop themselves for a promotion, or helping to coach managers through challenging times are some of my favorites.
  4. What characteristics do you believe are needed to be successful in Human Resources? Usually this question is met with answers like “confidentiality” or “multitasking.” I’ll take a different approach: you need to have a sense of humor. This job can be draining if you don’t have an outlet. Imagine having to terminate someone through no fault of their own simply because the money isn’t there to support the position. Do that often enough without a release and you start to lose your mind. For me, a sense of humor is one way I can get through those tough days and stay fresh.
  5. What kinds of knowledge and skills must someone have to be successful in HR? The basics of HR include recruiting and staffing, managing employees, labor relations, risk management, benefits and compensation, etc. The more nuanced things include this list of the top five senior HR leader competencies.
  6. What else should someone thinking of getting into the HR field know? It will be nothing like you expect from the textbooks. You will learn about 10% of what you need to know to be successful with a degree in HR. The other 90% comes from doing HR every day.
  7. As I said I have a B.S. in Family and Human Services. Do you think that my background will influence me, positively or negatively, in the field of HR? I think you’re probably going to be very caring and considerate of the differences people have and what that enables them to bring to the table. The only concern is a lack of business-mindedness that is a critical part of HR today. If you can’t speak the language of the business leaders and only talk about morale and such, you won’t have any credibility.
  8. Why did you decide on a degree in HR specifically and not another Business-type degree? I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be in HR–I just didn’t know it was called HR. My parents owned a small business and had constant challenges with hiring, benefits, retention, etc. I always thought I would get a degree in management to figure out how to solve those kinds of problems. When I got to college I realized that this “HR thing” was exactly what I had always wanted to do!
  9. What exactly is your current position and what does it entail? Currently I’m not in a traditional HR role. I am working as a research analyst helping some of the largest companies in the world by creating research, publishing case studies, etc. I spend much of my time writing and creating research from primary survey data.
  10. Why haven’t you made a switch in career fields? If you have, why did you return to HR? Some would say that I did by stepping out of the traditional HR role, but I like to think that now I can help employees at a hundred companies instead of just those at the one company I was at previously.
  11. What general advice do you wish people told you about HR before you started? I did many interviews just like this one, so I had most of my questions answered early on. The only thing that would have helped more would have been more general in nature. I would have liked to know that companies often don’t change, even when they are on the wrong path. My first HR job was for a company that ended up going over the financial cliff because our leadership was unwilling to make the changes necessary to improve the business.
  12. Any specific advice for me? Especially concerning pursuing a Master’s Degree and what to do before and during the program. I’d spend as much time shadowing and talking with in-the-trenches HR folks as possible. Sign up for Twitter if you’re not already there and follow conversations like #NextChat. This will help you find other HR leaders that are worth following. Look for other HR blogs that will help you see through the eyes of accomplished professionals, such as HR Capitalist, HR Ringleader, and HR Schoolhouse. Good luck!

What do you think? Did I steer her in the right direction with the informational interview questions? Did I miss anything critical? 

Update: I published a newer version of this in 2017. You can find it here: 40+ Free HR Training Sources

——

Recently on LinkedIn I saw someone asking how to learn HR. Specifically he was trying to learn compensation when he didn’t have a background/foundation in the topic. The people in the comments made some good suggestions, but many of them involved expensive certifications, workshops, and other similar costly avenues. Coming from a background of smaller organizations with limited budgets (and understanding the personal budget of a new HR pro), I know that most of those suggestions are not possible for a significant number of people. Today we’ll look at how to learn HR from the ground up in some of the most practical, and inexpensive, ways possible.

Whether you’re just thinking about getting into HR, you’re just starting out, or you have some experience behind you and you want to grow your skill set, you’re going to walk away from this article with some good ideas on how to do that.

how to learn hr skills

First, Let’s Flash Back to 2009

In 2009 when I started this blog, I was thinking a lot about recent HR grads and the world of HR education. Let’s revisit, because it sets up the rest of this article nicely as far as a true need for HR-related information.

HR education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The colleges and universities are living in a different age. And although some of them are trying to upgrade with technology, they’re still using textbooks as the major instructional material. And who writes those textbooks? Well, I’m sure they’re smart people, but for the most part, they are not involved with the day-to-day business world. For some students in technology-rich fields, their college education may be obsolete by the time they graduate. This scathing comment from a recent study:

“College was a total waste of time and money. Computer courses are bordering on obsolete by graduation. There were not nearly enough computer courses in my degree program. I gained no skills to get me a job.”
— anonymous computer information systems grad

Maybe it’s time for someone to offer something revolutionary in terms of HR education?

Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we take some measure (not all, mind you) of education from the HR blogs that already exist? There are dozens (hundreds?) of wonderful people pouring their hearts and efforts into maintaining a blog that describes the ins and outs of human resources. What if schools had some sort of HR education curriculum that required—or at the very least suggested—its students study from those actively participating in the field? How revolutionary would that be?

I only found out about the prevalence of the blogosphere when I was nearly finished with college. And that was only through my own personal research on topics that are unrelated to human resources. I stumbled across a few blogs and loved the community-like atmosphere and the availability of information.

I have long believed that to be great in HR you need to go beyond the knowledge that formal education offers. That’s only about 20% of what is necessary to be great in this profession. The other 80% is learned afterward in various ways.

ways to learn human resources

Qualitative Data Comes First

Back when I was a wee lad just thinking about entering the HR profession, I had a mission. This was pre-LinkedIn, so there was no easy way for me to do this. I spent hours scouring websites for local and regional companies and then emailing the HR contacts from the website with a few questions. Unfortunately I don’t have the exact list of questions any more, but here are a few of them:

  • What is the average day like for someone working in human resources?
  • What sort of training or education did you have that prepared you for this job?
  • What is the biggest challenge you regularly face?
  • What’s the best thing about your job?

I received dozens of responses from all of those hours of work. I actually created a few research papers in college based on that information, but more than that, it helped me get a glimpse into the world of HR that my classmates did not. This concept is going to come into play again in just a moment, but I wanted to introduce it here first. The purpose is to gather qualitative data about what to focus on and that will guide future learning. Without it the learning is haphazard and without structure.

As you know I am a firm believer in using books for learning (the latest in the series on that is about making a leadership reading list), but I’m staying away from that medium for purposes of this post because they are not free and because I want to focus on nontraditional ways to learn this information.

How to Learn HR Skills for Free

Remember the example I started this article with of the young man looking to learn more about compensation? Here’s the first half of the response I provided:

Surprised nobody here has mentioned Payscale.com for free research, white papers, etc.

Let’s analyze that, shall we?

First, I mention a vendor website. Payscale sells compensation data and tools to businesses. So why would I recommend them? Because they have a wealth of free resources, white papers, webinars, and other information on their site. I could spend a day just reading and listening to the content there and have the equivalent of a basic college level compensation course work of information in my brain. And it cost me nothing but a little time. As far as how to learn HR, that’s not a bad way to go.

And the fun thing is that this is just one vendor. There are hundreds, and many of the larger ones provide these same free tools to help us. Not sure where to go? Here are a few suggestions just to get you thinking. I spent half an hour researching these for you guys and this is just scratching the surface!

Recruiting

Talent Management

Compensation

Benefits

Training

HR Technology/Various

Now, obviously when these types of companies are sharing these resources their ultimate goal is to use them as marketing to drive you to their products, but you’re certainly not obligated to purchase anything. These resources are free, and you should take advantage of them.

How to Learn HR (And Get Paid To Do It)

I’ve written fairly extensively on getting into HR, breaking into the profession, etc. On the job training still one of the best ways to explore experiential learning, and if  you can lock in a job, you get paid while you’re learning.

More info on those topics:

You might assume that you have to have some of this education in order to get a job in HR, but it’s certainly not the case. Plenty of people move into an HR career without that sort of education or knowledge.

One thing that is worth noting here: your job will not cover all types of things you can learn in HR. That is why it’s important for you to keep up the momentum in the other tactics listed here so your learning does not suffer and you don’t get stuck in that job forever. If you keep learning and growing, you’ll be ready for the next step on the career ladder when it’s time to make that move.

How to Learn HR from Real People

Now, the other half of the response I provided to the request for information is equally important. Here it is:

Try to find some people in your local HR community that “do” compensation and spend an hour or two with each to understand what works for them, what doesn’t, and what they would have liked to know if they had to start over.

This is exactly what I did when I started learning human resources, and it’s still a powerful tactic today. Again, with tools like LinkedIn this makes the whole thing so much easier.

When I hear from people just getting into the field, one of the first things I recommend is for them to find some trusted contacts to start building out their network. Over the years I have been able to connect with hundreds of great HR pros, and some of them have amazing specialties.

For instance, one lady I coached during PHR/SPHR prep last year is a compensation and tax whiz. If I have questions on how to handle taxes for an employee, I could easily pick up the phone or shoot her an email. If I have questions about incentives and motivation, I’ll reach out to Paul.  Heck, if I just need a pick me up I’ll read anything Steve Browne writes.

Get the picture? We don’t have to feel like we are in this thing all alone. We also don’t have to figure out every single piece of it by ourselves without help or support. There are so many great resources and people out there that we can connect with. Figuring out how to learn HR is not just a solo act.

While the web has helped with this and made it more easy to scale up, it has also made some of those connections more shallow. That’s why I also think it’s critical to build a local network of people as well. Within my local area I have a couple dozen HR pros I could call today if I had a question or just wanted to hash out an HR problem I’m dealing with.

That took time, trust, and effort to build, but I started with just one person who took pity on me as an introvert and introduced herself to me at a SHRM chapter workshop all those years ago. I’ll always remember that first interaction. If you’re looking to build out your own network, I’d encourage you to connect with your local chapter. Being a member is helpful, but the best benefits come when you volunteer on the SHRM chapter board and really get involved.

How to Learn HR: Blogs

Read. A. Blog.

Okay, so not all blogs are worth reading. True. However, if you have curated content from someone you trust, that can help to keep the quality high and give you some good, free knowledge. This has been another key part of my learning strategy, especially in those crucial early months when I was just trying to understand how this whole thing worked.

When I talk with college students about HR, I tell them that with a degree specifically in human resources they know about 20% of what they need to be successful. The rest comes from experience, additional learning sources, networking, etc. I always point them to blogs, because those were a major part of my informal education beyond college. I can still remember reading two PHENOMENAL writers, Frank Roche and Chris Ferdinandi, and I can easily trace some of the philosophies I have about how I do HR back to things I read from those two individuals. There are certainly others, but those were the first two I really ran across and latched onto as I was working on understanding HR.

So, how do you find blogs? The HR Carnival is a “traveling” blog collection of some good content in the HR/recruiting space. I recently wrote one themed on Strategic HRM, and I would encourage you to check it out it if you haven’t already.

Otherwise, check out the sites I link to regularly. I don’t link to low quality blogs or sites that I don’t know.

Pro tip: use a tool like Feedly to double your blog reading speed.

If you want to know how to learn human resources management, blogs provide a very easy way to do that.

How to Learn HR: HR Podcasts

Okay, maybe you’re not a huge fan of reading. I have two things to say:

  1. Get over it. You’ll need to use that skill often and it’s better to practice it and do it well than try to avoid it and do it poorly. :-)
  2. There are other options besides just reading.

Over the past few years several great HR podcasts have surfaced and they are free and provide great information that you can listen to at work, at home, in the car, on a run, feeding a baby at 3am… Yeah, something has to keep me awake when I’m feeding the little guy and it might as well be educational, right? :-)

Here are some of the best HR podcasts you can catch. Pro tip: certified HR pros can get recertification credits for listening to HR podcasts!

  • HR Happy Hour – I’ve been a listener of this show from the very first HR Happy Hour episode, and it has been amazing to follow. Steve Boese has really delivered some great information and entertainment for his audience. The topics for the show (employer branding, the future of HR, technology, and work/life balance, for example) are varied, but the friendly, conversational nature makes it easy for anyone to become an addicted listener.
  • Drive Thru HR was designed to be a captivating and easy-to-digest lunch discourse that covers topics relevant to HR professionals. Each 30-minute episode features a guest speaker who shares her or his knowledge and experience in human resources. Our hosts and special guest cover a wealth of topics, including HR Technology, Recruiting, Talent Management, Leadership, Organizational Culture and Strategic HR, every day at 12:00 pm Central Time.
  • Xenium HR for Small Business podcast focuses on HR topics of interest to all HR professionals, whether at a small business or not.
  • Ultimate Software has a selection of podcasts on key topics of interest to HR and payroll professionals, delivered to your desktop on-demand. This series is presented by Ultimate customers and other industry thought leaders on topics that can contribute to company success.
  • CIPD publishes a new podcast on the first Tuesday of every month. Each episode is like a short radio show, focusing on a workplace or people management topic.
  • SuccessFactors doesn’t update their podcast any more, but there are dozens of great episodes of People Performance Radio you can still use to learn more about HR.

How to Learn HR: HR Videos

The other medium to explore is video. I ran across a few YouTube channels that would be worth checking out for some great content to dig into. While you’re not getting 2-3 hour lectures (I’m sure you can find that if you’re really interested!), you are getting information that will help you to learn HR and improve your knowledge.

  • SHRM (link) I haven’t mentioned SHRM anywhere else in this article because much of what they offer is not free and is hidden behind the pay wall. However, the content on their YouTube channel is free high quality.
  • MeetTheBossTV (link) I have followed MeetTheBoss for a while now and really like the executive viewpoints, the high quality video, and the interesting discussions. This is not all HR content, but I found over 30 minutes of HR specific, strategic discussions within a minute or two of searching.
  • Human Resources Magazine (link) while they haven’t updated their channel in a while, I found some great content that would be worth reviewing.

Learning HR doesn’t have to be difficult or painful! Yes, some lessons have to come with experience and a series of trial and error, but you can pick up much of the knowledge you need from these types of resources.

  • What questions do you have about how to learn HR?
  • What is your biggest challenge in this area?
  • What has worked for you?

I recently received a reader email asking how to get into human resources without experience. It made me pause, because I had just responded to an email asking virtually the same thing less than five minutes before. So I dug into my email and looked at how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone over the past five years about how to get into HR. The result? I’ve had over 250 conversations in just five years, and those don’t include the many interactions outside of email. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the subject, some data from a recent survey I developed, and insights from other HR professionals on how to get into human resources without experience. This is going to be long, but it’s going to be good.

Table of Contents

  1. How to get into HR
  2. Relating real-world work to HR
  3. Improving your HR education (mostly for free)
  4. How to position yourself for success
  5. Things to remember for your first HR job
  6. Comments from the experts
  7. Additional resources

How to get into human resources

I think its hard to get that first HR job without any experience. What would you give as advice for the newbies to land the first job in hr? Alison Continue reading

Update: The post on how to get an HR job is live! Thanks to everyone who offered advice and support!

Hi! I am glad you’re here today, because I need a little help.

Well, actually, the HR profession needs a little help. You see, there’s a longstanding problem that I’m going to solve with your help. We are going to take on the age-old question: How can I get an HR job without having experience?

I’m currently writing a “how to” essay regarding how to get a job without HR experience. I am looking for some inputs from the HR community out there to help those students and early career professionals. The survey has fewer than 10 questions. The information will be used in an upcoming article, and you can choose to be anonymous or not within your response.

If you have five minutes to take this survey, you’ll be helping thousands (yes, really!) of entry level HR professionals answer the age old question about how to get a job without HR experience. Thank you in advance for your support!

Click here to take the short survey and make the future of HR just a little bit brighter

Recently I ran across an old article on “essential” HR skills. It was an interesting read, and I wanted to break it down and show how it’s true (and, in some ways, maybe not so much). Today we’ll tackle the first half of them. Here’s the original list:

  1. Organization
  2. Multitasking
  3. Dealing with Gray
  4. Negotiation
  5. Communication
  6. Discrete and Ethical
  7. Dual Focus
  8. Conflict Management and Problem Solving
  9. Change Management

Source: HR.BLR

Now I’d like to break these down individually and give some perspective on which ones are critical for the role of the HR professional. I’m framing this through the lens of a generalist, because that’s what I (and most of us, if I had to guess) do on a daily basis.

Organization

This is one of my weakest areas, but it’s also truly important to being great in this role. You’re balancing 50 priorities in different focus areas, and that doesn’t come easily. How do you know what is more important between a pending lawsuit that needs a response, 401k nondiscrimination testing, and handling a discrimination investigation? Whew. Be organized or be gone.

Multitasking

This one is on every list you’ll ever see for a “critical skill.” However, I think it’s less about multitasking and more about being able to shift focus quickly. Multitasking sounds like you’re trying to do 5 things at once. And in the end, that will just leave you with 5 things done in a so-so manner. Shifting focus at a moment’s notice to be able to handle a fast-moving priority IS an important skill. Multitasking can drop your IQ further than smoking marijuana, in case you were curious.

Dealing with Gray

Everything is not black and white, even in the world of policy creation and enforcement. You won’t think of everything, and that requires some level of discernment and backbone to make your job possible. If you are only interested in creating policies, adding amendments, and closing loopholes instead of using your brain, then this probably isn’t the profession for you. We have to work in the muddy areas frequently in this field, and it’s just part of the job description.

Negotiation

From handling compensation discussions to recruiting great candidates to working out your budget for the year, negotiation is something you need to work on if you plan to be successful in the HR field. In fact, I’d say the better you are at negotiating, the higher up the ladder of the profession you will go. The best and brightest HR pros I’ve run into over the years were not only unafraid of negotiating with vendors and management, they actually enjoyed the challenge! So put your negotiator hat on, because you have some work ahead of you…

Part 2: communication, discrete and ethical, dual focus, conflict management and problem solving, and change management

That’s all for today. We’ll cover the last half later this week!