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? 

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