HR-entry level questions and answers

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!

3 thoughts on “HR-entry level questions and answers

  1. Leon Noone

    G’Day Jason,
    Believe it or not, I’ve worked in and around HR since 1963. I’ve had my own consulting business since 1978.

    May I suggest that when seeking a HR job, you make sure that you present yourself in terms that managers understand.

    HR is a service. The purpose of HR is to help managers do their jobs more effectively.

    There’s nothing “special” about HR. It’s as “special” as accounting, marketing, finance, PR and all those other services that help a business run more effectively.

    Be careful that you don’t present yourself as part of The Great Personal Development Crusade led by The HR Brigade. It turns managers right off.

    Hope this helps


  2. Jason

    Hey Ben (and fellow readers),
    Let\’s see…
    Well two of my internships were just for a semester each (internship programs for college students to just get a taste of HR). As for my third internship, I was actually just filling in for the HR Assistant who went on maternity leave. My current internship is at a fairly large hospital. Because of budgetary constraints however, new positions in HR are unlikely to open up any time soon. I was debating whether or not I should just wait it out or start looking for something permanent, as I do graduate in a few months. Thus, I started the search for full-time permanent employment about a month ago.
    4 weeks, 20 applications, and 5 interviews later… I landed my very first real “grown up” job! Ironically, I received a job offer the day after I sent that e-mail to you (Ben). In a couple of weeks I\’ll be starting my full-time job as an HR Assistant for a local food distribution company. There is actually only one person in the HR department, the HR Director. Thus, she hopes to eventually turn my position as an HR Assistant into an exempt HR Generalist position. I will surely learn A LOT.
    Anyway, in regards to defining “professional experience”, I guess that it subjective and it depends on the person. However, from many of the interviews that I\’ve gone through in the past, it appears that many employers consider “professional experience” to be paid AND full-time (as opposed to unpaid or paid internships). But again, it all depends on the employer/recruiter. I guess I just interviewed with some tough cookies.
    Your story… may be my story too! The company that I\’ll be working for is fairly small as well, about 300 employees. Since it only is a two man (excuse me, one man and one woman) HR department, I will be exposed to every area of HR imaginable, the learning curve will be huge.
    I am pretty shy as well, when meeting new people anyway. Although when it comes to work/business matters, I tend to be a little bit more outgoing. From what I\’ve learned and experienced throughout my various internships, it appears that I lean more towards benefits/compensation rather than recruitment and training/development. I guess you could say that I am more analytical, a “numbers” guy (I am an ex-accounting major if that helps).
    “Men in HR – A National Geographic Exclusive”… very interesting blog! I do agree that more men are entering the HR profession, helping to balance out the ratio. Maybe it\’s just me being a tad bit self-conscious but, I\’ve noticed that when going into interviews, oftentimes the very first question I am asked is “Why did you choose HR?”. Now, the interviewer may just simply want to know why I chose to study and work in HR, as with any other candidate. But possibly because of society\’s perception of HR, I automatically perceive the question as “A guy? HR? Really?”. Well, now that I am actually starting my career, I hope to help break down those preconceived notions of HR as being a female profession and pave the way for males to break in. As with anything in life, balance is the key.
    I\’m so excited to start my new position and chapter in life! I will surely let you and your readers know how things progress! :)

  3. Pingback: HR Informational Interview Questions–Answered | upstartHR

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