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.
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.
I’m not saying you have to hate people to work in HR. It’s just that isn’t a core competency for a true HR professional. Maybe it was helpful back in the 1960s, but these days you need to be a business professional who just so happens to focus on HR. Help the organization achieve business results through smart talent management practices. That’s the purpose of human resources. Anyway, let’s move to the other questions in the queue.
I got into HR because I wanted to solve business problems in the areas of talent, retention, and recruiting. I knew that I wanted to be in HR when I was 10 years old. I just didn’t know what HR was at the time.
Q&A about transitioning to an HR career
Q1. If you are currently practicing HR, would you encourage others to join the HR profession? Why?
- Yes. If they truly feel like their passion is to make organizations better through people practices, then I wholeheartedly encourage them to jump in. It’s a great field, and we have some amazing opportunities to impact the business world.
Q2. Is a specific HR degree or certification necessary to get into HR? Does it depend on the specialty? Why?
- No, but it doesn’t hurt to have them. You can no longer get your HR certification without a degree and some experience, so that one is moot. However, the degree is becoming more and more of a discriminator for candidates due to the weak labor markets and inflated candidate credentials. If five candidates apply with similar experience, then degrees, certifications, etc. are going to be discriminators. It really isn’t hard to learn how to get a job in HR. Some people “fall into” HR and have no background or experience, yet they turn out to be highly accomplished HR professionals. I have several friends in that category, and they’ve forgotten more about HR than I’ve ever learned in a classroom.
Q3. What professions (Legal, Sales, PR, Marketing?) can most easily transition into HR and why?
- Sales=recruiting. If you can pick up the phone and call someone, then you can be a recruiter. If you can do it dozens of times a day, you can become a rockstar recruiter. Sales is an easy translation there. The other fields can transition, but they actually have to want it. I think many professionals see HR as the fringe and not essential to business operations, and many wouldn’t risk a career move where it might not pay off in the long run.
Q4. What is the biggest obstacle to breaking into a career in HR and what are ways to get around it?
- See question five.
Q5. How can you get experience in HR when you can’t get a job in HR until you have experience?
- I recently posted a video on how to get an entry level HR job. I think that answers this question pretty well. Do HR wherever you are. There’s some kind of opportunity, and you need to take advantage of it. The link has more info, but here’s the video to get your brain thinking in the right direction about transitioning into an HR career.
Q6. Can building a personal brand on social media help someone more quickly break into the HR field? How?
- It can, but not always the way you might expect. If you start using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a blog in order to generate interest in you as an HR candidate, you’re going to be dissatisfied with the results. I started using those tools because they facilitate my writing. Then, I organically grew an audience that was interested in the content. In the job I’m currently in, the hiring manager was a blog reader. She knew my thoughts on everything related to HR/business from reading my work, and when she interviewed me, there were no surprises. I think it really helped me in that area, but it wasn’t fast (I’d been blogging for a year and a half when I got this job). I don’t want to sound like a downer, but I want people to use the available tools for the right reasons. If everyone’s jumping on purely for self promotion, then there is no value there. It’s not going to help you with transitioning to an HR career.
Q7. Can attending a popular HR conference like SHRM Annual help you transition into a career in HR? How?
- In 2010, my friend Eric Winegardner helped me attend the annual SHRM conference in California. I’d never been, and he helped to make that dream a reality. Since then I’ve been to multiple events and each has helped to build on the previous one. I don’t know how much one of these events will help you transition into an HR career, but you’re spending your time rubbing elbows with people from all walks of HR and life. It’s not going to hurt, that’s for sure. I think there are other events that might be more valuable for the newbies, but that’s just my opinion.
This topic is bigger than these seven questions. That’s why I recently created the Entry Level HR Course. I know that this is a very common problem and I think with the right tools, anyone can learn about transitioning into an HR career and how to succeed. It just requires the right mix of persistence, knowledge, and attitude.