How to Make the Transition Into a Career in HR

Here Is How to Gain the Experience That You Need to Work in HR

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Many Paths Allow an Individual to Get into HR. Digital Vision/Getty Images

Periodically, a reader's question has universal appeal and application so we are sharing both the question and the response. This particular question comes to me a lot, particularly from people who want to transition into the field of HR.

With little to no formal education in HR and little job experience, what can the individual do to quickly impact their ability to work in the HR field? 

Reader's Question: Let me introduce myself. My name is Ann and I am a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) graduate. I have several years of experience working as an accounts assistant, administration assistant, data entry operator and so on. I am 30 years old now and I wish to make upward progress in my career and Human Resources interests me.

But all the HR vacancies (even HR assistants) require HR experience. So, I thought of studying further to increase my chances of getting an HR position.

I am planning to do a Graduate Certificate course in Australia and there are two options:

  • Graduate Certificate in Human Resources
  • Graduate Certificate in Humanities and Social Science

Which one do you think might give me a chance to put a foot in the door in HR? I would be most obliged if you could provide advice in this matter. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

Human Resource Response: I am unfamiliar with many graduate certificates, so it is difficult to comment on specific ones, but I would think that one that allowed HR coursework and business studies if that is your goal, would be better. However, I have several additional ideas.

Preparing to Work in HR

  • Why not interview several successful HR managers in your community to seek out their advice about getting into the field of HR and how you can prepare. Many HR people are willing to do these informational interviews. At these interviews, you can find out what degrees and qualifications they seek in your local area for an HR hire.
    Rather than reaching across the world for advice, your best bet is to get it from the people who might eventually consider hiring you–where you live and want to work. For example, in the US, certifications are more important in bigger companies and in the large cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Houston. In smaller companies, they're rarely needed.
    The informational interviews that you participate in are also a way to get your name, as a person who is interested in HR, out into your community. When an employer knows that you are available and interested, the employer may decide not to advertise any open position.
  • Is there any way that you can take on additional tasks in your current job that take you in the HR direction? Many people started in HR by doing payroll as an example. Talk to your boss and your company's HR person about your goal and get advice. Maybe there are ways the departments can share you.
    In one client company, the controller asked to become more involved in the HR department and the HR VP was delighted to have a responsible set of hands to expand HR services. The controller got to know the field and became the confidant of the HR VP and also earned her Masters degree in HR. This was a big win for the company.
  • Work with a decent resume writer or your college career services office to take your accounting experience and make it sound useful in an HR department. Numbers people are always needed in HR, so perhaps this experience can provide a bridge into an HR career. Customizing your resume to emphasize the skills and experience needed in HR is vital.
  • Can you take a brief leave to do an HR internship? Internships give you the hands-on experience that you need to launch your HR career. Consider part-time or four days a week at your current job if your employer is willing to allow flexibility.
  • If you have no grad degree in HR or business, consider that they are becoming more important in HR and might make you more employable.

Apply for HR Jobs Without Experience

You can apply for the HR positions that require experience. Work with your resume and cover letter to make your current skills and tasks relevant to HR, and apply.

Here are some thoughts on getting into HR and how you can find out about HR jobs where you want to live and work.

Readers Share Transition Stories