Your Best Foot Forward

I love this time of year!   The sun is finally shining, and flowers are blooming here in the Northwest.

It is also the time of year when many students are finishing college and starting their careers in Human Resources.

One of the challenges that new graduates face is how they can get their first job in human resources, when many entry level jobs require one year or more of experience.  So how do people get that first year of experience?  How do they find HR jobs that don’t require previous HR experience?

Recently I asked people in my network to share how they got their start in their Human Resources careers.  Here are the themes I compiled from their responses:

  1. The most frequently mentioned route people used to start their careers was to sign up with temporary staffing agencies. Temp assignments are great ways to get started, get experience, get exposure to several companies and get professional references.  Often temporary assignments can get you employed and working much more quickly and with fewer hurdles than direct hire positions.  In addition to placing employees at client organizations, the agencies themselves can be great employers, especially for those with an interest in recruiting / talent acquisition.
  2. The second most commonly mentioned entry point into an HR career is through an administrative role.  That could be an HR Assistant or HR Coordinator role, but it could also be a receptionist, cashier, customer service or an accounting position.  Once in the door, employees can build relationships with members of the Human Resources department.  Many of us gained experience by offering to help busy people with their tasks.  Some people are very intentional about picking a target company, getting their foot in the door with an entry-level job and then earning the opportunity to move up and into HR.   Others want to try out a few employers before finding one that is a good culture match.   It is often easier to be hired as an internal candidate than as an external candidate.

Here’s part of what Leanne Argus had to say, “What I take away from my experience and what I would recommend to those considering an HR career at any level today is don’t be afraid to take the admin role that gets you in the door. Temp agencies are a great way to introduce yourself to new organizations and gather some experience as a new college grad. Once you are in you can start having those conversations with HR so they know that you are interested in that path. This makes sure your interest is known and the business can help you with those goals. What’s most important is being honest with yourself and the company.”

  1. Another common theme was networking with other HR professionals to get exposure to opportunities. This can include going to SHRM chapter events, participating as a volunteer at HR events or asking for informational interviews.  Most HR professionals are very willing to share contacts, information, ideas and opportunities.
  2. Finally, several people mentioned the importance of presenting your experience in a way that shows alignment with HR. Whether you’ve had internships, part-time jobs, class projects or volunteer experience it is helpful to present that experience in a way that highlights transferable skills.  This is especially true when a job seeker has previous work experience but no HR job titles.  If you’ve interviewed, trained, coached or managed employees, you have transferable skills that you can highlight.

For those transitioning to Human Resources after a career in another field, many of these routes still apply.  In my 20+ years of teaching HR classes at Portland State University, I met many students who had lots of experience in counseling, insurance, manufacturing, retail or hospitality management who had excellent transferable skills but no HR titles.  Some very lucky employers looked past the job titles on their resumes and saw how much talent and experience these employees could bring to an HR job.

To all the students graduating and starting new careers… Congratulations!  I hope this information is helpful as you start your HR careers.

To those who are transitioning into HR from other fields… know that your experience and talent matters, whether or not your job titles fit neatly into a particular category.

All the best as you write your next chapters!

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