How to Get Into HR

Posted on October 29, 2019

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What I’m WatchingNFL Pregame Shows, because my Buzz was due on a Sunday

What I’m ReadingBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah

What I’m Listening ToThe NPR Politics Podcast

I’ve been asked a time or ten… how do I get into public sector HR? The answer is elusive and frankly, it depends. It depends on the type and size of organization in which you would ultimately like to work. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this question and I would like to provide a little guidance.

  1. Get any experience you can. This is a tough one… it often results in taking a step back, depending on what you’ve been up to. Your time working through the ranks in some other field will ultimately be invaluable, but it’s not going to land you your dream job. A lot of HR pros I know either landed in HR out of coincidence, took a pay cut to get there, or were lucky.
  2. Experience as a supervisor or manager doesn’t count. Sorry (not sorry). That was blunt, but I see it all the time. I know daily supervision feels like HR experience: you are coaching staff, recruiting and hiring employees, dealing with disciplinary issues, and explaining various benefits. But, handling these things as a supervisor is different than handling them as HR and this experience will generally not get you through a minimum qualification screen.
  3. It is challenging to land a job in HR in a smaller organization. Small employers often have one or two HR staff, so it is less likely they will hire someone without experience.  When the HR team is small, they need experienced professionals and generally will not have the time or resources to train someone.
  4. In larger organizations, some jobs are riper for training someone new to field. The most common job titles to consider if you’re new to HR include HR Assistant, HR Specialist, or HR Technician. If you’re amazing, you might be able to land an entry-level job and work toward a reclassification or promotion. Keep in mind that you will likely get your initial experience and move to a different organization to move up in the field.
  5. Use your existing experience to bolster your case once you land an interview. Tell the hiring team about your experience learning new concepts and systems. Explain how you have interpreted or implemented laws. Discuss your ability to improve processes. Show off your writing skills.
  6. Show a desire or ultimate goal of working in HR. Believe it or not, this is a big one. When there are several qualified candidate for an entry level job, the one who says they’ve been wanting to get in to HR and show a desire to learn is going to get the job.

Human resources is like any other profession. People in planning, engineering, or finance wouldn’t expect to land a senior-level job without experience, even if they had experience in a different field and the same can be said for HR. In a nutshell:  Look for and be willing to accept an entry-level job; don’t be afraid to change employers; let your awesomeness show; soak up all the knowledge you can from the HR pros you work with; and move out to move up.

Brandi Leos is a Senior HR Business Partner at City of Tigard. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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