So You Wanna Work in HR?

Breaking into the human resources is becoming increasingly onerous. Just ask any forthright HR professional and they will tell you. In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, it is much harder than most people think it is to land a job in the HR as well as keep it.

GwendolynHR_0895Unfortunately, many HR newbies found out the hard way after investing thousands into a college degree that entry into the field is darn near bleak. There are not enough internship opportunities to go around. Countless HR positions have requirements that weed out most if not the majority of HR newbies and applicants transitioning to the field simply because they do not have one to two years of HR experience.

This harsh reality discourages countless aspirants, so they lose hope, change careers altogether, or settle for work in one of the functional areas of HR. While being a recruiter, compensation and benefits specialist, or trainer is nice place to start for some, it is not ideal for everyone.

Even mid-level applicants (HR pros) with invaluable HR experience are rejected for positions for ridiculous reasons. Not to negate the significance of HR experience, but some HRIS have criteria that automatically eliminates too many qualified candidates. Some HR and hiring managers use experience to weed through mounds of applications to find the “perfect” applicant.

Ironically, employers waste money on HRIS to find the perfect candidate, yet professional career coaches and some recruiters instruct applicants on how to bypass the system because they know avoiding it (the black hole) at all cost on the front end will improve their client’s likelihood of being hired.


Do You Need HR Experience to Be Successful in HR?

Let’s consider that question again. Have you ever read the requirements for a position and questioned whether you really need x, y, z to do that job especially if you knew people who were hired for the position with little or no experience?

I know some HR peeps that actually had an easier entrance into the field. Their first HR opportunity practically fell in their lap. While they did not have HR experience, in short, someone important at their company “saw something in them” or had a “gut feeling” that they would be a “good fit” for HR and gave them a shot.

Management actually moved them from a production to the HR department. They had a progressive career track, for example, promoting from HR admin to HR rep to HR supervisor. Today, they are working as a HR manager, HR director, regional HR manager, or higher. This suggests one can succeed in HR even if one does not have HR experience.

These practitioners graduated from the school of hard knocks, which proves that HR experience conveys what you have done, not what you are capable of doing! Moreover, why is the bar so high? HR pros do not have to be attorneys. That is why we are often advised to seek legal counsel.


A Career for the Consummate HR Professional



“I’ve been in HR since 1999, earned my Master’s in 2005, but I’m wondering, why does one need 5-7 years of experience to be a HR Generalist?” Christopher Fields, MLHR asked. Though Field’s question has been addressed repeatedly, inquiring minds still want to know.

“Give new people a chance, someone gave you a chance. ”



Quick story: I was given a chance years ago to work in the corporate payroll department. Management thought I would be a good fit for a payroll opening and moved from the accounting to payroll. I did not have payroll experience or a college degree at the time. In some companies, payroll is under the finance and accounting umbrella rather than HR.


“Well said. How can one get any experience if one is not given a chance,” Jaya Bhat asked.

Jaya_BhatHR is often the gatekeeper in the hiring process, yet when it comes to helping others get in, many will not and are not supportive. Despite the number of HR jobs that go unfilled nationwide year after year, candidates with more than 10 years of HR experience are challenged with securing work. They are impressive, but are unqualified, overqualified, or underemployed – should they settle for an entry-level job.

Linda SmithFor instance, although they seek the most qualified candidate, they settle for lesser-qualified candidates just because they think they will stay with the company. Some HR hiring managers will not hire a candidate unless all of their professional experience is in HR. Concurring with Linda S. Smith, “Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten that the “helping hand” or mentorship they received during their career.” Getting a HR mentor is often encouraged, but there are not enough willing participants.

It’s just that crab in the barrel mentality. They reject qualified external candidates for stupid reasons, but make exceptions for inexperienced internal candidates or those dubbed high potential employees.

“Nowadays it seems that many people have the attitude that “I got mine and I don’t care about helping anyone else” and they REFUSE to “pay it forward”. Let’s remember, we’re all in this together. Society does better when we help each other,” Smith stated.


How Did You Land Your First HR Job?

It seemed like it too forever to land my first gig in an actual HR department. I applied for several local positions, but only interviewed for a fraction of them. Though I had a MBA with a HR management concentration, bachelor degree in organizational management and technical diploma coupled with years of transferable experience, the needle did not move as quickly as I hoped.

One day, a committee member asked me to go to a legislative caucus event. Hesitant a first, I tried to think of any reason not to go. “I don’t have time to do this today,” I thought. “I need to be looking for a job instead of volunteer for nonprofits…” All of a sudden, there was silence. I stopped making excuses, got dressed and head out the door with one goal in mind, securing sponsors for our annual Christmas gala.

I totally stepped outside of my comfort zone that night. We not only secured sponsors for our Christmas fundraiser, we also increased our membership. While discussing the community affairs program with managers from a recognizable multinational, they suggested we submit a sponsorship request and follow up with them around the first of the year.

Since I had business cards for most of them, I decided to call until I got someone on the phone. Eventually, I talk with the new HR manager that I met at the event. He was down-to-earth, yet professional, which made it so much easier to ask about our request.

They did not sponsor our event, but I learned of an HR opportunity at their aboveground mining operation. I applied. After completing a phone screen, interviews, and passing pre-employment screening (background check and drug screening), I had my first job in HR!

BackToTheGrindAlmost four months after graduate school, I was finally working in the local HR department of a Fortune 100 company. It was very different from most places where I worked in the past too. The location was comparable to Slate and Company in the 1994 Flintstones movie, where Fred and Barney worked mining rock.

In movie, Fred finally got the job he wanted, but he eventually learned that it came at a price. It takes time to acclimate after starting a new job. Instead of the frilly shirts, dresses and pantsuits I was used to wearing, casual clothes with personal protective equipment, steel-toed shoes, goggles, and a hardhat became the new normal. Most jobs are not like Burger King; you do not get everything your way!

Having a mentor passionate about helping professionally develop others was most beneficial. I learned firsthand HR must do more than work from their “cushy” office. We must roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, learn the business and get to know the people, do the grunt work as well as take on projects that actually “add” value.


Final Thoughts

Over the years, I read countless articles from HR Pros recounting how they landed their first job in the field to advice on how to get an entry-level HR position and thought-provoking pieces like Do Your Employees Hate HR and the 2005 Fast Company article, Why We hate HR that unearth some serious issues HR ought to remedy. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Throughout history, we have heard the accounts of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. When asked how they achieved great success, they do not hesitate to let others know – it was not by their own might but by His grace and they credit the shoulders, they stand on!





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