How to Start Your Career in Human Resources
9 Min Read
Human resources manager is a perennial top finisher on “best jobs” lists. This is due to its appealing combination of high pay, positive work environment, and ability to make a direct difference in people’s work lives.
Human resources is a popular career path for people even if they haven’t followed it from day one. It’s a great career change option – every industry needs HR staff. However, the field of HR management also demands a broad and diverse set of skills.
Even if you haven’t stepped on every rung of the ladder to advance on an HR career path, you can still enter above the ground floor. Here are useful tips about how to get into human resources.
Review Your HR Resume
Human resources is a multi-faceted field with many different types of jobs and job responsibilities. The first step in assessing your options is to consider your background and experiences. You may even already have a decent number of skills that would be of value in an HR job. These include:
- Strong critical thinking skills
- Being a people person
- Worked well as part of a team
- An ability to resolve conflicts
These are all aspects of who you are and your work history that employers look for when hiring for HR jobs. So, when crafting your resume, tailor it to highlight how these skills can help an organization reach its overall objectives and make its employees happ
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Round Out Your HR Skill Set
Reviewing your resume also offers the opportunity to identify and acknowledge any potential areas of weakness. Looking at HR job descriptions gives you a great sense of what employers are looking for now. If you fall short in a particular area or competency, seek out ways to gain or build these skills:
- Advanced Study
- Learn About Relationships
Volunteer — Being altruistic looks good on an HR resume, yes, but if that’s the only reason you are volunteering, don’t. If volunteering is something you have a genuine passion for, HR is a good career path for you. Helping out, as it relates to human resources, accomplishes several things.
- Those who volunteer develop a greater sense of empathy. That’s important in developing communication skills and understanding how people work or don’t work together.
- Employees can get a sense of teamwork by helping others – together. Getting a company behind a cause where all employees volunteer starts with knowing where there’s a need and what a group of people can do best. That could be building a house as part of Habitat for Humanity or choosing a workday where all employees take over a food bank and handle what’s needed for a day.
- Volunteer work usually brings the opportunity to solve problems, but not always related to what’s going on at work. So, people who might be overlooked at work – even though they do a fully competent job – can unexpectedly shine in a different setting. With HR and as managers, knowing that your workforce has skills you might need down the road –or tomorrow – is a pleasant surprise.
While volunteer experience is a great asset to have when pursuing a job in HR, it is a great opportunity to help others. Instead of just checking off a to-do for your resume, when volunteer work comes up, you can convey what it does for you and what it has taught you.
Advanced Study — Any ongoing learning effort to develop relevant HR knowledge and skills will make you a better employee now or in a future position. A specific degree, like a Master of Science in Human Resources Management, lays out a comprehensive foundation of what the world of work for human resources is like now, with examples and abilities that resonate. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites getting an HR education as the top step when pursuing a career in HR.
Learn About Relationships — Relating to work, this skill is primarily about how people handle work and the dynamic of people who work well or work horribly together. Studying relationships in many venues and circumstances provides a better understanding of how things begin, go down the wrong path or how people sometimes naturally resolve issues.
Work Your HR Network
Volunteering also leads to networking; you meet others who know you’re helping out. If you’ve ever been hired for a job, you already have at least one point of contact with an HR professional. You may also know others – both from your personal and professional life.
Use these connections to learn more about the field along with potential HR job opportunities. Word of mouth is huge in today’s work world, in which fitting into a company culture is key. In fact, Bloomberg Business declared personal recommendations reign supreme when it comes to getting a job.
Additionally, social media offers more opportunities than ever before for building your HR network. Consider joining an online human resources community, such as SHRM’s “HR Talk.” Actively participating not only helps you make connections but also establishes your presence in the field. Social media use comes with some drawbacks. It’s easy to send something out to the world without thinking enough about it. With that in mind, if you start to get a lot of negative feedback for what you’re saying, stop and examine whether it makes sense or is appropriate in the context of a professional forum.
Become an HR Expert
With a “skills gap” and a deficit of talent plaguing today’s businesses, employers get creative about filling HR positions. While you may not currently have exactly what a hiring manager is looking for, you may have the potential to grow into a position under the right circumstances.
Show employers that you’re worth the investment by becoming a student all over again. Read blogs, attend conferences (even if you have to take time off from your current job), and harness every available bit of information into a learning opportunity. The more initiative you take, the more likely you are to attract the attention of employers regardless of your job history.
Be Open for Almost Anything
If you’re committed to a job in human resources but can’t seem to get a foot in the door, make it a smaller door. Internships offer a different and advantageous approach to working in human resources. You add invaluable real-world experience, and your understanding of HR will be that much more thorough when seeking out a more permanent HR career path. You’ll not only be better positioned to land that first job in HR, but you’ll hit the ground running. The job outlook for human resources managers outpaces the national career average, with a growth rate of nine percent. That’s good news for individuals learning how to get into human resources, either as a career change or first position.
How to Take the Next Step in Your HR Career Path
A human resources career means there’s no single path to success. Because the HR field comprises so many disciplines, successful professionals come from a breadth and depth of backgrounds.
Despite the many potential career pathways to the top, many upper-level executives in the HR field have several things in common.
In today’s competitive job market, a bachelor’s degree is the status quo. So how do you establish yourself as different? You aim higher with an advanced degree to give you a critical edge.
Not only will a Human Resources Management master’s degree help you land a job in HR, but it also enhances your ability to contribute. Better on-the-job performance directly translates to everything from greater opportunities to career advancement to higher pay.
Network, Network, Network
The adage insists, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and this is true-what you know is indeed a factor, but the value of networking is undeniable. According to a Fox Business report, a staggering 60 to 80 percent of hires occur as a result of networking.
Everyone from classmates and professors to colleagues and supervisors can help create job opportunities throughout your HR career path. And the more people you know across a diversity of career backgrounds, the more exposure you’ll gain.
Joining industry associations, attending conferences, and participating in joining online HR discussion groups will further enrich your network.
In our increasingly social world, the power of networking is amplified online – particularly when you factor in the rise of social recruiting. According to a 2014 Jobvite survey, 93 percent of recruiters use social profiles to inform hiring decisions, while 73 percent have hired through social media.
This is where the true power of social media lies. With recruiters adapting their approaches, the most strategically-minded job seekers do the same or lose out. Establishing a professional social media profile enhances your visibility and can establish you as a thought leader in the human resources field.
Have the Right Stuff
Ken Blanchard Companies, an executive leadership training organization, found in a survey that the following six traits are the top-most critical leadership skills in managers today:
- Communication/listening (43%)
- Effective management skills (17%)
- Emotional intelligence and empathy (15%)
- Values and integrity (8%)
- Vision (6%)
- Empowerment (6%)
Think of it this way: if you want to be a leader, why not start embodying key leadership traits? Commit to developing at least these top three skills and learning how they fit in today’s workforce
The field of HR is constantly changing. Making a commitment to working on these traits – from asking questions to providing feedback –can help you build relationships while positioning yourself to reach for that next rung.
Your Presence Is Your Present (to Yourself)
Don’t neglect the importance of cultivating a positive presence in your current job. Consistency, reliability, the right attitude, and the ability to work as part of a team all add to the type of impression it takes to get noticed – and promoted.
In business, people are often cautioned that “no one is irreplaceable.” However, some people are more replaceable than others. Establishing yourself as a keystone member of the workforce strengthens your current position.
HR career development today takes more than skill; it also takes strategy. Beginning a career in human resources is also a pledge to embrace lifelong learning, commit to growth, and make connections with others to help navigate the complexities of the contemporary HR job market.
The best way to get into human resources – and climb the ladder – is to get an advanced degree. The University of Scranton’s online Master of Science in Human Resources Management will give you the competitive edge as you aim to advance your career. Learn more about the program today and begin your journey to the apex of human resources management.