t’s one of the most asked questions through the Society for the Human Resource Manager’s (SHRM’s) social media channels:
“How can I get an entry-level HR position?”
With an array of college HR courses available, and executives are focusing more on the role of employees to be a key strategic resource, you’d think more organizations as well as college career centers would be able of laying out clear paths into the profession as SHRM has. While some schools have proven successful in helping their graduates to enter the HR field, a number of practitioners say the efforts of many other schools are not enough.
The society provides a Certificate of Learning to HR students who have passed an SHRM Assurance of Learning Assessment. It also provides an established standard for both traditional and nontraditional students who have little or no prior experience in HR, the certificate shows that they’ve gained the minimum knowledge required for a successful HR professional. It also provides them with an edge over the other HR professionals who are entry-level.
Certain schools don’t tailor their academic or placement activities according to the requirements of the HR field, as a variety of HR experts said. There are some businesses that don’t clearly define what they’d like their HR functions to achieve in the first place.
In those businesses that have clearly defined expectations for HR, expectations vary in a wide range. At certain places, the department is accountable at the direction of the CEO. At others, it’s part of the chief financial officer’s portfolio. Some companies assign HR just administration, while others regard the workforce as an essential component of its performance. In the end, how the job seeker finds their entry point could differ depending on the employer.
“There’s no clear way to go because HR is so diverse,” said Catherine E. Preim who is SHRM-CP. HR manager at Philadelphia-based transport advisory firm SYSTRA USA. Indeed, the function encompasses things from managing benefits to diversity to workforce planning and technology.
Generally speaking, though there are three possible routes to entry-level positions in the field:
- A college degree in HR.
- A degree in a related subject, like business or industrial/organizational psychology, then applying those skills to HR by earning appropriate certifications.
- Working for several years in an operational position at the same company, and then shifting to HR.
Here are some tips to attract the attention of the hiring manager of HR.
You’ll need practical experience even if you majored in HR. “Don’t think that just simply because you’ve got a degree that you’re qualified for the job,” warned Jessica Miller-Merrell, SHRM, SCP, chief executive of Xceptional HR in Oklahoma City and founder of Blogging4Jobs.com.
“You are heavily reliant on your previous experience in HR,” stated Tracy Burns as the chief executive officer of the Northeast Human Resources Association in Concord, Mass., an SHRM chapter. “You have to … apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to the real world.” Along with all the laws pertaining to employment in place, the regulations, and compliance concerns which go with HR, it can be “a dangerous profession which is why you should be aware which things you are allowed and not do.”
How do you gain this experience?
Sharlyn Lauby President of South Florida-based consulting firm for training ITM Group and creator of the blog HR Bartender, suggested three ways to approach the problem:
- Internships provide hands-on experiences, but also give exposure to prospective employers.
- Involvement in a student chapter, which she called “a fantastic way to build relationships with practitioners and providers.”
- Exploring opportunities with HR service providers who “have enormous HR expertise within the company.”
“Internships are No. first in importance” Miller-Merrell said. “If you’re able to get one year of experience in the time you’re at school, you’ll have an one advantage.”
“HR people are good at networking and love to help others succeed, so take the advantage of this trait,” advised Mike Kahn, SHRM-SCP, executive senior consultant of Human Resources Search at the Lucas Group in Houston. “Network like crazy. As organizations are able to have a variety of variations in the way they handle HR, it is essential to figure out the best way to join an organization.”
This leads to the dilemma about how to network. Though some answers may be obvious–reach out to alumni, attend meetings of the local SHRM chapter and get involved with other professional associations–Miller-Merrell went a bit further. “Whether it’s the SHRM chapter you belong to, a certain conference or a state council meeting. Make sure to go where your bosses would be,” she said. “If you’re the onlysenior there, then you’re only competing against you.”
Many students, she noted, don’t reach out to the professionals who could help them. While she talks to various student HR groups, Miller Merrell said, “I’d say I’ve had one student get in touch with me in the last five years. This means there’s plenty of chances to develop connections.”
Be a business person
Remember that human resource is primary a business function. If you think it’s only for you because you’re an “people type,” you’re on the wrong track.
“It’s about knowing the business and implementing the strategies of people,” said Caliopie Walsh the vice-president of HR at Experian Marketing Services in New York City. “During interviews the majority of employees say that they like HR because they’re a lot of fun. That’s not the best answer they could provide. A great HR professional understands the company and can implement people-focused strategies to help it succeed.”
“Companies seek out business-minded people that have HR expertise” Kahn said. “They are looking for business acumen as well as analysis and systems capabilities.” In actual fact most people believe that the most effective HR professionals are those who’ve gained background in business and moved into HR.
However, it’s not exactly an entry-level course. After spending years developing their business experience, such professionals generally come at a more advanced level. In addition, Miller-Merrell noted the difficulties this path presents “because there are a lot of HR nuances you must master.”
In addition, said Tameka RenaeStegall HR associate at energy services company Schlumberger in Houston people who are moving into from other industries often are met with resistance from HR’s management. “The issue is that when people check out resumes, and they’re looking at boxes,” she said. “So they’re not saying “This person’s been in management. They can be adapted to HR. Or, they’re able to see an older person who will cost more money , so they decide to employ a college student to lower the cost.”
Manage Your Expectations
It’s also crucial for beginners to understand their expectations. Even though it’s often not the most of the time, graduates may be frightened about the type of work they’ll be expected to perform when they first start their career. “In HR, you’ll get an undergraduate degree that lasts four years, and the first job you get feels like administrative. It’s also where the profession began,” Burns said.
Beyond that, this job is “foundational,” Stegall said. “You must be able to adapt and be willing to start from the bottom because that’s how you’re likely to understand all of the pieces. HR is a big set of moving pieces.”
Preim wrote it down nicely: “It’s like any other job. It’s unrealistic to think you’d have the job of an HR manager without some experience. You’ll need to get those feet wet.”