Content updated August 2017.
Not getting the opportunities you need to break into HR? It’s time to make your own luck.
Most people who work in HR start out in other fields, so making the jump is far from impossible. There are a host of ways to get your foot in the door if you're committed, clever, and a little bit crafty.
Let us give you the inside scoop.
Step 1: Get qualified
This is the most important step if you want an easy transition into HR. For most employers, a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the essential indicator of a true HR professional. The practical skills you'll learn will prepare you to take on the myriad responsibilities of HR and give you the confidence you need to excel in a new role.
You don't need to give up your job to get qualified - many courses are flexible and/or online, so you can fit your qualification around your work.
And you don't need to have completed the course to get your first job - simply putting 'working towards CIPD' on your CV is enough to attract employers, as CIPD student Anika found.
CIPD professional membership is also highly attractive to businesses, as it shows your dedication to upholding industry standards. (And you get to put fancy letters after your name.)
Step 2: Work on your soft skills
However your career path takes shape, the key traits needed to excel in HR will be the same:
- ability to communicate
- willingness to learn
- emotional intelligence
While experience is important to many employers, they also know that HR skills can be taught, but attitude can't.
Step 3: Get relevant experience
Sometimes it can feel like a catch 22: you can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. Fortunately, HR involves such a multitude of skills that you don't need to be working in the field to build up relevant experience.
- Teach yourself to use common HR tools
Check out what HR software potential employers in your area use by searching local job ads, then look up online tutorials or demos. For example, Sage One provide video tutorials, and Cezanne will give you a free online demo of their system.
- Volunteer or take on an internship
This won't suit everyone, but if you have flexible work commitments, taking on even a one-day-per-week internship or volunteering role related to HR can be the key to unlocking a new career.
It'll also let you test-drive the profession before you commit to a career change.
Check out small companies and non-profits first, as they’re more likely to be flexible and in need of some cheap or free labour.
- Take on a role which requires HR-related skills
So the shop you work at doesn’t have an HR department, but they’re looking for a new supervisor. Take the job! Leading and managing people is an integral part of human resources and an excellent way to get hiring, disciplinary, incentive and termination experience.
Same goes for admin positions: filing, paying close attention to detail and dealing with confidential information are often important parts of HR.
Recruitment roles are the most popular lead-ins to HR, as they give you valuable hiring and employee relations experience.
With any HR-adjacent job, it’s helpful to make the move to HR as soon as you acquire the right skills, even if this means accepting a ‘lower’ role than you’re used to. Don’t pigeonhole yourself as a recruitment or retail pro if you can help it.
- Practice HR skills in your current role
If you’re already in a position with some authority, use it to proactively practice your HR skills and demonstrate them to prospective employers. Plan and maintain a budget for your team; hire and fire intelligently; train employees or manage their training; mediate in workplace conflicts. Build examples of your expertise to whip out in your next HR interview.
Step 4: Work with what you've got
If you don't have much or any HR experience, use what you have done to compensate for what you haven’t. This isn't about deceiving an interviewer. It's about finding non-HR ways to demonstrate HR skills.
For example: you haven’t been in charge of training officially, but you’ve shown colleagues how to work with new programmes or methods. You haven’t planned employee compensation, but you’ve budgeted personnel costs for a project. You haven’t hired per se, but you’ve chosen the right people to work with you on a successful assignment. You haven’t mediated conflict at work, but you’ve resolved interpersonal issues within your family or friends.
You've basically spent your whole life in HR – if you spin it right.
Plus, in recent years the role of HR has been evolving. Businesses want HR professionals with well-rounded business acumen who can align their HR strategy with company goals. Having experience in marketing, sales, finance or any other business role will appeal to forward-thinking companies who want fresh eyes on their people processes.
Step 5: Get to know the right people
You'll of course be keeping a close eye on job listings, but you should also be ready to create opportunities by getting to know people in the HR industry.
Though it can sometimes feel icky, networking doesn’t have to be manipulative. Humans are social creatures, and social interactions are based on giving to and gaining from the people around us: we teach each other, amuse each other, learn from each other, and support each other.
The key to good networking is to give before you take: find the people that you want to know, and work out how you can help them before asking them to help you. Chances are, you won’t even need to ask.
But how do you find these people? If you live in a city, it's likely there are HR events near you. Try searching Meetup and keep an eye on CIPD's events. If you're a CIPD student or member, join your local CIPD branch.
Make the most of social media by connecting with HR professionals on Twitter and LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn groups such as Linked:HR, HR Professionals UK or Human Resources Professionals Worldwide. To find the right people to follow on Twitter, search the #hr, #humanresources and #leadership hashtags, or check out lists of top HR influencers.
Alternatively, start your own blog and engage with other bloggers in the profession. Speaking of which...
Step 6: Learn from the best
Just because you don't have a huge amount of personal HR experience doesn't mean you can't learn from those who do. Sites like HR Grapevine, HR Zone and HR Director are an invaluable source of knowledge and ideas, and keeping up with them will make sure you're abreast of all the latest developments in HR.
Whether you land your dream job through your shiny new blog or dip your toe into the HR waters with an internship, it couldn't be a better time to be starting out in HR. More and more companies are realising the value of an outstanding HR department, and CEOs consistently list attracting, retaining and developing talent as their top concern. Not surprising, considering that people are generally a company’s biggest expense and its most valuable asset.
Whatever your level of experience, you already have everything you need to begin breaking into this dynamic and ever-changing industry.
Find out more about getting CIPD qualified.