Not getting the opportunities you think you need to break into HR? It’s time to make your own luck.
The most important (and most obvious) step is to get qualified: for most employers, a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) or equivalent is the essential indicator of a valuable employee who is serious about progressing in their HR career. (Not so subtle self-promotion: we’ve made getting one easier than ever, because we’re the only organisation in the UK who offers all CIPD levels 100% online. Not that we’re bragging or anything. Ahem.)
CIPD professional membership is also highly attractive to employers, as it shows your dedication to upholding industry standards (and you get to put fancy letters after your name).
However, even if you're still working on your qualifications and don't have any industry experience, there are a whole 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: Having the Right 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, enthusiasm and level-headedness. While experience is important to many employers, they also know that HR skills can be taught, but attitude can't.
Step 2: Getting the Right 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
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, and has the added benefit of letting you see if you enjoy the profession before you jump in headfirst.
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 humans 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 3: Working 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.
Step 4: Meeting 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.
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 5: Staying Ahead of the Game
Just because you don't have a huge amount of personal HR experience doesn't mean you can't steal from the best. 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 in to this dynamic and ever-changing industry.