Are you ready to break into a career in HR? Advice from the pros.

On February 17th I tweeted “I want to talk to aspiring/new #HR pros (Skype call or just email the ?s) to get to know them better & learn about the barriers they are facing getting into HR or starting off. I want to help! Know someone who’d be interested? I’ll share as a blog so it can help others!”

This tweet got 17 retweets and 40 likes – I was blown away! To me, this is a lot of visibility for one tweet. I was amazed to get responses and messages from people I had never known before. The way content can reach so many people through social media is amazing. I’ve always loved to go back to my alma-maters and talk with the students about HR as a career, what I did to prepare for the working world, and answer their questions as well as alleviate their anxieties about this new phase in life. Sharing resources with others so that they can have a positive experience is so important to me! I also love to meet new people and hear their stories. So, I thought, I would love to put this idea out into my Twitter feed and see if anyone wanted to talk with me.

Two things changed since that initial tweet. 1) I now use Zoom after receiving a lot of feedback that Skype is outdated. I’m glad I’m with the times now! 2) I have made about 15 new friends from around the world and we’ve had amazing conversations. I already knew that I also still had a lot to learn about HR and how to ensure I’m constantly learning and growing as a professional. Having these conversations challenged me to think outside the box and learn, while also helping others challenge their ways of thinking and expand their networks. After speaking with the emerging professionals, I talked to established HR professionals and asked their take on entering a career in HR, what their advice would be to these emerging professionals and what they did to ensure they are successful today.

The first emerging HR professional I spoke with had graduated with her B.S. in business administration with an HR concentration three years ago and was still unable to find work. I recognize that the job/labor market is very different depending on the geographic location. We focused our conversation on all of the resources available so that she could stay up to date on HR trends and knowledge while continuing to search. She is now following #nextchat and connected with her local SHRM chapter. I also see her being more active on LinkedIn and sharing her thoughts on her job search. She has also been able to connect with local HR leaders and ask them to get coffee and share insights. My biggest piece of advice here is to not get discouraged or negative. I know it’s so easy to be. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you can have, what you have control over.

Jazmine Wilkes had some great insights to share for our first emerging professional. Her recommendation would be that once you are out of school, it’s a good idea to focus on obtaining a part time or full time job to start building your resume. Also it’s an opportunity to show case your skills in a work environment and build connections. I love this next point – target the company, not specific roles. If there are 10 HR jobs posted, and you’ve applied to all 10 and haven’t heard back, don’t think this is the end. Think about specific companies you would like to join. Connect with the HR person at that company through LinkedIn, a networking event, or their direct contact information if you have access to it. Make an impression and add them to your network. You may not get into an HR role off the bat, but if you join a larger company, there will be room for growth and potential to move into the HR department. Another way to build your resume while job searching is to participate in webinars and community events. HR technology service providers and law firms often offer free webinars with useful HR information. is also a great website for free HR webinars. Show that you are continuing to educate yourself on the field even after graduation. Her other piece of advice was to be open minded in terms of how you can get the experience you want. Jazmine’s background is in food service. As an Assistant Manager in retail or food service, you do a lot of HR duties such as interviewing, hiring, training, ensuring the team works together and is held accountable for their work, etc. I think many of us have worked in food service or retail. Do not discredit these experiences! If you are currently working in a position such as this, use it to your advantage by strengthening the skills you will need in your next career.

Janelle Rodriguez is very passionate about being a forever learner and shared her advice for this emerging professional also. There is never an excuse to not be educating yourself, she shared. There are some things you cannot learn in school such as maintaining employee files, handling medical information or filling out I9s so it’s very important to seek shadowing opportunities or find a mentor who can discuss these areas with you. I also love Janelle’s message that you don’t need to do it alone. There is no reason to. There are resources out there, but sometimes you have to find them and they are not just handed to you.

Michelle Kohlhof also had some advice to share for this emerging professional. Michelle mentioned the importance of making a good impression on the recruiter you interact with. She applied for something and the recruiter told her she wasn’t a fit. However due to her positive attitude and the way she explained her strengths and skills, the recruiter said she may have another position she could send Michelle in for – AND she ended up being hired to this other position!

The next emerging HR professional I spoke with is currently a college teacher and wants to transition into HR. She enjoys teaching and training and is comfortable presenting in front of groups of around 25 people. We talked about breaking into recruiting or training. Her long-term goal is to get into talent development. She came prepared with great questions about recruiting and used the time to almost do a Q&A with me and soak up as much information as she could. This style caught me off guard, but afterwards I realized how smart she was. This goes for everyone – if you get an opportunity to talk with someone new and learn from them, be prepared! Make good use of that time and suck out as much value as you can. She is already active in her local SHRM chapter and volunteers to coordinate various events. She also attends Linked In local networking events.

Jazmine shared that it would be helpful to research HR terms and see how those translate from the education world. Write your resume in HR terms, if the HR professional is the audience who’s attention you are trying to grab. Make sure each bullet under your current experience talks about a task/skill that is transferable to HR and how you demonstrated that skill or brought value to the company by doing such tasks. She also mentioned that for transitioning military individuals, this is very important to look into civilian HR terms and ensure your resume translates to that so it speaks the same language as the reader.

Michelle also had some insight to share for this emerging professional. Michelle talked with me about how she went to school originally for dental hygiene. When her husband got his orders for Germany (he’s in the air force) she decided to take some business classes over the summer before she left for Germany. When she got back to the US, she landed her first HR position. Her advice is to focus on the impact you are making on people, not the title. To transition into HR, you have to have a focus and passion on the people/organization that you are serving. Due to having this mind-set, she was able to quickly move up into an HR Manager position. It’s not always about climbing the corporate ladder, but about your contributions. Be open minded to the types of opportunities presented to you and how you could make an impact and obtain desired skills.

Sesil Pir mentioned to me during our conversation that she had a colleague who was in marketing and made the transition to HR through the recruitment door. If you are trying to get into a field that you didn’t go to school for, on the job learning will be very valuable. She also said to make sure to surround yourself with a team of trusted advisors that you can turn to.

Another emerging HR professional I spoke with is currently in an office manager position where she is getting her first taste of HR. I asked her how she prepared for this role and she said during school she created a good relationship with her business law professor and got her hands on some extra text books. She started applying to office/admin roles to get her foot in the door and eventually move into HR. She went to a networking event for entrepreneurs where she met her now current boss! They got chatting and he mentioned he needed admin help and they set up an interview right there at the networking event. She also told me that she applied to over 30 jobs online and never got a call back. The networking event truly got her the position she is now in. She is an HR DOO and she cited the difficulty of “wrangling” everyone when it comes to compliance and HR best practice. She stressed the importance of being a self-starter and being confident in the message she’s delivering to her team on changes that need to happen. She said that networking and the #HRtribe on twitter has been the key to success in her current role. She knows that she has people she can reach out to when she faces a new challenge. She also said she uses the SHRM online resources when it comes to forms and templates.

Michelle had some thoughts to share for this emerging professional as well. As a DOO herself, she recognizes her strengths and when she needs to outsource things. It’s important to realize when you can’t do anything and everything. Prioritize what your people need and be aware of your strengths and resources. She also reiterated how the #HRtribe is a “gold mine” of great people and she is so glad to have found us. We all need a strong support system, especially when you’re in a DOO role. Also, we can share resources, tools, referrals for external consultants, etc.

Sesil shared her experience about using college relationships to prepare for the working world as well. Sesil also created strong relationships with her professors that continued on well past graduation. She noted the importance of getting to know them on a personal level and asking about what projects are available for you to work on. One of her professors recommended they work together on a thesis paper on the topic of organization psychology. She got her first job out of college because of that paper! She has been advancing through the HR profession ever since and now owns her own consulting firm.

The next person I talked to actually already has HR experience, but she left the field for a couple of years and is now trying to get back in. She started her career as a data entry clerk on a manufacturing floor, literally right next to the CNC machines. She kept asking for things to do and was able to write job descriptions as well as help lead daily shift safety meetings with the production supervisor. She started to realize that HR could be the path for her. She then turned to social media to learn more of what HR is all about, and all of the different options there are to go into. I think she was so smart to do this. A lot of emerging professionals I speak with say they want to be in HR because they like people, which is great. But a lot do not understand that you don’t have to be employee facing to have a career in HR. She took the time to look into the profession and make sure it was something she was interested in. She started participating in LinkedIn groups and a recruiter in the group reached out to her about an HR position! Again, the power of getting involved digitally and establishing your voice/brand. She took this position as an HR Coordinator and realized it was a lot harder than it seemed. She was put in a position where she had to enforce policy and employees would take out their frustration on her (we all know how hard it is to not take things personally) and she was also conducting terminations. She also didn’t have a lot of support from management. When I had my first role doing these tasks, it was uncomfortable and really draining, so I could totally relate. She decided to resign the position and has been in an administrative support role at a different company for the past couple of years. This person was very self-aware and I give her so much credit for that. She explained to me that at the time, she didn’t have the #HRtribe, didn’t know where to go to get legal support, and found it hard to speak up when she needed something. Perhaps if she had these resources and confidence then, she wouldn’t have resigned the position. The good thing now though is that she does have the confidence! She is active on social media, has an HR blog and is well on her way to finding that next great HR opportunity. She is also focusing her job search on companies that are known for treating their employees well. She connected with various HR Directors on LinkedIn and follows up with them periodically about potential job opportunities. She received a job interview from these LinkedIn efforts.

Janelle had some great insight to share on this situation. Janelle said to me during our conversation “who’s timeline are you living on? No one but yours.” This was such a great statement! It’s easy to get caught up in thinking we should have taken a certain path, or we should be at the same level/position as someone else our age. She also talked about the importance of getting involved in your local SHRM chapter and starting to network early on so that you have those resources in place when you enter your first tough HR role. She said that a lot of students she mentors think they can only be members of their student chapter and this is not true! It’s important to do activities that stretch yourself and get you out of your comfort zone so that you are used to facing these situations and learn to get through them. It will build your confidence and mental stamina to get through hurdles in the working world.

Sesil also had a general comment to all of these emerging professionals. Remember that value can be created from every opportunity. Make time for community work and to get involved in other activities. You never know who you will meet at these events and who you can leave a good impression on. It’s important to get your name and face out there through volunteering and helping others. We all have talents to share.

Thank you to everyone for being open and honest with me. Your time is valuable and I appreciate you sharing it with me! I hope you can relate to the above information and that it helps you. I hope this information and positivity can reach others in similar situations. If you would like to speak with me individually, please send me a message on Twitter! Be sure to follow the #HRCommunity #HRPositive #HRonPurpose #HRsocialhour hashtags to connect with a global network of knowledgeable, giving and passionate HR professionals.

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