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How to Break into the HR field?

Many people who read this blog show an interest into breaking into the HR field. While I may question their sanity for this, I only know this is a popular topic because I get e-mails about it all of the time from all types of people. I realize that I keep repeating myself over and over again. So now I am going to put this out as kind of a catch all for those questions so this may be edited from its original version.

First of all, it is not very difficult to break into the HR field. I did it, and I don’t think I am that smart. That being said, it can appear to be very difficult to break into it from the outside because it is very difficult to do it from the outside. Most people want experience if they are hiring from the outside and don’t want a fresh face from college to get them into legal trouble because they mess up application. So here are the ways to get in with no experience:

  1. Work from the inside. College education: not required, additional educated needed though. Depending on your company’s size and culture, you may be able to break into HR from the inside. Good companies love internal HR hires because they understand the culture already. You will probably be required to get an HR certificate (PHR is a nice one that is recognized pretty well). Again, depending on your company, you might get this paid for (at least partially). The bad? Not a sure thing and totally cultural dependent. May mean you get crappy pay for a while.
  2. Start as a recruiter. College education: likely to be required. At many large companies, the easiest way to break into the HR department is through the internal recruiting team. Recruiting is relatively easy to understand and companies seem to be comfortable hiring directly for these positions plus they typically pay really well. The bad? Likely long hours, traveling, tons of time on the phone and … well, some of the stuff I complain about recruiting in this blog. Of course, I don’t think that stuff is that bad so.
  3. Start at an outsourcing firm. College education: likely to be required. HR outsourcing is big business these days and as such, outsourcers may be more willing to train entry level people because of increased demand and repetitiveness of tasks. Everything from payroll processing, to third-party recruiting, to full on HR department outsourcing is covered here. The bad? Third-party recruiting can be good money if you have the skills but almost everything else is going to pay you…well, entry level wages.
  4. Start at a smaller business. College education: probably. With the economy still doing relatively well, starting at a smaller business can be a good start to getting in with experience at other firms. Smaller businesses usually go after people with strong entrepreneurial drive who are willing to learn quickly and do a lot of other things inside the business. Targeting businesses between 25–50 employees (depending on industry) can be key to this. The bad? You might get pushed into doing payroll or other things at a smaller business and you may not be able to have an appropriate mentor like you would at a larger company.

These are the four places I would start if I had to do it again. Me personally? I did a combination of 2 & 4.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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