Your Career Q&A: Choosing HR as Your Next Career

 

By Martin Yate June 11, 2019
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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I am seriously considering going into HR. The problem is I have no experience in HR. I have a degree in psychology and many years of work experience ranging from social work to medical device sales to liaison work. My personality, according to a couple of tests, is well-suited to HR. My worry is that without any previous HR experience, I will have a difficult time finding work after I go through formal education for human resources. 

I would really like to speak with someone in HR to get a feel for what my real-life experience might be like. Any and all guidance is greatly appreciated.

Changing careers is a challenge because you likely have few of the skills required in that new profession, so you may have to take steps backward to break in at the entry level. Employers are more likely to hire candidates who have already done the job rather than candidates who have the potential to do the job, because the former is a safer option for a successful hire.

When employers hire someone, they ask many questions, but there are two issues that underlie every question:

  1. Ability ("Can this candidate do the job?")
  2. Suitability ("Does this person work in our industry; understand our functions, processes, jargon and challenges; and have the skills to solve our problems?")

A career change within your current industry—maybe even within your current organization—is much easier to accomplish. If you can't stay in your current organization or industry, then research your target job and network with people who are doing that job so you can get a firm grasp on their daily work life, the job's responsibilities and what you'll need to deliver under that new job title.

So Many HR Jobs

There are many jobs that fall under the HR umbrella, so identify a specific target job to which you can best adapt your education and current skills.

Your degree in psychology could be an asset in HR. Many major corporations have behavioral and organizational psychologists on staff and other psychologists working in talent acquisition, management, assessment and professional development. Perhaps one of the easiest paths into HR is talent acquisition (recruitment). It's an important function for the company and lets you interact with company leaders. But this is a tough job that requires good multitasking skills.

Ways to Research

Use these resources to investigate the different jobs that exist in HR, what the work involves and what the daily work experience will be like:

  • The Society for Human Resources (SHRM) website has a wealth of information about jobs, professional education and necessary accreditations and should be where you start your research.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics website (BLS.gov) would be the right second stop. It's an enormous site that is sometimes difficult to navigate, but it provides the titles, responsibilities and salary ranges of hundreds of jobs.
  • Your college alumni association can help you find others with an education background similar to yours and who work in HR. Send a concise, professional e-mail and cite your background. Someone might step up to help you think through the best options and give you a feel for what working in HR is like.
  • LinkedIn is a must. Try searching the platform using phrases that combine your professional skills with HR, such as "psychology HR." The search results will show profiles for people working in HR with education and work backgrounds similar to yours. Reach out to connect.
  • Join LinkedIn HR groups. There are several, so I suggest joining a few of the biggest, such as SHRM's. There are many benefits to group membership, but one of the best for your situation is that you'll have access to the group's membership database. You'll be able to identify people with whom you share professional similarities and who could be useful connections. When you reach out to connect, don't use the standard, prewritten request. Start with a professional salutation, followed by a brief explanation of why you want to connect, and finish with a friendly sign-off.
  • Facebook also has HR groups that can be leveraged in the same way. SHRM has a group on Facebook, as well.

Once you've identified the job that's the best fit for you, your best odds of landing it are with your current employer or within your current industry.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!

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