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Changing Careers from Finance to HR


A business woman is using a calculator on a desk.


​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. 

My background is in accounting, and I am a CPA. I have been working as a controller for six years. Recently, I was given the opportunity to become the HR manager at my company. The owners felt my background would be an asset in the HR department. But I feel like I am missing a lot of HR experience. What is the best way to fill in the HR gaps and still move forward in HR? I really like HR, and I want to be good at it.

I can see why you would be a good choice to lead the HR function: You understand budgets and cash flow and how both impact desirable business outcomes. You also most likely have hands-on experience with strategic planning and the implementation of those plans.

On top of this, your CPA certification and professional experience guarantee that you bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the job. And I bet you have an appreciation for HR's role in supporting trouble-free operational functions and minimizing legal costs.

These are all great qualities for an HR manager to have—many other HR managers don't possess them—but you're smart enough to recognize there are still things to learn. If you master them, you can become a strong senior HR professional.

Grow Your Network

Joining a local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter and attending its meetings will quickly get you up to speed on the issues of importance as determined by the thought leaders in your new professional community. You'll also meet the most committed and best-connected professionals in your region.

You are joining for the best of reasons: You want to learn, and you can offer something in return. Your background gives you a uniquely informed frame of reference for the business issues that HR activities support, and this allows you to join any conversation with intelligent questions and comments. You can quickly build a profession-relevant network that you can turn to with questions to help you gain traction and build momentum.

Build Credentials

As a member of SHRM, you'll have ready access to a wide range of training programs and globally recognized credentialing opportunities. Your local network can advise you on the programs likely to be most helpful to someone in your situation and at your professional level.

Find Your Hidden Ace

You most likely will have an HR staff in place. I wouldn't make any changes until you are more acclimated to your new role and have identified who your best reports are. Once you determine that, you can upgrade the team by training or replacing existing staff. I'm hopeful you have a highly experienced HR professional already on staff who you can groom into being a reliable right hand. But if not, you can find one when replacing or adding to existing staff.

Very likely, there is an ideal candidate who has a lifetime of experience but who has been pushed out of employment because of age-related issues. There are lots of highly experienced professionals seeking work now. They will rarely want your job, even if they've held the title before; rather, they often want a position where they can contribute and finish their careers with honor. They can help you grow and help you solve problems.

In your situation, when advertising the job, I'd even go so far as to say something like "This position would appeal to a senior HR professional who would like to become the trusted right hand of the HR leader for the foreseeable future." This might seem crazy, but it might also find you that hidden ace of a colleague.

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