Changing Careers to HR

Martin Yate By Martin Yate March 9, 2021
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Changing Careers to HR

​Bestselling 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'm looking to change my career and pivot to HR from entertainment. How do I create a foundation for myself? I want to start reading books and educating myself, and I'm not sure where to start as there seems to be an endless array of options.

I'll be applying to Pepperdine University in Los Angeles to their SHRM-certified master's program in HR for the fall term, and I'm sure I'll get plenty to read there, but I'd like to jump-start my learning and understanding.

Changing careers always takes longer than changing jobs within a profession, because you rarely have the new career's required skills or knowledge. The more skill sets you can take from a job in one industry to a new job in a different industry, the easier your transition will be. To illustrate this, if you were an accountant in the entertainment industry and wanted to become an accountant in manufacturing, your transition would be much easier because the essential skills are the same, regardless of the industry.

Reduce the variables as much as you can when making a career change. As of 2020, the entertainment and media industries generated in excess of $720 billion. Looking for the new job within such a substantial industry could be a good idea. The only negative that jumps out is that jobs in entertainment are highly desirable, so you will still face stiff competition in the selection cycle.

I don't know your areas of expertise or responsibility, so I'll imagine your career transition to be of a more challenging type: that of an actor transitioning into HR.

There are some questions you need to ask yourself. Location is important in a career change. Does your locale support enough companies to offer ongoing work and opportunity? The bigger the concentration of companies in an area, the more opportunities will be available in good times and bad.

Next, you should analyze the jobs that make up the human resource function to see which ones use the most of your existing skills. Then you'll determine the time and cost of acquiring training in areas you are lacking.

Which Jobs to Pursue?

To analyze practical job options, I would recommend reviewing the information on the SHRM website and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here you can identify the HR job titles and read a breakdown of what each of these jobs does on a day-to-day basis; you can find this data in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook, a regularly updated database.

As an actor, you may not have many of the skills that translate to HR needs. But there is some connectivity. You can learn scripts, and you're not afraid of standing up in front of an audience, so that could suggest a job in training or learning and development that would utilize your acting skills, although they'd be called platform skills. These are skills that many people simply do not have.

Actors also understand and possess the determination needed to succeed and have a heightened sense of empathy, which opens another area for fruitful research: working as a recruiter.

Understanding HR

You said you want to start reading books and educating yourself about HR, but you're not quite sure where to begin because there's an endless array of options. I'd suggest these three books as good places to start:

Professional Accreditations

I applaud your savvy in pursuing a SHRM certification as part of your master's degree, because SHRM designations carry real weight. However, pursuing the academic degree will take you at least 20 months and could end up being overkill because some HR hiring managers might see the advanced degree and lack of experience as being out of balance. You need work experience.

I would recommend pursuing an appropriate HR job now and working toward your advanced degree at night, online or part time. You can include the degree under the Education section of your resume, noting the date when you anticipate graduating.

The Reality of HR Jobs

In closing, I want to make sure you know what an HR job is really about. Many people think that because they like to help people, they should work in HR. This is not always the case. Every job exists to help the employer make money, save time and increase productivity. HR focuses on hiring the right people, keeping the right people, firing the wrong people and keeping the company on the right side of the law in all its initiatives while remaining financially competitive. HR jobs help the company survive and prosper, and unfortunately that isn't always aligned with "helping people."

Your final challenge will be convincing interviewers of how you would adapt to HR. You would naturally have done your research, suggested above, to identify the skills you need, how the company where you've applied functions day to day, and the problems common to the job and the industry. You'll also need to prove your problem-solving skills. If there's one thing you can say about HR, it's that we meet a host of problems every day.

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.

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