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Work Your Way into HR Management

Set your sights on an achievable target that matches your credentials

A woman in a business suit is talking on her cell phone.

This week’s column delves into how to land the job of your dreams by first setting achievable goals. 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 currently an administrative liaison at a small law firm where I’ve worked for about three years. I’m somewhat of an office manager with limited HR duties, and I’m interested in advancing my career toward becoming an HR manager in a larger environment and with more HR responsibilities. In my current role, I supervise a small staff and perform employee evaluations in addition to employee relations tasks when disciplinary actions need to be documented. I have a masters in HR management and plan to take the SHRM-CP preparation course in order to sit for the certification exam in the fall. My question is, how do I market myself for HR manager positions even though I have limited managerial skills? 

Regina, Washington, D.C. 

At certain times in our careers we can climb directly up the professional ladder, and at others we have to move diagonally or laterally to increase our qualifications before that upward move. And sometimes we may even need to take a step backward to move forward. The most important step in my own career meant taking a step back and a major cut in salary, but I knew the end result would be worth the investment. I saw it as a strategic career move, not as a pay cut, and it turned out to be a sound investment in my professional future.

I think your situation has parallels to this. You have some experience and good credentials, but truth be told, you lack the practical experience to move from having “limited HR duties” to being the head of an HR department. You should pursue an achievable job, one where you have at least 70 percent of the required skills, because people get hired based on their credentials, not their potential.

You might consider getting all the HR experience you can with your current employer while you create a resume that will allow you to be considered for a job within HR, such as HR generalist. You will then be in a position to make a move to a company where you can continue to increase your HR skills, and where your exposure to the issues of the legal world will be seen as a worthwhile plus to your HR experience.

You can get to your goal of becoming an HR manager, but I think it will more likely be done in two or three steps, rather than one big bound. The good thing about actively managing the trajectory of your career is that this allows you to work towards the development of specific skills; without goals, your skills grow at the whim of employers as you frequently repeat the same job in different corporate offices. With a targeted job title in mind, you can move forward toward your goals, and while achieving a goal like this takes time, your odds of success are much greater when you know where you are headed and have a map to get you there.

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 We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 


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