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Susan M. Heathfield

Getting Into HR?

By March 31, 2014

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Periodically, a reader's question has universal appeal and application so I am sharing both the question and my response. This particular question comes to me a lot, particularly from people who want to transition into the field of HR. With little to no formal education in HR and little job experience, what can the individual do to quickly impact their ability to work in our field? How would you respond to Ann's question?

Reader's Question: let me introduce myself. My name is Ann and I am a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) graduate. I have several years' experience working as an accounts assistant, administration assistant, data entry operator and so on. I am 30 years old now and I wish to make an upward progress in my career and Human Resources interests me. But all the HR vacancies (even HR assistants) require HR experience. So I thought of studying further to increase my chances of getting an HR position.

I am planning to do a Graduate Certificate course in Australia and there are two options:

  • Graduate Certificate in Human Resources
  • Graduate Certificate in Humanities and Social Science

Which one do you think might give me a chance to put a foot in the door in HR? I would be most obliged if you could provide advice in this matter. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

My Response: I am unfamiliar with many graduate certificates, so it is difficult to comment on specific ones, but I would think that one that allowed HR study, if that is your goal, would be better. However, I have several additional ideas.

Preparing to Work in HR

  • Why not interview some successful HR managers in your community to seek out their advice about getting into the field of HR and how you can prepare. Many HR people are willing to do these informational interviews and it is also a way to get your name, as interested in HR, out into your community.
  • Is there any way that you can take on additional tasks in your current job that take you in the HR direction? Many people started in HR by doing payroll as an example. Talk to your boss and your company's HR person about your goal and get advice. Maybe there are ways the departments can share you.
  • Work with a decent resume writer or your college career services office to take your accounting experience and make it sound useful in an HR department. Numbers people are always needed in HR, so perhaps this experience can provide a bridge into an HR career.
  • Can you take a brief leave to do an HR internship?
  • If you have no grad degree in HR or business, consider that they are becoming more important in HR and might make you more employable.

Apply for HR Jobs Without Experience

I would apply for the positions that require experience. Work with your resume and cover letter to make your current skills and tasks relevant to HR, and apply.

Here are some thoughts on getting into HR. Thoughts on transitioning to HR from another field. Readers share their thoughts about how they made their transition into HR. Readers share their more detailed stories about how they transitioned to a position in the field of HR.

Best wishes and good luck. May you make all of your dreams come true.

Okay, readers. Your thought are welcome for this reader and all of the others who write to me with similar questions. Share the brain trust of the people who read this site. It's spectacular.

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March 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm
(1) Shelly Keller says:

I can relate to Ann’s situation (in a way).

I have close to 15 years experience in the clerical field as an Office Assistant, Administrative Assistant, Executive Secretary, Receptionist and so on. In my role as a Receptionist, my supervisor was the Office Manager who was responible for Human Resources for the company (among other things). She delegated simple H.R. tasks to me and at that point, I realized I wanted to pursue a career in Human Resources. Like Ann, I was finding that H. R. positions required previous experience, more extensive that the little experience I had. The only difference is I couldn’t (and still) can’t afford to go to school or take courses for H.R. My only option was to get on-the-job experience.

I left the Receptionist role 7 years ago and have worked in other clerical roles up until last year when I lost a job. While looking for jobs, I looked for H.R. Jobs as well as clerical jobs and came across an H.R. job posting that struck my interest because it required the experience I already had. It was for a H.R. Clerk/Recruiter and the position required extensive clerical experience, which I had, and the H.R. experience was equal to the experience I picked up in the Receptionist job. I applied and got the job. What helped is, like Susan suggested, I tweaked my resume to highlight the clerical and H.R. experience the employer was looking for. I got the job this past January and really like it. It is entry level but is the stepping stone needed to gain on-the-job H.R. skills and knowledge.

I agree with Susan’s suggestion. Tweak your resume to highlight skills that could be relevant to H.R. and apply for positions, as I did. Also, trying to take on H.R. tasks at your current job could be a plus, as it was for me.

Good luck!

March 1, 2012 at 3:16 am
(2) Clerical Jobs says:

I have 2 years of experience in clerical field in a private company.
I want to move in HR field. So can I apply for this with my experience or still I am fresher for the post of HR??

March 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm
(3) tony conigliaro says:

I’m actually surprised at Ann’s troubles landing a job in HR. The MO in the USA for HR is to hire people with no experience at all in HR.
You should move to the US, you’ll get hired tomorrow.

March 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm
(4) noformalHR says:

I agree with Susan, highlight any HR experience you might have on your resume. I have no formal HR education, and I was actually offered a very basic entry level Recruiting position at a company where I was originally a Customer Service rep. I took the role on not knowing much about it, as I was up for something new, and I realized it was what I wanted to do. I did that for maybe 6 months and started applying for more challenging HR jobs so I could jump up in the field. I stayed in the range of 1-3 years experience, even though I wasn’t there. This was a risk I took. I was given an incredible opportunity for a position well above my experience level, but for some reason, I was hired. It was scary initially, but it did work out. Don’t be afraid to “jump in” and get your hands dirty without formal education in the field, but be ready to work, and do your research on every tiny little thing you’re not sure about. There is an employer out there that wants someone with your experience to start from the ground up.

I do think formal education is important, I have a BA in liberal arts (no help really!) and I intend to get a masters in an HR related degree. But for the time being, l am self educated and it serves me well.

Also, consider starting in a retail HR environment, even line level managers do lots of HR related functions. Lots of retail stores have on-site HR associates, and those positions can prove easier to land than others.

April 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm
(5) D Rob says:

To Toni C.:
I’m not sure where in the US you live, but my experience trying to get into H/R has been anything but a walk on the beach. I have an MBA and a Masters in Human Relations and Organzational Behavior. (My company paid for my MSO @ 100%.) After I graduated with my second (and final) Masters, I applied for several positions with my current employer, only to be told I don’t have any experience. My prior experiences have been Site Director at a Non-Profit, an Operations Manager for a well known logistics company, and a Credit Manager for a high end retail store. I will be sitting for my certification at the end of the year in hopes that I can land a job in H/R. Having said that, maybe I’m living in the wrong part of the country

August 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm
(6) Jennifer says:

I had an Office Manager job in Manufacturing for 7 years, and once I obtained my BA in HRM (Human Resource Management), I was let go. I have applied for HR admins, secretaries, assistant, and other related fields. Everyone is requiring at least 3 years of HRIS experience! Now I am stuck trying to finding something that can use my college experience, and work my way up to an HR position. I had been without a job in Georgia for 6 months, applying to at least 2 jobs a day. I am just about fed up with looking for work! Some encouraging words or advice would be great. (Here are some thoughts. You might benefit from the transition stories especially: http://humanresources.about.com/od/jobsearchsites/tp/jobs_in_hr.htm Good luck.)

September 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm
(7) Lisa says:

I am sorry but the advice given, to me, does not seem extremely helpful. For starters, MOST full time workers would not have time to do an internship for another firm while holding their current job – unless you take unpaid leave time from your current job which does not seem wise in today’s economy.

Second I myself have a BBA with a concentration in HRM & I still have not been able to break into HR. I have 7 years administrative experience, 5 years office managment experience, and superviosry experience. While an office manager / admin assistant, I was responsible for the fiscal budget of the program, vendor relationships, AP / AR among many other items that should have opened doors for me & didn’t.

I wish I could offer some advice that would be helpful but considering my inabilty to get into the field I feel anything I’d offer would be moot. THe only thing I could suggest is try to get job responsibilities using HRIS databases & possible payroll programs. This seems to be a necessity is all HR entry level jobs I have seen.

November 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm
(8) LJ says:

I have a B.A. in Labor Studies and thought about pursuing a career in Human Resources until I realized I don’t have it in me to be a heartless, soulless vampire.

January 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm
(9) TF says:

LJ – you have apparently had some very bad experiences with HR personnel. Not all HR people are “heartless, soulles vampire(s).”

I have a BA in HR and an MBA with a concentration in HR. I have over 8 years experience as a generalist, but it has been 4 years since I have worked in the field of HR. I completed my MBA last year. I am so discouraged in trying to find a job in the field of HR. I cannot even land an interview. I wish I had the money to work with a professional to help me with my resume and in finding an HR job. I am currently working, but in a job that really doesn’t even utilize my vast administrative skills. I have even tried to apply for administrative positons, but that is not working out so well either.

There are so many people out of work right now. I feel that employers are being flooded with applicants. So discouraged!! (I am so sorry. Yes, it is really a tough job market especially if you are not mobile and able to go where the jobs are. But, stick to it. You sound very qualified. Have you tried informational interviews with HR people in your area? You can learn and they can get to know you and perhaps think of you when a job comes up.)

January 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm
(10) Mimie says:

Tell me about it!! If I knew getting a job in HR would be so tough, I would never majored in it. I graduated in 2009, I still can’t find a suitable job in HR or any other field that would pay me accordingly. I am so discouraged but like one of you said, I think applying for HR retail might actually help to land into HR. Good luck guys.

January 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm
(11) Anthony says:

Hi folks,

Just a thought… I have some HR experience as I was a retail store manager so I handled all functions of HR. If you cannot get into HR, try going into career guidance as itís a field that’s opening up and you can be self employed. You need, in Australia, a career guidance certificate to qualify and you can get that on line. BTW, I hold a masters in management and have studied industrial management and human resources management. I am considering going into career guidance.

March 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm
(12) Hari says:

Good morning. Have a good day. I am Hari Prasath B.I have 4 1/2 year experience in TELECOM sector as a project engineer. Now I am doing my MBA HUMAN RESOURCES in full time college. Additionally, Ii am working in a company. Is my experience worth for the HR post? Kindly guide me what steps need to taken by me to be a HR MANAGER like additional courses, languages, go through some specific books, etc. I am eagerly seeking for your priceless reply…

June 25, 2013 at 7:54 pm
(13) Larita Davis says:

Hello everyone,

I found this article to be very helpful. I am also looking to take a career leap into Human Resources and possibly HR management thereafter. I have strong background in call center customer service and operations and as a coach to team members in a call center environment. I am looking to use that experience along with a certificate of completion in management, an Associates Degree, and an HR Specialist certification to climb the HR ladder. I will use the tips given in earlier posts to help me do just that. I believe that a person can never have too much experience and I have 2 children so going back to school for my Bachelors is something that I want to do, I just don’t my career advancement on hold for another 2 years.

July 13, 2013 at 11:55 am
(14) bhuvanesh says:

I finished Msw HR in 2012 but I never got a job in HR field. How to get the job? And how to improve my knowledge in HR field? Please help me.

July 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm
(15) Susan Heathfield says:
August 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm
(16) Tony C says:

D Rob my comment was meant to be sarcastic. The people who have taken the time to earn a degree in HR are almost never hired in HR. The persons who get the job in HR are the people who a company doesn’t know what to do with, so they stick them in HR. These are the people in positions of hiring? Is it any wonder why the educated HR professional is unemployed?
I wouldn’t advocate anyone to get a degree in HR, it’s a waste of money. Hate to say it, but it is. I had to learn the hard way and I work in HR.
It won’t change until Corporate America wakes up and understands the defects of their HR Departments and starts insisting that their employees that are hired hold a degree in HR. Until that happens, I’d suggest you look towards another profession because HR isn’t hiring you.

August 13, 2013 at 2:18 am
(17) Yoma Multinational Solutions says:

Nice post to explain about our field of human resources. I really thankful to Susan M. Heathfield who represents the detailed information for the world.

September 19, 2013 at 7:36 am
(18) Swati says:

Nice. Thanks!
I was wondering if an online certification in Human Resources would be beneficial. I found this online course. Here’s the link:

September 19, 2013 at 10:41 am
(19) Susan Heathfield says:


I am unfamiliar with that certification which originates in India. It looks as if you would learn a lot in the class, but I do not know of its status or familiarity with Indian employers. In the US, the Society for Human Resource Management has expended years of effort to make their certifications the industry standard. http://www.shrm.org/Certification/Pages/default.aspx Ask colleagues and professors in India what they think. Here, in the US, certifications mean more to large companies and in major metropolitan areas than they do in small to mid-sized businesses that are seeking a competent HR person. See: http://humanresources.about.com/od/humanresourcesjob/f/jobs-in-hr-management.htm Best wishes.

September 24, 2013 at 7:15 am
(20) Swati says:

Helpful. Thanks!
I wanted to know about certifications in Human Resources or Project Management etc.
I found an online certification course. Hereís the link:
<a href=”http://www.wiziq.com/course/24064-certified-human-resource-management-professional-chrmp”>CHRMP Certified Human Resources Management Professional online course</a>
Iíd like to know more about this field.

October 7, 2013 at 2:18 am
(21) Stephanie says:

As with any job, I’ve always been told that networking is the key to getting a position. I have about 2 years of experience in Marketing and Public relations but am seeking to go into the HR field. Any one have any advice about translating that experience into a recruiting coordinator role?

November 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm
(22) Jonathan Hill says:


I am a 32 years old British guy living and working in Slovakia in Central Europe. For the past 7 years I’ve been teaching/training English to manager/directors in various companies. I originally graduated in Graphic Design/Marketing and one of my reasons for relocating to central Europe was to get a job as I couldn’t do that in England. During my time in Slovakia I’ve learnt a lot as most of my work is teaching Slovak HR Managers and Directors how to speak better English. Over time I’ve got to know a lot about their work and a good insight into how the HR function in a company works. I’m now doing in my own time an Allison online course which is a Diploma in HR to have further knowledge and skills. As I’ve a wife and kid at home I cannot afford to attend a course which I know would be the most ideal thing, but my teaching salary is sued to cover our living expenses. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m young and want to reach a higher level with my career and although I enjoy teaching feel I can do much more and HR is an area that interests me. I have recently starting organizing business English courses with a focus on HR as-well as other aspects of business life to train companies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. I want to aim high and am stuck for ways on how to break out of the English teacher mould and into Mr. HR professional mould.

Any ideas from anybody would be so useful and appreciated.


Frustrated English guy in Slovakia.

January 28, 2014 at 1:05 am
(23) Tony says:

I am currently an Account Manager and student working on my M.B.A. I would like to get into Human Resources but have always run into the the road block of not having experience.

I have a year and a half left on my M.B.A. and I am wondering if this degree will help me into the Human Resources field.

January 29, 2014 at 11:38 am
(24) Susan Heathfield says:


Short answer, but, yes, it should. Make sure you take some classes in HR and labor relations. Also, I recommend that you try to find an internship in HR, even in several organizations since you have a year and a half. I also recommend that you interview some HR managers and directors in the city where you want to work to ask their advice. http://humanresources.about.com/od/glossaryi/g/informational_interviews.htm
Best wishes, Susan

March 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm
(25) Neela says:


I’m Neela pursuing Masters in HRD at NC State University. What are the chances for Indians to get a job in HR after completing Masters.
I have heard that there are no chances of Indians getting a job in HR as the US residents are preferred more over Indians. Is this true?


March 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm
(26) Susan Heathfield says:

Hi Neela, If you are a US citizen, you should be able to compete with other applicants. If you are a citizen of India, it will be difficult because, it’s not so much that US candidates are preferred, it’s just very much easier to hire them. I have written about this here: http://humanresources.about.com/od/jobsandcareersinhrfaqs/f/immigration-for-jobs-in-hr.htm

Best wishes, Susan

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