How to Break into HR (legally, that is)

Hi Evil HR Lady,

I recently changed careers, from journalist to HR administrative assistant. (I’ve also started a resume-writing business.) My primary interest is in staffing and recruiting, but I want to learn at least a little bit about all aspects of HR. I know that I’ll learn on the job, but do you have any recommendations for resources that will jump-start my learning curve? Books, Web sites, professional organizations?

Also, a related question: Do I need HR certification or an advanced degree (either an MS or an MBA) to move beyond an administrative position? I don’t see myself wanting to be a high-level manager at any point, but I definitely want to move into a position where I’ll be involved in decision-making. I’ve been surfing the Web looking for an answer to this question, but I haven’t found one. (I’ll ask my bosses, too, once I’ve been with the company for a while. I don’t want to come on too strong!)

Making A Change

Ahh, welcome to the dark side. First, the easy part, you don’t need an advanced degree or HR certification to move beyond an administrative position. At least, not everywhere. You may in the company you are working for–each company has different rules. (For instance, in my HR department all exempt employees are required to have bachelor’s degrees. Doesn’t matter if you have 20 years of experience–no degree, no job.)

Now, making the leap from an admin job to a professional job can be tricky. Getting your PHR (or SPHR) can be helpful, although not necessary.

What you do need is to be able to speak the language of HR–which you should pick up quickly in your administrative job. Ask questions. Volunteer for more work. Don’t complain about filing and making power point presentations and handing out the mail–it’s all part of being an admin, but ask for more substantial work. If you prove yourself, you’ll get it.

Tell your boss your plans. Part of a manager’s job is to help her people with their career goals. My feeling as a boss is that if you are still in the same position in 3 years I’m doing something wrong. (Note, this is for lower professional jobs. You’re not necessarily going to leave your VP of HR job in 3 years.) Smaller companies have no where to go, but larger ones should have lots of opportunities.

You said you were interested in staffing and recruiting. This is a very popular entry level HR place. Lots of staffing/recruiting departments and companies are more than willing to train you. In house recruiting will come with a salary. Contract recruiting will come with commission–there is sales involved in that as well. Figure out if you want to do the sales part.

As for websites. Well, do I have advice for you! Go here. All, right, it’s a link back to me. But, a specialized link to all the HR Carnivals. Go to each carnival and read the submissions. The carnival posters are the best and brightest in HR. Their posts won’t necessarily teach you how to get an HR job, but they will teach you what HR is all about. And that’s what you need.

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3 thoughts on “How to Break into HR (legally, that is)

  1. Thank you! Your answers help tremendously. Since I first sent you the questions I’ve had more time to settle into my new job, and I definitely have a boss who wants to see me grow and learn. Also, the admin for our recruiter has been on vacation for the past week, so I’ve volunteered to help with resume screening (which I couldn’t help but post about in my resume-writing blog) and other recruiting tasks, and my offer has been met with enthusiasm. I actually like admin work, so I don’t mind filing, scheduling meetings, making PowerPoint presentations and so forth, because I’m able to read everything I get my hands on and learn from it all. Your answer solidifies my gut feeling: that I am in a great position to listen, read and learn where I am and that I don’t need an advanced degree just yet. (And as for the Carnival of HR, I’ve been reading them since I found your blog last month!) Thanks again, Evil HR Lady.

  2. hi,

    I have a masters in Human resources and having difficulty finding a job. How can i enhance my chances of breaking into thi field. How would it help if i do a another degree in infomation technology

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