How do I escape the secretary zone?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I graduated with a BBA in Management in 2008 with a dream of becoming an Evil HR Lady like yourself. For the past 3 years I’ve been a legal secretary, and then spent several months as a secretary at a hospital. All this time I’ve been applying to HR jobs in the area citing my degree and any relevant work I’ve done (I have some experience with doing payroll, office management, and training). Obviously I haven’t gotten any of them, or I wouldn’t be writing; even a part-time HR position at a local plant which has been listed on their website for half of this year.

I’m currently unemployed and I’m afraid I’m already stuck in the secretary zone, forever managing self-important peoples’ calendars and making PowerPoints that no one ever looks at. I’ve had one interview for an HR position out of all that I’ve applied to, and I was runner up to someone who had some experience.

Most of the jobs I apply to require at least 3 years of experience in HR. How do I break into this field? What kind of job precedes HR Generalist? How do I get experience if every job requires experience? Friends suggest hounding companies I want to work for with resumes and cover letters every single day. Is bugging someone to death the way to do it?

To read the answer, click here: How do I escape the secretary zone?

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9 thoughts on “How do I escape the secretary zone?

  1. I wanted to share my experience. My first job was in a Personnel Department, I participated in my high school’s vocational program. I had no career aspirations, I saw myself only as a secretary. The following 13 years found me in admistrative support work, however there was always some “HR” function (benefits, NH enrollment, termination paperwork, payroll, etc).

    I was moved into a HR admin position and then the best thing happened. I reported to an HR Generalist who took me under her wing and expanded my role. Needless to say, I was promoted to HR Rep, Sr HR Generalist who managed my own HR/Training Dept and all without a degree.

    I do understand the importance of a degree and am working on completing my Bachelors. However I tell the writer not to give up, excel in your support functions and become visible, volunteer!

    Play it forward, I now strive to mentor admins I supervise and or support to ensure they too have a shot to move up out of the secretary pool.

    Best of Luck!

    Evil HR Lady in Training

  2. If you have high confidence in your ability to sell and a track record of successful selling, consider spending 2 or 3 years working for a recruiting company. Recruiting is a tough job. Expect to work 60 to 80 hours per week. Expect to spend many hours on the phone selling your candidates. Expect to be under constant pressure. Expect having to deliver results – candidates hired – monthly. If you can’t do that, you’ll be dismissed. This can get you the HR experience you want. You will also meet many HR staff and managers whom you can contact after you have the requisite experience and are ready to seek a position in an HR department.

  3. My experience is much like the first poster. Like many young New Zealanders I went to the UK on a working holiday visa I’d been working as a receptionist/PA before leaving NZ and assumed I’d do similar work in London. My first temp assignment was a 3 day filing role for the HR department of a major international company. They decided they liked me and I knew how to use mail merge so they trained me to take over from someone who was leaving, I started working as an HR administrator and loved it. That was August 2006 and I worked in HR Admin/Cooridnator roles until June 2009 when someone took a chance on me for a generalist HR Role.
    But you’ve got to give people a reason to take that chance

  4. Suzanne…I would like to join your list of HR contacts on LinkedIn!

    Check into a local HR group, possibly SHRM affiliated. Dues can be a bit spendy, especially if you pay them yourself, but you’re opening up an entire Rolodex of contacts in the HR world and gaining valuable knowledge at the same time.

  5. I started off as a receptionist, reporting to the HR Manager (the company had an odd reporting structure). I took on any HR tasks she asked, and moved to an HR Assistant position for a few years before being promoted to an HR Generalist position,

  6. How about taking a job at a smaller company where you will be fulfilling multiple roles? If one of those roles is HR you will be getting experience in that area.

  7. I have a varied background as well. I was a teaching assistant, group home daytime counselor, and had various office roles (remarketing, reconciliation) until I landed an HR position. I found my first HR job via a temporary agency. I started in the file room and moved into an HRIS/Recruiter position a few weeks later. I agree 100% with Suzanne, you just have to do your best with the current job and continue to network and be open.

  8. Apply to HR Assistant positions first – those generally require 6 mos – 1 yr of related experience. If you’re applying to jobs that require 3 years of experience, then yeah, you’re going to go up against people who have that experience in HR.

    Just realize that, as an HR Assistant, you’ll be doing just that: ASSISTING. A lot of that includes admin work for people above you. If you can’t do that, then you won’t be moving up. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  9. I have done MBA in HR with distinction. My goal is to settle as a HR. I started my career as a HR-Recruiter. After having had a few months experience, i got a opportunity as an Executive Assistant to CEO. So that i shifted my career from HR to EA. Recently i am joined in some other company as a PA. Now i am thinking to change my career as a HR. It’s my long term wish.

    Please suggest me.
    Thanks in Advance.

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