Sign with "human resources" written on it

How to Break into the HR Field

Thinking of pursuing a career as an HR specialist? Read this primer first.

By Freddie Rohner, iHire

With the recent economic downturn, many job seekers at least considered a position in HR and many took the leap and changed their career focus altogether. The reason for this is because HR is seen as one of the more recession-proof occupations. The conventional wisdom is simple: companies need to hire, so therefore they need an HR professional. This is true to a certain extent, however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth for the HR field over the next 10 years is 13%, which is about average for all positions/industries. Even though HR may not be the “silver bullet” some assume it to be, it’s still a great field to be in nowadays, and it’s one that is in the midst of some exciting changes.

There was once a time when all HR representatives were simply seen as paper pushers, referees for intra-office conflicts, or “spies” for ownership. In recent years, HR has grown out of its purely administrative role and become a true business partner for senior leadership at a lot of companies, so professionals entering the HR field now have more opportunities to make significant contributions than their predecessors. With all of this in mind, breaking into HR can be just as difficult as attempting to join the ranks of any field or industry. To increase your odds, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

Research HR: Before you spend a lot of time and effort pursuing a career change, it’s important to find out as much as possible about your potential role. The last thing you want is to achieve the position you’ve worked so hard for, only to find out it’s not what you really want. To ensure this doesn’t happen, research the HR field, go to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) website (, and/or reach out to peers and colleagues who may be willing to introduce you to their HR reps or point you in the right direction so you can speak with someone who works in HR management every day.

Expand your Education: Most HR roles require a four-year degree. A fair amount of individuals at the manager, director, or executive level hold graduate degrees and many also have special certifications such as PHR or SPHR. Graduate courses and prep work for a national HR-related certification will provide you with focused training in a variety of topics such as hiring/recruiting, staff training, performance assessment, compensation and benefits administration and analysis, employment law, and regulatory compliance.

Join Professional Organizations: There are many options when it comes to HR associations you can join. Aside from the national SHRM organization, there are many state and city chapters throughout the US as well as other groups specifically for recruiters, public sector HR managers, policymakers, trainers, and other specialists. Whether you are interested in connecting with colleagues from a variety of areas and backgrounds or would like to meet with peers that share your interest in a particular facet of HR management, you will be able to find the precise association that’s right for you.

Build your Network: As with searching for employment in any industry, the individuals that have the most success are the ones who utilize their professional and personal networks to the fullest extent. Touch base with the people you know to identify opportunities, obtain recommendations, or simply bounce ideas off of. Keep in mind, a lot of HR is about building, maintaining, and preserving relationships, so put those people skills to work to help you get the job you seek.

Be Realistic – Start at the Bottom or Consider a Position with a Small Business: When launching a career in a new field – regardless of whether you just graduated college or are making a mid-life change – it’s important to be aware of the fact that you cannot immediately begin at the top. Everyone needs to pay their dues. With this in mind, you must be realistic in your job search and your expectations. For someone with little to no experience in the HR field, a director’s role is more than likely out of reach. Focus your sights on lower-level positions such as HR Assistant, Recruiter, HR Representative, or even HR Generalist. Another option is to look specifically for openings with smaller businesses. A lot of folks have cut their teeth at HR departments overseeing hiring decisions for companies with less than 50 employees. One final strategy to consider is to look no further than the company you currently work for. Many businesses prefer to hire or promote from within, so if you are currently employed, reach out to the HR department and ask them if they have any openings.

Starting a career in HR is not much different than any other field or industry. You will need the right level of education and you will have to enlist the assistance of your network to aid you in getting a shot with the right company. However, by being humble and realistic, starting at the bottom if you must, and working hard, there is no reason why you can’t be successful in your new chosen field.



Heather Johnson – How to Break into a Career in Human Resources

Rebecca Whiteside – 8 Ways to Break into a Career in HR

Sign In or Register to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.

Search for Human Resources Jobs

Sign In or Register
to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.