A career in Human Resources can offer a variety of diverse, exciting, and fulfilling professional opportunities. Depending on what area of HR you focus on, you might be responsible for everything from rolling out employee wellness programs to spearheading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives to maintaining company culture through periods of growth.
If these opportunities sound interesting and appealing, HR could be the career path for you. However, if you feel drawn to this dynamic field but don’t have any prior experience in Human Resources, you may be wondering where to begin. Below, we’ll highlight five key steps to jumpstart your job-search process for a role in HR.
5 Steps for Launching Your HR Career
1. Start with a general role.
Human Resources is an extremely varied industry; there are countless different niches and opportunities. And whether you’re entering the workforce for the first time or looking to transition from a different role or industry, if you’re just getting started with a career in HR, there’s no way you could know the ins and outs of the field and all the different paths within it. So if you want to find the niche and opportunity that’s right for you, the best thing you can do is begin in a more general HR role.
“It's easy to make assumptions about what various aspects of HR entail, but the truth is there's no way of knowing if the shoe fits without actually trying it on,” said Katelyn Richards, former recruiter turned career coach with experience both recruiting for HR roles and coaching job seekers on how to land positions in HR. “Starting out in a more general HR role affords you the opportunity to do just that: Figure out what aspects light you up [and] match well with your personality, talents, and strengths — and which…you'd prefer to avoid.”
Beginning in a more general Human Resources role will help you narrow down which area of HR you’d like to specialize in later in your career. But importantly, it will also give you exposure to and insight into what HR professionals in different specialties experience on a day-to-day basis, which can be helpful later on in your career, particularly if you want to move into a leadership role.
“[Starting] off as a generalist affords you the opportunity to have understanding, empathy, and compassion for various HR roles and responsibilities, which is a valuable asset to have later on — especially as an HR leader,” Richards said.
You might be set on starting off in a specialized HR role — particularly if there’s an area of HR you find especially interesting. But the best thing you can do when you’re just beginning your career in HR is to start in a more general role that will give you the opportunity to learn more about the Human Resources industry and figure out which path you ultimately want to pursue.
2. Network strategically.
Finding a new job can be a lot easier if you know the right people, and looking for a job in HR is no exception. If you want to know the right people — those who can help you get the Human Resources job you’re seeking — you need to network and “start cultivating relationships and connections with HR professionals in the field,” Richards advised.
But network in a meaningful, focused, and strategic way: “Reach out to people who are already doing the job you want to be doing,” said Richards.
Once you’ve identified people you want to network with, whether online or through existing personal or professional connections, “ask to buy them a…[virtual or in-person] coffee and hear more of their story, how they ended up in HR, and what advice they might have for someone starting out,” Richards recommended.
Connecting with HR professionals who have a career you aspire to will not only help you gain invaluable information about what it’s like to actually work in HR, but it can also be an “ideal way to get your foot in the door [at their company] and strategically position yourself for open positions coming down the pipeline,” noted Richards.
To make the most of your networking, be sure to end every meeting by asking if there’s anyone else you should be networking with. “Always make sure to ask them this golden question,” advised Richards. “‘Who else do you know in the HR field that you think it would be beneficial for me to have a conversation with?’”
3. Use LinkedIn to your advantage.
When it comes to getting started in a career in HR (or any career), there aren’t many tools as helpful as LinkedIn. “Utilizing professional social media platforms like LinkedIn can help you not only identify HR professionals working at your dream companies, but [it] also provides you [with] the ability to reach out directly and cultivate conversations, glean insider information about landing an HR role at your target organizations, endear yourself to HR decision-makers at these companies, and find out about opportunities coming down the pipeline,” said Richards.
Following the companies you’d like to work for — and connecting with HR professionals who work at those companies — is a good way to start using LinkedIn. But if you want to get noticed by those companies and professionals, you need to take it a step further and be active, visible, and engaged on the platform.
Commit to posting regularly on LinkedIn and “talk about successful projects, proven problem solutions, industry trends, current events or news, or general role/industry knowledge,” advised Matt Warzel, an HR professional with over 15 years of experience in recruitment, outplacement, career coaching, and resume writing and President of resume-writing firm MJW Careers. “Get people to comment, like, or share your post. It boosts your industry and professional credibility, brand awareness, and visibility ranking.”
4. Tailor your resume.
Creating a strong resume is usually the first step in any job search. But in order for your resume to stand out and land you the job you want in Human Resources, you’ll have to go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and customize your resume.
“The best way to help your resume stand out is to make sure it is individually tailored and aligned with the specific position and company,” Richards said.
So before you apply for a job in HR, do your due diligence: Read through the job description, research the company, and find out as much as you can about the role, the company culture, and what the organization looks for in their employees. Then tailor your resume to speak to those elements as much as possible.
For example, say you’re applying for a Human Resources coordinator position. Does the job description specify that they’re looking for someone who thrives in a fast-paced environment? Then make sure your resume highlights any relevant experience, like an internship at a startup where you successfully juggled multiple projects at once. Is the company known for its commitment to giving back to the community? Then include your volunteer experience on your resume and show how you value philanthropy, too.
The more tailored your resume is for the position and company you’re applying to, the more likely it is that you’ll get the hiring manager’s attention, and the more likely you’ll be to land an interview for the role.
5. Treat the interview process like an audition.
Human Resources is, at its core, about interacting with humans. So when you do get an interview for an HR position, it’s important to showcase your people skills throughout the entire process.
“Remember that HR first and foremost is about people, and you need to be able to tangibly demonstrate strong relationship-building skills,” Richards said. “Companies will be paying attention to how you interact with their people every step of the way.”
“Treat every interaction like you're meeting an important person,” advised Warzel. This holds true whether you’re interacting with a receptionist, a hiring manager, or the company’s CEO. Be friendly and approachable, and send thank-you notes or emails to everyone you meet during the interview process.
In many ways, the interview process is like an audition; you’re auditioning for a role with the company. And when you’re interviewing for a role in HR, the key element you want to showcase during your audition is your people skills.
Starting out in your career or making any kind of mid- or later-career change can feel overwhelming, regardless of industry. These simple steps can help you through that initial overwhelm and get you started in your job-search process. Looking for a job can take a while, and there may be many ups and downs along the way. But always keep your end goal in mind: landing a job that will be the foundation for a long, fruitful, fulfilling career in the rewarding and dynamic industry of Human Resources. And though it may take some time and effort to get there, the payoff will be worth it.