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How to Get a Human Resources (HR) Job

In Hiring Strategy — by Dave Anderson

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Every business with employees has human resources responsibilities. Insurance, time off and other benefits must be provided to the staff. Company policies and standards have to be clearly outlined. New employees must be recruited, hired and onboarded. And all along, there are numerous employment laws to comply with.

The business owner can handle these tasks in most small companies. But midsized and large companies employ dedicated HR professionals since people-related activities are so important and abundant.

Since HR professionals work in most companies across all industries, it’s an excellent field to seek employment in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is expected to grow by about 7 percent over the next 8 years, which is slightly above the average growth rate for other occupations. Additionally, the median salary for a human resources specialist is roughly $60,000, which is about 40 percent more the median annual wage for all workers in the U.S.

In this article, we’ll outline the skills and background required for launching a human resources career and provide some tips for landing your first job in the field.

Types of human resources jobs

One of the nice things about working in human resources is there are numerous specializations you can focus on. Here are some specific types of HR job titles and what each role entails:

  • Human Resources Director, Manager, Associate – Manage various HR activities within a company.
  • Human Resources IT Specialist – In charge of implementing and maintaining HR software and technology.
  • Recruiter, Talent Acquisition Specialist – Collaborate with hiring managers to recruit and hire new talent for the organization.
  • Training and Development Manager – Help employees learn the organization’s processes and grow professionally.
  • Compensation and Benefits Manager – Tasked with ensuring staff members are properly compensated and provided the right employment benefits.

The examples above are only a few of the many job titles that exist within the human resources profession. Modern companies are more concerned with the health and happiness of their employees than ever before so there are new opportunities emerging all the time.

Education needed for an HR career

The logical way to get started in HR is to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources. Most programs cover all aspects of the profession and will help you learn if you want to be a generalist or focus on a niche. Earning a human resources degree is the most direct way to get an entry-level position right out of college.

However, human resources is certainly a field that doesn’t require a specific degree. Many people are able to get into the profession with a business administration, finance or similar degree. Even studying psychology can translate well since much of the job requires managing people.

If you aspire to become an HR Executive, an MBA will serve you well. However, there’s no need to rush. Get your bachelor’s degree, work as an HR associate and manager for a few years, then go to graduate school when you’re sure you’ve made the right career choice.

There are also a few human resources certifications that will help you stand out to employers and build on the knowledge acquired in school:

And of course, there are numerous college extension programs, online courses and free resources that will prepare you for a human resources career. There is no one way to get your foot in the door, so you can definitely figure out an educational path that works for you.

Skills required for HR

Working in human resources requires the right combination of hard and soft skills. Like any job, there are different procedures and best practices you will need to be an expert in. But you’ll excel if you have or can develop the right personality qualities since much of the job requires working with people. Let’s explore the skills a human resources professional should have:

Hard skills for human resource professionals

  • Basic knowledge of local, state and federal employment/labor laws
  • Understanding of health insurance policies and other employee benefits
  • Understanding of payroll procedures
  • Technical knowledge of HR software and tools
  • Ability to develop company policies that boost productivity and morale
  • Knowledge of hiring and candidate sourcing techniques
  • Skilled in employee onboarding
  • Ability to form internal employee development programs
  • Understanding of standard compensation across industries and professions
  • Skilled in conflict management and mediation
  • Ability to manage a company-wide employee evaluation process
  • Knowledge of employee diversity programs
  • Savvy in analytics and HR data
  • Basic knowledge of the company’s operations, industry and customers

The exact hard skills you’ll need will depend on the type of HR role you decide to specialize in. But the more you know, the more desirable you’ll be to potential employers and the better suited you’ll be to rise to an HR leadership position.

Soft skills for human resource professionals

  • Empathy
  • Awareness of workplace dynamics
  • Problem-solving
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ethical, fair and discreet
  • Multitasking
  • Able to work with different personalities

Even though there are less soft skills needed for an HR job, the argument can be made that they’re more important than hard skills. Work can be challenging and stressful for people and the best human resources professionals do what it takes to keep the workplace productive, safe and positive for all employees.

How to get an interview for an HR job

Convincing that first company to hire you for a human resources job is tough. Until you have relevant work history on your resume, you’ll be at a disadvantage compared to those who do.

That means it’s important you work harder than other job seekers to get the attention of potential employers. Here are few tips for landing an interview for a human resources job:

  • Apply far and wide – Get in the habit of checking out job boards every day. There are even a few HR-focused job boards like HR Crossing, SHRM Jobs and  HR.com Jobs.
  • Network in person – The importance of networking cannot be overstated. Find local SHRM chapters, HR meetup groups and startup organizations and go mingle.
  • Reach out to HR professionals online –  Contact experienced HR professionals in your LinkedIn network and ask if they know of any opportunities or can offer advice.
  • Contact growing companies – Reach out to companies in your community that are on a hiring spree or recently received funding. They’ll likely need human resources employees and should appreciate the effort.

Remember that it might take a few interviews before you receive an employment offer or find the job that is right for you. Maintain a positive outlook and keep looking and you’ll be well on your way to landing a great job in the human resources field.