How do I enter HR?
May 29, 2010 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm a stay-at-home mom. I think I've developed an interest in HR. How can I position myself to enter that field when I return to work? More resume-type info inside.

asking anonymously because I find asking employment questions terribly awkward and embarrassing!

In the U.S. I have been at home with my child for the past year, and expect to be home for a few more years (five?), but I can be flexible. I practiced law for a few years before staying home. While at home, I have been serving on the management board (as a volunteer) of a large public body with several thousand employees. (I also do a little part-time professional work, if that matters.) I have discovered, while doing this service, that I really, really enjoy the HR stuff that comes to us. I LOVE solving the problems that arise with employees -- individually, as groups, small things, huge things. I find the whole thing fascinating -- the legal problems, the processes for management of people, the hiring and firing, the training and teaching, all of it. (Of course we mostly deal personally with high-level hiring and with problems that have become epic; otherwise we mostly get updates.) While I was a lawyer, the part of the job I enjoyed MOST was client contact.

So I have begun thinking that when I am ready to go back to work, I might really like to work in HR. I have a BA in the social sciences, and a JD, both from top schools. I have no prior experience in HR, nor any training. I have managed employees in the past (about 300 of them in a job prior to law school), but it was a pretty small potatoes job.

How could I go about positioning myself to enter the HR field? I have plenty of time to think about it, learn about it, and educate myself for it, if this is the direction I decide to go. However, it would be very difficult to justify, say, getting an MBA since I already have two degrees, that would cost a lot (I might be able to get a full scholarship but then I'd have to go full-time and that defeats the purpose of being an at-home parent), and that's a lot of money to spend on someone who isn't working and could get a well-paying job without it. Do I network? Attend conferences? Engage in particular volunteer work? Take some particular classes? (There is a university nearby that has a business school for both undergrad and MBA work.)

I would like to both learn more about the field, to be sure I would enjoy the work, and to figure out how to position myself to re-enter the workforce, in HR, in a few years.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that your JD will be quite useful. I've met many HR directors that started as attorneys.
posted by k8t at 9:44 AM on May 29, 2010

I would join SHRM as an associate member, and join your local chapter as well. It'll be good for networking and give you an idea of what's out there in your area. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer with these organizations if you're interested in that.

Conferences are great for learning and meeting people as well; In my state, HR Florida puts on a big one each year, and your state or area most likely does something similar. I attended SHRM's national conference regularly, too, when I was in a generalist role.

Look into taking either the PHR or SPHR certification exam -- taking a prep course for either exam would be a good way to get a grasp on the breadth of the profession's body of knowledge and meet some HR practictioners. Plus, the certification is strongly desired for most HR jobs these days.
posted by ThatSomething at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2010

As a former HR person I would say that an MBA would NOT be helpful for you so don't focus on that. Your JD will probably be a big help, depending on the type of law you practiced. You might want to look into the possibility of some less formal classes, for example in Santa Barbara a lot of people go through UCSB Extension's HR Certificate program.

HR people tend to be close-knit, depending on the size of your town there is probably a professional organization that you might be able to attend some meetings of. In a smaller city, like Santa Barbara, we tend to all know each other so networking is key. I would imagine the same goes for a larger city but I don't have experience in that area.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:51 AM on May 29, 2010

I am an erisa attorney who works with employee benefits folks quite a lot. Look into getting a certificate of employee benefits. Depending on what you are doing HR can be really technical (cobra, hipaa, 401k rules). Having the CEBS will be useful because you will learn all those rules. Some accounting classes might be useful too.
posted by bananafish at 3:06 PM on May 29, 2010

MeMail me if you want to know about getting your SPHR certification.

If you passed the bar, you can pass the test without any prep courses which are a waste of money. All you need are the modules to read.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2010

I am not directly in HR, but have worked with HR people in related fields for many years. I second the SHRM recommendation. You might also want to start following a few key HR trade publications and blogs.

Top 50 HR Blogs is a pretty good list; Also see Fistfull of Talent's Top 25 blogs

In addition to SHRM's publication, I would suggest a few publications
Human Resources Executive
Workforce Mangement
Employee Benefit News
posted by madamjujujive at 6:32 PM on May 29, 2010

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