How best to transition into a career in human resources management and development?
July 23, 2010 9:42 AM   Subscribe

How best to transition into a career in human resources management and development?

I am currently working in a non-profit, community organization. I'm interested in transitioning into a career in human resource management and development. My educational background is unrelated (liberal arts undergrad. and a graduate degree in Information Resources).

What's the best way to transition from my unrelated current job into the human resources field? Do I need a second undergraduate or grad. degree in the HR field in order to get my foot in the door? Are there any certifications I can/should look into? Potentially transferrable skills and experiences I already have: interviewing and managing employees; information and records management; customer service; developing and presenting training and instructional programs.

Thanks in advance for your help. (Anon. because my username is my real name, and I'd like to keep this transition under my hat for now.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not in the HR field, but was somewhat interested in transitioning to it. I though I'd get a lot more stability, a higher income, etc, so I was interested. I even looked into a master's program at GWU for it and learned that a good percentage of their grads were ending up doing unpaid internships until they got a break into a FT job. That's just to say, there are a lot of people interested in this kind of position and it doesn't require a Bachelor's or Master's.

The HR people I know kind of fell into it. Some are ex-lawyers or folks with a law degree. Some are young women with BAs in Psychology. You can look at SHRM, the professional HR organization/association for tips. But the sense I got was that there were a lot of people who were interested in being an HR professional because they see it either as something academic with a professional application, or because it sounds like a really stable career since nearly all corporations need HR folks.

I think they have some certification you can get. I don't know how it might translate into you getting a job, but I pretty much stopped looking into it when I realized I was up against stiff competition that wasn't necessarily more credentialed or talented, but just seemed more the "part."
posted by anniecat at 10:21 AM on July 23, 2010

I think the problem you'll face in a transition to a career in HR right now is a glut of experienced people on the job market. During the recession, a common strategy that companies have employed during rounds of layoffs has been to disproportionately cut "cost center" roles that are not directly revenue-generating or client-facing, including in HR. This has been particularly true of recruiting and training roles that focus on bringing on new employees - you just don't need many of them when you're shedding jobs instead of creating them.

Until this logjam breaks up, I would expect a person with a certification or degree but no background in the job they're interviewing for not to be competitive as a candidate, even for what would, in a normal job market, be entry-level positions.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2010

Just some background: I've worked in HR for about 6 years in the areas of recruiting and now benefits & comp.

HR is a difficult field to get into. I'm not saying this to discourage you, but there are many, many people out there with a background a lot like yours who want to work in HR. You will almost definitely need to know someone in order to break into the field and land your first job. I've met and worked with many HR people whose main "qualification" was that they knew the person who got them their job.

The greatest skill you can work on now is networking. Get to know other HR people and ask them about their jobs. Find out what you might like to do, and what companies you might be interested in working for. I'd recommend focusing on your training & people development experience. Good trainers (if you are one) are worth their weight in gold and are also hard to find.

Good luck, and don't get discouraged by the job market.
posted by pecanpies at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2010

I've been in HR for 20 years. (sob)

Pecanpies has it right. The other route I see people taking these days is to work at a temp agency to get some experience recruiting and placing, grab the first HR or in-house recruiter job that comes your way through the temp agency, and go from there.

I started out in training, then got a masters and did the standard recruiter/generalist/comp/management route.

I always strongly encourage people to explore WHY they want to go into HR. If it's because you like people, that'll change. Really quick. HR is a job just like any other job, but with almost no perks, unless everyone misunderstanding your role and kind-of hating you is a perk.
posted by pomegranate at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just dropped back in to say pomegranate makes a great suggestion - I know several HR people who got their current jobs by temping. In this market, that's often a great way to get your foot in the door. Keep in mind though that you're probably going to be starting out quite low on the totem pole. Temping will likely involve rolling up your sleeves and doing some boring, tedious work, but it's a start.

HR is a job just like any other job, but with almost no perks, unless everyone misunderstanding your role and kind-of hating you is a perk.

This is so true. I always tell people that I didn't go into HR in order to be the activities director on the cruise ship. You'll meet a lot of HR people who see themselves that way, though. You're not there to make everyone feel good - you're there to solve problems and ultimately impact the company's bottom line. I have to deliver a lot of tough messages every day, and some people don't like me simply because I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear. You've got to have a thick skin if you're going to work in HR. It's not very glamorous, and many will consider you nothing more than a paper-pusher or a necessary evil. If you know this and you're still interested in HR, go for it!
posted by pecanpies at 11:33 AM on July 23, 2010

Oh and BTW the standard certifications are PHR and SPHR, CCB for compensation, and yes you'd need to take some classes given your background. Mostly, you need to hang out where HR pros hang out - online that's SHRM, WorldatWork,, and lots and lots of blogs. The best, in my mind, are listed on my blog, which I'm surely not self-linking to here. Go to local SHRM meetings, join HR groups on LinkedIn (there are MANY), and try to get some experience through your current job, even if it's just attending job fairs with your HR co-workers.

Good luck. I don't mean to sound so cynical, HR can be a great place to make a difference for your company, and occasionally the staff, provided you build up a lot of credibility, work your ass off, and are very astute about the realities of your workplace.
posted by pomegranate at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2010

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