For the success of an organization, the most important component is its people. One of the richest and most successful people in the world, Bill Gates, concurred with this thought when he said, “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people.” This, in turn, has meant that HR as a career option has become very popular, with a number of people looking to make a career in the field.
What do employers look for?
There is, unfortunately, no clear path when it comes to an HR career. Employers look for a few things from a candidate who aspires to become an HR professional. These include the following:
- Knowing more than basic HR issues: HR staff needs to know more than recruiting, employee engagement and compliance. There is a need for a deeper understanding of business, and in fact, people often look for someone who is first a businessperson and then an HR person.
- People analytics: Workforce data is integral to HR operations at many organizations now. And this is more than just gathering and reporting information on total compensation, demographics, and cost-per-hire. True people analytics looks to examine the information at greater depth.
Expectations also vary among different companies. For instance,
- HR could be reporting to the CEO or the CFO
- HR is tasked only with administrative work, or also with complex workforce management and planning as critical components
All these factors combine to mean that there is no one entry path into an HR career. There are, however, three common starts that someone could make when pursuing a position as an HR professional. These are as given below:
- A degree in HR combined with some experience in the field
- A degree in a related subject – such as business, industrial/organizational psychology or even analytics – followed by applying those skills to HR through basic work experience
- Transitioning into HR after working in an operational role
Any of the above could be combined with one of the best HR certifications, so that the candidate is up to speed with current skills and knowledge in the field.
Is that enough to get the attention of an employer?
A candidate could make any of the aforementioned three starts, but there is a lot more to be done to be signed up as a HR professional. The following tips come in handy when looking to make a great start:
- People skills are not everything
Contrary to common perception that being good with people translates into great HR candidacy, a truly competent HR employee is someone who understands the business aspect thoroughly and knows how to apply people strategies to make it succeed.
A common suggestion is to get some business experience before transitioning into an HR career. That unfortunately does not work for entry-level positions and is applicable only for more senior roles. Plus, it does not offer the value of HR nuances that must be learned to be successful.
Entry-level candidates stand to gain by demonstrating and articulating business acumen. It is useful to know how to interpret profit-and-loss statements and earnings reports and incorporate that knowledge into conversations with prospective employers. It helps to be able to intelligently converse about the industry and competitive landscape.
- Networking is essential
A good HR professional is someone who is excellent at networking. There is a lot of variation in the approaches of different organizations when it comes to HR, and networking could prove to be immensely useful in getting into an HR department. Possible ways to the network include connecting with alumni of your educational institution, target workplace, or professional association. Importantly, the event should be attended by a prospective boss, who could make the decision to hire someone in HR.
- Work experience has value
A degree in HR is a significant achievement, but it helps to supplement it with work experience, even if it is part-time. This could serve as a demonstration of knowing how to apply classroom knowledge to work situations. There are the complexities of multiple laws, regulations, and compliance issues, and it is important to learn the intricacies therein. Work experience can be obtained through internships, professional associations, or HR service providers or vendors.
- Be realistic
Especially at the start of an HR career, there are often expectations about the sort of work a candidate will get to do. And when it is administrative, it could be a disappointment. It is important to remember that such work helps to build the foundations of skills in HR, and helps to understand the inner workings of the field.
Should you get certified?
For an aspiring HR professional, getting one of the best HR certifications is among the wisest career decisions. Certification shows a potential employer that the candidate is serious about a career in HR, and possesses the skills and knowledge current to the field.