Advice on getting your first HR job

Landing your first HR role can be tough, so I thought it might be useful to share my story. My story starts with a girl I met in 2006 – spoiler alert, this girl is now my wife having been married for near on six years now. In 2007 I moved almost 600 kilometres to follow Isabelle, leaving behind the town I’d lived in for eight years. The reason I start this way, is because many of the first time employment stories I’ve heard or read are focused on networking. Now networking is great, but it’s not how I gained my first role – or any other role since. Rather I made ‘bite size’ progress towards my goal, and that approach served me really well.

So a new town, no connections, no experience in HR, and a degree in Psychology and Gender Studies, let’s get onto what I did. I started visiting recruiters, becoming one of the many to introduce myself in search of that permanent role…to no avail. The going was pretty tough, so I started to look further afield, widening my goal to gaining an HR or HR related role. I also started to look at temporary roles, and registered with one of the temping agencies. This led to a one month contract for a telecommunications provider working in their Payroll area. Nine months later I left that role, and moved into another Payroll support role as an HRMIS (Human Resource Management Information System) Administrator, then nine months after that I gained a role as part of an HR team working on data and remuneration.

Often times you’ll see job advertisements wanting X number of years of experience, that’s not actually what they mean often – particularly for those early HR roles. Often what they want is to see that you’ve been around HR people, but not necessarily doing HR tasks day to day. So when you read a vacancy for an HR role and they want 1 – 2 years’ experience, what you need to demonstrate is that you’ve been around HR people for that long. This is why it’s really important that if you’re having difficulty getting that first HR role, open up that goal to getting a role in or around an HR team. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in that role, as long as you’re interacting with the HR team on a regular basis – ideally daily. You could be on a temp assignment helping with some filing, working as part of the payroll team, being an assistant to the HR manager, you just need to get in and around HR people.
The reality is that very few people walk straight into their dream HR role, if you talk to some HR practitioners about their career journey; I think you’ll find most of them have very diverse backgrounds. I have yet to meet one HR Manager or General Manager HR that has done HR their whole careers, some have started off being lawyers, others have been form operational backgrounds, and others have been teachers. So after all that what’s the take home message, there are actually two take home messages:

Get in amongst HR teams however you can – be it temping, assisting, filing etc, get that exposure to HR.

The second take home message is this (and this is more applicable to those who already have experience in other fields):

Make your experience relevant, if you’ve managed a team in the past that experience is relevant to many HR roles, if you’ve been on selection panels that experience is relevant. Find what aspect of your previous experience is people focused and make sure you clearly connect that experience in your discussions and applications for HR roles.

All the very best

Brendan