A Few Brief Words About How to Get That Job in HR

I try not to cut and paste letters but I received this note from a job seeker who also works in HR. I have her permission.

I am going to graduate in August with my masters in HR. I graduated undergrad in May 2012, which means I got zero experience and that’s fine I wanted to get school out of the way. Now I am applying to different entry-level HR positions and hitting the “no experience/w degree” roadblock. Which sucks. I’m networking with my SHRM chapter, asking my classmates to be on the lookout for me and building a solid online personal brand.

Sometimes I can’t help but feel discouraged. All I need is someone to give me a chance. I certainly ain’t doing this for the money, or even for my mom, she wanted me to be a doctor. And so what should I tell myself before I head into/out the interview? I usually blast on some rap music with explicit language to calm my nerves beforehand.”

Two options you can take

The world is a cold, sad place.

I believe in college, but had you listened to your mom — or me from the SHRM Annual Student Conference in 2010 and 2011 — you wouldn’t have pursued a masters in Human Resources. You would have pursued your MBA. Or you would have spent $25,000 living in Europe. You could have returned home to the same employment challenges you face now.

Darn it!

But you didn’t ask me about that. You asked me how to psych yourself up for an interview.

The real answer is that you are nervous because you are fully aware of the challenges you face in the job search. You know you have no experience. You know you don’t know how to do HR. You know exactly how you are going to fail at the job before you start.

So you have two options.

  1. Continue to worry about your weaknesses.
  2. Know thyself and chill the F out.

I like option number 2.

Stand proud, and be likable

Experience is overrated when it comes to jobs in HR. No two companies manage performance the same way. No two companies recruit the same way. Much of the training for HR happens on the job — even for middle managers.

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So if you got the interview, you are halfway there.

All you have to do is hold your head up high and be likable. Don’t say anything stupid. Smile. Be humble. Embrace your flaws. You were picked out of 500 other resumes for a reason. Don’t be nervous. Be proud. It really is an honor to be nominated.

And if you are lucky enough to find a good HR job, I want you to do is remember how this entire experience feels. Remember being humbled. Remember your nerves. Now imagine the stakes are higher. Imagine being someone who needs to pay a mortgage or feed a family.

How has this experience changed you? What have you learned from your job search? How can you improve the process?

I think that if you can demonstrate empathy towards job seekers during your career, you will make a great HR leader.

You can find more from Laurie Ruettimann at her blog, The Cynical Girlwhere this originally appeared.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 


7 Comments on “A Few Brief Words About How to Get That Job in HR

  1. Also, be on the lookout for jobs like Office Manager or Administrator that have lots of HR *functions* specifically listed but don’t have HR in the name. It’s a good way to get experience doing HR work, and you’re less likely to be competing with people with tons of HR experience. You might be a little over-educated or under-paid for those jobs, but hey, that’s what entry level is, right?

  2. I agree with having empathy for job seekers. The impact you have on a person’s life can be significant, and may come back to you in unexpected ways years later. Consider the note I received recently from a young woman I hired for an entry level position early in my HR career: “Pam, I’ve been thinking about you a ton this afternoon. Today was the 25th anniversary of the day I started at the receptionist desk at the ad agency. My entire career and most of my best come from my years at that company and, in essence, I have you to thank. You took a chance on a naive girl and gave her her start in advertising. So, thank you Pam McCarthy, from the bottom of my heart.”
    Needless to say, that note made my day!

  3. I think this particular article speaks volumes not only for HR issues or placement but in any field, in todays society, good decent morals seemed to have been replaced with overbearing expectations. Empathy or just a Gut feeling that the interviewer see’s something in a person that is not just an education or experience, remembering we have all started some where and that a very special person took a chance on us.
    we are an appreciative culture; we just need to remember and give people a chance.

  4. If you don’t have work experience or at least an internship while you are in college, then the hiring manager is taking a risk that your green rookie HR chops will flame out when you hit the pressure cooker that is their work environment. Just finish school is not a great career plan, and if you come into the workplace thinking you can just focus on one goal, or even 5 and finish them in a quarter, then you are in for a steep learning curve. Of course you have to keep your grades up, but if that is all you have to show for your college career you will have a tough time against your competition. Your resume may not hit the top of the stack, or you will not have a lot to talk about if you get the interview. You can’t go back in time to change that, but I would agree that you might have to find a non-HR job with HR components to get your foot in the door somewhere. It is tough out there, keep your chin up.

  5. I tell everyone pursuing a Masters degree to get a general MBA and learn about business —- not a Masters in HR. If you do the latter you end up having a very narrow focus. The need today is for HR people who understand business —- look at the survey results showing CEO “wants” from HR.

  6. I am in the same situation of being educated with no HR experience. I recently graduated from NYU with a Masters in HRMD but with no hands on HR experience. I am a Sales professional who is transitioning into HR. I already speak the language of business because i once possessed a series-7 license. My problem has been that i am not sure what position to apply for. I have over 10 years of business/sales experience but i have not received any HR offers. I would really appreciate any help that my more experienced HR professionals can give me.

  7. I have always been interested in HR. I have a BS in Business Administration with a Major in Marketing. I have 10 years sales experience, and yet – no HR experience whatsoever. I do feel I can learn fast, perhaps get my PHR certification and then try to make a lateral move within my current organization. That is a long-term goal. I wish I had a shot at a role in HR, but from working in the staffing world in the past, I know that employers won’t look for “entry-level HR” unless it’s right out of college, which I am not (only 30, but still, have been working in sales/marketing since I got out of college). It really is all about who you know, in that case.

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