How Do I Break Into the Human Resources Field?

professional skills

Regardless of your background, there are many ways to build your skills and break into the field of human resources. Read on to learn how to get into this growing field.

Breaking into Human Resources

The best way to break into the human resources field is to build on your current skill set and to get creative when it comes to finding a job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12,200 new positions for human resources managers will open from 2014 to 2024, while the number of new jobs for human resources specialists during this period will grow by 22,000. However, you're not the only one looking to break into this field, so read below for tips on building your skills and finding an HR position.

First: Build Skills

There are many ways to build on your HR skills without going back to earn a four-year degree in human resources. These include earning certification, interning and furthering your education.

Earn Certification

If you've been checking into the human resources field and available jobs, you may already be familiar with professional certifications such as the HR Certification Institute's (HRCI) Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or the Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). However, you may also be aware that many of these certifications require several years of experience in the field.

Enter the Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR). Administered by the HRCI, this is the first certification designed for professionals who are just starting out in the field. Since this is for people new to HR, no experience is required. It's slightly costly at $100 for the application and $350 for the exam, but consider how much less expensive that is than some college courses and especially a new degree. Keep in mind that has an aPHR certification study guide if you decide to take the exam.


Intern or Volunteer

According to Villanova University, interning and volunteering are among the best ways to break into HR. One of the benefits to volunteering is that if you are currently employed, volunteer work can probably be done after hours or on the weekends.

If you want to spend time in the HR field, interning is a great option. You can use these opportunities to see what areas of HR you enjoy the most and to build your skill set in human resources. One of the best ways to find an internship is to reach back to the college or university that you attended in the past. Most universities will work with alumni for life, so regardless of what you majored in or when you graduated, reach back to that career services department and see what types of internship listings might be available. Additionally, they might be able to help you adjust your resume based on the skills you pick up during your time interning or volunteering.

Attend HR Events

Even though you are working to break into the field of HR, you can still join professional organizations and attend their events. The aforementioned SHRM membership is open to anyone and costs $199 per year for a professional membership. Membership includes access to content such as webcasts, HR Magazine and discounts on conferences and seminars.

There is also the National Human Resources Association (NHRA), which offers a number of professional development opportunities. Both the SHRM and the NHRA also have local chapters as well, so you can attend events in your area.

Further Your Education

  • Graduate Degree

In addition to attending local events to learn more about human resources, consider furthering your education in other ways. Even without an HR bachelor's degree, you might consider looking into a graduate degree in human resources or an MBA. Keep in mind there are many online graduate degrees that can be earned without ever having to go to campus, so you can look at universities that are outside of the city or state in which you reside.


  • University Certificates

If a graduate degree is not a possibility, consider the plethora of online certificates that are available. eCornell offers certificate programs that range from three to nine courses and cover topics including HR management and social media. Programs like this provide an introduction to the field without having to relocate or complete an entire graduate degree.

  • Online Courses

There are also online courses available through other providers, such as Courses include Introduction to Human Resources, HR Metrics and Human Resource Management.

Second: Find a Job

After you've built your HR skills, it's time to find a job. As positions can be competitive, it's essential to use these tips and tricks during your job search.

Re-structure Your Resume

If you haven't worked in HR, a resume that follows the typical structure of listing your positions from most recent to least recent might not stand out among other HR candidates. As someone new to the field, your job duties may have been very different and a chronological resume might get passed over.

Instead, highlight your skills. Regardless of the field you've been working in so far, you probably have some skills that are similar to those of an HR professional. Instead of a chronological resume, consider a functional resume that highlights skills and aptitudes that align with the job you're applying for.


In an article for the SHRM's 'HR Magazine', marketing strategist and Duke University professor Dorie Clark points out that quantitative skills, such as data work and analysis, are lacking in many HR applications despite their increasing importance in today's HR environment. Make sure to highlight any of your relevant quantitative/analytical skills or past positions since they can help you stand out in a positive way.

Job boards

One of the benefits to the professional organizations mentioned earlier (SHRM and NHRA) are their job boards. Beyond the typical job search engines, this is a good way to find HR jobs, and you can usually search by keyword and location. Often these job boards can even be viewed without a membership, so you can start looking at them even before you join.

At Your Current Employer

Many people forget to look at their current company, which can be a place to break into HR. Even if you work in a totally different field, there is probably an HR person there who hired you and told you about the benefits. At large corporations, there are probably entire departments. Many companies will be more willing to take a chance on a strong employee without specific HR experience than someone they don't know.

Even if changing jobs at your company isn't in the cards, it could be a way to learn about the field. Some companies allow for employees to experience different departments through a 'tour of duty'. If something formal like that isn't in place, you can also speak to the HR department and see if they have time for an informational interview or job shadowing.


One of the best reasons to join professional organizations and attend events is to meet fellow HR people and network. SHRM boasts of 285,000 worldwide professionals! Many jobs are found through people that you know, so make sure to get to know people in the HR field at these events and conferences.

Additionally, see who you already know in the field. Check your LinkedIn connections for HR professionals. Reach out to friends and family, let them know of your interest in changing professions, and see if they might know someone who can help. It's possible that a friend of your uncle knows just the person to get your foot in the door for an HR job.


Start as Recruiter

HR executive Rachel Harriet recommends breaking into HR with a recruiter position. Recruiter positions often do not require experience because recruiters do not need to know as much legal and business information as other HR professionals. A recruiter position is how Harriet herself got into the HR field. After working in recruitment and building HR skills, you can move up within the organization or take your skills to another company.

Bottom Line

Even without experience in the human resource field, you already have valuable skills or likely know people who can help you with your job search. There are many resources available for networking, furthering your education and job hunting, or you can start by volunteering or interning. While the HR field is competitive, you can build your skill set and take advantage of some tips and tricks to help land the perfect HR job.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
December 2017

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