One question I am asked a lot is “how do I get a job in HR?” OK, so maybe I don’t get asked it a lot, but it does come up from time to time. Perhaps this is the case with other jobs as well – Rodeo Clown, Mortician, Bomb Technician, Donald Trump’s Communications Director, and while I can’t speak to some of the other jobs above, I think HR is there because there often isn’t a clear career path. Spend any time with HR folks and you will notice two things pretty quickly. First: there are a lot of other places you would rather be than in a room full of HR people. Second: there is a high proportion of what I call “accidental HR people” in the world and I happen to be one of them.
Allow me to elaborate.
I graduated from college ready to take on the world, which in my case meant managing a now defunct auto parts retailer. It took me all of 18 months to realize that was not what I wanted to do until I retired so I got my stock broker’s license and set out to become a financial advisor. That was fun with the slight issue of pay, or rather the lack thereof. You see the position was what would be a called a 1099 position, meaning I was essentially self employed: I was a contractor selling my firm’s products and services. Put another way I was paid at 100% commission, no salary. After about a month of mailing countless letters, reaching out to dozens of friends and relatives and relentlessly cold-calling the phone book (yes, I actually used a phone book – I’m old, I get it), I scored a client and I received my first check in the mail, for $0.63. Sixty-three cents, and yes you read correctly – they mailed it to me. Granted, that was my worst month, but I hate to admit there was some close seconds as well. To add insult to injury I actually received an award, called a “SuperSTARter”, because I was one of the top performing first year advisors. I remember receiving that award and genuinely feeling sorry for the “average” performers in the group. Needless to say I decided another career change was in order so I began pursuing other avenues. Interestingly, my experience as a Financial Advisor put me in a unique position for a company looking to increase their 401(k) participation. It was an entry level position which was perfect for me considering minimum wage would have been a major raise for me. At any rate, that was the beginning and I haven’t looked back since.
So, if I had it to do over would I do anything different?
The fact is my time in retail and financial services/sales taught me a great deal that has helped me in my career to this point. Just a few things:
1. Just about everything comes down to Customer Service.
2. We are all in sales.
3. Never pursue a career based solely off of earnings potential. Choose something you love.
I am a better HR practitioner because of these three things. I consider my pre-HR time as my informal education. If you are considering a change and don’t know how to get there, take a look at your current job, what you do and think of how it can help you succeed in HR (or whatever you are pursuing).
One caveat, assuming you are considering taking a leap into the great wide world of HR, “working with people” doesn’t count. Sure, in HR you have to work with people but have you ever had a cashier or waitress that wasn’t friendly? They work with people all the live-long day, but that doesn’t mean they would be good in HR. On the flip side, there are some who are. I had a coworker who worked as a cashier while in college and she is a fantastic HR professional today – but she was also one of the most outgoing cashiers you have ever run into.
Alright, so HOW do you get into HR? Isn’t that what we originally started this rant about? The best advice I can give is to be prepared to start at the bottom and ask a lot of questions. It will likely mean you have take a pay cut and essentially start over. This is what trips people up more than anything: “I’ve been working for 20 years, I am not ready to be a file clerk…” I get it. Had I not made a salary that made people from 3rd world countries want to send me money, I would have likely not gotten into HR either. While I can only speak from personal experience, within 5 years my salary had more than doubled from what I was making when I started out in HR. Why? Because I was hooked. I loved what I was doing and was passionate about it. Did I have some amazing mentors (and more than just a little luck)? You bet I did, but I also got excited about coming to work every day. Oh, and speaking of mentors, I will leave you with a quote from one of them: “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” No truer words have ever been spoken.
Until next time, y’all!