Top tips to help secure an early career HR role!

Written by Paul Withers for The HR Academy


I have been recruiting in HR for the last 15 years and a common question that comes up is “How do I find my first HR role?”

Whether it is your first full-time role, or you are looking to cross-train from another discipline, it can be a difficult process.  It’s a competitive industry to get into and so the first thing you want to ask yourself is ‘How serious am I about a role in HR?”.

If you are not that bothered but think it looks like it might be fun, then in all seriousness you may be better off investing your time finding a role more suitable for you.  The contents of this guide will highlight some of the harder aspects of HR and so you really want to give this careful consideration.

If you are still keen, then awesome!

You now want to look at how you can make yourself stand out from your competition and demonstrate why you would make a great HR professional!  It is no different from any other competitive sector, in that you want to ensure that you are doing more than any of your competitors to make things happen for you.

I’ve highlighted a number of points below to give some general tips, with further sections of the guide going into a bit more detail.

1)     Flexibility – The hardest part is often just gaining some experience in HR.  Once you have some experience then it becomes a lot easier to build on this.  When I talk about flexibility, I mean consider all options that you can realistically work with.  If there is a short-term temporary role, it may not be absolutely ideal, however it will give you some valuable experience and you never know what will come from it.  A lot of people actually find permanent roles from working on an interim basis in the first instance.

The same thing with part-time roles.  If an organisation only has a need for a part-time person, then look at how you could maybe combine other employment with it to make up any shortfall in salary etc.  Combining HR experience with other operational experience is actually quite beneficial as it gives you experience from all angles helping to make you a more rounded HR professional.

Consider voluntary work experience within the HR department of any local charities/not for profits.  You can combine this with other work to pay the bills, but you are slowly building up your HR experience whilst you continue to search for a longer-term HR opportunity.

The key theme here is to do what you can to build up your experience!

2) Focus on your transferable skills – If you have not got any HR experience or just have limited experience in general, then you want to focus on where you have transferable skills.  The very nature of early career opportunities means that you are unlikely to have done all of the exact duties of the role before.  What you can however do is look at the experience you do have and see how it relates to these HR activities.  You may have had a non-HR role for example and helped out with a recruitment process.  This is common for those that have worked in retail/hospitality where you may help management with some people related activities, such as recruiting or responsibility for helping induct and train new starters etc.

HR is much more data focussed these days and so showing that you are competent in areas such as excel, data analysis, IT systems are also important.  Communication and dealing with sensitive info and difficult situations are also a key component and so think about examples of where you have similar experience.

If you look through job descriptions, there will be plenty of times you have completed relevant tasks and so you want to highlight these in your Application/CV.  No one is expecting an expert, however showing you recognise the core aspects of HR and giving examples as to why you will be able to develop your competence in these areas is key to getting ahead of your competition.

3) Networking – There is a whole section on how you can use LinkedIn to support your job search strategy.  This goes into detail about how to create your profile and use it to build your network.  The key point with network building is just doing it.  It might feel a bit strange at first, however if you approach it in the right way, it becomes easier as you go on and you are likely to get some good results from it. Just set yourself a target each day such as connecting with 5 new HR people in your target area and make sure you do it!

4)  Follow up, follow up and follow up! Let’s face it, when you apply for a role at this level there are going to be a lot of applications and so you need to do all you can to stand out.  Now, I do say this with a caveat and that is you don’t want to become some kind of stalker! Slowly, slowly catchy monkey.  The general rule of thumb is that engaging with people is good, harassing them is bad!

If you have registered with Recruiters, then you want to make sure you follow them on LinkedIn/Twitter etc as this is an easy way to engage with them and keep you at the front of their mind.  Alternatively, set aside time to follow up with them once a week to see how things are going and keep jogging their memory.

Traditionally, Recruiters operating at this level will work on a multi-agency contingency basis.  This means that they work on many roles against a number of other agencies.  Unfortunately, the focus is therefore on speed of response and covering the vacancy, as opposed to a thorough selection process.  When a new role comes through the door, the CV response time is short and so you want to make sure your name springs immediately to mind.

If you have applied for a role directly, then you can also engage with the HR team of where you have applied for.  As I mentioned above, this is a delicate balance between positioning yourself as an engaged motivated candidate and overstepping the mark and starting to annoy people.

I hope you find the rest of the guide useful and after you have read it if there are any areas which you think would be a useful addition then please do let me know!


Download the full guide here!

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