How do I break into the HR industry?

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HRArzu from Wilmington University asked:

“I’m currently in graduate school earning a degree in Human Resource Management. I want to become an expert in the field; how do I secure a job in HR when I only have customer service and teaching experience from Europe?”

Hi Arzu, I can speak from personal experience! What a great question.

Changing careers or starting over can feel like a daunting task. However, with some effort and dedication you can change your career trajectory one opportunity at a time. According to the Department of Labor, human resource professionals need to be able to demonstrate abilities in organizing, directing, and leading others. All skills I’m sure you’ve demonstrated while teaching and working in customer service. Since you’re in graduate school, you are gaining the necessary academic credentials to launch you on a path to success.

As a graduate student you should start taking advantage of the perks. You’re probably thinking, what perk, but as a student, you can join a professional organization, network, and complete an internship.

Join a Professional Organization

Graduate students are eligible for a student membership to the Society for Human Resource Management, often referred to as SHRM. SHRM is a globally recognized HR professional society that exists to develop and serve the HR professional and advance and lead the HR profession.  In a nutshell, you’ll have access to all things HR including a mentor, on-going professional development, an industry specific job board, and a local or regional chapter in your area to meet other HR professionals face-to-face. To get started with your SHRM membership, contact Stephanie Narvell, your campus advisor, this membership can be very instrumental in helping you break into the human resources field.


Network. I know it sounds cliché and we hear it so often. However, it’s not about what you know, but who you know. Here’s where I’ll share my very own personal story. I too, wanted to break into human resources after working in sales and customer service. I started volunteering helping a non-profit provide job readiness training. Writing resumes mostly and presenting on topics such as interviewing. Although, I did not have any HR experience, who do you think made up the pool of other volunteers? HR professionals! From training & development managers, recruiters, and HR consultants. I introduced myself, shared that I was interested in HR, asked a lot of questions, and learned inside information about the industry. From this experience, I landed my first HR position as a Staffing Coordinator for a healthcare staffing firm. Be sure to connect with your fellow classmates, I’m sure some are already working in human resources. If you’re not sure what to say, I recommend Laura M. Labvich’s book, “100 Conversations for Career Success”, she provides great examples of how to start conversations with people you know, and people you don’t know.

Complete an Internship

Since you’re a graduate student with work experience, you’d make a great intern. Use your transferable skills, transferable skills are skills you’ve learned in one career, that are applicable to another career. You stated you have five years of teaching experience that can easily transition into training and development. In addition, you also have three years of customer service experience again that can easily transition into recruiting: staffing and selection.  Your career services center will have a host of contacts in WilmU Career Link to aid you in your search.

Every Job is a Stepping Stone to Your Career

You already have the necessary “blocks” in place. Now you need to “build” your path to success.  Immerse yourself in the industry using a SHRM membership, network with your classmates, and secure an internship where you can use your skills and apply them to the HR industry.  Although, you don’t have a ton of HR experience under your belt, your academic training and unique set of teaching and customer service skills, are in high demand in human resources.

Good Luck!


About the Author

Winifred Winston

Winifred has worked in education providing career services for more than 10 years. She has worked with non-traditional students, adult learners, and even high school students. Realizing that how we start, maintain, and change careers is always evolving, she holds several industry credentials to ensure she remains relevant. Winifred is a Certified Professional Resume Writer, Certified Employment Interview Consultant, Certified Global Career Development Facilitator, Certified Federal Job Search Trainer, and Certified Federal Career Coach. Prior to working in education, Winifred worked in human resources with a focus on staffing and recruitment. Having experience in both career services and human resources, she is able to successfully help students navigate their course to career success. Her motto is “every job is a stepping stone to a career”.

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