May 24, 2021 | Ruth Hartgen, PHR
How to Apply for Entry-Level Human Resource Jobs
Demand for competent human resource professionals has risen in recent years, including entry level human resource jobs. The world of work has experienced accelerated evolution in a brief period of time, and companies are scrambling to adapt their human capital management (HCM) processes. As a result, HR is a promising career choice, and one with no formal barriers to entry.
It’s an opportunity to learn what you love about HR and which facet of the function is the best match for your skills. But how you frame those skills in your resume, application and interview could make a significant difference in how your application is received — especially if you have no formal HR experience or education.
Here are some practices to help you ace applications to entry-level HR jobs.
Highlight Your Transferable Skills
If you don’t have any professional HR experience, highlight transferable skills that you’ve gained and sharpened at previous jobs. HR is a people-focused profession, so showcase skills like collaboration, leadership skills and the ability to work well in diverse groups of people. But don’t feel confined to previous work experiences: Sharing experiences you’ve had in volunteer positions or on a sports team can help you build a compelling case for learning HR-related soft skills.
“I would always talk about how I was captain of my volleyball team, which exhibited leadership skills, and how I’d stay and help people after practice, which showed I’m a team player,” says Morgan Grey, aPHR, Talent Attraction Partner at iCIMS. Draw connections between non-HR experiences and current skills to articulate your case in a cover letter or interview.
Among other key skills, HR professionals need excellent oral and written communication abilities to convey ideas top-down, bottom-up and laterally with senior leadership and employees across the organization. If you apply for an entry-level HR job in benefits administration, for example, you need to demonstrate an ability to communicate complex items to others in a concise and straightforward way. If you’ve ever held a retail, hospitality, food service or other public-facing job, you can make an effective case for good communication skills.
Other transferable skills you may have picked up from previous jobs, volunteer experiences or sports involvement include leading a group, timekeeping, or managing people, activities or schedules. These types of activities demonstrate your natural leadership tendencies, attention to detail and ability to multitask — all of which you can bring to bear in entry-level HR jobs.
Engage in Learning Resources
If you’ve never worked in HR before, try to familiarize yourself with some of its key terms and current trends. Along with soft skills, being able to connect your professional goals at the company with changes occurring in work will demonstrate knowledge of big concepts in HR. There are free resources available, such as podcasts and webinars, to help you catch up on what’s happening in the world of work. HRCI®, for example, hosts Inevitable: The Future of Work and Alchemizing HR, both of which are available for free. These shows dive into current topics and issues in HR, helping you remain informed and up to date on HR trends.
Certification, and the coursework you’ll do to prepare for the exam, is another effective way to learn the basics of HR. The Associate Professional in Human Resources® (aPHR®) doesn’t require experience, so anyone can apply to sit for the exam. The study materials you’d use to prepare will get you up to speed on the basics of HR, especially when it comes to learning about specific employment laws. Earning HR certification demonstrates mastery of core HR concepts and how to apply them in the workplace. The more you know ahead of time, the better you’ll be set up for success in your entry level HR job — and to mitigate the risk of noncompliance with labor laws.
HR certification also helps your resume or LinkedIn profile stand out to recruiters. “Having a certification will add more validity to your experience,” Grey says. Investing time and money into getting certified demonstrates a genuine interest in, and commitment to, HR.
Apply to Entry-Level Human Resources Jobs You Can Learn From
HR has many facets, from benefits to recruiting to employee experience. Look for entry-level human resources jobs where you can learn which aspects you like the best. People often have to work in various facets throughout their early career to determine what they really enjoy doing. Without being involved in different parts of HR early on, it’s hard to make the right decision further down your career path.
Roles that are great for learning more about HR include becoming an assistant to an HR generalist or to a higher-level HR leader. HR generalists have been in high demand for the past year, so learning the generalist function could have a significant influence on your career. Since HR professionals at smaller organizations tend to do more generalist work, consider applying there to gain exposure to a variety of HR jobs. Small organizations are often more willing to bet on someone who doesn’t have HR experience but demonstrates promising skills and abilities.
When applying for an entry-level human resources job, try to get a sense of who your colleagues would be within the HR role and who would be training you if the company brought you on. “When you see jobs posted, especially on LinkedIn, reach out to the hiring manager,” Grey says. “Start a conversation; you’ll be setting yourself up better than most candidates.” This will give you a chance to make a connection and find out more about who’d be your supervisor in the role. Ideally, you’ll find someone who can become a mentor and help you grow while you’re there. If a company advertises its learning and development program or professional growth opportunities, that could signal that the organization takes learning seriously. And that can result in better learning opportunities for you to enhance your HR career.
Apply to a Company You’re Passionate About
Think about the kind of organization you want to work for and support. When you’re working in HR, you need to be all-in. You should feel strongly about the company you’re working for, because in supporting its people you’re also upholding its mission, vision and values. Starting your career at a company you aren’t passionate about can sour experiences at entry-level HR jobs and make it hard to get a read on where you want to go long term.
Try to learn as much as you can about a company’s organizational culture. For example, at HRCI, we have an employee culture page with employee testimonials, transparent information about our benefits and photos showcasing social and team-building activities. Look for a similar page at the companies you apply to. They give you a sense of a company’s culture and how employee-focused the organization is. If a company’s culture isn’t appealing to you, it could mean that your work style isn’t a good match for that culture. Prioritize companies that you do find attractive.
Prepare to Ace Your Interview
Always review the job posting before going into an interview. Knowing what the company and hiring manager are looking for in an ideal candidate can help you prepare for the types of questions interviewers might ask for entry-level human resource jobs. If the job requires skills with a certain software you’ve never used before, for example, plan to share your experiences learning a similar software as evidence that you can quickly pick up the required technical skills.
Try to demonstrate strong organizational skills during the interview. HR is often called upon to multitask, especially in a small organization. Use active listening to stay on track and provide targeted answers. Try to avoid distractions, especially in a virtual interview. If you’re interviewing from home, find a room that’s quiet and tidy. Close tabs that could be distracting (like your inbox) and turn off the volume on your phone. Communicate with other members of the household that you need quiet time, and make sure your pets have everything they need in advance so they don’t distract you.
The interview is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills, too, so come prepared and ready to express yourself. Remember that it’s OK to take a second before answering each question to give better responses and examples. It’s better to respond well with a targeted answer than to respond quickly with an off-target answer or lots of filler words.
If the interview goes well, the hiring manager will follow up by checking your references. Most hiring managers will want to talk to at least one person who managed you, since they can ask that person more targeted questions than they can ask a colleague. Let your references know that you’ve put them on your list, and share the job posting with them beforehand so they can see what the hiring manager is looking for. Your references will be able to tailor their response and offer more specific examples of your skills and work experience if they can get a sense of what the position requires.
Finding the right entry-level HR jobs to apply to is a strategic move. Starting off in the right entry-level role prepares you for a long and happy career.
Earn your Associate Professional in Human Resources® (aPHR®) certification.