How To Make a Successful Career Change To Human Resources

Updated March 10, 2023

If you're considering starting a career in human resources, it's helpful to know what credentials, background and skills employers seek. Understanding the steps you can take to transition to human resources can help you get your first interview and begin your new career with confidence. In this article, we discuss the human resources industry, examine the benefits of transitioning to the field and explain how to make a career change to human resources.

What is a human resources career?

Human resources (HR) professionals are responsible for maintaining and managing an organization's human capital. They typically handle the overall hiring process, including recruitment, interviews and onboarding. They may also offer conflict resolution services to maintain an organization's relationship with its employees, lead socially driven training events and manage payroll and benefits. Professionals from other industries who transition to a career in HR may seek careers in management such as:

  • Recruitment manager

  • Employee relations manager

  • Benefits manager

  • Director of employee experience

  • HR manager

Read more: 10 Careers in Human Resources Management

Why you may want to make a career change to human resources

No matter where you currently are in your career, transitioning to a career in HR can offer a range of benefits. While changing careers can affect your short-term income, shifting to a position you're passionate about can increase your job satisfaction and improve your work ethic, which can help advance your career over time. You may also consider shifting to a career in HR if:

  • You're interested in HR tasks like recruiting and payroll

  • You want to improve social support in organizations, such as doing diversity training

  • You're currently taking care of HR responsibilities in addition to your normal job duties and you want to scale your career

  • You enjoy training new employees

  • You majored in sociology or psychology and want to use your degree to help people in the workplace

How to make a career change to human resources

Consider following the steps below to help you through the transition process:

1. Assess your needs

Before changing to an HR career, it's helpful to think about your practical needs, work habits and career goals to ensure you're making the right decision. You can ask yourself the following questions to clarify what you're looking for in a new career:

  • Where do you want to live? Is it close to where you'd like to work?

  • What kind of company do you want to work for?

  • Do you need to pursue any certifications before applying?

  • What type of role are you interested in pursuing: associate, managerial, directorial or executive?

  • What kind of daily responsibilities are you interested in? For example, do you want to lead training or would you rather focus on recruiting?

Related: Learn About Being an HR Manager

2. Tell people you know

If you're interested in making a lateral move in your current company, consider letting your supervisor know that you're thinking about changing careers. While it depends on your employer, you may be invited to job shadow an HR employee, which can offer you valuable training and connect you with a mentor. After the job shadowing process is complete, you can ask your HR department if there are any open positions in your current company or within their network.

Related: When and How To Make a Lateral Career Move

3. Get human resources certifications

Depending on the level of position you're applying for, you may need to obtain specific certifications in HR. Large companies and organizations in cities often prefer certified candidates at every level, while small companies or those in less populated areas may not require them. Earning HR certifications can demonstrate your up-to-date skills and commitment to your career change. Here are a few common certifications you may consider:

  • Professional in Human Resources certification (PHR): This certification recognizes people who can handle daily HR operations and common practical duties, such as recruiting.

  • Certified Employee Benefit Specialist certification (CEBS): A CEBS certification is awarded to people who are proficient in problem-solving skills related to overseeing employee benefits. Some employers may prefer managerial candidates with CEBS certifications.

  • Society of Human Resources Management Certifications (SHRM): SHRM offers two distinct certifications, including the Certified Professional certification (SHRM-CP) and the Senior Certified Professional certification (SHRM-SCP). These credentials show that a candidate has associate-level or managerial-level competency in evaluating employee performance data and can use that data to create a plan of action for a company.

4. Pursue continuing education

To obtain a mid-level or executive-level position in HR, you may need to pursue additional education. HR managers and above typically have at least a bachelor's degree in human resources, education, business management, finance, information technology, psychology, sociology or another related field. If you already have a bachelor's degree in a different area, or if you'd like to sharpen your HR skills, you can expand your experience by:

  • Enrolling in professional development courses online

  • Taking classes with a professional association

  • Attending workshops and professional conferences

5. Consider getting a job at a temp agency

Temporary employee agencies, or temp agencies, are organizations that connect employers with people seeking short-term work. Temp employees, also called temps, often fill substitute positions, such as when a permanent employee has quit and the company is searching for the right replacement. In contrast, temp agency employees are responsible for finding the right temps for the job. Working at a temp agency can offer you valuable recruiting experience as well as provide you with information about employers who may be urgently hiring in HR.

6. Join a professional association

When you're changing careers, making connections with professionals in your new industry is essential for success. Consider getting involved with an HR organization by attending networking events like:

  • The SHRM Annual Conference

  • National Human Resources Association (NHRA) events

  • Regional HR events

Read more: Professional Networking: What It Is and How To Master It

7. Volunteer

There are two main ways you can use volunteering to help you transition to a career in HR:

  • Working with a nonprofit: Volunteering with a nonprofit can be an ethically satisfying way to enhance your HR skills while continuing to earn your current income. Before choosing a volunteer organization, consider which HR skills you'd like to develop, and then apply to a nonprofit in need of those qualifications.

  • Leading new programs: To boost your HR skills before changing careers, you may consider volunteering to manage new HR initiatives at your current job. Consider focusing on social issues you're passionate about that are relevant to your workplace. Then, discuss your plan with the current HR manager for professional advice about how to make the program successful.

8. Update your resume

As you prepare to apply for positions in your new field, consider changing the format of your resume. For example, a functional resume highlights your skills rather than the jobs you've held. This can make hiring managers recognize how your transferable experience has prepared you for a career in HR, which can help get you an interview. You may also consider including any new HR credentials you've earned to further link HR to your professional brand.

Related: Functional Resume: Definition, Tips and Examples

Tips for transitioning to human resources successfully

The following tips can help ensure a smooth transition from your current position to your new HR career:

  • Define your career goals. Determine exactly which type of HR position you're interested in. Then, find a few job descriptions and identify skills to develop, certifications to acquire and experience to earn.

  • Keep a record of your progress. If you're moving to HR from a significantly different industry, adapting to your new field may take some time. To encourage yourself, consider maintaining a record of your efforts in a professional diary.

  • Follow up with new contacts. To make the most of your time at professional networking events, consider following up with new HR contacts by giving a compliment, asking a question or making an insightful comment via email or over the phone.

Get interview-ready with tips from Indeed
Prepare for interviews with practice questions and tips

Skills for changing your career to human resources

You can cultivate the following skills to help you transition to a new career in HR:

  • Leadership: Employers often think of modern HR professionals as business partners since they offer considerable assistance with managing an organization's daily operations. Aspiring HR professionals may consider highlighting their leadership experience, especially related to problem-solving and training.

  • Communication: Social skills like communication are essential for success in an HR career. To ensure employees feel valued, field sensitive benefits and compensation questions and provide employee performance evaluations, HR professionals may communicate face to face, on the phone or in an email.

  • Active listening: To determine how to help employers evaluate, maintain and invest in their employees' potential, HR professionals often use active listening skills. When updating your resume for an HR career change, consider emphasizing active listening as a transferrable skill.

  • Branding: Instead of focusing on products like in marketing or sales, HR professionals maintain, promote and shift a company's brand to recruit new employees and retain current employees. Internally, this brand may be referred to as the company culture. You can grow your branding and company culture development skills by pursuing an HR certification such as the PHR certification or attending workshops hosted by a professional HR association.

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