New survey confirms most practitioners 'fell into' HR by accident

Few made a conscious decision to enter the profession

Brian Kreissl

 By Brian Kreissl

One thing that struck me as odd when I was completing my part-time certificate in human resources management was how many of my classmates were already working in the field. I had thought it would be necessary to have some relevant academic background before beginning a career in HR, but that wasn’t always the case.

Several of those people seemed to have gotten into the profession almost by accident and were deciding after a few years to obtain some formal education in the field and begin pursuing their Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designations. Clearly, people had “fallen into” the profession and were deciding to add some credibility and legitimacy to make themselves more marketable.

Indeed, it used to be quite common to go into HR without any real relevant education — or at most having completed some business courses or perhaps a degree in psychology. In all fairness, that was largely because HR still wasn’t seen as a true profession or an academic discipline in its own right.

Part-time continuing education courses are often used by people as a way of proving what they already know. In many ways, I don’t think HR is all that different from other types of professions and vocations in that respect.

I assumed things had changed over the years with young people increasingly making a conscious decision to go into HR as university or even high school graduates. Nevertheless, a recent study completed by XpertHR found things may not have actually changed all that much — at least not yet.

First jobs not in HR

The study, entitled HR Careers 2014, found nearly 85 per cent of respondents’ first jobs were not in HR. That’s hardly surprising given that few young people even today say they want to work in HR when they grow up. With the number of times people change careers these days many people still go into HR as their second or even third careers.

But where it gets interesting is how and why people got into HR in the first place. Only 11.3 per cent went into HR because they thought it was a well-respected profession and only 10 per cent said it was because they thought HR had good prospects for career advancement (although most people were still happy with their decisions to go into HR). More than one-half of respondents said they entered the HR profession by chance.

I suspect in many cases that was because an opportunity became available internally and people thought they would give it a try — or they may have even been redeployed into the role because nothing else was available or HR may have been perceived as being a good fit for them.

Making a career change into HR

People generally have a much easier time making a career change internally than by trying to apply elsewhere in an area they don’t have any previous background or experience in. In the case of HR, it can be easier to parlay industry experience into an HR role within the company; in theory, at least, such a background is often considered to be an advantage.

But in this day and age, companies just aren’t giving people the chance to make career changes due to overly restrictive hiring practices and applicant tracking systems, and the fact many organizations only seem to look at people who have done the exact same role at a direct competitor. Even “entry level” roles require five years of experience.

Because of this I suspect very few people will be able to just “fall into” a career in human resources moving forward. This is true for all types of organizations and careers, yet I believe we HR professionals are even harder on our own people when recruiting for HR roles.

Even people who do make a conscious decision to go into HR right from high school are having a difficult time getting into the field. The graduating students I’ve met majoring in HR seem to be having a very difficult time securing meaningful work.

While most people kind of fell into the profession, there seems to be a real double standard nowadays with other people trying to get into the field. Many of those same people who kind of stumbled into a career in HR now seem unwilling to give others the chance to get a foothold.

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