… the HR Minion. Because even minions have opinions. And giggles.

Education vs. Experience

When it comes to a career in HR, what matters more: An HR Education or HR Experience? Experience.

Huh, well, that was a short blog post. Now back to those internet cat videos…

What? You need more information on why? Geez you guys are demanding.

Ok look, when it comes to HR, experience trumps education. And this is coming from someone with a Master’s degree and a PHR certification. Now, I’m not trying to discredit the importance of an education. A certification, an Associates degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, or even a PHD; these are all wonderful accomplishments that can and will help you advance your career and be a better HR pro.

But if you don’t have any experience to go along with all the fancy letters behind your name, well, let’s just say you won’t get very far straight out of the gate. I should know.

I graduated with my BA and even though I had an HR summer internship and 1 year part time experience working in the U of MN Job center under my belt, I still couldn’t find a job in HR. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was well prepared and ready to go. Instead, my first job out of college was in the mortgage industry where I scrabbled to get whatever HR-type experience I could, I started back at school for my Master’s, and I applied to every entry level HR opening that came up within the company. It still took me 4 years.

HR is a funny career where a lot of people seem to fall into it at the same time a lot of people who want to pursue it can’t seem to catch a break. A lot of really great HR Pros out there never planned on doing HR. Often the duties were unceremoniously handed off to them and instead of freaking out, they committed to it and learned everything they could about it. Sometimes they went back and got a degree or certification later, but for them the experience came first.

Once again, I’m not saying that’s the best way of getting into HR, I simply want to point out the ironic reality. Actively want a job in our HR department? No thanks. Already working here as a solid and trusted employee but no background in HR? Here you go, now go kick butt. With all of that do I regret getting my education first? No, but I would have done things a little differently knowing what I know now.

So here’s my advice if you want to break into HR but don’t have much in the way of experience (even if you do have the education):
1. Network. If there is one thing I regret not doing as an undergrad/recent grad it’s this. Network with fellow students and teachers. Go to career fairs, job seeker events, and socials. Join local HR groups and associations like SHRM. Network online and reach out through LinkedIn, Twitter, and more to connect with HR bloggers, speakers, authors, managers, etc. These are the people who can help you find a job and give you great advice. Maybe even one of them will mentor you. Be sociable, polite, and start making those connections now.

2. Volunteer. Find a charitable organization and put those HR skills to use. Help recruit and train volunteers, research and propose new ways to make every dollar and donation count, coordinate schedules or events, or even start learning about the joys of paperwork. You can feel good about helping others while you build your skills.

3. No job is beneath you. Don’t expect to come out of a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s program and get an HR Manager position right away. Accept that you will likely have to start in a Junior position at first. Work hard, learn all you can, and be grateful for the opportunity. And don’t turn your nose up at Administrative positions. A lot of HR Pros start out in administrative roles and prove their worth that way.

4. Don’t lose focus. You want an HR career? Then don’t get complacent. Even after you land that first entry level HR role you have to keep learning and actively seeking out new opportunities to develop your experience. Your boss needs someone to do the EEO report? Take it on. Someone needs to research pre-employment skills tests? Fire up Google and start looking. Customer service needs someone to create recorded training calls? You better practice your enunciation skills.

5. Know what you are getting into. HR can be a very rewarding career, but it isn’t for everyone. Before committing to furthering your education in a field you have no experience in, please, please, PLEASE learn all you can about it first. Try and get as realistic a preview as you can. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours studying for a career that you will hate and actual experience will teach you this in a way that education can’t.

Argumentative blog post titles aside though, experience and education should not be thought of as mutually exclusive paths to the same HR career goal. Education and Experience should be earned in tandem; that is the best way to become a great HR pro. So get out the there and learn and experience all you can. Best of luck!

4 Responses | Add your Own

  • 1 Another Evil HR Director :

    I am so with you on this! I was one of those who kind of “fell” into HR. It wasn’t long before I decided I liked it and started educating myself, joined SHRM and the rest is history…..got certified as PHR many years later and then SPHR just about two years ago. That was after almost 25 years experience in all. My education is not in HR, it’s in psychology!! Actually doing the job is essential. As you said, degrees are great, but it’s the practice that makes you!

  • 2 Shauna :

    I agree, you have to do the job to understand the job. There are just too many parts of HR that you have to muddle your way through in order to learn.

  • 3 HR Lady :

    This is right on point. My BS is in Finance but I have always worked in small companies where Accounting got stuck with HR responsibilities. Over time I grew to love HR more than Finance! I am now in a dual role position but I am working on my Masters in HR and researching PHR certification.

  • 4 Shauna :

    HR Lady – Go you for going back to school and studying to get certified! Best of luck! 🙂