Ask Humi: How Do I Land My First HR Job?

Jul 21, 2017
min read

As convocation comes to a close, it is on to the next chapter for the graduating class. For all the HR graduates on the hunt for employment, we asked industry professionals, Stephanie d'Obrenan and Michael Kim, for job search advice based on their years of HR experience.

Stephanie d’Obrenan: Nine years of experience, currently a Human Resources Manager at 30 Forensic Engineering

Michael Kim: Three years of experience, currently a Payroll Administrator at Toronto Community Housing

Here are their thoughts on questions that have likely crossed your mind as you prepare to compete against your fellow HR graduates:

1. What drew you towards pursuing a career in HR?

Stephanie: "I’ve always been fascinated by people and knew while growing up that I wanted to be working with them. During university, I had talked to a career counsellor who told me about HR and how it was an up-and-coming industry. I had never heard of the field before but, as I learned more about it, I thought it was a great opportunity to incorporate my interest in working with people. It also ended up working really well with my psychology degree as a lot of the concepts I learned from my courses were interrelated to the field of HR."

Michael: "It was definitely the people aspect to HR. I enjoy being in peoples company, interacting with them and hearing their concerns. I think a part of it was a drive to see people succeed, and that’s something I came to know about myself. It’s part of the human nature to want to be the best version of ourselves and so to be in a position where I am able to help others take that next step and reach their potential is what ultimately drew me to the HR profession."

2. For someone with no work experience in HR, how can he/she stay competitive among the pool of applicants in the job market?

Standing out without real-world HR experience can be a challenge, but it's not impossible. It's all about getting creative with how you brand yourself.

Stephanie: “Don’t be afraid to show your personality in your resume, LinkedIn and interviews. Everyone says they are a hard working, team player with good attention to detail etc. What have you accomplished in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your career? I want to hire someone that is skilled but ultimately someone who is also fun, dynamic, and enjoyable to be around.”

Michael: “Take initiative during the recruiting process. Instead of telling the employer what you are capable of accomplishing, show them. Give them something that relates to what you would be doing on the job. For example, you could pull your knowledge of the different business functions to draft a short proposal on ways of better aligning the HR strategy to the strategies of finance and marketing. Giving them a sample of your work can not only show that you are invested in getting the job, but is also a great way to showcase a variety of your skills in one effort, such as communication, detail orientation, and problem-solving. It’s really about thinking outside the box when marketing yourself and there are plenty of ways to do that - the only limit is your imagination”

3. When hiring for an HR position, what are the top qualities you seek out in candidates that are needed to succeed in the profession?

Differentiate yourself from the hundreds of applicants offering their communication, problem-solving, and organizational skills by giving employers qualities beyond what is expected.

Stephanie: “The ability to adapt to change and adversity. Employees are your biggest wild card, and they are always changing. If you can’t learn to adapt to the changing circumstances and the situations that different mixes of personalities among employees will bring to you, then you will have a challenging time in HR. You need to learn to embrace all the differences and roll with the punches and challenges. The moment there are no more challenges, then you don’t have a job.”

Michael: “I look for someone with exceptional customer service. In HR, the employees are essentially your customers and the ones who come to you first for a lot of their employment needs. It’s important to know that the person I hire has the ability to help employees address situations that arise on the job. Emotional intelligence is also essential in being able to quickly deescalate situations with frustrated employees. The ability to be aware of and have control over your own emotions is a skill that is often overlooked, but says a lot about how well you can handle the most pressing circumstances with employees."

4. Why do you think HR is still undervalued by many senior leaders and employees? How can HR professionals get them to see the value of strategic HRM in driving bottom line results?

Stephanie: "I think a lot of people may still have the mindset that HR gets in the way, that it's about policy, forms, red-tape, making rules and terminating people. For those who still undermine HR, I don’t think they see the big picture. HR is your function to drive employee initiatives, the ones that are going to keep them engaged, motivated, and productive. So I think the more we can implement the right strategies and have people adapt to the mindset that a healthier workforce is what makes a successful company, the less undervalued HR will be."

Michael: "I think the case with a lot of companies is that there is still a misalignment between their HR and business strategies. HR specialists have a lot of ideas to help drive the bottom line but it needs to be communicated in the same form business leaders will understand, such as metrics on how much money a certain initiative will save. For employees, emotional intelligence and communication are key. One of the misconceptions of HR is that we’re just a wing to management meant to suppress you. To be valued by employees, HR professionals need to remain unbiased and use communication to better explain why certain policies are in place. It all comes down to improving the employee experience, and if you are able to show how that is done through HR, more people will realize its value."

5. Considering the direction HR is headed in, what are the challenges and trends we can expect to see within the next decade?

Stephanie: “HR is going to be data-driven. Everything now is becoming so automated; artificial intelligence is going to be a huge determining factor in shaping the face of HR as we can already see happening. A challenge I see is that people will still want to have a human connection and I do feel that can get lost in this world of automation. But I also think that speaks to the opportunities that'll be present for HR. We’ll have more time to partner with senior leaders to focus on strategic HRM. I also expect executive coaching to be a big thing with experienced baby boomers retiring and the need for more leaders becomes prevalent.”

Michael: “It’s going to follow the job market, so we’ll be seeing the baby boomers retire and a lot of vacancies in employment. It’ll be a challenge for HR professionals because they need to be ready for succession planning, which I don’t think a lot of organizations are. Recruiting the right people will also be more of a challenge. For HR professionals coming in now, I think it’s a prime opportunity to move very quickly through the HR ranks. But it’s really going to depend on what the economy looks like in 10 years. HR professionals will also need to be more tech-savvy, business-oriented, and subject-matter experts.”

6. What has been the most rewarding part of your HR career that new grads can look forward to experiencing themselves?

To keep yourself motivated as you experience the challenges of job hunting, always remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Stephanie: “Seeing people that you hired enter into an organization and be successful. When you go through the sometimes very long process of recruitment and finally land on that right person and see them succeed - it is amazing.They often always come up and thank you (sometimes multiple times) at some point along their journey, as you were the one that played a huge part in getting them to their success. Very rewarding!”

Michael: “The most rewarding part I've enjoyed so far is being able to witness the impact of my team’s HR strategies on employee success and well-being within their own careers. There is something very satisfying about seeing others grow and go on to do great things, and it’s something I know very HR professional can relate to.”

7. What additional tips do you have to help new grads launch their HR careers?

Focus on building a sustainable career and, throughout your journey, stay positive, patient, and open.

Stephanie: “Start with a few internships to get a feel for the kind of industry you would like to get into and to make connections. Networking is everything. You may not get a full-time job at the place you intern at, but chances are you will meet someone who knows someone who can pass your information along. Even if it is just the most basic administrative tasks, getting into an organization, meeting people, and doing the mundane tasks with a positive attitude will get you really far down the road. Also, do not be picky about salary. It will take a few years of experience until you have the leverage to market yourself. Education is great and necessary, but it is not bargaining power.”

Michael: "Now that you are out of school, don’t be afraid to go back. HR professionals come from various educational backgrounds so if you’ve graduated from a non-business degree, consider taking some business courses in finance and project management. Or if you think you could improve on your leadership skills, take on a fun extra-curricular activity that’s going to develop that skill for you to later leverage in an interview. I think the lack of alignment between HR and the rest of a business is what keeps HR out of the decision-making tables in some organizations. So if you can continuously improve on your business acumen and show how you can bridge that gap, you’ll have greater leverage on you. Ultimately, just be open to any experience that will add to your skill set. The more patient you are now with developing your skills and experiences at the start of your career, the more success you will find in the long run."

Thanks to Stephanie and Michael for their time. If you have any questions you would like answered in future Ask Humi posts, email us at

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About the Author
Soruby KirubhakaranSoruby Kirubhakaran

Soruby is a marketing intern at Humi. She looks forward to landing a job in HR after completing her degree.

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