Careers in Human Resources for Young Professionals – Ask HR Bartender

Fortunately or unfortunately, there’s no single path to a career in human resources. This makes offering career advice to young professionals a challenge. That’s the subject of today’s HR Bartender reader question: 

Hello! I’m a human resource student. I’m doing well with the program and am about to begin working in a hospital as part of my work/study program. But I don’t feel like I have a clear idea of my future career path. So I’m writing you today to ask if you’d be willing to offer me some advice.

I’m looking to get a feel for the job market and how a new face such as myself might best approach it. What are the prospects for someone looking to enter HR today? As someone with their finger on the pulse of the field, what do you think are the current trends in the job market? Any little bit of advice no matter how small would be a great help for me to begin working my way into a long a fulfilling career.

I am extremely grateful and very appreciative for you taking the time to read this, as I’m sure you have so many people sending you emails and asking for your advice! Especially considering the hectic season!

Breaking into HR is not easy. For some unknown reason we’ve created this Catch-22 where even entry level HR positions need 1-2 years of experience but then there’s no place to get the 1-2 years of experience.

I’ve written before about how I got started in human resources and some big career decisions I made along the way. So I wanted to share with you the insights of someone who took a different path. Andy Brantley, is president and chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association of Human Resources (also known as CUPA-HR). Prior to his role at CUPA-HR, he served in several senior level human resources positions in higher education. I had the chance to meet Andy during a meeting of the Kronos Workforce Institute and asked if he would share his thoughts.

hr, human resources, CUPA, CUPA HR, careers, job, young, professional,

Andy, what are you seeing in the marketplace? Are HR pros in demand?

hr, human resources, CUPA, CUPA HR, careers, job, young, professional, young professional, Andy Brantley[Andy] Yes and no. Outstanding benefits professionals are difficult to find…such a tremendous impact on the organization’s bottom line and such a challenge to create competitive benefits. Competencies necessary for true business-minded benefits pros make finding seasoned professionals a challenge.

Organizations are also looking for data gurus who understand the metrics associated with employee performance and other drivers to organizational success. Individuals best prepared for these roles are typically not found in HR.

Tell us about your career in HR. What would you say is the typical path for someone wanting to get into the profession?

[Andy] My entire career has been in HR and my career path (undergrad degree in HR and MBA focused on HR) is definitely not the path that most of my HR colleagues have taken. That said, what may have been acceptable as the norm 10-15 years ago (the norm being that there was no typical path) can no longer be acceptable.

Students need the foundation of business knowledge and also psychology classes beyond psych 101. I also strongly encourage students to find meaningful HR internship experiences while completing their undergrad work and that they persevere and complete their MBA. The Master’s degree will open doors to future higher level opportunities.

Technical expertise aside, can you share 1-2 skills that every human resources professional should have?

[Andy] You are correct that technical expertise is a given and it concerns me that so many colleges of business are moving away from courses focused on some of the core areas of HR making it impossible for the student to leave college with a deep understanding of total compensation and benefits…increasingly complex and important areas.

There are several really important skills or competencies that every human resources professional should have, but if I have to pick two (I’m taking the liberty to pick three), they would be cultural competence, critical thinking and self-awareness.

Cultural competence.  All HR professionals should fully understand and personify an unabashed commitment to diversity and inclusion and understand that it is imperative to surround ourselves with people who are not like us. This makes us better able to respond to AND impact the culture of our organizations which, in turn, makes our organization more successful and just makes us better people.

The world is changing and shrinking.  If we choose to continue to live in an insulated box, the world will soon deem us to be disconnected and irrelevant. Also as it relates to culture, we have to fully understand our organization’s culture or our impact is minimized.

Critical thinking. There is no such thing as an HR role that requires ‘plug and play’ effort. Those routine roles that do still exist are quickly being automated and/or outsourced. Critical thinkers are required to manage multiple projects and to apply knowledge in differing, sometimes highly stressful, situations.

Self-awareness. I am not perfect and yes, I can be replaced. The sooner I understand my own strengths AND areas of challenge, the better off I am and the better off my organization is. I have to have enough self-awareness to check myself, my actions (or inactions), to seek the development that I need, etc. I also have to ensure that I am not so engrossed in being me that I fail to gauge the reactions of others when they are around me. Yes, it is often best to listen to others before offering my own amazing words of wisdom. (Editor’s Note: I detect a note of sarcasm in that last sentence.)

If I don’t have the skills you just mentioned, what would you suggest I do to develop them?

[Andy] The bottom line for each of these competencies is a commitment to lifelong learning and growth.

There is no 30-day course or certificate program that makes someone culturally competent. As it relates to diversity and inclusion, it is a commitment to the journey of learning and growth. Admitting that we must commit to the lifelong journey to learn and grow is the first step to greater cultural competence.

With regard to critical thinking, we have to change our mindset so that we strive to make each part of our roles require critical thinking…never accepting the status quo, never performing a part of our role without connecting it to something bigger than ‘getting it done’.

I think we all have some degree of self-awareness, but we must actively seek guidance and input from our colleagues regarding our interactions with them. This requires a willingness and ability to keep our mouths shut long enough to hear what others are saying and to observe how they are interacting with us.

Many thanks to Andy for sharing his experience and expertise. If you want to learn more about CUPA-HR, be sure to check out their blog. And you can connect with Andy directly on his Twitter profile.

The skills that got someone a job in HR a decade ago aren’t necessarily the skills that will get someone a job in HR today.  What do you think? What do young professionals looking for a job in HR need to start their career off on the right path?


  1. Karen Gallagher says

    The information provide is good and relevant , however, I think the student is asking for concrete direction and assistance. Here us my advice that has evidently worked if I base my correspondence from students and entry level HR seekers as evidence:
    1 connect every HR DIRECTOR / VP in your area and as for 20 mins to discuss HR direction and for advice on your job search – ie who else to speak to – YES NETWORKING
    2 be ready to give your 3 minute elevator speech – why HR, what internships and volunteering , areas of current HR interest
    3 stay to 20 mins unless asked to stay
    4 ask how they broke into HR and what they would recommend for you
    5 send a hand written thank you note immediately
    6 follow up on leads to discuss HR with referrals in the network
    7 follow up with all those you have met with your progress and who you have spoken to
    8 repeat
    You will get a job – isn’t not a straight pass but it will work!
    Old saying ” tough times don’t stay but persistent people do”

  2. says

    I used to think Catbert was funny. Over the years, I’ve come to realize not everyone realizes Catbert is a comic. Some people are developing their opinion of HR based upon Catbert. What a shame.

    Thanks for the comment!