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Transitioning into HR

Transitioning into HR

Question: What do a minister, a real estate broker and a lawyer all have in common?

Answer: They all work in HR now, and each can prove it doesn't take a conventional HR background to work in this field.

The Career Changer's Motto: Be Prepared

Anne Grove, now a recruiter for Newhouse Consulting, knows a lot about transitions. She began her career working on disability determinations for the Colorado Social Security Disability Department and followed that with a stint selling real estate. Then she became interested in technical recruiting through a friend who worked in the field. After talking with her friend, Grove decided she'd like to eventually transition into the field. She knew she could do the job and felt certain she'd enjoy the people-oriented work.

Grove spent the next several years preparing for the recruitment field. She went back to school to get an associate's degree in computer programming, worked as a temp, served as an admissions representative for a trucking company and worked as a recruiter for several agencies before settling into her current role as a corporate recruiter. Her goal was to see if she would be as good at matchmaking and recruiting as she thought she would be. To her delight, she has learned that she has what it takes.

Because she spent several years preparing to enter the field, Grove found her transition into HR very easy. According to Grove, each position she took along the way offered a chance to learn valuable skills. She is also happy and surprised to find out how valuable her sales experience is to her new career. Like a salesperson, she determines what a candidate needs, then decides how to satisfy those needs so she can close the deal between the candidate and her company.

Grove loves her work and wishes she had made the change sooner. She suggests those interested in making the transition into recruiting look for a good training program, find a good cultural fit and ask for a mentor.

Finding a Mentor to Help Your Move

Former minister, now independent third-party recruiter and president of Houston-based The Highland Group, Jim McLeod couldn't agree more with Grove's suggestion to find a mentor. McLeod, whose career has covered a lot of ground, including working in a family bookstore, children's book publishing and the ministry, decided to join his mentor in the HR business.

When McLeod left the ministry, a fellow seminarian who had already made the transition into third-party recruiting talked to him about making his own leap into the field. McLeod's mentor took him under his wing and showed him the ropes of technical recruiting. After working together for several years, they had an amicable split and McLeod started his own company.

McLeod believes third-party recruiting is very similar to the ministry. Both are relationship-oriented and require strong counseling skills as well as a clear understanding of an organization's political process.

If you are thinking of going into third-party recruiting, McLeod suggests you avoid the large recruitment firms with impersonal environments. Instead, find a small firm that's conducive to mentoring. He also suggests spending some time at a research company to develop the investigative skills necessary for success.

Making a Home in HR

Former attorney Laura Arment has worked in state government and as corporate in-house counsel, advising her company on environmental issues and employment law. Arment left corporate law to start her own company specializing in employment law. After a few years on her own, she decided to pursue a position in human resources.

Despite her strong background in employment law, Arment found it difficult to break into corporate HR. Ironically, her years of experience seemed to work against her. "Most companies don't view HR people as business partners. So they tend to seek low-level people," she explains.

To ease her transition into HR, Arment used a functional resume, which emphasizes skills rather than jobs. This was good for presenting her transferable skills, including problem solving, mediation and resolution -- all vital to HR success.

Arment eventually broke into the field as the HR manager for a small company. She now works as a generalist at a much larger firm.

Arment advises people making the transition into HR to be prepared to take substantial pay cuts -- at least for a while. They also shouldn't worry about what others think. Making a change later in a career can often mean giving up dollars and prestige.

For Arment, the trade has been a good one. She no longer has the big salary and prestige associated with being an attorney, but she's happy in her work. Who could ask for a better bargain?

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