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What It Takes to Move from Admin into HR

What It Takes to Move from Admin into HR

Are you interested in working in human resources but fear you lack the experience? Many Monster admin/support job seekers are concerned about making this type of move. "Don't be afraid to apply for an opening," encourages Shannon Arens, a human resources specialist with Sioux City, Iowa-based Terra Industries Inc., a manufacturing company. "There's great growth potential."

If you can't talk benefits or employee compensation programs with interviewers, don't fudge it -- and don't feel you need to. It's the intangible skills that count, says Donna Bernardi Paul, vice president and director of human resources services at Trammell Crow Co., a commercial real estate services firm in Washington, DC. "The technical skills can be learned," she says. "But skills like good judgment and attitude are crucial for being a good administrative assistant."

HR Essential Skills

"When I look for an administrative assistant, I'm not looking to see if the person has knowledge of benefits or the law," says Paul. "I'll teach people everything I know if they're enthusiastic, have a customer service ethic and are hardworking and reliable." Since company policies and procedures will vary, it makes it easier to learn everything you need to know on the job, she adds.

Good judgment and a large dose of discretion are both key to succeeding in HR. "You must be trustworthy, because people in HR know employee information before others do," says Rebecca Zimmerman, an executive secretary to the senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Terra Industries. "I'd say the biggest challenge is confidentiality. You can't share information with anyone." Confidential information ranges from who is in line to get a promotion or to be fired to what's in an employee's performance review and paycheck.

You must be a people person to work in HR, says Zimmerman, who divides her time between corporate relations and human resources. She received on-the-job training for her HR role. "You deal with all different personalities, so if you're not diplomatic, HR isn't the place to be," she says.

Arens agrees. "You need really good communication and listening skills. If you're more comfortable with computers than people, HR might not be for you," she says.

Paul stresses the importance of absorbing company politics. "You have to learn the lay of the land and the people, and know who to tap into to be your mentor," she advises.

HR Certification

While certification isn't necessary, it is available through the Human Resource Certification Institute, which offers two certification exams: one for a Professional in Human Resources (PHR), and the other for the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). The latter is for HR professionals with at least six years of experience. The certification test covers several areas, including:

  • Management practices.
  • General employment practices.
  • Staffing.
  • Human resources development.
  • Compensation and benefits.
  • Employee and labor relations.
  • Health, safety and security.

Why get certified when you can learn all you need to know on the job? For Arens, taking a certification test was a personal decision. "I started here eight years ago, right out of college, and I felt I'd been in HR long enough to go for the certification," she says. "I also think it'll look good on my resume and may help me get in the door for interviews faster if I ever need to look for a new job."

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