3 Ways to Prepare for Your First Job in HR

Article Icon Article
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
By Tony Sanders
Photo by iStock/AndreyPopov
Looking to start a job in HR? These three tips will help launch your career.

One of the most terrifying times in my career was when I was preparing for my first human resources (HR) job. I didn’t have any prior experience in HR, nor did I know anyone who worked in the field! Until that part of my career, I had worked in sales. I excelled at my job and, in fact, performed so well that the company’s vice president of sales wanted me to join the HR team to train the other sales agents. While I was honored to receive this offer, which I accepted, I was terrified about the new role because I wasn’t sure I would succeed. Could I train other people to make sales? How would I do it? What tools or resources should I use to get it done?

Eventually, I figured out the answers to those questions, and I share them here to help anyone else beginning their first HR job.

Study Best Practices

The best thing about working in HR is that it’s more science than art. That means that the best ways to do the job likely have already been tested, tried, and documented. Some companies have built their businesses and reputations around providing data and statistics on what's working and what's not working in the world of HR. When I discovered that, I realized HR was a “copycat world,” meaning that if something has been proven to work, other HR professionals will adopt it and implement it at their place of business. In most industries, that’s called a “best practice.” Personally, I call it a job seeker's advantage. It doesn’t matter if you have years of prior experience or are just graduating, everyone is working from best practices.

As you prepare for your journey into the HR field, study as many relevant best practices as you can to show your industry knowledge in the interview. That may give you an advantage in landing a new job!

Create and Leverage Relationships

One of the most valuable actions you can take toward finding and doing the work you love is developing relationships. In all of my work helping job seekers in their journeys, I can say with certainty that the best jobs will come from your network.

When you apply to a job, you’re normally limited to the information that is publicly displayed and revealed in the interview process. If you have established relationships at the company where you want to work, you can get details that will help you make better, more informed decisions. As a business school student or recent graduate, you already have a great network of counselors and professors who likely have relationships you can leverage to find internships and career opportunities. The practical application of leveraging a relationship is asking for their assistance in you reaching a specific goal, like asking a mentor to review your resume before passing it on to a friend who is in human resources at an organization you aim to work for. I would also recommend attending industry events and networking events to continue growing and expanding your network.

Relationships are more important than resumes and work history will ever be. Why? Because relationships not only will help you find great opportunities, but they’ll also help you do great work. Having people outside of your organization whom you can call to talk through scenarios, get advice, and gain perspective is infinitely valuable.


You might be wondering, how can I have experience if I’ve never worked in HR? Different types of experience that you likely already have will help you be successful in an HR career.

Transferable Skills. Skills that almost all HR teams need are strategic planning, stakeholder management, organizational development, Microsoft Office Suite experience, event planning, project management, and soft and hard skill training, just to name a few. If you are looking for transferrable skills, study the skills and competencies required for success in the HR role you want.

Nontraditional Skills. Nontraditional skills include any life experiences you have that relate to HR. Were you a conflict resolution counselor or peer mediator in school? Are you active in extracurricular activities, like volunteering, with a church or a nonprofit organization? All these skills and experiences matter and can help prepare your resume for an HR role.

The most important thing you can do to prepare for a role in HR is to continue to have the heart of a student. As the world changes and people evolve, so will the HR industry. This can be seen most recently in the impact the pandemic has had on the workforce. If you stay curious and willing to learn, you will continue to observe best practices and build your network through connecting with thought leaders and other HR professionals to satisfy your desire to learn.

Tony Sanders
Leadership and Organizational Development Expert
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.