Because We Like to Give Advice

by Evil HR Lady on October 28, 2008

I am interviewing for an HR/Information Assistant position this Thursday (October 30). I really really want to get this position, as I am very interested in working for Human Resources. However, I do not have any prior experience in HR, and have heard that it is difficult to get into the department without prior experience. Is there any advice you could provide for someone like me, who really wants to prove to the employer that I am serious about this job, and that I am the perfect candidate?

It is difficult to get a job without experience, but we all did it at some point. I’ll ask my readers to give additional advice to you, but here’s mine: Don’t pretend you can do something when you can’t.

I would far rather have someone say, “I have no idea how to do x, but I’m a fast learner and I’m willing to try anything. I’m sure I could learn to do it. In fact, in my last job I [learned x] and became the department expert.” So much better than, “yeah, I can do that,” and then you really can’t.

Also, I’m not sure what an Information Assistant is (but can I have one?), but an HR assistant is an entry level job where you aren’t expected to know everything, but you are expected to jump in and try and learn. Also, we expect that you will never make a mistake. (Ha! We know you will, but we will try to prevent you from making mistakes that will show up on the CEO’s desk.)

What other advice do you have for this future HR person?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Rodolphe Mortreuil October 28, 2008 at 11:35 am

If you already have the interview, that means that someone there read your CV and saw some potential for you to do the job already. You’re half-way in.

I completely agree with AngelicHRLady that the worse mistake you could do would be to inflate your knowledge. Be candid, tell them what you told here, that you really really want to work in HR (one thing though: if that Information Assistant thing is not pure HR, then remember that you really really want to do that too, at least at interview).

Show enthusiasm, put forward your ability to learn and how keen you are.

Make sure to prepare your meeting carefully: know the company you interview with (it’s not that you want to work in any old HR department. This one’s the best because…) and figure out some pointed questions to demonstrate you’re smart, about the job, the firm, whatever.

Good luck, let us know how it pans out!

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Rodolphe Mortreuil October 28, 2008 at 11:37 am

“worse mistake” should be “worst mistake”. Damn, no “edit” button?

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nectarines October 28, 2008 at 12:07 pm

What the previous commenter said is golden. Once, I was in charge of hiring an entry-level position at a magazine publisher, and she kept asserting that our magazine was one of her favorites and she read it faithfully every month. Problem? It wasn’t our magazine she was reading, it was our biggest competitor. She hadn’t even done that most basic level of research. It was annoying to hear her go on about how great our competition was. While that alone didn’t have us escorting her out the door, it sure didn’t make her case stronger.

At this level, you’re probably going to have to plod through some non-HR work. Heck, they’ve kind of put that in the job title. (And good for them for being up-front about it, anyway.) But good people move up quickly; what they want most from you now is to be hardworking and flexible. It’s a hard line to draw – you don’t want to sound like a total pushover in the interview. It’s okay to indicate that HR is where your interest lies. But…you definitely don’t want them to think you’d be annoyed or bored by other tasks, either. It’s often helpful to frame that in a discussion of teamwork – how well you work in a team, and if the team needs someone to answer phones for 20 minutes so that the receptionist can go to lunch, that’s more than okay with you.

Just your email to EHRL shows that you can put together coherent sentences and you have common sense. That’s already going to get you so far.

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jaded hr rep October 28, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Agreed – be honest in the interview and to yourself. Why put yourself in a stressful situation by inflating what you know or have done, when those expectations are set that you can walk into through the door and be expected to produce right away, if you know you need time to learn something?

I would also suggest making sure the job is something you really want to do. I can’t tell you how many times I see people who want a foot in the door, and randomly apply for any job and then sulk that the job on hand stinks or doesn’t help in getting the job s/he “really wants.” Research, research, research…

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Greg October 28, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Prepare a couple stories of how you successfully handle tasks that you little or no experience in.

What you want to illustrate:

You took the initiative to seek out answers on your own.

You knew when to ask for help.

You only asked for help on things you could not do.

How the boss and the team looked good as a result of your efforts.

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HR Godess October 28, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Definitely explain why you want to be in HR. What attracts you to this field?

I would want to know that it has something to do with helping the people. I’ve seen way too many HR professionals who want nothing to do with the people.

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Anonymous October 28, 2008 at 5:47 pm

All great comments and excellent advice for your interview!

Just one more to add to the pot…good questions from a candidate can go far in making a great impression. One question I may have is about the Information Asst part of the title. We all know that titles are just that – titles (and sometimes made up just to look good on a business card, but I digress). What the job actually involves could be completely different . In my experience “information” refers to data as in analysis or reporting. Or, they could be referring to straight data entry duties. If they don’t address it directly in the course of your interview, you may want to present it as “Can you clarify what duties this position will be responsible for with regard to the ‘Information Asst’ title?” or something like that. At the least, it will help you better gauge what you are in for.

Best of luck!

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TRANS FRONTIER CONSULTANTS October 29, 2008 at 5:01 am

good stuff

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Connie October 29, 2008 at 2:41 pm

I hate it when people (job candidates, hiring managers, HR professionals) talk about someone as having no prior experience. From what I’ve seen, it rarely goes well when you hire someone to perform the exact same job they’ve been doing somewhere else.

So my advice to this future HR person is to illustrate how whatever she’s been doing up to now is relevant to the job – and how she will apply the skills and knowledge that she has (however she acquired them) to the new position. Everybody has experience – sometimes you just need to connect the dots for people.

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Erika Smith October 31, 2008 at 12:00 am

I was just where you were few months ago – moved from IT consulting into HR. I even asked EHRL if I should fudge my previous salary (which she said “no”).

After numerous applications (overqualified for most entry level, not enough experience for specialist level) I finally got an internship which after 10 weeks got me into a permanent position and now I am a HR project manager. Things have worked out great for me but it was tough getting here. I am just fortunate to have found an HR director who values my corporate experience and really clicked with me from the first interview.

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Deirdre October 31, 2008 at 11:30 am

I will hire HR people with no HR experience in a heartbeat. People can learn the technical component of the job – I can’t train initiative, interest, enthusiasm, motivation, etc.

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Anonymous November 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm

hello everyone! thank you for all the great advice!!!! i took each and everyone of them into consideration and played them out in the interview. i think the one that helped me the most was “not to lie” about what i can/cannot do. i received an offer from the employer today and am starting in two weeks!!! i am so excited!!!! thanks EHRL + readers!!!

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Anonymous December 9, 2008 at 2:56 am

I would just like to say, when I started my HR career, I was a receptionist at a very large company. The recpetionist position fell under HR at the company. They created a position called Benefits Cooridantor. I had never in my life really even heard of HR. There were no job descriptions, I was given a desk, and a phone and told you will be in charge of Benefits and Retirement. I did a lot of research and worked my way up. No new job titles, but substantial pay raises within that company. I took my knowledge to 5 different companies over the past 20 years. If I can do it!! You can too!
One word of advise! HR departments and their “employees” are usually considered non-cost effective. HR does not generate “income” although we stop a lot of money going out, but keeping employees happy. So just remember that you will not always be liked and you are “costing the company money”

Good luck and just be honest! It is a great opportunity to help people. It comes with great heart ache and satisfaction!

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