Mentoring Matters: I’ve Got the Training, But How Do I Break Into the HR World?

by Margaretta Noonan, MASTERMINDS Panel Member

Dear Masterminds: I am seeking both career advice and assistance with job search. I’m receiving calls but I have not been able to land a permanent position in HR. I have a BSBA, SPHR and now studying for a Masters In Organizational Leadership.

Congratulations on making the effort to get the right educational background to be effective in an HR role.  A career in human resources means so much more than personnel administration so it’s more important than ever to understand the history of the profession, the theories that drive the various functions within the profession and the many, many areas of technical knowledge that need to be mastered.  You should be proud of the work you’ve invested in learning such an important body of knowledge.  And, as you know, this is an ever-changing discipline so there’s always something new to learn – something that delights the best HR practitioners regularly.

PAY it FORWARDAs the profession has evolved, we have created higher and higher standards for ourselves.  While the learning that you’ve mastered is important, it’s really only the very beginning of a successful HR career. In many ways, the part that is even more important is an appreciation of and involvement in a particular industry.  Today, good HR people are, or aspire to be, genuine partners with the operational leaders in their organizations.  This means that you have to understand what drives the business, what keeps those leaders up at night and what excites them in the morning.  And then, understanding those drivers, be able to translate them into the right practices, procedures and programs that will maximize the organization’s talent capability.

If you’re new on the job market, I would suggest finding an industry that you’re drawn to and begin to learn everything about it. This is both broader and deeper than researching a particular company that you’re applying to. This is gaining an understanding of what makes that industry tick: how is success measured? Who are the major players? What’s the competitive landscape like? Are there key talent issues that the industry faces? What would be your suggestions to addressing those issues? Being able to talk about an industry using its own jargon, buzzwords and metrics can help position you as someone who wants to take their educational background and apply it to helping a business become more successful.

If you’ve already been working while studying, then you have a head start. You’ve already learned some of the things that matter in the industry you’ve been working in. In addition to using the power of the Internet to aid in your research, you can learn more by talking to people in companies within that industry. Reach out to people you know or use LinkedIn to help you find others. Ask for informational interviews with business people (not HR!) with the goal of learning what their particular talent needs are.  Many people will be flattered that you ask – especially when you are sincere in letting them talk about their own problems, rather than trying to sell yourself. With your educational background, you already know a lot about HR – now work to be sure you know just as much about your chosen industry.

You’ve made a great start by learning the theoretical and technical nuts-and-bolts of our profession. Now you have to demonstrate that ou understand an industry, its business opportunities and challenges and its people problems and needs. By emphasizing that you’re are first and foremost a business-person – one who has been well trained in the people-areas of running a successful organization, – you’ll go a long way toward showing you’re ready to be a real partner.

Best wishes as you begin your career in this wonderful profession.

“Mentoring Matters” is an exclusive ongoing series of Articles featuring select questions received from our readers via our @MENTORING Channel, with responses provided by our @Masterminds Panel. If you’d like your business or career challenge considered for publication, please visit our @Need A Mentor? Page today! And don’t forget to join our new mentoring community on Linkedin, committed to giving back by paying it forward: BIZMENTORING 360°.


Margaretta Noonan
Margaretta Noonan
While still a senior executive at a global company, Margaretta Noonan started asking herself, “Am I All There?” After several years of exploring the topic of employee engagement – her own included; Margaretta co-founded ngage, a technology-enabled solution that creates a continuous connection between employees and managers about the issues that are critical to organizational success;. Margaretta spent 30 years in Human Resources and senior leadership with global Fortune 500 companies in the retail and professional services industries. Knowing that a company is only ever as strong as the talent inside it – in addition to ngage, Margaretta heads a woman-owned consulting business, noonanWorks (, dedicated to working at the intersection of employee engagement / customer engagement and financial results.

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