How 8 Different Professionals Ended Up in HR

Doctor, lawyer, teacher—we all had an idea of what we wanted to be when we grew up.

But for most, human resources professional wasn’t on that list.

For those who’ve made HR their career, there seems to be a trend: Most say they “fell” into their role by “accident” and just stayed with it for the long haul.

We wanted to know exactly how that happened, so we spoke with eight professionals—from a variety of industries and company sizes—and asked them, “How did you get your start in HR?”

Here are their stories and takeaways:

1. Take a Test Drive

I was taking an ‘attitude adjustment break’ from my career as a dancer in musical theater and took a three-month temp job as an HR assistant, replacing someone on maternity leave. I’d never heard of HR before. When that [temp job] was over, I took another three-month gig at a different company. I didn’t miss showbiz, and I found my way into the ‘real world.’ For people who aren’t quite sure what they want to do, I highly recommend taking temp positions to explore the various opportunities and careers out there. You never know where it will lead!

—Linda Paul, VP of Team Development, Schoology

2. Get Good Advice

I was about to get kicked out of general studies at Texas A&M University. I had too many hours and needed to declare a major. I met with my advisor and decided to get into HR. 13 years later, I can safely say that was the best choice ever!

—Ashley Crill, Director of Human Resources, Banker’s Toolbox

3. Keep Pivoting

I have a degree in photographic and digital imaging, but ended up in retail management for my first few years out of college. My next pivot was managing a massage clinic for almost six years, and there I realized how much I loved the onboarding aspect of my job. During my time at the clinic, I became the co-director of training and assisted with creating and implementing training and customer experience programs for the front desk staff. My next transition brought me into the tech world and transitioned me into a more traditional HR role with an agency in Austin—and here I am!

—Ariel Lopez, HR Manager, Geek Powered Studios

4. Find a Mentor

I started as an office manager and then event coordinator, reporting to the head of HR. My advice for newcomers is to be patient and find a great mentor. Most HR expertise comes from experience, so it’s always great to have someone to talk to when situations arise.

—Mary Lanier-Evans, People & Culture Officer, QuickStart Technologies, Inc.

5. Keep an Open Mind

I’m very much an accidental HR professional. I’m grateful that I was lucky early in my career to work for leaders who noticed I had a knack for finding good people and making it easy for them to do their best work. My passion for design led to a management role at a fashion company. My team got great results (seems passion is contagious—our customers loved us!) and the CEO brought his C-suite team to my store to study what we were doing. He later asked me if I wanted to help him start a Human Resources department. I thought he’d said, ‘human racehorses’ and I told him that was a ridiculous name for a team—we still laugh about it. Though I’ve since earned some educational credit thanks to great companies, co-workers, peers, and opportunities, I rely on my instinctive drive to make it easy for people to do the right things—for themselves, their teams, and their company. And I still think our work deserves a better name.

—Colleen Clark, Head of Optimistic People, Life is Good

6. Do Your Homework

I started working for a startup in 2004. Given how the startup world works, I got exposed to a lot of different projects and tasks. I reported to the HR manager back then and gained experience with benefits planning, recruiting, office management, payroll, employee relations, and more. The complicated world of HR really interested me, so I decided to study further and got my HR certifications (SPHR and SHRM-SCP). I’m really happy where I am in my career. HR is a never-ending challenge, and the constant learning is what I love most about my job.

—Abigail Arellano, Senior Manager of Human Resources, Regent, LLC

7. Be Flexible

I was in college and my current company had an internship program for HR. I was planning to go into therapy with my psychology degree, but decided to check out the business side of psychology, and it just stuck!

—Brittney Braganza, Senior HR Assistant, MIND Research Institute

8. Take the Leap

I fell into my job! I’ve been a teacher, QA analyst, and project manager before working in HR. I was a client-facing project manager at my current company, but was interested in doing internal work. I transitioned to managing internal projects, one of which was finding a new HCM platform. Several months later, there was an opening in HR, so I jumped in! It was great moving into a role that was serving my entire company, which I care about so much. My advice is to stay organized and learn as much as possible from people and industry resources.

—Micquella Anthony, Employee Programs Director, Velir

Though each is different, there’s a common thread to the stories of these individuals: It all comes down to the passion they have for their company and its people.

Ready to fall into HR yourself? Here are a few career paths to consider.

This article was originally published on Namely Blog. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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