Making the correct first steps into HR

Hi everyone.

I've been reading my way through the community posts here about peoples first steps into HR and it's given me some good ideas/expectations about what to expect. It's also quite nice (although daunting) to see so many people have struggled with similar aspects to myself.

I was hoping to get some tailored advice from you successful HR specialists, and I think the best way to do this is to outline a little bit about me and you could give me some advice for my first steps, because I am worried about making wrong moves.

I graduated in 2018 with a non-HR degree, and since then I worked for a time as an English teacher abroad, and since returning to the UK have worked in a customer services call centre. That job was really demoralising and quite horrible, I ended up leaving and have been unemployed since then (living on my savings from teaching abroad).

Before University I also worked full time in customer services and I feel like there are so many transferable skills from communications and people management etc.

Right now I have been applying for all entry level HR roles to try and get my foot in the door, and the majority I don't hear back from. I believe this to be because I have no direct HR experience, even though I have tried to tailor my CV with all the transferable skills I do have that are similar. 

I am currently not in a position where I can self fund the level 3 CIPD qualification, so I was wondering what my options were? Do I keep going for the entry level HR jobs and hope someone will give me a chance? Or would I be better off going for admin/office based roles to get some income before looking at CIPD qualifications and then moving into HR? 

I am living in London which I thought would be the land of opportunity with how many businesses are here, but I guess I also have far more competition. I'm not in a financial position where I can carry out unpaid voluntary work either. But I would definitely be open to something temporary or part time to just get some income coming back in if it would help boost my CV.

My long term goals are to get CIPD qualified and hopefully develop into diversity and inclusion further into my career, but getting stuck at the first hurdle is a bit demoralising! 

Any tips or advice you might have for me would be amazing, thank you for reading!


  • Would you consider broader office-based temping to build up some income (and potentially useful connections), then volunteering or studying in the gaps between temp assignments? Admin roles within HR departments might be the way to go when you're looking at temp assignment opportunities. Good luck with your search!
  • Give that you're in London, your most reliable pathway, if you cannot afford to undertake a Level 3 course on your own account, is - as Sarah says - to begin with generalist office temping: take any white collar role you can talk your way into. Odds are good that you'll meet HR in your induction, so be honest with them that you're looking for a way into HR but looking to do any office temp role in the mean time. Read through this forum for lots of free advice, case studies and employment law insight, so you'll be able to demonstrate an interest in and knowledge of the discipline.

    If you work hard and show yourself to be reliable and intelligent, it will make an impression. Do this enough and, when a vacancy for a temp in HR arises, they'll ask for you specifically and you'll have your first step.

    In the mean time, continue applying for ever HR admin role you can find and - again - equip yourself with knowledge from this forum and the CIPD website.

    I should add, though: don't kid yourself about transferable skills between customer service and HR. I wouldn't say there aren't any, but they really aren't what someone looking into HR from outside would think they are. The main real one is the ability to refrain from throttling idiots who deserve it.
  • I agree with the Sarah and Robey, in that temping into a general admin role initially, may be a good route.

    If you can find a large organisation, you could then talk to the HR Department about your career aims and they may be able to provide some development. I have a colleague who joined my organisation (large public authority) with a Teaching background. She worked in a general admin role temporarily initially, then became permanent in that role. She talked to a number of managers in the HR Team about her transferable skills and has just successfully applied for a HR role in the OD team. I think it has taken her about 8 months from joining, to getting this role.

    Good luck
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    19 Nov, 2019 11:00

    Welcome to the Community, Elliot.
  • Hi Elliot
    In addition to temp work, how about approaching some larger organisations to ask if they have any HR-related opportunities? I know it will a long-shot but I've taken on two employees in the past couple of years who have sent me a speculative CV, simply because they happened to contact me at the right time! You never know!
    I wish you lots of luck in any case and hope you achieve your ambition.
  • A Level 3 HR apprenticeship would also be a good way in for you. These are often advertised by the training companies providing the apprenticeship, who will then find a candidate for the employer. It might be a good idea to research the providers near you (there is a list somewhere of the approved ones on the CIPD website) and get in touch with them.
  • Hi Elliot

    Don't give up! It took me 2 years and around 200 applications before I got my first full time HR role after University. I like to tell myself it's mostly because I graduated in the middle of the financial chaos that affected the job market where I was living at the time but I will admit it was also down to me not marketing myself correctly. But my point is that if you stick with it you will eventually break through.

    When I've hired for entry level HR roles in the past (e.g. HR Administrator roles) I've not even asked for transferable 'HR' skills. I've been hiring for an administrator first and foremost. If those are the sorts of roles you are going for perhaps tweaking your CV to highlight those skills might do the trick. Yes transferable skills like people management are going to be important further down the line in your career but at least initially being able to run and interpret regular reports, do excellent minutes and accurate data entry skills are more likely to be exciting to an employer.

    Good luck!

    P.s. those admin skills are something that will serve you well throughout your entire HR career so it's worth the time to hone them
  • Hi Elliot

    Welcome to the HR Community!

    My first step in to the world of HR was via working in the prison service! Having left University with work experience based purely in retail, it became very clear that to get into HR I needed office based experience. I worked at the local prison basic admin involving prisonner records and files and continued to apply for roles. My view was than any admin office experience would support my ultimate goal to work in HR.
    With this is mind, I obviously disagree slightly with Robey as I think there are transferrable skills into HR from customer service. Certainly my experience in the prison based me in good stead to deal with employee files and confidentiality and I believe in my HR team that we need to talk to our customers and offer them the service thatthey are looking for in terms of timeliness and approach and understanding our customers so there are elements which you can use in a HR career.
    Additionally perhaps look at other routes into HR, you mention you were a teacher, have you considered looking at L&D roles; or with your customer service background you could look at recruitment/resourcing based roles within agencies. Most HR people will have agencies they work closely and building up good relationships with inhouse HR may enable job opportunities to come your way and offer you an entry in to the world of HR.

    Good Luck!
  • I agree with others - get what office admin experience you can. I, like many others, started by temping, first general office admin, then recruitment and finally into HR.
    In my sector (corporate law), CIPD qualifications aren't particularly sought after. Sure, it helps demonstrate an interest and commitment but hiring managers will be much more interested in what experience you have and general office administration (or HR or related areas like recruitment, payroll etc if you can get it) will get you further. Familiarity with the environment and the types of internal clients also helps, so get temp work in a few different industries if you can and see where you feel at home. Appreciate it isn't the same in all industries.
  • In reply to Claire:

    I am also finding it very difficult to break into the HR Profession, I have completed my CIPD Level 5 now. I wanted ideally a part-time position initially due to childcare reasons but I am finding that these are either dealt with in-house due to advertising costs or go extremely quickly. I agree that you CV has to be marketed really well. From experience I believe it is better applying directly with companies than recruitment companies as you do not get the constructive feedback that is necessary to support your learning journey. I am currently sending my CV to different employers within my target radius and I am happy to work voluntary for a short-term period until I get that necessary experience of the HR function.

    My background is PA/Company Secretary within higher education and management consultancy. I have had a little exposure to the HR department in a charity sector for approximately 1 week but then was seconded into the Finance department due to their upcoming financial audit.

    Trying to break into HR is extremely difficult....I keep trying and will be applying for full-time position's as well.

    Any further comments and suggests would be most useful and appreciated.
  • In reply to Robey:

    I nearly throttled the guy at the Job Centre today. He made me feel absolutely worthless, by telling me I should not ask questions at interviews as it might be putting people off hiring me! As a HR professional I have spent alot of time asking questions.
  • In reply to Jules:

    He's obviously not used to having to advise someone of your experience and job level, Jules! Hang in there and know that you're right and he's wrong. ;-)
  • In reply to Jules:

    I've signed on twice in my life. Never again. I'd rather go without benefits than put myself through that experience again.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Completely agreed with that one Robey, only signed on when I was in between jobs initially for approximately 2 weeks many years ago then I went straight into temping working until I had my permanent position confirmed in writing two months later.

    We have to remember though that signing on is an entitlement and there should not be any shame in the task. It is about being proactive in finding work opportunities that will get you back into work asap. A HR Director could easily find themselves out of a job due to the economical climate as much as a HR administrator and both would need to sign on claiming for benefit entitlements until they find work......nobody wants to be out of work and not being able to paid bills and enjoying their lifestyle.
  • Just a quick update - I now have a job! I started Tuesday as a HR Advisor for a Large car dealership. You should have seen me waltz into the job centre last week to sign off.