There are many undergraduate programs that expose students to business concepts that are vital
to success in an HR career. Employers
are looking to hire well-rounded graduates who have a range of valuable soft
skills such as communications and teamwork, according to the Association of
American Colleges and Universities.
While an HR degree certainly prepares
those seeking an HR career, it’s more
important to follow your own path—and
to go the extra mile to gain real-life experience. Continuous learning is the key to
success in today’s world.
Many of the most successful HR professionals I know earned undergraduate
degrees in areas other than HR, which
draws from myriad disciplines. If your
passion leans toward organizational psychology, finance or information technology, go for it!
Students serious about pursuing an HR
career will need to develop their interpersonal skills, decision-making proficiency,
leadership ability and technological prowess. I majored in human resource management as well as operations management
with a minor in economics. I felt that
this combination gave me a view of business management and an understanding
of how different departments and teams
work together to create a successful company—but that is just one possible path to
a flourishing career in HR today.
Joining student and local chapters of
SHRM and becoming a national member
of SHRM can be a good way for aspir-
ing professionals to set themselves apart.
I’ve learned so much about the real world
of HR through the connections I’ve made
while competing in national SHRM Case
Competitions, in which student teams
apply their strategic thinking, leadership
and presentation skills to address a work-
However, it wasn’t until I pursued an
internship that I became truly familiar
with real-life HR issues. Students who
complete an internship in their junior or
senior year of college are more success-
ful in entering the workforce. One reason
is that work experience “can confirm,
or rule out, a career choice. It can also
help students cope with mistakes when
the stakes aren’t so high,” says Cara-
lee J. Adams, a contributing writer for
Education Week. The value of work expe-
rience was confirmed by a recent SHRM
survey: Employers said their No. 1 pref-
erence when evaluating and hiring entry-
level HR professionals is “HR-related
work experience.” It is also important to
seek internship experience in the particu-
lar industry in which you aspire to work.
For example, I am interested in science,
technology, mathematics and engineer-
ing, so I applied for internships at compa-
nies in those sectors.
The HR profession has one of the high-
est rates of annual job growth, according
to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so
there is no question that our field offers
boundless opportunities. Going beyond
obtaining an HR degree—or taking an
alternate path to the profession—can set
a student apart in today’s fiercely competi-
tive job market. For example, the demand
for HR analytics is only expected to grow
in the coming years, so a course of study
that includes data management and statis-
tics could be a smart strategy. Instead of
looking at this opinion as a negative view
on having a degree in HR, I urge students
to think critically about what they can do
academically and experientially to gain the
skills that will jump-start their HR careers.
It’s never too early to find your bliss!
Heather Carlino is a 2017 graduate of
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a former
undergraduate SHRM chapter president,
and an HR business partner associate at
Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission
Systems in Orlando, Fla.
In today’s business climate, on-the-job experience
trumps whatever field you study.