Getting Started In HR: Advice From A Recent UBC Grad

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Much has been written lately on the benefits of networking your way into your first job.

Getting to know the right people can truly give you a leg up from the competition.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Human Resources sector.

“It was a lot easier to move internally into an HR capacity once I got my foot in the door.” —Joshua Gugliotta, graduate, University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business

As a relatively small industry, it can be very difficult for young HR graduates to secure that ever-important foothold without either an impressive resume of skills and experience, or serious professional connections.

Two and a half years ago, Joshua Gugliotta was one such graduate.  A 2010 alumnus of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, where he received a Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources, he now works in Vancouver as a Talent Resourcer for a Montreal-based engineering and construction firm.

I spoke with him about how he got his start in HR, his day-to-day life and what skills are needed to make it in the industry today.

How did you get your first job in Human Resources?

Joshua: After graduation, I started a job with a telecommunications company in a sales position.  During my initial interview, I made it clear that my long-term goal was to eventually transition into an HR position within the company.

After my six-month probationary period had ended, I demonstrated that I was quite adept at sales.  I then scheduled an informational interview with an HR representative, where I both outlined my goals and described how I could become an asset to the HR department.  I asked if there were any specific projects that I could participate in.  After about a year, the HR representative I had spoken with reached out to me by email and asked if I wanted to be a part of a recruitment project.

I jumped at the opportunity right away.  I was given the chance to shadow a senior recruiter and I learned several steps of the recruitment cycle.  Shortly thereafter, I was offered a full time position in the HR department.

It seems like internal hiring played a big part in getting you your first HR job.  Is this a common way to break into the industry?

Joshua: Well the HR community—in Vancouver at least—is very small and tight-knit, and there aren’t many HR jobs out there.  It’s possible to get an HR job straight from school, but it’s very competitive if you haven’t completed a co-op or an internship.  It was a lot easier to move internally into an HR capacity once I got my foot in the door.

In large companies at least, there are a lot more positions posted internally than externally, and most positions are only posted externally if they can’t be filled internally.  Also, internal candidates are often considered first when they apply for new positions.

What’s your day-to-day like at work?

Joshua: I mainly handle the candidate side of the recruitment process.  This involves screening applicants by conducting phone interviews, validating background check information and presenting verbal offers.  I’m also responsible for managing all of our business and engineering co-op programs.  I’m always in contact with the co-op offices to ensure we get the best and brightest students possible.

That being said, I would say the majority of my time is spent on candidate sourcing [identifying suitable candidates].  I use our own ATS platform as well as social media to find the most qualified and suitable candidates.

Do you have any tips for new grads on how to start their careers in HR?

Joshua:  Always go above and beyond what your job description entails.  Always be willing to learn new things and new skills, and always be the first one to jump on a new project.  This kind of mindset combined with a strong work ethic will help open doors for you within a company.

Also, meet as many people within the company as possible and try to learn as much as possible about the departments that you’re interested in.  Scheduling informational interviews is a great way to get to know people in different departments.  You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to chat with you about their experiences and position.

What do you think are the most important skills you need to have in order to be successful in Human Resources?

Joshua: You need to develop your soft skills.  HR is very service-oriented, so it’s all about building and maintaining relationships, both internally with hiring managers and externally with candidates.

Oftentimes, hiring managers will have a request that is urgent, but you have a lot of other deadlines to meet as well.  So time-management and interpersonal skills also come into play, since you have to ensure that everyone’s requests are handled as quickly and efficiently as possible.

On the external side, you’re usually the first point of contact for the candidate and so you’re essentially representing the company.  You have to make sure you maintain a professional manner at all times.

Being able to communicate effectively is essential, because you’re going to have to describe HR processes in layman’s terms to managers and to new hires.  You’re inevitably going to have to present difficult information to some people, so you also have to be able to speak in a tactful manner that’s respectful of other people’s feelings.

It’s also important to develop leadership skills, because a lot of times you’re providing guidance to high-level management, so you need to have some knowledge of management in order to effectively advise them.

Most importantly, you have to have confidence in yourself, your abilities, and your decision making.  You’re depended upon to be the expert on HR policies and procedures, so you have to be sure of what you’re talking about.

Any last tips for future HR professionals?

Joshua: A good friend once told me to never underestimate your own network, and that starts with your work colleagues and your classmates.  You’ll find that your colleagues are very intelligent with different sets of skills, backgrounds and experiences.  Listen to what they have to share about their own experiences.  There’s a lot you can learn about how to achieve your own success just by listening to what others have to say.

Photo credit: City of Olathe, KS

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About the author

Justin Louie graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2010 with a BA in History/English. Since then, he's bounced around various industries, including telecommunications and sales, but now he's finally returned to his passion: writing. A massive history buff and trivia aficionado, Justin's interests include martial arts, enjoying the Vancouver outdoors, and accumulating massive amounts of useless information. You can follow him on @louie_justin.