Important Skills for Your First Job in HR



Occasionally I get a question from a reader, such as below.  

Today’s question is about software, tools, and technology that HR pros should know about.

As I continue to try to attain entry-level human resources employment I find it difficult to overcome the issue I keep running into being ‘overqualification’. To overcome this I decided in May to expand my current skillset and work towards software certifications that might increase the chances of getting a role as a Human Resource Analyst. My questions are:

What are some software certifications I could get that organizations would strongly desire their HR Professionals have?

What are some software packages you would recommend that may help stand out within the HR job market? I’m currently enrolled in Python Institute, Tableau Desktop and Alteryx Designer Core eLearning platforms to hopefully earn certifications in each by this July. Any additional online resources may also help.


Hi Jared! Great question and I’m excited to see you striving for that critical first job in HR. Based on your response I have a few comments to make but I’d love if anyone else has ideas to drop them in the comments below.

First, you say you are running into “overqualified” comments. If that’s true, you are unlikely to overcome that by adding new qualifications, certifications, etc. If you are going for an entry-level role as you first mentioned, people that say that you are overqualified are worried about one thing primarily: you’re going to be bored with the job and quit soon after taking it. If someone mentions overqualifications, that’s typically what they are thinking about.

Why? Because I’ve done it. I had a licensed attorney, an HR professional with 10 years of experience, and other similarly qualified people apply for an entry-level HR assistant role in the past. If we’re all being honest, they would likely have left the moment they got a higher offer from somewhere else. So instead of them, I ended up choosing an amazing young lady named Victoria that had no direct HR experience but a lot of time supporting customers and handling customer service. She turned out wonderfully, by the way.

I would focus on that before going deep into technical programming and other software certifications. Demonstrate your commitment, talk about the things you want or need to learn and why that will keep you there. Ask questions that indicate a desire for a long-term employment relationship, not a single hop on a longer path in your career.

Now, to turn back to your original question, I currently work as an analyst (a unique one, albeit) and don’t have a single one of the certifications you mention. I’m sure they may help me in my work analyzing data, but for the average HR role, they are overkill. I would recommend getting to know how to use Excel better than anyone you know, and if you can do that you’ll have a powerful tool that comes in handy regularly in HR. I am maybe a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to running a spreadsheet. My younger brother does it every day for work and is a 10. There’s nothing he can’t do, even when I throw a thorny problem at him on the occasional consulting project.

Other critical skills for HR that we underestimate:

  • Being able to present data with a compelling story (not death by PowerPoint)
  • Knowing how to write in a way that communicates, encourages, persuades, and educates
  • Kindness, compassion, empathy, and gratitude (yes, really)

One other component worth mentioning is HR software. HRIS systems, tools, and technologies are becoming a core part of how works gets done. Thankfully many of the vendors are developing products that are straightforward and simple to operate. If you want to watch some demos online and test out a couple of free trials with different systems, that would go a long way toward familiarizing you with what to expect with those systems.

Jared, I hope that helps you to think about some critical pieces of this, and I can’t wait to get an update from you when you get that first HR job you’ve been desperately seeking.

Originally posted on the Upstart HR blog.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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