How to Get a Human Resources Job After Graduation

The Prepped Team

November 8, 2022

6 Minutes

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How to Get Your First Human Resources Job as a Recent Graduate

An entry level job in human resources can be a first step to a fulfilling career that focuses on helping people thrive in the workplace. Today’s companies recognize that employees are key to their success. As a result, human resources is a growing function that helps create and lead people-centric practices that strengthen the workplace. The demand for HR professionals spans all industries and has increased 131 per cent over the past two years, making it an ideal profession for new graduates who are passionate about helping other professionals excel in the workplace.

In this article, we outline what the HR function does, what are some entry-level jobs in HR, how you can become a human resources professional, and tips on how to get your first HR job after you graduate.

In this article:

What does a human resources professional do?

Entry-level HR jobs for new graduates

Educational qualification for jobs in human resources

How long does it take to become an HR professional in Canada?

In-demand skills for entry-level HR jobs

How to write a human resources resume as a new grad

How to get your first job as an HR professional

Prepare for your first human resources interview

What does a human resources professional do?

Human resources professionals have a wide range of responsibilities. At a small- to medium-size enterprise (SME) where the HR department is small, you may have a diverse role to play in supporting employees. Whereas in a corporation with a large HR department, you may have a more narrowly defined role where you can build deep expertise in one area. There are various ways in which HR supports businesses and their employees, such as:

  • Administer, communicate, and build on compensation and employee benefits
  • Lead recruitment initiatives online and in-person
  • Create and administer training and professional development programs
  • Ensure workplace safety across all employee groups and facilities
  • Manage employee relations
  • Support wellness initiatives, including mental health, and 
  • Encourage inclusivity and diversity.

With such a variety of career paths to pursue, you may want to focus exclusively on one area to develop deep expertise in it, explore a number of paths to determine your passion, or become a generalist with a broad knowledge of many aspects of human resources.

Whichever path you choose, an entry-level HR position after graduation can open the door to a rewarding career that’s in demand by companies across Canada.

Entry-level HR jobs for new graduates

Human resources professionals are needed across all industries and business categories, including government, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, technology, insurance and financial services, consumer products, recruitment agencies, consulting businesses, and media organizations. Over the past few years, the workplace has changed significantly, from the pivot to remote or flexible work arrangements and increased attention to employee mental health, diversity, and inclusivity to challenges with employee retention, and the role of HR professionals has become centrestage. Many industries in Canada also face labour shortages, fueling the need for HR professionals to recruit, train, and retain staff.

Recent graduates can look forward to a challenging and evolving career in the field of human resources. Some common entry level job titles in human resources are:

  • HR coordinator
  • HR assistant
  • Recruiting coordinator
  • HR administrator
  • HR specialist
  • Onboarding specialist
  • Talent acquisition assistant
  • Learning and development assistant
  • Payroll specialist

Educational qualification for jobs in human resources

Many entry level human resources jobs require candidates to have a university or college degree in a related field, such as psychology, business administration, industrial relations, or social sciences.

If you have an MBA specializing in human resources, you will likely have even more opportunities for jobs and career advancement. If you have an undergraduate degree and wish to increase your understanding of human resources while boosting your competitive edge in the workforce, you may want to consider a post-graduate certificate or diploma in human resources.

Working towards an HR designation can be a significant boost to your resume. The Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) designation is offered by Chartered Professionals in Human Resources Canada (CPHR) in many provinces and territories. In Ontario, the Human Resources Professional Association (HRPA) offers HR designations as well, with the Certified Human Resource Professional (CHRP) designation being most relevant for new graduates. You will typically need to complete an academic course component and appear for two exams to earn this credential.

How long does it take to become an HR professional in Canada?

An undergraduate degree for a human resources job takes three to four years; a college diploma or certificate in a related field may be completed in two to three years (a co-op program may take longer). To complete an MBA or a post-graduate certificate program in HR, you’ll need to attend school for one or two additional years. 

In-demand skills for entry-level HR jobs

A wide variety of skills are valued by employers when hiring an HR professional. Here are some key skills that can help your resume stand out when applying for an entry-level HR position:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Multitasking
  • Decision-making
  • Organization
  • Empathy
  • Time management
  • Ability to maintain confidentiality and follow procedure
  • Computer proficiency

How to write a human resources resume as a new grad

An ideal resume and cover letter should not only pass the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) many employers use, but also convince the recruiter that you’re a good fit for the job. Although it may be a daunting task when you’re applying for your first job out of university or college, here are some helpful tips to craft an impressive resume:

  • Choose the right resume format: There are three resume formats applicants can choose from to present their skills, experience, and career level. As someone at the start of your human resources career, without much relevant work experience, a functional resume format may be ideal. This format showcases your transferable skills and education, but de-emphasizes your lack of professional HR experience. Consider using a professionally formatted resume template to simplify the writing process and ensure your skills and experience are clearly conveyed.
  • Showcase your education and transferable skills: If you’re a recent graduate with academic credentials related to human resources, your education should appear at the top of your resume, ahead of work experience. In the skills section, you can also include related subjects that you excelled in as well as transferable skills you’ve picked up over the course of your education or part-time or volunteer work experience. 
  • Highlight your part-time/volunteer experience: Describing your work experience can be a struggle when you haven’t held a full-time job in human resources before. However, recruiters value relevant experience from part-time work, volunteering, and internships. They understand an entry-level candidate doesn’t have work experience directly related to the profession, and therefore are looking for transferable skills that pertain to the role, such as adaptability, organization, and good communication. 
  • Make your resume ATS-friendly: Many employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter out resumes that don’t match the job description. To ensure your application gets through the ATS and in front of a recruiter or hiring manager, it’s essential to customize your resume to the job posting. This means including exact-match keywords from the job description in your resume and cover letter. Use the Prepped Resume Scanner to confirm if your resume is ATS-friendly before sending it out.
  • Keep it brief: As a future HR professional, you may one day be tasked with reviewing hundreds of resumes. With that in mind, consider keeping your resume brief, clear, and easy-to-read to make the recruiter’s job much simpler. If your resume is complex, filled with long sentences, and in an unusual format, the recruiter may not want to spend the extra time required to review it. Your resume should be organized in a predictable format, no longer than two pages (one is even better for new grads), with section headings and bullet points. Avoid images and design elements.
  • Include a cover letter: While a cover letter may not always be required, it’s highly recommended you include one with every application. A well-written cover letter can demonstrate your passion for human resources, why you want to work for the company, and highlight the skills and achievements you’re most proud of. Unlike a resume, a cover letter is an opportunity to show some personality and your eagerness to embark on your new career. While you may have many things you’d like to share, try to keep your cover letter no more than one page long.
  • Proofread your resume before sending: You don’t want to be passed over for an interview because of a typo or spelling error. Be sure to review your resume very carefully to make sure  there are no grammatical mistakes, your contact details are accurate, and all sections of your document are customized for the company you’re sending it to. Always proofread your documents before hitting submit (better yet, get someone else to proofread them, too).

How to get your first job as an HR professional

While crafting a professional resume and cover letter is essential to your job search, there are many other considerations to help you land the HR job you want. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success when applying for an entry level HR job after you graduate. 

Gather work experience: internships, part-time jobs, volunteer opportunities

You can cultivate relevant experience while you’re still in school through internships, volunteering, or a part-time office job before you graduate. Most part-time jobs offer at least some opportunity to build skills that are valuable in the human resources field, so carefully consider what transferable skills you may have picked up in each role. For instance, if you’ve worked as a barista, you likely have experience with teamwork and multi-tasking. If you worked part-time at a yoga studio, you may have learnt about mental health wellness and honed your communication skills. If you had a summer job as a receptionist, you might have experience with following procedure, and may have built your communication and organization skills. Add relevant experience to your resume, outlining your achievements and transferable skills, to improve your candidacy.

Certifications and trainings to boost your skill set

There are two benefits to building your skill set. One is to improve your knowledge for your desired job, and the other is to show hiring managers that you’re a self-learner and eager to continue learning on-the-job. There are a number of specific skills you can learn to improve your chances of getting hired for your desired HR role. If you’re not sure about which certifications or skills are in demand, review job postings to find the skills employers most commonly ask for.

Many human resources roles require proficiency in Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), Talent Management Software (TMS), and Application Tracking Systems (ATS). Familiarizing yourself with these platforms can help you upgrade your technical skills. You may also want to expand your knowledge on specific topics such as pensions and benefits, labour relations, diversity and inclusion, and mental health through online workshops and courses. 

Build your network and leverage it for referrals

Did you know that a large percentage of job openings in Canada are never publicly advertised? They are filled through recruiters’ networks instead, which is why networking should be a key part of your job search strategy. A strong professional network can unlock the door to some of these hidden job opportunities. LinkedIn is a great place to start building connections with HR professionals as well as potential employers. As a recent grad, you may find that many seasoned professionals are happy to talk to you about the industry over a coffee chat or informational interview.

Alumni from your university or college may also be happy to support recent graduates from their alma mater, both with industry insights and job referrals. Seek opportunities to build your network with HR professionals in the industry or companies you want to work in. You may also want to consider human resources associations that host conferences or meet-ups. Find out if any offer student memberships or programs that support recent graduates just starting their careers.  

Know where to look for jobs

To take advantage of the human resources job market, be sure to pursue a variety of job search sources. One of the simplest ways to find jobs is through online portals like Glassdoor, Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, and Grabjobs, so these should definitely be part of your strategy. Your university or college job portal is also a good place to routinely check for employment targeted to recent graduates. Recruitment agencies may have access to entry-level HR roles, so consider reaching out to ones that specialize in this field or a specific industry you wish to target, such as technology.  

Reach out to employers

Because human resources spans every industry, you may want to narrow your search by based on personal interests or career aspirations. Compile a list of companies you wish to target and track their career pages to stay abreast of job opportunities. Learn more about them by following their social media accounts, including LinkedIn, where you can search for employees who graduated from your college or university or who are among your first or second degree connections. After making the connection, ask if they’ll be willing to meet for informational interviews.  

Attend job fairs

Job fairs can be a good place to find entry-level HR jobs. Be sure to attend on-campus job fairs at your university or college where employers target new graduates. Professional organizations, such as the HRPA, also host career fairs for new graduates to fill internships and entry-level positions. Whether the event is in-person or virtual, be sure to have your resume ready and be prepared to answer questions about your career aspirations on-the-spot to improve your odds of getting an interview later. It’s a good practice to research the employers who’ll be attending the job fair in advance and look at job postings on their website, so you can stand out with a customized resume.

Prepare for your first human resources interview 

Recruitment process for HR jobs

All your work to craft a professional resume and cover letter pays off when you get an invitation for an interview. The resume shortlisting process can be rigorous, as many companies rely on ATS to filter out candidates that don’t meet minimum requirements. This is why customizing your resume with keywords is so essential. However, referrals are also an ideal way to get your application in front of a hiring manager.

Once the hiring manager has reviewed your resume and decided you may be a good fit for the job, the interview process begins. Although many new grads find the interview process stressful, with proper preparation you’ll succeed in impressing the hiring manager and increasing your chances of receiving a job offer. 

The typical interview process for HR positions can include up to four interviews. The first round is often a screening interview that is done over the phone, as an on-demand video interview, or a live video interview. This is typically followed by a one-on-one interview with the hiring manager, one or more panel interviews with the human resources team, and a culture fit interview.

The interviewers will ask technical questions as well as a mix of general, behavioural, and culture fit questions. Practicing your responses to potential interview questions can help calm your nervousness and, more importantly, help you make a good first impression. When coming up with answers, it’s a good idea to research the company’s website and social media channels so that your responses relate specifically to the role and the company.

Common HR interview questions

  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your short-term career goals? Long-term goals? 
  • What are your greatest strengths (or weaknesses)?
  • What made you consider human resources as a profession?
  • What is your experience in fostering inclusion and diversity and how would you apply that to the workplace?
  • What do you think are the main challenges facing HR today? How would you approach them?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in HR?
  • What would you do if a candidate you shortlisted does not show up for an interview?
  • How would you improve employee retention in our company?
  • How would you handle a conflict between two employees?

Interview tips for HR jobs

It’s normal to be nervous before an interview, which is why preparation is key to ensure you respond to questions professionally, even if you have the jitters. Here are some simple tips to keep in mind.

  • Be pleasant: For HR roles, interviewers are looking for a personable, friendly, and positive person. Be confident in yourself and answer the questions in a personal way that is authentically you, keeping in mind the need to remain professional at all times.  
  • Be mindful of your body language: Be aware of what your body language communicates during an interview, even during a virtual one (you should always turn your video on). Sit upright in a straight, but not rigid, posture. Avoid slumping as this can be perceived as lack of interest. While talking with your hands is acceptable, constant fidgeting is not; and be sure to use eye contact when addressing the interviewer.
  • Prepare your responses in advance: Research potential questions beforehand and prepare your answers. While it’s acceptable to take a few seconds to consider a response during an interview, long silences can be awkward and have the potential to derail an interview if you don’t quickly recover. Preparing in advance can prevent this from happening and help increase your overall confidence. Use the Prepped AI Interviewer to practice and record answers to commonly asked questions and get real-time feedback to help you improve your response delivery. Make sure your answers feel natural: don’t read them from a script! 
  • Be yourself: You may be interviewed by a number of people, so portray your authentic personality in every interview. This ensures you remain consistent throughout the process, as well as helps interviewers ascertain if you’re a good cultural fit. On the other hand, you should not let your guard down completely and be too familiar. Always stay professional.
  • Be aware of standard HR policies and procedures: During the interview, you may be asked technical questions related to the role. It’s important to be well-versed in standard HR policies and procedures as well as provincial employment standards so you can speak with some level of authority. That said, don’t pretend to know more than you do. The interviewers will be more impressed by your eagerness to learn about HR, than your attempts to prove you know more than you do.
  • Be honest about your weaknesses: When the interviewer asks you to describe a weakness, be honest with your response. Although it’s normal to not want to highlight a negative trait, arrogance and pretending you don’t have any isn’t going to win you any points. The key is to show you recognize you have a weakness and have a plan to correct it.
  • Prepare questions to ask at the end of the interview: Most interviews conclude with an invitation for you to ask questions. This is your opportunity to show you’re curious about the role and have listened carefully to the interviewers. Have three or four potential questions prepared in advance, so you can ask one or two that are most relevant before wrapping up the interview (some may have been answered already).

​​Be Prepped to enter the job market

As a recent graduate, landing your dream job is your top priority. At Prepped, we provide you the tools you need to get your first job. With our Resume Scanner, you can build an ATS-friendly resume that’ll impress recruiters. You can also use our AI Interview practice tool to approach the hiring process with confidence. Sign up for Prepped to get access to tools and resources that’ll make your job search easier and more effective.