Why fill an entry-level position with a lateral mover?

When I gave the valedictory speech at BCIT’s last June, there’s no way I could have anticipated that I would still be searching for a full time entry-level position in HR one year later.  Last summer, I was surprised to meet HR practitioners who had been terminated during the height of the recession, and were still seeking employment six months later.  These individuals carried with them at least five years of HR experience.

Because so many people were laid off in 2008, by 2009 those who had spent six months looking to replace the intermediate-level positions they had lost became increasingly willing to accept entry-level positions.  Each time that I’ve been given a second or third interview, I’ve been told that the reason for my rejection was because other candidates bring more experience. 

What’s more is that entry-level job postings demand that applicants have a minimum of three years of HR experience.  If the majority of HR Administrative and HR Assistant positions demand this minimum, and HR practitioners with at least that much experience are applying for those roles, how realistic would it be for the majority of new graduates to find entry-level HR positions?

When I apply for a position, I focus on my transferrable skills.  I use my resume as a platform to show how past experiences match or exceed the demands of each role.  While my transferrable skills may get me an interview, and my personality may gain me a second interview, what keeps me from earning a salary is my lack of HR experience proper.

I understand that job descriptions list the most desirable features in a candidate.  To reduce the risk of hiring an unqualified employee, you search out someone with experience performing the same job.  However, if you choose to fill your organization’s administrative positions with candidates who have more than 3-4 years of experience within those roles, you’re doing a disservice to your organization. 

Are you really looking to hire someone who’s only willing to make a lateral move?  Perhaps you are.  Maybe you don’t like the thought of hiring from within – you prefer to recruit candidates from other organizations each time a manager leaves.  But if your organization supports and prefers internal promotion, then perhaps you should give those who lack experience but carry other qualifications another look.


Geraldine Sangalang is at the beginning of her Human Resources career, and is seeking her first full-time position.  She volunteers with the BC HRMA, the Canadian Cancer Association and the Terry Fox Foundation.  On her private time, Geraldine loves scrapbooking, hiking, kayaking, and enjoying the company of friends on a local patio.
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14 Responses

  1. Hi Geraldine,

    That is totally frustrating. I lucked out in my first HR job when I got out of BCIT – it was a generalist role for a non-profit organization. While the pay was low (I mean really low – I started in the low 30’s), I gained LOADS of experience, and that was invaluable once I moved on.

    Maybe check out websites such as Charity Village. If you can afford to start at a lower salary in exchange for amazing experience, non-profits can be the way to go. You usually end up with a nice work environment, and because they can’t afford more than one HR person, you get to try your hand at everything.

    In addition, you beat out the folks who have a couple of years under their belt and are looking for a better starting salary.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Sarah.

      I’ve recently explored Charity Village. Really great site!

      I do love the idea of working in an organization where HR is only myself, or myself in a team of less than 3 people. It would be so beneficial to gain exposure to wearing multiple ‘HR Hats’ early on in my career.

      I’ll just have to keep trucking …

  2. I can also totally relate to this experience. There simply are very few entry-level HR positions that are genuinely entry-level at present. I don’t think this is an experience unique to the HR field, but it is certainly frustrating!

    I personally lucked out in that the company that I have been working for is now of a size to need an HR department, and I can slide into there pretty easily- but the job hunt was ceratinly a frustrating experience!

    • You’re absolutely right, Renee. And yes, I don’t think that this reality is limited to HR. Many professional fields are experiencing the same situation.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re working, and that you’ve been able to make the transition into an HR role!

  3. Hi Geraldine
    I have been applying for entry level HR administrative/assistant positions for a few months now with no luck. I actually have a Master in HRM and my past work experience has been a combination of admin and HR.

    Your article has shed light on what might be holding entry-level applicants back. Wish you good luck in your job search.

    • Thanks for the warm wishes, Param!

      I’ve been wanting to write about why I think that entry-level applicants have been struggling to find work for some time, but I suppose that I didn’t have (what felt like) a relevant avenue to discuss the issue until I began writing for Fireside HR.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re also struggling with your job search, and I wish you the best! All we can really do is continue to seek and apply for open roles.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Yosie Saint-Cyr, Geraldine Sangalang. Geraldine Sangalang said: I've joined Fireside HR! My first post asks, why fill an entry-level position with a lateral mover? http://tinyurl.com/34owtdf […]

  5. Thanks for the warm wishes, Param!

    I’ve been wanting to write about why I think that entry-level applicants have been struggling to find work for some time, but I suppose that I didn’t have (what felt like) a relevant avenue to discuss the issue until I began writing for Fireside HR.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re also struggling with your job search, and I wish you the best! All we can really do is continue to seek and apply for open roles.

  6. Hello!

    I just graduated from BCIT and am on the hunt! Several instructors suggested that it’s okay to apply for jobs that ask for up to two years experience so I’ll be doing that.

    Really good point about doing your organization a disservice by hiring more experienced people for entry level jobs. These employees will probably lose motivation quickly because their skills aren’t being fully utilized so HR will just end up having to go through the whole recruitment process again when the employee finally gets fed up and quits!

    Thanks for the insight.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nicole!

      I’m glad that you’ll be applying for those jobs anyways. Transferable skills are valuable.

      I hear time and again that although experience matters a great deal to a decision-maker, organizational fit matters the most. In other words, an HR manager may meet you and ignore your lack of experience because of the way you jibe with the team.

      Best of luck!

  7. I’m so happy I’m not the only one! I received my bachelor’s degree last spring, and I’m currently Assistant Manager at a small retail store. There are very few entry-level HR jobs in my area, and the ones that do exist offer $10 an hour or less! I have to pay my student loans and my bills! I’ve been agonizing, thinking I wasted all my time and money to get this degree. Hopefully, things will get better. I have an interview at Menards tomorrow for an entry-level HR job, but I suspect it will be very low pay. We’ll see. I wish all of you luck in your search!

  8. I received my bachelor’s degree in HR in April, 2009. I still haven’t found an entry-level HR position. I’m working as an assistant manager at a college bookstore for $24,400 a year. I’m so frustrated and feeling like I made a huge mistake in getting that degree. I asked an HR professional about this, and she told me to get a PHR certification; the only problem with that is that you have to have 2 years work experience or have had your degree for less than a year. What is a college grad to do?

    • Hi Melissa,

      I COMPLETELY understand what you’re talking about. And believe me when I say that I know a lot of other who are feeling the same way.

      Even when a friend of mine is hired in what seems like a positive HR position, they’re more than often underpaid.

      I’ve only heard from one friend who has decided to acquire a professional designation outside of the CHRP, but she has the same concern as you – she wants a PHR, but she needs to gain 2 years of HR experience in order to get it … where she, you or I could possibly find that experience, I don’t know.

      But chin up … and I’m speaking to the both of us, believe me … I find there are more jobs available in the fall than during any other time. People are back from vacations, and they’re ready to fix the issues they put aside for the summer.

      I am working full time right now, but come Monday, I’ll be searching for my ideal job like nobody’s business. Best of luck to you, and let me know when you do get the HR job you’ve been looking for!

  9. Hi Geraldine,

    You have no idea how encouraging your response is to me. I’ve been feeling so alone, and wondering if it’s just me. I’ve started looking further afield for jobs since Michigan is bare, but I’m now dealing with the whole issue of relocation. I have a family, and my husband is not real open to relocation, but I feel that we have to do something. He is unemployed. . . surprise, surprise in this state, but he’s not much into change. If I move, and I mean “I” since he probably will not come with me. . then I have to make enough to get a place to live and still pay the bills that we have here. I feel like I can’t win this game. Word to the wise, “DO NOT MOVE TO MICHIGAN!” I wish I would have left when I was younger and there were more opportunities! But, I hate being negative so I’m determined to keep a positive outlook and not give up. You have helped me tremendously with this just by your response. I wish you the best in your search, also. Take care, and let me know how it goes.

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