I am looking to transition from client services work into human resources. I am finding it hard to get a foot in the door, because every company seems to want people with previous HR experience. How can I convince employers that I am their next great HR hire?
Hats off to you, Brett, for deciding to shift career direction in the new year. In many ways, it's easier to stay put in a function you don't love than to make the kind of move you're contemplating, but where's the satisfaction in that? Doing what you are doing—namely, working your way toward the role that will give you the most intellectual stimulation and emotional fulfillment—is absolutely the way to go in my view. And the New Year is a terrific time to take the plunge.
The best way to move from your current function into HR is to focus on positions where those two roles intersect—that is, an HR position with a heavy dose of client-service responsibility. You will impress your next employer with a pithy cover letter that highlights your client-service expertise and also describes your burning desire to become an HR pro.
Similar but Different
The funny thing is, these two areas have a lot in common. I did just what you're doing, starting my career as a customer service type and wending my way into HR. Both functions involve tons of one-on-one interaction and problem-solving. Both require you to understand tons of company-specific practices and processes. Both involve solving individual problems while analyzing trends to determine the root causes of the issues that you solve every day—whether those are client-service issues (e.g., the product doesn't work) or HR issues (managers need more training, or the company's hiring processes are broken). So you will find plenty of familiar territory in whichever HR role you take on.
The key is to find an HR role where client interaction is key. I'd start looking at PEOs (professional employer organizations, which hire and lease back employees to small and medium-sized employers), HR consultancies, and EAP (Employee Assistance Program) providers, for starters, as well as recruitment firms, where your client-service background will come in very handy. Right up front in your cover letter, you'll explain why your lack of formal HR experience is outweighed by your terrific background, skills and enthusiasm. Companies are always looking for smart and capable people, Brett, and if you stick with it, you will get that HR job you seek and start your new year off on a great note.