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by Eileen Levitt | March 10, 2009


Question: I would like your insight on how companies perceive attorneys moving into the HR arena. Here is my situation. I have been an attorney for 10 years, and I have nearly four years of experience in employment law. I currently work for a government agency, where I was called upon to design an EEO training program. I am also conducting training in various EEO matters. I have my PHR certification and am currently enrolled in an MBA program.

I am now looking for HR Manager or HR Generalist positions. I have responded to newspaper ads, posted my resume on, and submitted recruiting and retention proposals to target companies. I even tried to arrange informational interviews with the local SHRM chapter, but no one was willing to talk to me unless I was a member. The recruiters I dealt with, while writing about shortages of good employees in the local Business Journal, told me that unless my resume stated exactly what it was that the companies were looking for, most would find me too hard to place. (It seems to me that the agencies were just looking for a quick buck and not taking advantage of a qualified candidate).

I am open to moving for the right job, and on all correspondence with potential employers, I have indicated a willingness to cover my own relocation expenses. My last resort is to simply cold call for informational interviews. Am I missing something? Do attorneys scare potential employers? Any suggestions on how to complete the career change and conduct a long distance job search would be greatly appreciated.

Eileen: I got a kick out of your letter. I'll give you a couple of pointers and a dose of reality:

You are now looking for an entry-level human resources job! I know that you have a law degree and law experience, but that is dramatically different from human resources. Knowing the law only gets you so far. For HR generalist jobs, you need to have real life employee relations experience, human relations skills, sales skills (yes, sales - you are selling the company), and an understanding of the long-term implications of a manager's decision. These are things that you probably don't have. Breaking into HR is extremely difficult, and you have to start at the bottom. You may not have to start out competing with college grads, but without corporate experience you are not perceived as much higher. I don't know what your salary requirements are, but chances are you will need to take a considerable pay cut. I have never known anyone happy making less money and recruiters know that.~Now, in terms of recruiters: Companies pay recruiters to find an exact match. They are not going to pay a headhunter for someone they can find on their own. Someone without corporate HR experience is very easy to find (see below).

In terms of relocating: I can tell you from experience that when companies are hiring, the ideal candidate is local, because they understand the local job market. In addition, a lot of people claim they are willing to relocate themselves, but they really expect the employer to pay something. Furthermore, you are not available to interview and start immediately. When someone is looking to fill a position, they rarely start looking months in advance.

The other issue is reality. We're in a tight labor market, but not for HR professionals, especially those without hands-on HR experience. We were looking for a generalist last month, and immediately received 200 resumes. I was shocked! But more are still coming in. The reality is, with so many people to choose from, I only choose the cream of the crop for interviews.

I hope this helps.


Filed Under: Job Search