From Therapy Room to Boardroom: 10 Steps for Psychologists Transitioning to HR

Steps for Psychologists Transitioning to HR

So, you have done your time in the therapy room, and you are now considering applying the training and knowledge you’ve acquired as a psychologist to the field of Human Resources. It is a big, brave and possibly scary step. Therefore, we reckon you might welcome a bit of guidance.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in HR, it’s important to understand what skills, experience and qualifications employers are looking for. Therefore, knowing how best to transition from your current position to one in human resources will go a long way towards helping you to secure job interviews and more confidently embark on your new career path.

In this guide, we’ll shine a spotlight on the human resources industry, highlighting some of the advantages of transitioning to a role in this field, and revealing ten of the best pathways to make your career change as successful as possible. If you take heed of what we outline, you should find it will be a lot more seamless.

What do human resources professionals do?

Essentially, human resources professionals are responsible for managing and looking after an organisation’s workforce. They oversee the process of recruiting, interviewing, hiring and integrating new employees into the company. Additionally, they may also offer a range of other services such as those related to employee mental health or designed to minimise and resolve conflict resolution.

Other tasks human resources professionals might complete range from running and presenting training events, implementing new benefit schemes and even managing payroll. Typical roles include HR Manager, Employee Relations Manager, Recruitment Manager, Director of Employee Experience and Benefits Manager.

Why change careers to human resources?

Transitioning to a career in HR can be beneficial, regardless of where you are in your current career. For instance, although changing careers may affect your short-term income, by switching to a position you feel passionate about, you can boost your overall job satisfaction.

You may want to consider switching to HR if you are interested in improving the levels of social support within any given organisation or to implement diversity training programmes. Additionally, it might be worth making the change if you are interested in undertaking HR tasks like payroll, recruiting or training new employees or just want to use your skills and knowledge to help people in the workplace.

What skills are required to be successful in human resources?

To be successful as a human resources professional you need to possess a wide range of skills. These include leadership, communication, active listening and branding.

It wasn’t always the case, but many employers now consider modern HR professionals as business partners because they offer massive assistance in managing the company’s daily operations. Therefore, aspiring HR professionals should highlight their leadership experience, particularly in training and problem-solving and training. Moreover, social skills such as communication are essential for success. HR professionals should be able to communicate on the phone, face-to-face, or via email and with the required sensitivity to ensure employee’s confidence and dignity is kept intact and they feel a valued part of the organisation.

Human Resource professionals also use active listening skills to determine how to help employers evaluate, develop, and bring their employees’ potential to fruition. Subsequently, if you are updating your resume in an attempt to change careers, you would be wise to emphasise active listening as a transferable skill.

To recruit new employees and retain existing ones, HR professionals focus on maintaining, promoting and strengthening a company’s brand. This brand is often referred to as the culture of the company. You can improve it, through various personal and company initiatives such as pursuing a relevant HR certification or presenting relevant workshops to employees.

Best way to transition to a human resources career

If you are serious about changing from your current role as a psychologist to one within human resources, you are going to need a plan of action. Here are some of the main steps you can take.

1. Define your goals and needs

Before you take the leap into a new career in Human Resources, you it is a good idea to define your goals and needs.

Take the time to really think about what you want to achieve in your new role, what working environment you would like to be in and what your practical needs are. This will give you some clear direction to work with.

To help you make this decision, ask yourself what company you would want to work for, in what geographical area you would like to work and what kind of responsibilities you would like to be given e.g. recruiting, leading training etc

You should also make it clear in your own mind what type of role you are wanting to pursue, such as entry-level, middle management, director or executive. This will be particularly useful in the next step.

2. Update your CV

As you are changing careers to something completely new, you are going to need to update your CV to make it more relevant and explain your reasons for the change.

It is important to highlight your skills and not necessarily the roles you have previously held, as this is what recruiters will be looking for when it comes to ascertaining your suitability for the role.

Try to focus on the transferable skills and experience you have which will enable you to be successful in your role as a HR professional. Remember, the purpose of a CV is to get an interview. So, if you are struggling to produce something you are happy with, it might be a good idea to get the help of a seasoned CV writer, especially if they have experience in helping people to apply for HR roles.

3. Reach out to your contacts

There is a fairly good chance that you might already know people with good contacts within the human resources sector. For this reason, you should tap into this potential pool by telling as many relevant people as you know about your intentions to move jobs. You never know what connections you can make from this simple act of conversation.

Alternatively, if you are interested in remaining in your current company you should consider letting your current manager know – although use your discretion as to how feasible and advisable doing this will be. The company you work for may be willing to let you liaise with or even shadow some of the members of the current HR team. This can provide you with a valuable insight into what actually happens in the day-to-day course of events in the role and what skills are required to efficiently cope with it.

4. Join a professional HR association

To demonstrate your seriousness about changing careers, it might be a good idea to join a professional HR association like the Australian Human Resources Institute.

Doing this will allow you to attend several events and conferences that could enable you to make contacts in your industry and help you keep abreast of the latest developments and ways of thinking within the industry.

5. Build a network

At the same time as joining the Australian Human Resources Institute, you should also try to build up your network of industry professionals on LinkedIn.

A great way to do this is to simply post about your intentions to change career and ask for recommendations of who to connect to. You can also follow everyone within the industry who is ‘Open to Network’ and comment on relevant posts from professionals that feature insights into this critical business function.

6. Get a mentor

As you build your network, if you connect with a human resources professional who has excellent experience and demonstrates tremendous knowledge and insights in their posts, you may want to ask them to be your mentor.

They might charge you for the privilege, so you will need to determine if this is something you can comfortably afford. However, tapping into the expertise of a renowned leader in the field can be a good way to kickstart your human resources career.

At the very least you will make an excellent connection doing this which could also open several doors for you.

7. Get appropriate accreditations and certifications

If you intend to apply for a job in Human Resources, it is important to remember that the level of position you are going for may require you to hold specific certifications.

Generally speaking, the larger the organisation or company you are applying for the more likely they are to want you to hold a certification. For this reason, obtaining HR certifications can outline your current skills and underscore your desire to switch careers.

There are quite a few certifications and accreditations you can get. However, one of the most common certifications to attain for those who are new to the industry is an Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHRi).

Others you may consider include Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and Human Resource Information Professional (HRIP) certification.

8. Study for a degree

For those wanting to transition straight into a mid- or executive-level position you will probably need to study for a degree. Typically, HR managers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business management, sociology, IT, education, finance, psychology or other related fields.

For this reason, you may want to study for a Masters of Human Resource Management at UNSW to help you stand out more as a candidate.

9. Professional development

While studying for a degree you should also try to focus on professional development. This will enable you to develop practical and relevant HR skills that will put you in good stead when it comes to sending off applications or working with a role.

Some of the best ways to do this are to enrol in HR-related online professional development courses, attending workshops and conferences and taking classes with a notable industry body.

10. Volunteer

A great way to start making a real difference within the Human Resources industry is to volunteer. Although you might not get paid for doing this, you should consider it an investment as you could make some valuable contacts and gain relevant experience in specific HR functions.

Essentially there are two ways to volunteer. You can either work with a non-profit organisation (perhaps at the weekend or on registered days off to enable you to stay in your current role and thus continue to earn pay) or by leading a new HR initiative in your present company.

The great thing about volunteering with a non-profit organisation is that you can develop specific skills within the business function. It can also be very satisfying to contribute in this way – particularly if working for a charity. Compile a list of companies you would like to volunteer for and then make an effort to reach out to them.

Alternatively, within your current role, you could ask your management or executive team if you can devote some of your (non-work hours) to enhance their internal processes and policies in relation to social issues you are passionate about. 

Once you have worked out how you can upgrade these processes and policies, you can then present them to your management or executive team and hopefully get them implemented.


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