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How to get into...HR

Welcome to a new series of occasional blogs from the 1-1 Recruitment Group.

The idea of these is to provide the lowdown on various careers - the qualities and qualifications you need, the challenges and rewards and so on.  We will be discussing functions and sectors as broad as HR, Marketing, Sales, Finance and more! Each of these blogs will follow a similar structure. Look out for them amongst our regular blogs on the 1-1 website and on our social media.

Watch this space to learn more, and keep an eye open for the “How to get into” banner on our social media across the group.

We begin with a subject close to my heart: Human resources!

Why Human Resources (HR) is a great career

HR has changed a lot over the years. While it has always been about people, it is now more analytical, sophisticated, commercial and strategic than ever before. HR professionals examine and develop the link between people and organisational success.  They help employers succeed by developing leaders, managers and teams that are adaptable and high performing. They save time and money through the adoption of HR and management systems. They assess and address trends in staff health, wellbeing and absence, and have a deep understanding of compensation and benefits packages. They keep abreast of employer legislation and turn it into working policy. And they build employer cultures that attract and retain the best talent.

HR is therefore very collaborative and very much on the radar for business owners and leaders. Generally there are now good opportunities for HR people to progress within their career, and many HR seniors rise to board level.

A career in HR can provide opportunities to acquire specialist skills and knowledge that will place you in high demand, as well as the chance to get involved in exciting change projects at a high level.

Myth busting: the commonest misconceptions about HR are…

Myth #1: That it is always very “hands on” in dealing with staff, and requires deeply sensitive people.

The reality: HR staff will offer guidance and be an escalation point for managers whose employees require support, but in any but the smallest organisations HR is likely to work to ensure that managers are empowered to do this within their own teams.

It helps to care about people when you work in HR and you must be a passionate advocate for a strong culture, but you may have to do some difficult things. If people are underperforming, you will be one of the first to know about it and will likely be involved in some way in employment terminations and disciplinary action. You’ll need to be resilient.

Myth #2: HR is a “back office” role.

The reality: Nothing could be further from the truth! Culture, hiring and workforce strategy are a crucial part of organisational success. As such, the HR function is now high profile within most companies (we’ve already mentioned that it’s a very collaborative function) and sectors. HR staff speak at expos and events and to the press, and help to create and lead the employer brand. Quite a few are now considered “thought leaders” in their own right.

What qualities do you need?

It helps if you like people and enjoy the success of others. But you also need to be strong, persuasive and aware of the legal interests of the business, as well as highly organised and good at planning.

You will need the intellectual capacity, curiosity and passion for your industry to understand and keep abreast of the latest relevant news and employer legislation, as you will be expected to advise your Board on the right actions to take in the case of disputes, or to help interpret and roll out new legislation that impacts on the people side of the business.

How to get ahead/enhance your CV

HR is a competitive and demanding field. You need to stay curious and active and ensure you are continually learning and gaining new skills. You must proactively work on your career and never stop learning. A natural interest in your field will help.

A lot of HR people gain specialist skills by doing secondments and projects to expand their skillsets, then return to a general HR role. Opportunities like this often come up within larger organisations, or present themselves as contract opportunities. As with any career, the most ambitious people usually treat their CV as a life project and look to gain whatever specialist experience they feel will help them pursue their preferred career path within this field.

Workforce planning, talent acquisition and deployment, systems and compensation and benefits projects can all involve implementing processes at a strategic level that save an employer time, money and hassle and can add greatly to a CV.

What qualifications are available and which ones do you need?

The standard industry qualifications are developed and awarded by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the professional body for HR staff. Many people build their career around HR qualifications and gain them as they work. The CIPD offers foundation (level 3), intermediate (level 5) and Advanced (Level 7) qualifications. There are plenty of opportunities to gain specialist skillsets or advanced qualifications through university or project experience. Senior HR specialists sometimes study for Masters degrees or MBAs.

 You do not normally need a CIPD qualification to begin a career in HR at entry level (though this depends on the employer) but it is generally a graduate profession, with a variety of degrees considered relevant. Business with HR, languages, psychology or social administration are but a few. Sometimes employees in other, related fields such a recruitment, payroll or administration can move over into junior HR roles with their employer, so it possible to begin without a degree.

Professionals in unrelated fields who are looking to get into HR often pay for their own CIPD training which they complete in their own time while working. Joining the CIPD can increase your connections within the industry and is a good way to get started in this career.

Learn more about CIPD qualifications. 

The rewards of the role

You’ll have gathered by now that HR professionals can make a big impact on a business and its people. You could improve and enhance organisational cultures and make a real difference to people’s working lives as well as the success of the business.

You often get to enjoy seeing the fruits of your labours as new generations of recruits succeed and develop, and as cultural changes you help to make have a positive impact on a company. If you do a good job and prove yourself, you can fairly quickly gain a lot of trust with senior staff because by the nature of your role you will be party to a lot of confidential information. You are unlikely to get any chances to win this trust back if you betray it!

The challenges of the role

As we have seen, you could have to deal with some very difficult issues and circumstances and carry out some of the less pleasant tasks involved in running a company. This can be wearying over the course of time and you must develop a thick skin or good coping strategies to last a long time in HR. CIPD qualifications – not to mention the day job itself - are not easy and require commitment and application.

What’s the pay like?

As with any career that can span a degree of seniorities, the pay is variable, and each grade can earn more as they gain experience and qualifications. Junior roles can vary from £18K - £23K, intermediate roles can vary from about £25K - £30K, HR Managers can earn about £35K - £55K and HR Directors can earn anything from about £70K to over £100K. This all depends on the employer, region and responsibilities and there can be some variation.

 The specific kinds of job titles/activities available

Generalist HR roles are often graded from HR Admin to Officer, Advisor, Manager and Director (or similar/equivalent titles) and cover all aspects of personnel development and management. However, in larger firms there are often opportunities to specialise in payroll, compensation and benefits, learning and development, recruitment, workforce and succession planning, disputes, HR systems implementation and more.

Many of these (and other) areas may provide you opportunities to take on projects that allow you to grow your portfolio of skills. At the moment we are seeing a lot of demand for in-house generalist roles who outsource specialist projects to others – this means there is demand for generalists and specialists in the market. 

You might like this job if you are…

An advocate for people, community-minded, strategic, bright, ambitious, resilient, keen to be involved, intellectually curious, organised, balanced, up-to-date, diplomatic, persuasive.

This job might not be for you if you are…

Prone to taking your work home with you (emotionally), over-sensitive, take things personally, indiscreet, disorganised.


 Good luck! 

- Helen Floor, Managing Director, The 1-1 Group.

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