10 things you need to know about starting a career in Human Resources

  1. iStock_000013296501Small Network of peopleWhat is HR?
    Human Resources (HR) is the name given to the area of a company,
    whether a team or individual, who has responsibility for recruiting new employees and managing work / employment conditions of current employees on behalf of that organisation. They are also responsible for ensuring an organisation’s staff (their human resources) are being used effectively to meet the objectives of the company.
  2. What does in involve?
    HR professionals are involved in a range of areas, these include recruitment and selection of new employees, induction and ongoing training, reward and remuneration (paying salaries, pensions, rewarding exceptional performance, bonuses) creating policy and procedures to ensure employment laws are complied with,  managing performance and dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues, employment terminations and redundancies.  
    In some organisations HR will be involved in negotiations with Trade Unions over issues related to working conditions and pay.
    Careers in HR can be very varied depending on the sector and organisation, the size of the team and whether HR staff are generalists or specialists (see question 3)  In some organisations there may be certain functions that the company chooses to outsource e.g. payroll may be handled by an external company or specialist trainers brought in, therefore HR staff would not be responsible for these activities.
  3. What jobs are there in HR for a graduate?
    It’s common for graduates to start in a more generalist role or on a graduate scheme with rotating placements. This allows exposure to a wide range of the HR functions carried out within the organisation.  This is particularly useful in allowing new HR staff to explore if there are certain areas/functions of HR they feel drawn to or prefer to work in.  This can help with making later career decisions as to whether or not to remain in a generalist role or to pursue opportunities to specialise in a particular area.  There is opportunity for career progression whether generalist or specialist.It’s important to consider that, as HR functions can vary from company to company, choosing to specialise may mean limiting the choice of possible employers to organisations who have those specialist roles.The most common job title is HR Assistant but, again due to the variety of duties which a HR professional may cover and whether certain functions are carried out within the business or outsourced, the actual content of jobs with this title may vary.  You may also wish to look at HR Trainee, HR Officer, and HR Coordinator but make sure to explore what the role responsibilities and required skills/experience are. Not all jobs with these titles will be suitable first HR roles for a graduate. Specialist roles will have titles that reflect this such as Payroll Officer, Pensions Co-coordinator  etc.
  4. Do I need a specific qualification?
    For most entry-level roles in HR an undergraduate degree will be a requirement (and obviously a degree will be essential to gain entry to a graduate scheme) While a degree in HR may be an advantage, Business Studies, Psychology, Sociology and Law are degree subjects that are regularly accepted as being relevant and many roles are open to graduates from a much wider range of disciplines.If your first degree is not in HR, postgraduate qualifications in Human Resource Management are available.  While these are not essential to gain entry to the role they are increasingly essential in order to progress your career.  Some graduates choose to take a postgrad qualification in HR directly after completion of their first degree (especially if they feel their first degree is not strongly relevant).  Others prefer to obtain their first HR role and then consider undertaking additional qualifications at a later date. One possible advantage of taking the qualification whilst working is that employers may sometimes help with the costs.  Willingness to undertake study for a professional HR qualification while working is a requirement for some roles.For working in the UK any HR qualification should be accredited by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
  5. Main routes into HR
    Graduate schemes Many ask for a 2:1 – HR is increasingly popular and competitive as a career option.  They provide a structured approach to learning about HR functions and are a good opportunity to learn more about HR if your degree is not directly relevant.  Prior HR work experience is not always essential, emphasis is on transferable skills and potential to be good at HR.  They will be strongly interested in your motivation and reasons for applying. There may be a permanent job at the end of the scheme.
    Graduate job – This is not a structured programme like a graduate scheme but a specific role to be filled. You would have responsibility from day one and it may require more HR relevant work experience and be less open to such a broad range of degrees, therefore it’s important to stress transferable skills. Not all companies offer graduate schemes so this may be best way into the sector/organisation of interest. On the job training and development is usually included, your employer may pay for CIPD qualifications.
    Direct VacancyA specific role to be filled, open to but not solely targeted at graduates and open to non-graduates with relevant experience.  Likely to require prior HR relevant work experience.  Sometimes (but not always) more likely to require already having a CIPD accredited qualification or be working towards them.In addition to the roles mentioned above, HR Administrator is often an accessible role to get a good foot in the door to learn about HR on the job and build a career path. It’s a good route into organisations that don’t target graduates.
  6. What key skills are needed?
    Transferable skills such as teamwork and excellent communication (written, verbal and including listening!) will be needed. The ability to work with personal / sensitive information and maintain confidentially at all times is essential. You may support staff who are dealing with difficult issues that could be work, personal or health related.  It’s vital you can display empathy and give staff the support or solutions they need but do so in a professional manner that adheres to all relevant laws and policies.You will often need to explain complicated information related to policy and procedures to people who aren’t experts in that topic.  As you’ll be working with personal and payroll information, accuracy, attention to detail and the ability to hit deadlines are essential.
  7. Advantages of a career in HR
    Variety of workload and wide range of duties/responsibilities (especially for a generalist)
    – Opportunity to use a wide range of own skills and strengths.  If you find there’s an area you like better than others i.e. training, can choose to specialise in that area or, within reason, look for HR jobs that contain lots of opportunities to undertake that kind of work.
    – Conversely, if there’s a function you don’t enjoy you may be able to seek out HR roles that don’t have responsibility for that work i.e. where payroll is outsourced or training delivered by a specialist.
    – Opportunity to impact at a personal level by helping an individual  and also all the way up to organisational level by contributing to HR strategy.HR is present in some form wherever people are employed so there is a wide choice of sector, size and type of employer. You can, within reason,  look for HR roles that more strongly meet your preferences.
  8. Challenges of a Career in HR
    There can be lots of administration and paperwork, especially when getting started in the role e.g. taking notes at meetings, drawing up adverts, contracts etc., it’s not all hiring and firing! However, seeing the creation of these documents and what goes into them is a great learning experience to help understand how and why things are done a certain way.
    It can be emotionally draining, as may be dealing with people who are going through particularly challenging personal circumstances, you will need to develop the resilience to deal with professionally and not let it impact on you too much personally.  This is likely to be highly confidential so you won’t be able to discuss it outside of role.   HR is the ‘face’ of many actions of the organisation, even though they may not be responsible for making those decisions they have to enact them. If people are unhappy with these actions  their dissatisfaction will often be directed at HR and you will need to understand this isn’t personal and learn to manage these situations.
  9. Is it for me?
    It’s important to understand what HR does in order to explain your motivation for wanting to pursue it as a career. ‘I want to work with people’ is a common but not very accurate reason that is given.  As an HR professional you may work with the other people in your team but you won’t necessarily work with the people you’re providing an HR service to.  They are likely to be in other departments and even work in other sites or countries. You may only interact with them when they need some specific HR support from you.If you’re more interested in how people and organisations work, how people contribute to a company’s objectives and how you can contribute to creating an effective working environment it’s more likely that HR could be of interest to you.
    While you may not be working with the people your providing an HR service to it’s important to remember that as a HR professional everything you do has an impact on them.  This can be at an organisational level with the implementation of policies and procedures or at an individual level when helping with a specific issue or query. When you impact on an individual’s job you impact on their life.  A seemingly minor mistake in a salary calculation may mean that person can’t pay rent that month, a change to working conditions may cause stress or impact on work/life balance.  This is why accuracy and attention to detail are so important. It’s important to be prepared to take on this responsibility and understand that small actions may have a big impact on a person, their health and family life.
  10. HR and Recruitment Consultancy what’s the difference?
    HR and recruitment consultancy are not the same thing although there are obvious overlaps.
    HR covers the whole range of the employment period for a job starting to it ending and everything required to manage staff while they’re employed.
    Recruitment consultancy focuses on helping organisations to advertise and fill specific vacancies.  Recruitment consultancy often contains a sales driven element and generally requires consultants to not just recruit people but also contact organisations and convince them use the consultancy in order to fill their vacancies.  Consultants usually have targets as to how many new business clients they need to bring in over a period of time.In terms of relevance to HR, Recruitment Consultancy can be good for learning about recruitment methods and procedures but not the wider role of an HR professional.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s