Article provided by Jo Sweetland, Mananing Partner, Green Park
Human Resources (HR) is an industry growing fast in popularity, with the ONS estimating over 30,000 more people working in HR last year than five years earlier.
However, with increased industry specialism and new career paths opening, it can seem a difficult profession to navigate and even harder to know where to start. Here is your guide on what it takes to work in HR and how to go about finding your ideal role.
What are the benefits of working in HR?
HR gives you the opportunity to make real change to both the overall organisational success and the lives of individual employees in your care. As a HR professional you can shape the future of the people around you and every day brings a fresh challenge. The HR function is constantly evolving with new focusses and role specialisms, employee engagement and diversity management roles are an example of this.
It is important to not understate the value of HR. In many industries human capital (the knowledge, skills and competencies of employees) is the most valuable asset. Maximising the value of human assets through best practice recruitment, investigating the largest and most diverse talent pools, along with boosting productivity and employee retention makes human resources one of the most valuable functions in an organisation.
HR is still sometimes mistakenly categorised as a support function, this is a misnomer as it is a business-critical function that can both drive value by ensuring talent is optimised and save money through effective risk management, avoiding unnecessary disputes or lawsuits.
How do I get into a career in HR?
HR is an increasingly competitive industry to get into. However, there are some key steps you can take to set yourself apart from the field:
For school leavers, a BA degree in HR Management is a very good place to kick-start your career. However, for those looking to change career, or who already have a degree, the CIPD offers a range of certificates and diplomas in HR, many of which can be studied flexibly, and will provide a good educational basis for the profession.
HR professionals need a skill set that includes excellent interpersonal communication, commercial awareness and problem solving. These skills are transferrable from other professions so if you are already practicing these within a different sector you are probably well placed for a career in HR. When you’re ready to take the step into HR, most people enter the profession as a generalist such as a HR advisor, taking on a broad range of responsibilities. As a career develops there are opportunities to specialise in a specific area, such as compensation and benefits or talent acquisition.
- Passion for the people agenda
To be successful in HR you must have a real passion for the people agenda and care about the future of employees you will be responsible for. Keeping up with regulatory developments and human rights legislation is crucial, so that you are always best placed to advise and direct the people in your organisation. In addition, you should have an interest in different cultures and have a desire to improve both diversity and inclusion in your business. HR will be involved with creating and evolving the workplace culture and it will be your responsibility to ensure this embraces all employees. The goal is to create an inclusive, efficient and happy workplace which will in turn boost business performance.
What type of person do I need to be to succeed in HR?
Communication skills are vital for the profession as is good cultural awareness. You will meet a wide range of people so will need to have an adaptable and flexible approach to working. You will require the emotional intelligence to know when to switch from a professional demeanour to empathetic and caring. You will be delivering both positive and negative messages in the role so will need to be prepared for the switch.
An understanding of the economic and psychological drivers that motivate is extremely valuable. Great HR professionals understand how to create a powerful employee value proposition (EVP): the benefits an employee receives in return for the capabilities, skills and experience they bring to an organisation. A market leading EVP will encompass an employer brand strategy, rewards packages, the culture and values of an organisation.
Professionals in charge of current staff and recruitment processes, need to ensure that diversity and inclusion are priorities for the business. You must have a forward-looking recruitment and development scheme, which encourages new roles to be created to ensure you are not only bringing in the right candidates but also evolving a workplace that nurtures and encourages cultural change.
In HR not only will you be people-focused, but it is also important to have commercial awareness and establish a clear alignment between business and HR strategy. You will be heavily involved with stakeholder engagement and work closely with the most senior members of an organisation. Having a business focus is important as you will regularly be asked for evidence on what you have done to drive the business forward. While your department might not be a ‘profit centre’ it is important to be able to quantify the value to the business.
The last word
The HR industry is often considered a refreshing change to many other professions due to its gender balance and in some cases female-dominated culture. Even at the most senior Executive and Board levels, HR roles are among the most well represented by women. The profession requires good people skills in addition to business acumen and is central to every organisations culture and performance. It is often a popular career path as it opens doors and opportunities across all industry sectors and no two days are ever the same!