What competencies are key for HR?

Human resources polarises opinion, it’s fair to say. Some people consider the function a meddling presence that polices activity throughout a workplace, whereas others glamorise it, believing HR to be the keeper of secrets, the people with power. Regardless of personal opinion, no one could argue that HR is not a valuable and necessary profession, one that many thousands of people work hard to break into.

HR is extremely varied. It can encompass recruitment, employee relations, training and payroll, to name but a few disciplines. Therefore to reel off all of the required skills would be a little misleading and hugely confusing. With that in mind, here are a few of the more general competencies that someone hoping to enter HR would need:

Attention to detail

Although human resources commonly makes use of many (incredibly, quite hard to find) soft skills, attention to detail is critical. Most activities that involve employees require note-taking, data-gathering and information inputting. Records need to be kept of most conversations, particularly under formal meeting circumstances, i.e. disciplinary, grievance, even interviews. Therefore concentration and great attention to detail is required. Even more so for those that are involved with using HR software – though thankfully this innovation removes much of the repetition, boredom and human error related to manually kept records and calculations. HR software can make record-keeping far more user-friendly and accurate, though this doesn’t mean the need for attention to detail is diminished.


When asked at interview why they want to work in HR, many candidates will say that they either want to help people or are a ‘people person’. This is widely considered to be a bit of a ‘twee’ response and demonstrative of a rose-tinted perception of the function. That said, empathy is crucial and not easy to find. Many candidates might be surprised to see such an emphasis on empathy, given the ‘policing’ responsibilities thrust on HR.

However, it’s a competency that’s key because nothing is ever black or white in HR, there are no set rules – every single case is different. Thus possessing empathy for others is a skill that can get to the bottom of an issue and help someone, rather than see them lose a job. It is a skill that can help to understand why someone has behaved in a certain why and make the situation better, not worse. In short, it’s vital if you want a successful career in HR.

Team working

No HR professional is an island and being able to work as part of a team is essential. This is not simply important due to helping each other out during peaks and troughs of work, but in a consultative capacity too. With varying experience of, or even conclusions drawn about, certain employee issues, it’s always a good idea to seek advice from colleagues. Naturally, there are procedures that must be followed, but the physical outcomes can differ depending on the HR professional who is handling the case. HR is a team, it acts as one unit and should behave as one, so sharing best practice and helping each other are integral to its overall success. Plus people that work well as a team have much more fun, generally speaking.

If you are thinking about a career in HR, consider the competencies above; it’s likely that prospective interviewers will be looking for them.

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