Human Resources is about more than just hiring and firing – long and exciting careers await those who are up for the challenge …
HR departments perform a crucial role in business, providing leadership, strategy and commercial focus while at the same time understanding the details of day-to-day operations. To forge a successful career, an HR professional should embody the vision, mission statement, values and culture of their company. But who should think about a career in HR, and what does the job demand?
Broadly responsible for the recruitment and management of employees within a company, in reality HR duties extend to providing training, coaching, legal advice, management oversight and more to departments and individuals at every level of an organisation. In fact, the professional challenges of HR make the job about personality as much as it is about ability, skill or educational background.
Skills & Talents
The modern HR workplace requires a combination of technical and personal talents. At the start of your career, however, recruiters will be looking for a number of important skills, including:
- Organisation: Since HR staff deal directly and specifically with the working lives of colleagues, organisation is vital. Practically, this means managing time, collecting resources, maintaining records and scheduling tasks with other employees efficiently.
- Communication: The HR department communicates with personnel in every department and at every level of seniority. HR staff may be called upon to advise employees in one-on-one settings, co-ordinate with third-parties or address a boardroom of directors. Beyond verbal and written skills, online communication, especially an understanding of social media platforms, is becoming crucial.
- Problem solving: Resolving conflicts between personnel is one of the most important aspects of the HR role since it means acting in the best interest of both employees and employer. Working in HR means being able to deal with interpersonal conflicts and administrative issues with objectivity, fairness and even creativity.
- Administration: Like any modern business environment, HR needs its staff to possess a wide variety of administrative skills. From a basic understanding of office protocol to a high standard of computer literacy, HR staff must be capable and versatile administrators.
- Negotiation: HR staff will be involved in the negotiation of employee salaries, along with associated benefits such as healthcare and pensions. With this in mind, an ability to negotiate decisively and effectively is a vital part of the job.
Education & Qualifications
The educational background of professionals working in HR can be extremely varied and there is no single, ‘correct’ path to career success. That said, there are ways to distinguish yourself to recruiters.
Finding an entry-level role (most commonly as an ‘HR Assistant’) may be possible with secondary-level educational qualifications such as four or five GCSEs or A-Levels. Thanks to the level of competition in the job market, however, senior positions such as HR Officer or Manager, or positions with paths to senior roles, will realistically require a university degree in a relevant field, such as:
- Business Management/Administration
- Specialised Human Resources degrees such as HR Management
Professional accreditation is a way of strengthening your profile in the HR field, and is also a crucial part of your career development. Recognised industry bodies, like the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (UK), offer a range of internationally-recognised qualifications, training courses and membership levels designed to demonstrate competency and an on-going dedication to HR practice.
Careers in HR lead in numerous directions and may depend on the size of your company (larger institutions tend to offer more specialisation opportunities) or personal preference: your strengths may lead you towards a certain discipline.
Most HR professionals will begin their journey as an entry-level HR Administrator before climbing to HR Assistant and onwards to senior positions such as HR Manager, Advisor and Director. Senior positions like these often require a level of professional development and some form of industry certification (see above), but experience gained in early-career roles helps to guide preferences: you may decide your talents best serve the non-profit sector or your knowledge of languages may take you into International HR.
The foundation that your early career HR roles provide often prompts employees to expand their professional focus – and even shift career paths, moving into neighbouring fields like Customer Relations, Health & Safety or Payroll. Payroll careers in particular intersect frequently with HR to provide a high level of service to employees and ensure the businesses they serve function efficiently and professionally on a daily basis.
If you are taking the first steps into a career in HR, keep one eye on the horizon. The skills you develop at this stage will play an important part in your ongoing professional development and help you change and shape not only your professional identity but the identity of the organisations you serve.