Deciding what career path to take can be pretty damn daunting. I know this because I was once in the position of someone with a degree nearing its end, and no clue where I was going next. Sound familiar? Don’t fear! If HR is a field you may be considering, then I am here to offer some friendly guidance. Having spent many months deliberating, researching and networking with other professionals, I made the leap of faith into a career I knew very little about. So here are some things I learnt along the way…
- Know your reasons.
This can be a tricky one, but if you’re seriously considering HR as a potential career then you need to know not only what you want from it, but also what you can provide. Ask yourself, what type of role do you see yourself in, in the future? What kind of satisfaction do you demand from this job? Are there any tasks/requirements that you would not be happy or comfortable with carrying out? Does this role excite and challenge you? It is vital that you choose HR for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones. Unfortunately, I know of people who have decided to go into this field for the wrong reasons. Yes, the pay can be lucrative when based in higher positions, but this should not be the first thing that attracts you to this career path. Put quite simply, going into any career for the wrong reasons will not result in you being A) happy B) good at what you do and C) respected by others. I believe it is vital for your core values to match your field of work. Human resources is all about others, and meeting their needs. It may sound cliché, but yes, you do have to be a ‘people person’. For me, it was the fact that I could make a positive and lasting difference to others within the workplace that attracted me to HR. There is no doubt that if a company has a brilliant HR team, the company and its people will strive and shine. It was being a part of this wider goal that was most appealing. Not to mention the brilliant project areas you can get involved in such as disability, mental health, diversity and many more. To exceed in HR, you really have to truly care about the people around you, as this will be at the heart of your role. So, what are your reasons for wanting to break into HR?
2. Know your route.
Like many other fields, there is more than one route into HR. This is a good thing, as it means it is an area which is accessible to all – whether you have a degree or not. Research, research, research. It is vital that you do your research and know the routes available to you. This way you can find one that suits you best. Having spoken to many HR professionals about their route, I can say that there is no right or wrong way to get started. Mostly, it is a mixture of those who studied HR at university and then went on to gain jobs, or those who had no qualifications but started off as HR administrators and worked their way up. Both routes are equally as valid, although, many employers understandably do tend to favour experience over qualifications. This brings me to a slight dilemma that I will have to face once I have completed my IHRM masters. In terms of employability once I finish my course, I will be a post graduate student with a level 7 CIPD under my belt – sounds great, right? Well, yes…but no. As mentioned earlier, experience is key within todays job market. I have heard personal experiences from those academically highly qualified in HR, being turned down from roles because they are just ‘too over qualified’. Luckily for me, I realised this in time, and have managed to gain a HR internship and other placements before my course starts. This is why it is vital to make sure you gain some work experience and build up your cv, alongside studying your qualifications, as it will help you to stand out to employers . However, if you decide to take the route of working your way up without qualifications, then you are in the perfect position. You will possess all of the desired experience, and will of course gain your qualifications as you move up. So yes, breaking into HR can be tricky, and it is no doubt a very competitive field. But once you are in, you’re in, and then its just onwards and upwards from there! Make sure you check out the CIPD website (Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development). The CIPD is the professional association for Human Resource professionals and is highly regarded within the world of HR. If you do decide to study a HR qualification, it is advisable to check that it is accredited by the CIPD.
3. Put yourself out there.
Experience is vital. I cannot stress this enough. As mentioned above, no matter how highly qualified you are, without experience employers will be reluctant to employ you. Therefore, it is important that you put yourself out there right from the start. Whatever stage of the process you are in, it is never too late to gain new experiences. If you are already working, why not ask your employer if a transition into the HR department is something they may be happy for you to consider? You may be given some exposure to aspects of HR, and if your employer is supportive and encourages professional development, they may even provide you with the relevant training to make the transition. If you are a student studying A levels, why not apply for work experiences in your holidays? Contact local businesses and speak to your career advisors at school and they may be able to point you in the right direction. The same applies for university students, whether your in your first year or last, put yourself out there. Apply for internships and placements whilst studying. The fact that you may be studying a HR degree will show employers that you are committed to a career in this field. On the other hand, if you are a person like me, who has a degree in a non-HR related discipline, don’t panic. If anything, you will have obtained skills that others may not have. For example, studying English Literature provided me with excellent verbal and written communication skills, and this appeals highly to HR employers. Also, the whole university process prepared me for a lot of challenges, such as hitting deadlines and writing quality essays. The skills I gained were invaluable, and this is something you will have to really emphasize when transitioning into HR from another discipline. It is never too late to gain experience, even if you have completed your degree. For me, I finished my undergrad course in May 2017 and had four months until September when I would start my post grad in HR. I made it my mission in these four months to apply to every opportunity possible. Jobs, internships, placements and even contacting employers who were not advertising. I tailored my CV, attended CIPD networking events and did my research. This worked, and opened up a range of opportunities for me. I started off with a two week placement with a brilliant company, and gained a wealth of experience. The people I worked alongside were brilliant, they spent a lot of time with me and provided me with all the resources I needed. I got stuck into exciting HR projects, built lasting relationships and gained the all important HR experience. I was also lucky enough to be offered mentoring for the duration of my masters from the Head of HR, something which will of course be invaluable to my development. Although it was only two weeks, I was overwhelmed at the sheer impact this placement had on me. With a few days remaining of my placement, I dreaded going home and sitting around wasting valuable time. So I started applying again, contacting companies who’s core values matched my own and advertising my newly gained experience. Amazingly, a few weeks later, after a telephone and face to face interview, I started my three month internship with a global company. This was extremely exciting for me, working in London and Birmingham with a leading company on such a huge scale was a dream come true. These experiences will not only look good on paper, but they will also help me to apply real life examples when studying HR. I went from a English Lit graduate with no desirable HR experience, to a passionate student with a clear interest in the field, a range of experiences and an upcoming masters. This now puts me in a much more desirable position for prospective employers, however, this does not mean I can now rest my feet up! There is a wealth of knowledge to be discovered, I will continue seeking new experiences and opportunities wherever possible, throughout my studies.
So, moral of the story? Go out, advertise yourself, tell employers who you are and why they should take you on. Seek new challenges and experiences. You never know where it will lead you…
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.