A career in human resources is all about ensuring that an organisation has the best possible people to work for it and that their rights are protected and their benefits are effectively administered. Recruiters in HR are looking for individuals to look after aspects of an organisation’s functioning such as employee relations, applying and advising on employment law, health and safety, pay and benefits, recruitment and training.
Careers in recruitment might involve working in a large organisation to take on new employees, or working as a recruitment consultant for a recruitment agency. The latter will entail tracking down new business (finding organisations who would like help recruiting new staff) and matching jobhunters to these positions.
What qualifications and skills do I need to work in human resources and recruitment?
You need to be a certain type of person to work in human resources and it’s essential to have the right skills. That’s not to say that qualifications aren’t required – it’s a competitive area so it helps to have a good degree, in any discipline.
If you really want to stand out, consider studying for a qualification from the CIPD. This organisation runs courses in all aspects of the field, including basic introductions, undergraduate and postgraduate courses and senior management courses. Your commitment to the industry will be obvious if you choose to study, and some employers may encourage you to study part time once you start work.
Useful skills for a career in HR and recruitment include:
- excellent interpersonal skills such as empathy, sensitivity, tact and discretion
- the ability to get on with a range of people and work well in a team
- strong organisational and administrative skills
- good time management
- IT skills, particularly if you’re interested in training, much of which is done on computers
- numeracy, financial skills and budgetary control.
These skills are set out in a clear and comprehensive way in the HR Profession Map, a resource freely available from the CIPD website. The HR Profession Map was developed following extensive consultation with people working in the field and explains what you should be capable of at different stages in your career. It also includes information on all the relevant areas of work.
Work experience is highly valuable in human resources, particularly if it’s in a relevant area. Any job can give you useful experience, particularly if you use the opportunity to observe people’s interactions, as an understanding of human behaviour is essential for HR roles.
Where can I find a graduate job in HR and recruitment?
There are several human resources graduate training schemes, which tend to form part of a large intake of graduates into various areas of a large organisation. If this appeals to you, target your applications to organisations or sectors that interest you – but be aware that there will probably be only one or two entry-level positions with employers.
Positions with smaller organisations won’t necessarily be described as ‘graduate’ jobs in HR. For these, look for job adverts in the HR press, such as the newsletter of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD – the professional body for HR), People Management or Recruiter Magazine. It’s also worth looking at national and local newspapers, and their online equivalents, as well as regional magazines.
There may also be HR jobs advertised with local recruitment agencies and job centres. Speculative applications can also sometimes be successful. Find out the names of contacts from HR Nation and the Global Directory of Executive Recruitment Consultants. Many positions are filled by word of mouth, so networking is key: if you’re a CIPD member, go to branch meetings and let people know you’re looking for work.
What’s involved in the interview process for jobs in HR and recruitment?
You’re likely to have one or more interviews but formal assessments are uncommon. Questions will probably be designed to find out about your interpersonal and team skills – be prepared to give examples to back up your claims.
Competition for jobs in human resources is high so be prepared to start at the bottom of the ladder. It’s often necessary to get experience in another office role, such as administration, before you can progress to a position in human resources. Sideways moves into the sector are quite common. You can improve your chances if you keep up to date with trends and practices in the sector, so look out for HR-related news.
What is working life like?
In the course of a day you will have a variety of very different tasks. These may encompass routine administrative duties such as taking care of payroll and entering information about employees, but you’re also likely to spend some time dealing with individuals’ concerns and working with people. You might advise an employee on how to deal with a difficult manager, provide advice on maternity leave, or interview prospective employees.
Human resources is an office-based role. You will spend a large proportion of the day at your desk and much of the rest in meeting rooms. But you won’t work in isolation – there’s usually a good team spirit and you’ll spend a lot of time talking and interacting with people.
What are the main areas of work?
Many human resources professionals work across the board while others specialise in certain areas. A small employer may only have one personnel manager, who covers all areas. You’re more likely to focus on one area if you work for a large organisation with a big HR department. Areas of work include:
- Employee relations Designing and implementing policies to balance the needs of employees and management in terms of working conditions, equal opportunities, grievance procedures, etc. The idea is to make employees happy so they’ll work hard, thus increasing productivity, efficiency and profitability.
- Employment law Understanding the laws relating to employment and providing advice to employees and the organisation. Making sure equal opportunities legislation is followed during recruitment, understanding the laws about unfair dismissal, and providing advice to employees regarding maternity leave, harassment and work-related benefits.
- Health and safety Looking after the mental and physical health of employees. This involves providing support during illness or times of stress, and preventing injury by such means as implementing rules for lifting heavy objects and providing advice on correct chair height to minimise back pain.
- Pay and benefits Developing an organisation’s salary structure, including bonuses, managing payroll and negotiating pay rises. Arranging, overseeing and providing advice on a range of benefits, including pensions, health insurance, holidays, loans and company cars.
- Recruitment Overseeing the entire recruitment process, from finding potential candidates to recruiting new employees: writing job descriptions, advertising for staff, analysing applications, holding interviews and assessments, helping select candidates and issuing contracts.
- Training, learning and development Coordinating external training and delivering or organising internal training sessions. Running induction schemes for new employees.