Careers advice and planning

Is human resources a good career choice for you?

14 Feb 2024, 14:23

Discover whether a career in human resources is right for you, by exploring some of the many areas in which you could work, the tasks involved, the skills you’ll need and how you could progress.

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Is human resources (HR) a ‘good career’? It depends on what you are looking for. The ‘people profession’ covers so many different areas that there’s likely to be at least one to suit your skills and career plans. For example, if you consider yourself to be a ‘people person’ or enjoyed studying employment law, then employee relations, which involves supporting and consulting employees, could be a good fit. Or, if you enjoyed coaching a sport or tutoring while studying, you’d be sought after in a training and development role. If you want to make a difference, working in a diversity, equality and inclusion-focused role would help you bring about change you want to see.

Read on to explore some common tasks in different areas of focus for HR professionals, the skills and strengths needed, and the progression routes available to work out whether it is a good career choice for you.

Why work in HR?

HR teams support organisations’ good performance by maximising the contribution of employees. This starts before candidates are hired, as HR professionals help managers write job descriptions, interview and get the right people onboard. Later, HR teams may provide training, guidance, health and safety advice and/or legal support. A HR team may also look after staff pay and benefits.

In a small organisation, a few people may cover all of these jobs, calling on outside consultants (such as trainers and lawyers) if they need specialist help. Larger companies will have a team with in-house specialists focusing on different areas. Either way, in HR you can find a way to work to your strengths and to progress in your career. There will be opportunities for those who like working in project management or leading on strategic initiatives; there will also be opportunities for those who like implementing processes and getting tasks ticked off the list.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

Employers have legal obligations to ensure that staff are treated fairly regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability and marital status. Many organisations go beyond this to focus on inclusion, which focuses on making sure everyone feels welcome and respected. This isn’t just about keeping people happy: a diverse workforce can also affect organisations’ success because a wide range of ideas are shared and considered.

Typical tasks in a diversity, equality and inclusion role include:

  • Developing policies on inclusive practice
  • Analysing data on staff diversity and identifying trends
  • Providing specialist advice
  • Designing and running training on equality legislation and company policies
  • Running initiatives relating to DEI and assessing their impact.

Skills needed:

  • Coaching and training skills
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation skills
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and spoken
  • Tact and diplomacy.

Employee relations

Employee relations professionals provide support in difficult work situations – usually ones with a legal element. They may need to involve specialists – in-house lawyers, consultants and trade unions, for example – to advise, but will need to keep up to date with employment law and know how to apply it.

Typical tasks in an employee relations role include:

  • Meeting staff to discuss disciplinary matters, grievances, redundancies and similar situations, and providing advice
  • Interviewing staff
  • Conducting research and analysing data
  • Seeking expert guidance
  • Keeping accurate records of discussions and outcomes.

Skills needed:

  • Organisational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Proactivity
  • The ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Communication skills and the ability to work with people from all areas of an organisation.

Health and safety

Organisations are responsible for the health and safety of the people they employ and there are severe penalties if things go wrong. As a result, many organisations employ health and safety (H&S) specialists or build this into a HR team members’ roles.

Typical tasks in a health and safety role include:

  • Providing specialist guidance
  • Investigating near-misses, hazards and incidents
  • Developing, reviewing implementing health and safety policies and training
  • Keeping accurate records
  • Analysing data and providing information about health and safety to managers and external organisations.

Skills needed:

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills – especially for explaining complex terminology simply, and for working with senior managers and external organisations
  • Database management skills
  • Data analysis skills
  • Project management skills.

HR generalist

HR generalists do a bit of everything: recruitment, induction and training, employee relations and more. They’re more common in smaller businesses in which it’s not practical to hire a team of specialists. Instead, the HR team will focus on essential activities and call on external experts when they’re needed. Depending on the employer, HR generalists may also take on some payroll or office management duties.

Typical tasks in an HR generalist role include:

  • Responding to queries from employees
  • Advising line managers on handling people-related matters, ranging from flexible working requests to performance concerns
  • Developing policies and training
  • Reporting on HR matters to senior managers
  • Keeping accurate records in an HR management system
  • Recruiting new staff and managing this process
  • Providing data on trends to managers to help them plan.

Skills needed:

  • Good communication skills, including listening skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The ability to think on your feet
  • Coaching and training skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Project management skills
  • The ability to juggle projects and prioritise.

Learning and development

While you can learn many things from the internet, it’s unlikely you can learn how to do your job this way. Instead, people need training and learning opportunities specific to their role and their organisation. Learning and development professionals focus on this, creating elearning modules, workshops, webinars and other ways that outline to staff what’s expected of them.

Typical tasks in a learning and development role include:

  • Analysing data to explore where training is needed
  • Working with HR colleagues and senior managers to design training plans that will help the organisation reach its goals
  • Creating plans for workshops, webinars, events and other learning opportunities
  • Using specialist software to design elearning materials
  • Facilitating workshops
  • Using a learning management system to deliver online learning and keep records on employees’ progress
  • Sourcing external trainers, facilitators and other suppliers.

Skills needed:

  • Teaching and coaching skills and experience
  • An understanding of how adults learn
  • Writing and visual design skills
  • Data analysis skills
  • Survey/questionnaire design skills
  • Project management skills.

Organisational development

You’ll tend to find organisational development professionals in large organisations because they focus on how ‘bigger picture’ issues such as company culture and strategy. Smaller organisations can adapt to change relatively quickly but in larger ones, leaders need to plan ahead using data and specialist insights. These are provided by organisational development professionals. Their work involves investigating how different elements of an organisation (including people, equipment and relationships) are helping it achieve its goals and developing strategies to help them do this better.

Organisational development professionals often work with learning and development teams.

Typical tasks in an organisational development role:

  • Designing and running surveys
  • Analysing data
  • Interviewing staff
  • Developing strategies to address specific challenges
  • Planning and rolling out initiatives and monitoring progress
  • Creating and commissioning learning and development projects
  • Creating and delivering reports to leaders.

Skills needed:

  • Project management skills
  • The ability to see trends and patterns
  • Organisational and planning skills
  • The ability to communicate clearly to people at all levels in an organisation
  • Commercial awareness
  • An interest in how people adapt to change.

Which HR skills do you have?

Identifying your strengths and skills and matching them to those required in HR is a vital way to discover whether HR is a good career for you. Use our special advice feature on the essential HR skills – plus the HR profession map created by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) − to reflect on which skills you already have, which you’d like to focus on and where you have gaps.

Many of the skills you need to kickstart a career in HR are soft skills and it’s likely that you have developed some of them already through your university studies and any part-time work. However, also consider:

  • searching for internships, placement years and other formal work experience opportunities in HR
  • volunteering in a people-facing role, especially with people who are facing difficult circumstances or from different walks of life – this is a great way to develop your emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills among others
  • gaining greater business understanding by taking part in enterprise or entrepreneur projects offered by your university – ask your careers service for details
  • taking up an advocacy role, such as becoming a course or faculty representative – this will get you used to summarising a case and presenting it to stakeholders.

Should you be a generalist or specialist?

You could potentially stay in HR for much of your working life, so, as you’re reflecting on your HR skills, also think about your career plans. Working in HR can open doors into other fields as well as within HR itself. If you’re not sure about your career plans, a generalist HR position will give you a taste of numerous areas of an organisation, from recruitment to health and safety, training and supporting staff through difficult situations. On the flip side, if you’re keen to build a particular skill or skill, look for specialist opportunities in larger organisations.

Is HR a good career for the future?

Working in HR provides a range of transferable skills that you can build as you progress or apply to other jobs. As you’ll have seen, HR professionals help keep organisations running smoothly, safely, legally and efficiently. They learn how organisations operate, how people respond in different situations and how changes in one part of an organisation have impacts elsewhere.

Once you start building this experience for yourself, you’ll be able to progress to higher-level jobs within and outside the HR function. You could choose to specialise – for example, becoming a health and safety manager or a learning and development consultant – or set up your own business as a HR . Your skills will be sought-after in a range of other jobs, including in general management, consulting and business analysis.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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