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Graduate jobs in human resources

Your HR graduate job options

If you want a career in HR, the good news is that you can find graduate jobs in a variety of industries. This is because every business needs to hire new employees and develop and look after its existing employees. You could work for a manufacturing company, a retailer, the NHS, a charity or a bank, to name a few.

A graduate in HR will usually start their career as a general HR officer, gaining experience in areas such as:

  • recruitment
  • learning and development
  • employee relations
  • pay and benefits
  • employment law
  • health and safety

You might specialise in one of these areas further down the line but these opportunities tend to arise with large employers who have a big enough workforce to warrant a dedicated person or team for one area of HR. Smaller employers tend to only need a few HR officers - or even just one - so they're more likely to recruit generalist HR officers.

Your recruitment graduate job options

If you want to become a recruitment consultant, you could work:

  • as an in-house recruiter for one company
  • with a recruitment agency, who companies hire to do the legwork and find suitable candidates for them
  • with a specialist recruitment agency, finding candidates for specific industries such as engineering or finance
  • as a specialist in graduate recruitment

Read our article on what to expect from your first job in recruitment consulting to find out what tasks you might be given and what a typical day as a graduate recruitment consultant might look like.

Graduate jobs versus schemes

Several employers offer graduate schemes, which tend to be between two and three years long. You can either apply for a HR-specific scheme or a more general business scheme that includes a HR placement. On a HR-specific scheme you’re likely to experience several rotations between different areas of HR such as recruitment or learning and development. As your rotations might be based at different locations, such as a head office, within a specific HR department or at a regional office, factory or store, travel or even relocation may be necessary.

You can find a list of some employers who offer HR graduate schemes here.

Applications for these schemes tend to open in September and it's advisable to submit your application in the autumn term. It's common for employers to invite applicants to interview before the deadline and they will close applications early if they fill all of their positions.

For smaller employers that do not offer HR graduate schemes, you'll need to look out for any entry-level HR assistant jobs that crop up as and when. An entry-level job will usually be based in one location and your training will cover different areas of HR simultaneously rather than rotating between different areas one by one.

Whichever employer you join, you will most likely study for a qualification with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

For those looking to go into recruitment, graduate schemes aren't readily available so the most common route is to get a trainee recruitment consultant role at an agency. These jobs will be advertised at any point over the year.

What degree do I need?

Several employers ask for candidates with at least a 2.1, although some will accept applications from those with a 2.2.

You can get into both HR and recruitment with any degree discipline although, in some cases, certain degrees will stand you in better stead. For some HR graduate schemes, employers ask for a business-related or social sciences degree or state that this will be an advantage. If your business degree included any HR modules, make sure you emphasise this in your application.

Equally, if you're applying to a recruitment agency that specialises in a particular field, such as IT, they might prefer, or require, a related degree discipline.

Top skills to get a job in HR and recruitment

People skills are essential for a successful career in HR and recruitment. You'll need to be able to act with compassion, tact and discretion.

The CIPD's profession map names eight personal attributes that a HR professional should possess:

  • decisive thinker. You'll need to be able to weigh up your options fairly and carefully and make an informed decision. You'll also need to look confident in your decisions and not be easily swayed
  • skilled influencer. You'll need to keep people motivated and committed. You might also need to bring them around to your way of thinking
  • personally credible. You'll need to know your stuff and you'll need to act like a true professional
  • collaborative. You'll need to work well with a variety of people, both within and outside of your organisation
  • driven to deliver. You'll need to be focused on achieving the best possible results and you'll need to be determined and resourceful in your approach
  • courage to challenge. You'll need to have the confidence to speak up and challenge things you disagree with and the courage to tackle circumstances that are out of your comfort zone.
  • role model. You'll need to be the kind of person who sets a good example to their peers. You'll need to act impartially and with integrity
  • curious. You'll need to be inquisitive, open-minded and the kind of person who actively seeks out new ideas

Resilience is also an important quality to have. You may need to deal with difficult or emotional situations. Managing people can be complicated and a thick skin will come in handy, especially if you're dealing with redundancy programmes or disciplinary processes.

On top of this, you'll need to be a multi-tasker with organisational and time management skills. For a career in recruitment particularly, you'll need to be a natural communicator who is confident, willing to put yourself out there and willing to take on challenges.

Find out more about the skills and competencies you'll need for a career in HR here.

What life is like in HR and recruitment

HR is a business- and people-focused role. A HR officer needs to ensure that people are treated fairly while ensuring that the most effective decisions are made for the business. You will be actively contributing to the performance and success of your employer. You'll be office-based but you might need to travel to other sites, such as retail stores, depending on the employer. You won't work in isolation; you'll be communicating with a variety of people on a day-to-day basis.

A career in recruitment will suit somebody who enjoys a fast-paced and target-driven environment. There are financial incentives such as bonuses and commission so, the more targets you hit, the more money you'll take home. Top performers can find themselves progressing up the ladder very quickly.