Successful HR consultant Natalie shares her advice on building a network, choosing the right company, and how to stand out in the transformed new world of HR.
I decided to embark on a career in HR nearly 12 years ago and managed to secure a job by selling my transferable skills that I had acquired during my career in customer services. The reason I wanted to pursue a career in HR was because it appealed to my curiosity, and I wanted to be in a department that could add value to an organisation and its people.
The challenge I found when switching into a HR career is to maintain your salary level, and this challenge is still prominent today. You will need to be flexible with your approach, as you may have to take a lower salary in order to move forward.
The other factor to keep in mind is that it is highly competitive with candidates who may have considerable HR experience, which can be demotivating, especially if you find yourself rejected for positions; I didn’t get offered my first HR role until my 9th interview and countless CV rejections! If you are passionate, motivated and determined to succeed, then these will be good qualities to demonstrate in an interview.
Starting out in HR
Within my first HR position as an HR Administrator, I learnt from the team around me and they moulded me into the role. I quickly became involved in the lower level absence disciplinary hearings and supporting managers with investigations.
The trouble was that my career was progressing, but I didn’t have a qualification to balance it out, which wasn’t too much of a problem as an administrator, but the organisation required at least a CIPD Level 3 to be able to make the next move into an advisor role.
The importance of qualifications
I’ve recently become more aware of the emphasis employers place upon holding a CIPD qualification, and if you have no previous HR experience it is certainly worth exploring a route to obtain a qualification.
If you are just starting out, then a CIPD Level 3 in HR Practice is ideal as it sets out a foundation for you to kick start your career. If you are more experienced and want to continue your studies, then you may wish to consider a move into a Level 5 or Level 7.
As well as obtaining the qualification, a CIPD qualification also demonstrates commitment to the profession.
Research your options; bigger is not always better!
When it comes to exploring career options, it is definitely about doing your research into not only a job that looks good, but if the industry and business is right for you. For example, if you don’t like getting muddy, then a manufacturing career may not be the right option for you!
A big organisation doesn’t always mean bigger opportunities. I have worked in both PLCs and family run organisations and I gained more exposure and added more value in the smaller organisations. Working in a smaller environment enabled me to really get to know the business and gave me more commercial and strategic insight.
Do not overlook smaller businesses as it is something that really benefitted my career and even earnt me a nomination at the CIPD People Management Awards in 2012. The projects I was given had a significant impact on the wider business and prepared me for the next move in my career.
Get your commercial head on
Over the past 12 years, I’ve witnessed the evolution of the HR career and it continues changing. It’s not a career for those who are not comfortable with being uncomfortable; I have many contacts who went into HR when it was mainly about processing payroll, processing forms, cosy conversations with tea, biscuits and sympathy. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth today; HR is now constantly having to prove its worth and demonstrating how it can add value.
The key to success is the ability to build effective working relationships with line managers by giving commercially-focused advice, actively listening to the challenges they experience and coaching them when they struggle with the correct processes.
It can be a tough crowd to please
Sometimes HR can be seen as a party pooper. We are generally only called upon when things are going wrong, therefore HR can be disliked by employees when they are being performance managed.
On the other hand, line managers and even some directors I have worked with do not see the value in HR and can have an old-fashioned view. It’s important to remember that HR can provide advice and guidance on best practice, but sometimes this can be rejected so it is important to have a thick skin and brush up on your influencing skills!
Step outside your organisation
It is really important for HR professionals to take ownership of their careers, it is no one else’s responsibility to develop your career.
A big and frankly daunting step is to be proactive and enhance your network. Your network can be incredibly powerful and is instantly available. There are plenty of HR groups on LinkedIn and there are many inspirational HR figures on Twitter; HR Hour is a place which really helped me to understand different perspectives, share experiences and gain valuable knowledge.
Another place which is great to get involved with is your local CIPD branch. I volunteer at my local branch and I’ve learnt so much from my peers who are all from different organisational backgrounds.
There is a lot about HR to love
Whilst there are some challenging elements of the job, such as giving people bad news (you never get used to that), I love the pace, scope and variety that HR provides. I have never had the same day twice!
I’ve been fortunate to work with different organisations and contribute to their successes and on an individual level, it is great to be able to support people to be the best they can be by supporting development and enhancing their working lives.
Another enjoyable part of the role is supporting and coaching managers to give them the confidence to handle difficult and complex situations, it’s truly empowering them to develop their own management style and enabling them to work autonomously.
My final piece of advice to anyone embarking on, or who is currently in a development stage of their HR career is that HR is a complex and challenging profession, it is not for the faint hearted. But if you want to improve your organisation, build effective working relationships and make a difference to the organisational culture, then HR is a great career choice for you.