Ever wished you could quiz 4000 top HR people on how to make your career take off?

That's a pretty specific wish, but wish no more.

Beloved Twitter chat #HRHour’s latest questions were:

  • What would you do differently if you had to start your HR career from scratch?
  • What would be your one main piece of advice to someone new to the HR profession?

The replies – from HR Directors, Chief People Officers, VPs of HR, and even the former Non-Executive Director of CIPD – are full of hands-on practical wisdom about succeeding in HR, no matter what stage of your career you're at.

Plus, they don’t just tell you what to do. They share some tips on how to do it, too.

(And yes: one of the suggestions is definitely joining in with #HRHour.)




Learn about your business in depth.

Business needs to make profits. Learn and understand how it does that in industry/macro terms. Then drill into departments and teams, to understand how they each contribute to it. Then realise how YOU contribute, by improving them.

- Tim Douglas, HR Consultancy Owner @TimDouglasHR


As I have not come from HR, I can confidently state that to spend time actively in other areas of the business is critical - not a nice to have. As such ‘insist’ on sitting in EVERY area of the business during your 1st 3 months to get an initial feel on culture/gaps etc.

- Garry Turner MCIPD @garryturner0


Get to know the business and industry you work in.  Best way to be a partner!

They need to know you're there to help and make their job easier. I use panels in interviews (my management team loves this) and ask for thoughts on new policies/programs.

Schedule regular meetings. Keep meetings to 30 mins or less; it’s for your education. People really do like to talk about what they do if you are sincerely interested. My current role was in a new industry. After 6 years, I still ask questions and still learn.

- Diane Sass @LuckySage1


I’ve learnt my more commercial skills by spending time with key stakeholders in other parts of the business who I’ve built good relationships with... plus I am naturally nosy and like to know what’s going on and why.

- Heidi MCIPD, HR Professional & Executive Coach


Understand that HR IS the business and not something that sits on the sidelines to be engaged only when felt necessary. I wouldn't have let people keep me on the outside. Won't happen ever again!

- Steve Browne, VP of HR and Author of HR On Purpose @sbrownehr




Use (or develop!) your interdisciplinary experience.


I fell into HR from operations. I am glad I did because it helps me understand how all the pieces connect. HR needs to know "how things work" and how the business is impacted by HR stuff.

– Richard Davis, Chief People Officer @PIPability


I’d spend more time in a creative discipline. Understand what user-centred design is, how to get messaging across effectively, how to manage conflicting stakeholders who change their minds etc. But I do think the financial/business acumen is vital.

- Han Szurek @hanszures


Stay in business operations longer before HR. Work in Marketing first. Spend more time with Finance. The best I’ve ever worked with come from the business. They don’t struggle to business partner or be commercial. They already are!

- Scott Young, HR Director @scyounghome




Don’t be afraid of specialist areas.


I'd pick the broadest possible subjects [within CIPD] and then develop the specialist areas at the workplace if possible.

Personally, I would have learned more about L&D earlier in my career. Because having a solid understanding of both HRM and L&D combined, allows for a combined, connected and integrated approach to delivering value-add HR.

- Mark Hendy FCIPD, @MarkHendyHR


Do not 'avoid' the Reward function, it is the most commercial of all HR functions. The Reward Director probably spends more time with the CEO and Board than the CHRO.

- Frank Douglas, HR Director & Former Non-Executive Director of CIPD @fdoug23


If I was starting my HR career from scratch today, I’d look to get more involved in data analytics/insights.

- Rob Baker FCIPD, HR Consultant @BakerRJM


Don’t be phased by employment law - know your stuff, and get to grips with it - because it is the backbone of HR and if you want an HR seat on the board - it will be your friend.

Emma del Torto, Founder of Effective HRM @EmmadeltHRM




Make the most of CIPD’s qualifications and conferences.


If I’d set out with the aim of being an HRD, I’d have spent time as a generalist & done CIPD.

- Rob Robson, Director @robertsrobson


I would have completed my CIPD studies a lot earlier! I have lots of practical experience but trying to study at Level 7 while working full time with 2 kids is not easy!

- Joanna King @JoKing250415


The CIPD conference in November is a must for all newbies, but the free section. Good for networking and knowing who is around for help.

- Rachel Moore @rchlsmly




Cultivate connections with your colleagues.


Don’t focus on the theory - go and talk to the people, get to know them and their pain points, build relationships! Make yourself visible & get into their heads.

- Han Szurek @hanszures


Walk the floor, your desk is where your people probably are not. Keep connected, listen to people's stories, be part of them, be approachable and approach people. Do not be the HR person behind a door/barrier either physical or psychological.

- Nick Court, Co-founder/Director at The People Experience Hub @Scruffy_Nick


I find buy-in helps to get policies and processes agreed - training is not enough - writing in ‘culture speak’ not HR jargon helps.

- Nina, 10+ years in HR @neena143


Don't allow anyone to refer to HR team members generically as 'HR'. We're people too (really) + how approachable can we really be if no one knows or uses our names?

- blue bean @bluebean76


We deal with people and people carry emotions. Biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to treat every single one like they’re the most important person in the world.

- Ben Gledhill, Recruitment & Employer Branding @recruiterguynw




Find mentors – both within and outside of HR.


Find a mentor and learn as much as you can about all areas of HR. Become an educated generalist.

– Richard Davis, Chief People Officer @PIPability


I'd encourage new #HR folks to get a mentor. Someone who's practiced in the field and can help them grow, stretch and thrive.

- Steve Browne, VP of HR and Author of HR On Purpose @sbrownehr


Find a good mentor, preferably from outside of HR. Just to get an outside in/different perspective as you will usually be working closely with other HR types.

- Andrew Spence, Workforce Advisor @AndySpence


I had my initial meeting with a new mentor today, it was organised by my CIPD branch and I’m really excited about the relationship and what I can learn from them.

We really clicked and I took so much away from the first meeting and have lots of actions to follow up on. I felt very energised afterwards as well which is a great sign.

- Ruth Reynolds @ruthreynolds_HR




Build your professional and learning networks.


Networking is key! Whether you have already landed the job or you're looking for a job, having a network of other HR pros will help you when you have questions and when you just need someone to bounce ideas off of.

- Amanda Brunson, HR Generalist @TheHRPanda


My advice would be to network with other HR professionals, read trade magazines such as Workforce, join professional online groups and of course join into Twitter chats.

- Wendy @WendyMSHRMPHR


Twitter chats have been a huge help as I’m growing my HR network. They can be really fun as well.

- Ruth Reynolds @ruthreynolds_HR


Create your own personal learning network, it will teach you lessons that you never knew you wanted to know.

- Gail Evans MCIPD, HR Practitioner @gailevanshr




And a few unique insights…


You should work outside of your country of birth, at some point. Having an international mindset and experience is a competitive advantage.

- Frank Douglas, HR Director & Former Non-Executive Director of CIPD @fdoug23


Switch to the private sector before Advisor level - they won’t touch me now (I’ll console myself with a good pension but sometimes wish I could be a bit more dynamic than the public sector allows!)

- Jade Blackburn MCIPD, Head of HR @JadeB_HR


Find a way of describing to non-HR people what you do without boring or confusing them. Then do more of that kind of stuff.

- Gary Cookson FCIPD, HR/OD/L&D Director @Gary_Cookson


One last piece of advice for #HR newbies (and all of us honestly) - quit talking in HR speak or catchphrases! Be a human yourself and speak normally. No reason to toss phrases around to justify your knowledge. People want to know and interact with you!

- Steve Browne, VP of HR and Author of HR On Purpose @sbrownehr


Finally, our favourite of the bunch comes from moderator Mark Hendy @markhendyHR: Never miss an opportunity to go for a pee.

We’re with you, Mark. We’re with you.


Eager to learn from more experts? Get CIPD qualified online with us with unlimited 1:1 tutor support from HR Directors, Consultants, CEOs and PhDs. 

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