Julie Heslington is a CIPD Tutor and has worked in HR throughout her career. She joins us to share information and advice on making the most of your role in this profession.
A career in HR is incredibly versatile…
With the exception of a two-year career break to open and run my own shop, I’ve always worked in HR. It’s been a career path that started during my year out from university then returning to that same company as an HR Graduate Trainee.
I’ve worked in the public sector and private sector, small local companies and huge international companies, and across several different industries. I’ve made my way up the career ladder, dropped to the bottom, and had to claw my way up the ladder again.
I’ve been the only person doing what I do in the company, have had part of a team doing the same role, and have been the manager of a team ranging in size from one member to 22. I’ve worked part-time, full-time and been freelance.
So that’s my first learning for you: one of the great things about choosing a career in HR is the versatility. It’s a role that’s needed in all companies, all sizes, all sectors, all industries. You can be employed, be freelance, or work as a consultant. You can be company-based or home-based. You can be a generalist or a specialist. You can find your niche.
A career in HR may not be what you initially expected it to be…
My advice to anyone hoping to secure their first HR role or looking to progress with their HR career is not to be too blinkered about the type of role you might like. I set out planning to become an HR Manager but discovered that the specialist route was the one for me.
I have been an HR Manager on a couple of occasions, but I think I’m far better suited to a specialist career and have enjoyed my specialist roles far more. I didn’t expect to, though.
If you have the opportunity, I’d encourage you to try as many aspects of HR as you can until you find your true calling. You might be surprised that you don’t end up where you expected.
A career in HR can be very rewarding…
And, by rewarding, I mean personally rewarding. Financially, it’s not a badly-paid career and it goes without saying that the more senior you become, the more financially rewarding it becomes, but there are better paid roles out there. I certainly didn’t go into HR for the money.
What attracted me was making a difference.
A graduate once hugged me when I offered her a position on the graduate scheme (although she did ask me first if that would be ok!), a recruit for another company insisted on buying me lunch for helping him secure his dream job, a CIPD student sent me a mug printed with “this is what an awesome tutor looks like” … These are just three of many moments where I’ve had a part to play in making a difference in someone’s life.
A job offer, some helpful feedback, some coaching questions, a great training course … all of these things can add so much value and, for me, that’s my reward.
A career in HR can be very demanding…
Hands up! Who has worked extra hours? Very long extra hours? Who has worked on the train during their commute? Who has spent the last day of their holiday catching up on emails so they can hit the ground running on their first day back? Who has picked up emails, taken calls, or done work whilst on leave? Who has been under extreme pressure with deadlines or targets? I can put my hands up to all of these but I don’t think any of these are unique to HR.
Most jobs come with their own set of demands on your time. However, an HR position brings unique emotional demands that you are unlikely to find in other positions. I needed to conduct a grievance investigation for the most appalling homophobic attacks on a member of staff who, as a result, was having suicidal thoughts.
I needed to dismiss a member of staff who had turned up for work in a butchery department under the influence of drugs and alcohol, watching him breakdown in front of me and beg me to reconsider. I explored cases of bullying and mis-management but also remain patient and empathetic in cases where individuals were clearly trying to ‘play the system’.
I coached people who were floundering and had lost their self-worth. I counselled individuals who’d given 30 years of their life to a company and were facing compulsory redundancy. It’s hard not to be affected by this. It’s hard not to take it home. But when you can genuinely make a difference to any of these people, it’s the most amazing feeling.
But, most of all, a career in HR is whatever you want to make it…
Although I didn’t realise the common thread at the time, the roles I loved the most were the ones that involved writing. I loved designing interview questions, creating training courses, developing scenarios for assessment or development centre exercises, writing reports, writing letters, writing, writing, writing.
And then I became a writer. I’m now able to balance my career as an HR Tutor with being a writer and I’ve never been happier. What do you love doing? Can you develop it within an HR career? I did. Maybe you can too.