People working in HR come from different degree backgrounds, disciplines and areas of business like finance, administration or law (and many others too). If wanting to start an HR career it is important to consider the sector you would like to work in as there are opportunities across all sectors including in commerce, the public sector and charities. Once you have decided on a sector it will narrow your search criteria, and will enable you to gain more specialist commercial awareness and help you to understand the specific routes into HR within your sector.
It is possible to secure a formal internship in an HR function, although it is also recommended to seek other work experience opportunities, by sending speculative applications to potential employers.
Job hunting advice
- Find out what HR is about and get relevant work experience
- Make applications early and tailor each application to the role and sector.
- Think carefully about why HR and how you will convey this motivation on your application
- Start building a portfolio of your skills and experience before applying for graduate jobs
- Network with employers at careers fairs and employer presentations
- Keep abreast of current recruitment thinking; read professional journals such as the CIPD People Management magazine
- Consider applying to both smaller companies and major multinationals in different sectors
As HR is such a competitive area it’s important to gain relevant experience and provide evidence for the skills needed for the role. Knowledge of the business world and commercial awareness is often essential. Develop a portfolio of experience by:
- Checking the vacancies on CareerHub – some larger companies have early deadlines
- Making speculative applications particularly to smaller companies asking for work experience
- Looking at getting paid part-time or vacation work in an administrative capacity
- Doing a voluntary project or undertaking voluntary work which has an HR component
- Taking relevant academic modules and/or doing a project or dissertation to demonstrate your career motivation
- Organising work shadowing in an HR role and speaking to them about their job and skills
The UK has a strong reputation in the HR field so work experience gained here before applying to your home country will be highly valued by employers. If you cannot get work experience in HR then general office or administrative work is also useful.
Many larger organisations across the public and private sector run their own graduate HR training programmes. The level of HR exposure within these schemes can be variable, from working in an HR department as part of a rotation within a general management training scheme, to an HR specific scheme.
You can also search LSE CareerHub for HR graduate schemes and vacancies.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, L’Oreal and Exxon employ HR staff directly in their country of operation where an understanding of local immigration, employment law and business practices is essential. They may also offer the chance to be placed abroad for an international career.
Small to medium business enterprises (SMEs)
SMEs are organisations that employ less than 250 people. While some HR departments are very small, SMEs account for over 20% of the HR industry. At an SME you are more likely to have a generalist role with a wide range of responsibilities. Whilst these organisations are less likely to run formal graduate training schemes or internships it is worth checking their vacancies for entry level roles, or approaching them with speculative applications to see if you can secure some work experience or work shadowing.
Positions with varying levels of experience within HR are readily advertised on websites. If you are looking for non-graduate scheme positions, check the following websites (for SME and multinational opportunities):
Remember to check websites of employers you are interested in working for or sector specific websites for other job opportunities.
Varying in size and scope and often based in large cities, the typical career path is:
- analyst > associate > consultant > manager
Individual consultancies are strategic or general and can work across a variety of areas. Many will offer graduate schemes and internships. See consulting for more on this area.
Self-employment or freelance opportunities
Current market uncertainty has seen an increase in interim and fixed term hire as companies bring in specialist contractors to meet short-term needs resulting in more opportunities for freelance work.
Self-employment usually requires considerable experience, industry knowledge and a network of contacts as well as a relevant professional qualification.
Qualifications and skills
Taking a relevant HR qualification gives a good theoretical and practical knowledge of HR and demonstrates your commitment. It is not essential for graduate schemes but can be very useful if you are applying outside them. Many organisations require you to have, or be working towards, a CIPD accredited HR postgraduate qualification for their entry level posts.
For further details of CIPD accredited courses across the UK visit the CIPD website.
For further study look at HR courses that enable you to complete placements and project work with organisations. Courses can be part-time and combined with gaining work experience.
The following core skills and competencies are required across these divisions:
- business awareness
- team working
- communication skills
- the ability to make and justify fair decisions
- working well under pressure