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HR Careers: The rough guide

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Annie Hayes spoke exclusively to Vanessa Robinson, Adviser, Organisation and Resourcing at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development about how to make it in HR, the changing role of the HR professional and what kind of salary and perks can be expected.

HR Zone Q1: What prospects are there for new CIPD graduates entering HR as a profession?
Robinson: The prospects for CIPD graduates entering the profession are good. In fact, our survey indicates that CIPD qualifications and CIPD membership are considered to be considerably more important now than in the past for those looking to pursue a career in HR. Our survey also shows though that there remain a significant percentage who enter their first HR job via internal promotion (21%), reflecting the fact that only about a quarter of HR professional do start their careers in HR.

HR Zone Q2: There are many disciplines within the profession from reward, training and development to employee relations to name but a few – should HR professionals specialise and how can they go about selecting the right area?
Robinson: Most individuals start their HR careers in a generalist role, with moves into more specialist roles occurring mid-career. Whether or not HR professionals should specialise is largely a matter of individual choice – reflecting particular skills and preferences. However in terms of career progression, our research identifies some mixed messages.

The survey indicates that more people working in HR felt that generalists have better career prospects (47% agree) than specialists (22%), but from the case studies a broader perspective is seen which suggests that HR practitioners recognise the value in moving between generalist and specialist roles to acquire a rounded skill set and develop credibility.

HR Zone Q3: Is it important to have some general business experience as well as HR know-how to make it to the top of the HR tree?
Robinson: It is increasingly thought to be the case that business and industry experience are important when considering progressing in an HR career. In fact, from our survey, we can see that 76% agree that experience in another function furthers careers. The survey also revealed that business sense /awareness was the second most important factor in getting to the top in HR after personal drive/ambition.

HR Zone Q4: Is the nature of the traditional HR career changing? And if so why?
Robinson: The shape and structure of the HR function has changed and is continuing to evolve. HR faces increasing pressures to operate both more strategically and also to become more cost effective, resulting in various new models for HR, for example involving ‘business partners’ and ‘shared service centres’.

This changing shape can also be seen in the HR business partner roles, where business skills are seen as key, and are therefore increasingly attractive to those in non-HR, line roles. Such revised shapes for HR require those working in HR to look quite closely as to how they ensure that they can provide appropriate career progression and development opportunities for those in HR.

HR Zone Q6: What kind of remuneration can HR professionals expect within their careers?
Robinson: A recent survey by the CIPD in association with Croner Reward found quite wide variations in how personnel professionals are valued and rewarded across different sectors, regions and types of organisations:

  • Overall, HR professionals in private services are the highest paid followed by manufacturing.
  • Compensation and Benefits Specialists are the highest paid specialism receiving as much as 21% above the average salary for a senior manager (£46,000 compared with £38,000.)
  • Also above average are Recruitment Managers £43,000 and Employee Relations Managers on £43,400.
  • The lowest paid specialism is training.

HR Zone Q7: Has the old welfare role traditionally associated with HR now disappeared?
Robinson:A survey we undertook in 2003, already showed that there was a move away from HR being involved in health and safety type activities into other areas such as organisation design and corporate social responsibility.

However, we are becoming increasingly aware that employee engagement and commitment are identified as key to ensuring effective organisational performance, and in order to achieve that, it will remain vital to ensure that employees do remain engaged and committed – these responsibilities might no longer fall under the badge of ‘welfare’, they do indicate that employee well-being remains of vital importance and certainly falls within the remit of HR and through the people management practices the organisation has in place.

Is working in an enterprise the only way to 'make it' in HR?

One Response

  1. HR Careers
    I really valued Vanessa’s helpful comments in her interview, and especially her recognition that broader ‘business awareness’ is important in a successful career in HR, and indeed further.

    As she is a representative of CIPD and I am an utterly neutral observer from afar, I’d love to ask why the Inst seems to be so unwelcoming of prospective members (judging from the huge amount of correspondence on this topic, here and elsewhere) who may not have followed CIPD’s own, seemingly rather narrow ideas of what might meet be an acceptable HR qualification, even if they have a substantial amount of ‘non-qualifying’ business experience.

    And while I have the chance – two other questions please?

    I observe many smaller companies rarely afford (or expect to keep) a fully rounded HR Manager in one appointment. What is the CIPD doing about this in terms of wider training and development?

    And secondly, another entirely innocent question: why do you think employed Trainers, amongst the full panoply of HR posts, may receive the lowest salaries? Is this possibly because the employer has to be huge to justify a higher salary for an employed trainer, or that really great trainers attracted to such posts are unlikely to stay and don’t always have an obvious career path in-house, or even that HR Depts may pidgeon-hole and type-cast their trainers?

    I have no hidden agenda, apart from wishing to support HR Depts and their staff within my client base (where my contacts are most usually at Board level, and they may probably not read this exchange). As such, I hope I can raise such questions with goodwill, integrity and an open mind.

    Sincerely

    Jeremy

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