So you want a job in HR - what next?

As a facilitator on the Certificate in HR Practice programme I am often asked for advice on how to get that elusive first job in HR. Many of our delegates come to us because they’ve already made the choice to look for a career in the HR profession & recognise that gaining a qualification is a good step on that path. But what else can you do?

Jobseekers need to stand out from the crowd in today’s tough economic environment. A CV that displays sought-after skills, attributes & achievements will grab the recruiter’s attention. So:

Demonstrate your business awareness:

The modern HR professional is going to have to demonstrate that they are “business savvy” & that they are able to support the business in new ways. Good candidates need to be able to show that they understand the business with detailed research into the company and its environment and that they appreciate what the issues are for them.

Your application should show that you have already researched the company in order to demonstrate this business awareness. Can you show that you understand the industry that the company is in and what the likely issues are? You should be able to do this even if you can’t find out specifics for that organisation.

Develop sought after skills:

Within the HR & L&D world there are always going to be certain skills that companies are looking for. Employment Law is one of these, but other popular skills currently include talent management (getting the best out of our resources), business management practices & the use of technology to support learning.

If you don’t already have experience in these areas, look for ways to develop your skills if you can. Offer to work on projects within your current role that will extend your experience or identify the potential for sideways moves that will provide you with good personal development opportunities. In addition look for suitable courses or qualifications that will enhance your CV, i.e. psychometric testing, employment law or another suitable CIPD recognised qualification. And don’t forget to sign up for on-line updates from Personnel Today, XpertHR & other reputable sources to start building your knowledge & check out your local branch website for details of local events that may be of interest to you.

Gain experience and network:

If you don’t currently work in a HR related role, it can be difficult to demonstrate that you have the skills that are being asked for. If possible offer your services voluntarily. This might be by asking for some unpaid work within an organisation that you believe will provide you with the sort of experience that you are looking for. Alternatively charities often need support and may be able to support unpaid    placements.

Join your local CIPD branch and begin networking with fellow HR professionals. Offer to join the committee and get involved in the events that are run locally. These provide a great opportunity to make good links with senior HR people who may be able to help with career development and work experience. 

And finally, don't forget to check out the CIPD's own careers advice pages here. Good luck! 

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  • Great post Fiona full of useful and practical things to help secure that first role in HR. It's a great profession to be in and one that makes a REAL difference in organisations. That professional qualification does open doors and provides that stamp of quality in terms of industry knowledge and capability but I think you raise some interesting points about standing out from the crowd. We're potentially going to be entering a triple dip recession and the job market is tough, so how do you stand out from the crowd?

    You might want to consider doing something different to a 'traditional' CV - do something that grabs attention. If you're looking for a job you want people to be able to find you so why not do something online and share it across different social channels or where recruiters will look. Not sure? Check out this post below..

    Is the traditional CV dead?

    Samatha Paterson who is currently doing her LDP certificate approached her CV in a different way and secured her first job within weeks - standing out DOES MATTER.

    I totally agree with you about developing sought after skills and learning niche and specialist subjects can really help in developing your USP over other HR professionals. This adds to your employ-ability (is that a word?) and provides more reasons for an employer to hire you. For me this is about developing your personal brand, if you're not aware of what a personal brand is then it's time you a) understand it b) do something about it. The link below will help...

    How to discover you personal brand

    Your online brand is becoming more and more important in a connected and ever more social world. What are your skills, what makes you stand out, what makes you tick, what can you offer me as an employer, what will you bring to my organisation, what are your values. If you are looking for a HR job and you aren't aware of what your online profile looks like or if you even have one then it's time to do something about it.

    At a minimum you need an up to date LinkedIn profile - if you're serious about that HR role having an up to date LinkedIn profile is effectively having an online CV and could be the first glimpse of you by a potential employer. What does your profile say about you - think about personal brand.

    For a kick-ass LinkedIn profile check out the link here

    LinkedIn can also provide you an excellent base to start to build a network of other professionals, get recommendations and endorsements (which employers like to see) and also join groups on things of interest such as HR. Great exposure to industry knowledge and thinking and get noticed by participating in these groups and asking questions.

    Of course using this community and reading blogs and discussions will help your development and the more you get involved the more you'll learn and build your confidence.

    Lastly, get a Twitter account. Believe me when I say it is NOT about what ppl have for their dinner. Twitter is a global network that allows you to connect with the greatest minds on the planet, the leading thinkers and the who's who of HR in the UK and the world. Set up an account and follow a few HR folks and HR publications like @XpertHR and get the latest industry knowledge and thinking straight to your phone.

    There is a recording of a webinar on using Twitter as a professional development tool here

    Hope you find this useful and if you've got any other top tips post them up here

    Is the traditional CV dead?
    Oh Curriculum Vitae how I remember thee. I remember trying to think about what hobbies and interests I had that wouldn't put potential employers off…
  • Hi Fiona

    Great post full of really useful advice. As Mike says LinkedIn is a must - I'd recommend reviewing the HR profiles that relate to the kind of roles/organisations you are keen to get in to. This helps you to get a clear idea of the way to present your profile. I find people in our profession generally keen to connect and there are lots of useful groups on LinkedIn too.

    I really second your point about business savvy. Regardless of the role, it is imperative that you can differentiate yourself from the competition by having more of an inside track on the business and what its priorities are. Research is vital and you can access so much information these days via company Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter accounts. A good Google search also helps to find additional information. I often say regardless of the role you are in/trying to get in, we are business people working collectively to help drive better organisational performance. Being able to make some links between your role and how it helps the organisation certainly gets the thumbs up from me.

    As we can research organisations much better these days, organisations are doing the same with potential candidates. A strong social presence (LinkedIn, Twitter etc.) clearly helps. What I would stress though is that saying anything via social media is like shouting it in the street so it’s best to apply a little caution too!

    Sarah Aubrey, Managing Director, DPG plc.


  • Some really useful things here Mike, thank you for adding them. 

    I think people underestimate the importance of being able to demonstrate that they are self motivated & proactive in terms of their own development. Keeping yourself up to date through the use of networks such as our community or Twitter are invaluable in showing that you take ownership of developing your skills & that it's not just about going on the training course your boss sends you on! 

    And the local CIPD branch events are a great way to meet potential employers. I know a number of people who have secured their first HR role off the back of attending an event, talking to people there & being made aware of vacancies. Having moved away from the traditional press advertising method for jobs businesses are increasingly making use of less formal advertising, social media or just posting on their company website. We may not spot these opportunities through our usual google search & may need to target particular companies that we are interested in.

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