A Career in HR?

I decided to embark on a career in HR nearly 10 years ago. As a fresh graduate, I was working in various temping roles.  In every company I worked in I liked the look of the ‘mysterious’ HR department. I saw meetings that went on behind closed doors. This appealed to my naturally curious nature. Being a people-lover, I realised I wanted to be in the role of an organisation dedicated to the employees.

If I’m honest I didn’t understand the full extent of a career in HR. But I managed to get an HR Assistant role and off I went. After doing my first disciplinary I realised I needed to toughen up.

Be commercially focused

A career in HR has changed enormously over the past 10 years. I meet people who went into HR when it was mainly about payroll, tea & sympathy. Now in HR, we need to prove our worth and add value. We need to build relationships with the business and give advice that is commercially focused.

It can be lonely at the top

A personal observation is that generally, HR is not a popular function within an organisation. You do not go to HR to make friends or be popular. It can be lonely. You are often disliked by employees who only come to you when they are underperforming. Trade Unions and managers can have old-fashioned views on HR and don’t understand your role.

Focus on the passionate

As an HR professional, I think we also get a skewed version of the organisation we work in as we predominantly deal with employees when things go wrong. In a previous role, I began thinking the organisation was full of under-performing, moaning employees when in fact there were loads of ambitious, passionate, performing employees and so I decided to make an effort to try and find out the good things. If you find yourself in a role with a lot of casework like this, my advice would be to build up relationships with managers you deal with and make an effort to find out the positive things they are coming across.

Find a way to shine

As a head office function, I feel we HR professionals can get a raw deal. We can’t always shout about what we do due to confidentiality and so it can be hard to prove our worth. It’s not always easy to show what actually adds value to numbers when it comes to people. However, as HR has grown as a function, we can find ways to analyse our practices. For me, going on training courses and, specifically, gaining HR qualifications has been invaluable – not only from an ‘academic’ learning process and staying up to date on the latest in HR but also by developing a network of HR professionals I could ask for advice. It has been beneficial to me and the organisations I’ve worked for.

Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth

Along with long hours and a lot of travel in several of my HR roles, I have a few top pet hates about HR. I dislike giving people bad news and worrying about their state of mind. I dislike grievances that become very complex. Often complexity arises because of the negativity attached to the grievance. Then people become embroiled in a cycle of moaning. Dealing with entire departments/sites where the culture is very negative is difficult  Having to pick apart what to do to improve the issue is also hard.

It’s been frustrating working in roles where the HR department was not customer-focused or open to ideas on how to improve people-based issues. It’s also been problematic dealing with managers who don’t want to deal with “people issues” and think anything to do with managing employees when things go wrong is an “HR Thing”.

There is a lot to love

But those are only a small percentage of the time. On the flip side, I love the pace and variety of the career, and I’ve been able to work in a variety of organisations, industries and cultures. Personally, I enjoy being listened to and advising employees or managers. I love the satisfaction of making a difference to an employee and their working life.

I really like supporting and coaching managers to get the very best out of their team and giving new managers the confidence to develop their own management style. And whatever the culture is the organisation of the opinion of the HR team, I find it satisfying being able to give a sensible answer to someone and get something done quickly in line with business needs.

So, would I choose this career again?

HR has an exciting future ahead as organisations face continual change. We have some serious upcoming national issues such as an ageing population and skills shortages, and managing a knowledge economy. It’s a career calling out for passionate, interested, ambitious professionals. When I was that inexperienced graduate if I’d had the full picture about HR.  I still would have chosen this career, but for very different reasons.

My advice to anyone embarking on, or who is currently in the early stages of, a career in HR is this.  Please know that HR is not a career for the faint-hearted. But if you want to be involved in improving an organisation, building solid relationships around the business, enabling and encouraging change, making a difference to culture and ultimately the bottom line, this is a great career for you.

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Emily Allen, MCIPD, is a Learning Product Manager at MOL where she creates and manages the suite of CIPD courses. She is also a HR Trustee for a local Carers charity.