HR Career Path: David (32), HR Business Partner

The below is my interview with David, 32, who talks about his HR Career Path. He now is high up in one of the biggest tech companies in the world. However, back in 2008 during the crash he could not get a job! From reading the below you will learn:
  • whether it’s necessary to study HR at university to pursue a career in HR
  • a typical career path of a HR Business Partner
  • pros and cons of working in HR
  • the hours involved in working in Human Resources
  • reasons why young people should choose HR as a career
  • what qualifications you need for a career in HR
  • the various career options open to a finance professional
  • about the career progression working in HR
  • the earning potential in pursuing a HR career path
  • the roles and responsibilities of a HR Director
  • advice on how to get involved in a HR career
What is your degree(s) in?
  1. Bachelor of Business Studies (Human Resource Management),
  2. Masters in Human Resources Management
Why did you do the degree you did?

It was a straight business degree starting off. In 4th year, I had to make a choice to specialise. HR was the one I was best at. I was always interested in business; I always read the business pages of the newspaper.

Do you know much about what a HR career path entailed starting off?

Very little. I knew it involved working with people, but what the actual day to day roles entailed I didn’t really know.

Did your degree prepare you starting off on your HR career path?

Somewhat, however a lot of the degree is focused on law, a lot of it is theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs etc. Does it allow you to understand motivation in terms of your workforce? Does it help you to understand employee engagement day to day? I can’t say I’ve ever referred to much of the theory in my daily role.

Did you seek advice from anyone who was already following a HR career path?

I knew someone working in HR, so I talked to them. I also researched a little bit about a HR career path. At the time I saw HR as a means to an end, I wasn’t necessarily thinking I was going to stick with a HR career path.

What percentage of what you learned in university do you use in your day to day roles?

30%, my degree gave me the foundation to know about the different areas in Human Resources.

Would you advise people to do a postgraduate degree?

At the time, I had no experience and there were no jobs. You needed something to differentiate your CV from your peers. I think it would have been much more useful to do the masters now that I’m a few years down my HR career path. My advice would be to make sure you do a degree that has work experience in it. That way you have experience before you even leave university.

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Looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, would you do anything differently degree wise?

I would have done something in IT, whether I had the skills or not is another thing! I think IT pays well compared to other careers.

What jobs have you done since graduating? And what have they entailed?

When I finished my degree, I did a masters. It was the height of the recession and there were no jobs. I went to a big insurance company and asked them could I work for a month for free. After working very hard for a month, I asked them for another couple of months. I worked for three months for free, then a maternity contract came up and they gave me that role. If I hadn’t offered to work for free, I don’t know where I would be today!

2015 – Present

HR Business Partner, Global Financial Technology Company, Ireland

  • This is a much more strategic role.
  • I am in daily contact with senior management advising them on what they can and can’t do from a HR point of view when it comes to employee disputes, employee engagement, workforce planning.
  • It involves lots of problem solving and ascertaining the needs of the business.
2011 – 2015                   

Recruitment Consultant, Multinational Insurance Company, Ireland

  • This role involved large scale recruitment; filling over 200 roles a year.
  • It was more of a HR specialist role as I learned a huge amount about recruitment, the right type or person for the company, what worked, what didn’t, how best to streamline the process, etc.
2010 – 2011                   

Learning & Development Officer, Multinational Insurance Company

  • Setting up inductions, exit interviews, planning events, sourcing vendors to do training, etc.
  • This was your classic HR generalist role that touched on many areas and was really varied day to day
  • It gave me great insight into how the entire HR function worked and the key people.
What are the pros and cons of a career in HR?
Pros:
  1. Working with people on a daily basis
  2. Helping the business solve problems
  3. Exposure to very senior executives in the business
  4. Having the chance to mould the future of the organisation
  5. Being able to work anywhere in the world
  6. My day is never the same, so it’s never boring
Cons:
  1. I’m the one who has to say no when the business are trying to do something
  2. Paper pushing; HR is a lot of administration
  3. Telling people they don’t have a job is not easy to do
  4. Often you have to act as a mediator in disputes which can be quite draining
  5. HR roles can be very political as you have to try and keep everyone happy

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Which would you prefer to work for – a small company or a big company?

From a HR career path point of view, I would say a small company is better. You can get stuck into everything. While working for a smaller company, I set up the whole HR desk, wrote the policies, etc. However, there are a lot more teething issues in a smaller company.

Have you done long hours following a HR career path?

It’s peaks and troughs, one project where I was hiring a whole new call centre I worked 9 am – 9 pm for three months. Now I leave at 6 pm, and log on in the evenings and take a quick look at my emails. However, that is more the level I’m at. I think I might be doing that if I was working in other professions.

Why should young people choose HR as a career?
  • HR is at the heart of every organisation, it can be very interesting as you’re involved in strategy, long-term planning, etc
  • You get the chance to add real value to the business and make a positive impact on people
  • There is great variety in your day to day role
  • It pays quite well compared to other areas of the business
  • Helping to solve the business’ problems can be quite rewarding
  • There are lots of different career paths open to a HR professional, i.e. business partnering, training, coaching, etc
  • You can travel the world working as a HR professional
What qualifications do I need to work in HR?
  • Having studied Business or Psychology at university will help you but is certainly not a prerequisite
  • Having a HR certification is not necessary to begin a career in HR but certified HR professionals make substantially more money and progress further than those who don’t
  • The recognised qualification that HR professionals must have is from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD). Find out more about their qualifications & training here
  • There is foundation, intermediate and advanced level qualifications available
  • The advanced level where you get full chartered membership is for people looking to do more strategic HR work
  • You can take the exams part-time, full-time, or distance learning, many people complete the qualification in 2 years
  • To attain middle and senior management positions you will need to have a CIPD qualification
What skills do you need to work in HR?
  1. Collaborative – you will be working with all parts of the organisation on a daily basis
  2. Communication – you will have to deliver impartial advice and sometimes difficult messages to various stakeholders
  3. Conflict Management – HR professionals will spend a lot of their time resolving issues between people
  4. Integrity – you must be able to lead by example and apply sound judgement to every situation
  5. Multi-tasking – as HR is so broad you can be asked to support in many different areas at the same time
  6. Interpersonal – the better your people skills the further you will progress in your HR career i.e. sensitivity, discretion, empathy, tact
  7. Perspective – the best HR professionals are good with the detail but can also see the bigger picture
What are the career options for a HR professional?

The below are a few of the many different options available to a HR professional these days:

1. HR Business Partner
  • Helps the business implement their strategy and vision for the company.
  • Many strategic decisions made by executives with involve people, so HR need to be consulted at every step.
  • This role is a HR generalist who works closely with the business on a daily basis
  • Good communication skills are necessary as you will have to influence and challenge senior leaders of the company
2. HR Compliance Manager
  • Advising companies on employment law, compensation, discrimination cases, etc
  • Ensure that the company is in adherence national, international law and professional standards for that industry
  • May conduct periodic reviews to ensure departments are complying to policies and procedures
3. HR Consultant
  • Covering a broad range of HR matters, from hiring, firing, people planning to development of employees
  • May be brought in to help re-design the company’s org structure
  • Can provide best practise tools in the form of policies, procedures, guides, etc
  • These roles usually offer expert knowledge and can be quite well paid
4. Trainer
  • Running training courses for staff covering interpersonal, cultural, leadership skills, etc
  • Preparing and designing learning material and carrying out skills assessments of staff
  • Usually trainers will have some kind of expert knowledge in the subject being taught
  • Courses can be in anything from skills training, to time management to employee relations and diversity
5. Recruiter/Headhunter
  • Placing candidates in their ideal roles.
  • Recruitment can be a difficult industry to get ahead.
  • For those who manage to stay the distance and are good it can be a very rewarding career.
  • Executive headhunters can get paid very well.
6. HR Systems Specialist
  • Involved in HR software projects, ensuring accuracy of data, developing reports on absence, trends in HR info.
  • Usually this role would only exist in big multinational companies.
7. Employee Relations Advisor
  • Some companies will hire this role to ensure a fair approach to policies and procedures is in place
  • Conflict management and resolving issues between different parties will be prevalent
  • This can be a tough role so you will need excellent people skills and a good knowledge of employment law
8. HR Officer
  • HR Officers can be involved in a range of activities including: recruitment, diversity, employment contracts, etc
  • You may be developing HR policies one minute and hiring staff the next
  • The role will liaise with many different levels of the organisation as people will look to you for advice

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What is the difference between a HR Specialist and HR Generalist?
HR Generalist:
  • will work across multiple areas
  • usually people who want to see how HR fits into the wider business
  • typically work directly with employees as they have a wide range of expertise
  • they can be working on employees contracts one minute and long term succession planning the next
  • exploring as many different roles early on in your career will help you decide if you want to specialise
HR Specialist:
  • will focus on one area that they are passionate about
  • areas that may have specialists: employee relations, HR systems, organisational development
  • job is usually more predictable, you may do the same thing every day and have well defined goals
  • it is quite easy to switch between a HR generalist and HR specialist roles
Is there good career progression in a HR career path?

People come from various different backgrounds to work in HR. They enter HR by chance and stay because they really like the work and find their is good scope for progression.

If you are good you can move up the ladder quite quickly as the business will see you as a valued resource. Being in HR you get to know a lot of the senior management quite quickly so that can help too. A common route to a C-Suite HR role would be:

  1. Administrator
  2. Advisor/Specialist
  3. Manager/Team Leader
  4. Business Partner
  5. Director
  6. Vice President of People
  7. Chief Human Resources Officer

The HR professionals who progress to the highest levels of an organisation tend to have rotated around several departments and roles. This gives them an ability to think outside the box when it comes to company transformation and culture and be a real strategic business partner to the top executives.

It is also possible to move between industries in HR quite easily. Human Resources should be somewhat similar in any organisation or industry, some aspects of law or industry best practice might change but the core elements of HR should not change. Moving roles and industries easily can help you get better paid and more senior roles.

How much money do you earn following a HR career path?

It’s quite well paid compared to some professions, however it can be tough work dealing with peoples’ problems all the time. The pay in some other professions tend to plateau at a certain point, whereas in HR, you can keep progressing up the ladder to better and better paid jobs.

The following salary ranges were taken from the Ashley Kate HR Salary & Benefits Guide 2018 (London bases roles):

  • Assistant/Admin: £20-25k
  • Officer/Advisor: £25-40k
  • Manager: £40-60k
  • Business Partner: £50-80k
  • Head of Departmentt: £65-90k
  • Director: £80-120k
What does a Human Resources Director do?
  • Responsible for the entire HR function
  • Manages the HR budget
  • Creates and implements policies and procedures relating to people i.e. hiring, compensation, etc
  • In charge of people development, talent acquisition, and staff retention
  • Provides strategic advice to senior management on all people issues
  • Oversees the various HR teams/departments i.e. training, benefits, employee relations, etc
  • Ensures company adheres to employment law, regulations and HR best practise
How to become a HR Director:

There is no defined path to becoming a HR Director or a top HR executive. However, the people who occupy the highest HR positions in the company will usually have the following attributes on their CV:

  1. Been a generalist and a specialist at some point in their careers
  2. Worked abroad – experiencing different cultures, sensitivities and diverse workforces
  3. Spent time working outside HR or in various different industries
  4. Have some sort of further education i.e. MBA, Executive Coach

There is also a trend emerging of bringing in people from the business with no HR experience to be HR Directors. This can bring new commercial insight but without the right technical knowledge this can sometimes go wrong.

If you could start over and were 22 again, what would you do differently career-wise?

I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the Insurance Company as long as I did. They were not really concerned about progressing your career, it wasn’t very meritocratic. I should have been strategic a little bit earlier and known my own worth a little bit better.

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What tips would you give a young person now?

I’ve never really had joy with Career Guidance Counsellors. I was told to do engineering! Go talk to someone who is already in the role. Reach out to someone who works in HR on Linkedin. They will be happy to tell you what’s involved.

What advice would you give someone who was interested in following a HR Career Path?

1. The easiest way is to go into recruitment. Everything hinges on recruitment, it’s the backbone of every company. If you become a recruitment co-ordinator, you set up interviews, you also build relationships with all the managers in the company.

2. Try to get 1 or 2 weeks work experience in a HR function. You can get a HR administrator role in a company which will introduce you to the different HR disciplines. While you are there try and talk to as many people who work in the various HR areas, i.e. training, learning & development, employee relations, benefits etc. This will give you a feel for what areas you may be interested in.

3. There is a huge amount of opportunity in a HR function. Try to sit in on as many meetings as you can and get involved in HR projects, it will all help to build your knowledge.

If you have any questions about a HR career path, or any career questions in general, please get in touch using the contact details on the home page. For other interviews covering over disciplines, check out the below:

Financial Controller

Media Company Account Director

Management Consultant

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Paul Murphy

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