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Most employers agree that their greatest asset is their people. Graduates who want to develop an HR graduate career will be responsible for overseeing the effective management of an organisation's staff. Human resources (HR), also known as personnel, is taking an ever more active role in organisations. A career in human resources can offer a graduate wide variety, insights into, and involvement in, all aspects of a business. This, combined with the fact that there is the opportunity to make a real, positive impact on both the business as a whole and on individual employees, means the profession has become a popular choice amongst graduates applicants in recent years.

A human resources professional must have a broad range of skills and a vast understanding of the company's needs to be able to liaise with all sectors. Human resource departments will be responsible for recruitment, training, employment law compliance, employee benefits, handling grievances, disciplinary action, dismissals and redundancies. The department works closely with senior and line management as well as with individual employees to ensure that the workforce is managed and developed in the most effective way possible. The more efficiently and cohesively a company's staff works, the more successful it will be.

Human resources is ever-changing, especially in areas such as employment law. In recent years the amount of employment related legislation passed by both the UK Government and the EU has been enormous, and this is likely to continue. Another major innovation has been 'contracting-out', whereby organisations can buy in human resource services from external agencies. However, this does not necessarily mean the end of human resource departments - often it releases them from day-to-day tasks to become more involved in the strategic development for the company.

The future of the HR profession looks bright. The notion that business is only as good as the people that work for it has taken root and with the realisation that HR professionals can make a significant different to a companies profit. There are now very few companies that do not have an HR department and many companies are increasing the number of employees within this function. There has never been such a good time to launch your career but remember you need to think long and hard about your reasons for joining this thriving sector and be prepared to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve the chance to establish a rewarding career in this sector.

Average HR Graduate Salary

HR Graduate Career Path

Strategic human resources issues generally arise in larger organisations, where there is a larger group of people and a greater number of needs, but good personnel practice is pivotal to the success of all employers. Basically, HR is there to ensure safe working practices and the overall fulfilment for both organisations and people. 

Many large companies seeking to manage their growing teams will offer human resource related training schemes and these will be very popular with graduate applicants. Other vacancies are advertised in specialist trade journals and tend to be on a one-off basis. A graduate interested in making a career in human resources can expect to learn about accounting, economics, law, sociology, labour and business trends, human resource management and ethics.

Most new entrants will start off as HR assistants and will be largely involved with administration duties (updating personnel records, pay reviews, etc). Graduate training schemes usually involve a series of placements which provide experience on a range of management and business areas, possibly in different locations. On completion some trainees may prefer to develop a career as a generalist, or some may want to specialise in areas like people resourcing, learning and development or employee relations. Most career paths lead from a junior assistant level, to senior assistant/officer, managerial and then director level.

An HR manager will usually have qualified with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), with specific responsibility for all human resource issues. The HR director finds departmental solutions for problem areas such as staffing problems and health and safety needs. The director coordinates the other members of the team to ensure a uniform front.

The HR planner specialises in recruitment preparation for the organisation. He or she defines current recruitment needs, searches for possible candidates, sifts through the cvs and plans the interview process. The future planning then comes into place by analysing organisational changes, which could impact on staffing needs. 

An employee relations officer is a person who is the intermediary between trade unions, employees and the company for issues such as remuneration and working conditions. An employee relations officer needs to be a good mediator to resolve disputes, sometimes between staff. This person also aids the development of the benefits packages and other employee related documents such as pensions and contracts.

The training manager is responsible for the induction and progress of a new employee to the business, looking after training in anything from skills training to time management and employee relations. Trainers must be patient, understanding and have good industry knowledge for the areas that they specialise. Trainers must be degree and CIPD qualified. 

When beginning an HR graduate career, you should expect a starting salary of around £18,000 - £25,000. Salaries will increase with the level of responsibility and seniority of the job. Within five years it is possible to attain management status, and these can carry higher salaries plus benefits. There may be more employment opportunities available in other fields, so many use this to their advantage. Once some work experience and transferable skills have been gained it will be easier for graduates to move into people management and development.

A common myth is that if you have particularly strong sector emphasis throughout your career you cannot transfer your skills gained into another sector. Not true - HR is a universal function and although some aspects may change from company to company (ie. policies and procedures, and in different countries employment law), the core HR elements will remain the same. 

With promotion comes greater responsibility and the opportunity to influence training policies, employee benefits and compensation and handle recruitment for example. As a graduate progresses through the ranks the issues being dealt with will become more complex and the chance to work with senior management, shareholders and perhaps even clients will become commonplace. Those at a senior level are more involved in the strategic decisions that add value to the human resource process.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the professional body for those involved in the management and development of people. The educational route is the most popular way to become a member of the CIPD. It will help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to launch your professional career. Their professional standards govern entry to CIPD membership and form the basis of all their qualifications. They act as a benchmark for the profession. They define the levels of knowledge and competence you need to demonstrate when operating at a support or practitioner level, or as an advanced practitioner. It is possible to begin a career in human resources before being qualified, but it is a highly competitive area. Employers often expect a CIPD qualification for middle and senior management positions. Some graduates choose to take this qualification soon after graduation or a later stage of their career.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into HR graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for HR by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

A human resource related degree will be the main degree most employers will look for, however management, psychology, and business related qualifications may also be relevant. Even having an unrelated degree will be no bar to pursuing a career in this sector as many employers will consider managing people and organisational skills as more of a priority. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential in an area such as this as well as being able to deal with people at all levels, possessing tact and discretion and having an approachable manner.

Employers want candidates to be flexible and have transferable skills. Students can gain relevant work experience during vacations as this can provide evidence of the skills that companies require. Work placements on sandwich courses and unpaid work shadowing can also give candidates the opportunity to hone their office administration and IT skills. Applicants may want to consider becoming involved in the Students' Union or in a society where experience of teamwork, attending meetings and learning the concepts of budgetary control can all be used to their advantage when applying for jobs at a later date.

Graduating from an approved CIPD course is considered an excellent route if you aim for rapid career progression. However many companies will provide you with the opportunity to gain full membership whilst also working within an human resource role if your course is not part CIPD accredited. Employers will often offer financial support and possibly study leave in order to help graduates to achieve their CIPD qualifications.

Overall, useful skills for a career in HR include:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills such as empathy, sensitivity, tact and discretion
  • The ability to get on with a range of people and work well in a team
  • Strong organisational and administrative skills
  • Food time management
  • Flexibility
  • IT skills
  • Numeracy, financial skills and budgetary control
  • Proven ability to meet targets.

Sources for Further Information

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
Institute of Training and Occupational Learning
Investors in People
People Management Magazine
Personnel Today
Visual Human Resources
Academy of Human Resource Development
International Personnel Management Association