Starting out in HR - Career Advice from HR Consultant Natalie Ellis

Natalie Ellis Assoc CIPD, is the author of 'Launch Your HR Career' and runs HR Consultancy, Rebox HR

I decided to embark on a career in HR nearly 1
5 years ago and secured my first job by selling the transferrable skills that I had acquired during my career in customer servicesWorking I the people profession appealed to my curiosity and I wanted to be in a department that could add value to an organisation and its people.  

The challenge I found when switching to HR was to maintain my salary level and this challenge is still prominent today, you will need to be flexible with your approach, as you may have to take a lower salary in order to move forward. The other factor to keep in mind is that it is highly competitive with candidates who may have considerably more HR experience which can be demotivating, especially if you find yourself rejected for positions. I didn’t get offered my first HR role until my ninth interview and countless CV rejections! If you are passionate, motivated and determined to succeed, then this will be a good quality to demonstrate in an interview. 

Starting out in HR 

Within my first HR position as a HR administrator, I learned from the team around me and they moulded me into the role and I quickly became involved in the lower level absence disciplinary hearings and supporting managers with investigations. The trouble was that while my career was progressing, I didn’t have a qualification to balance it out. This wasn’t too much of a problem as an administrator, but the organisation required at least a Foundation level qualification to be able to make the next move into an advisor role.  

The importance of qualifications 

I’ve only recently become more aware of quite how much emphasis employers have on holding a CIPD qualification, and if you have no previous HR experience it is certainly worth exploring a route to obtain a qualification. If you are just starting out, then a Foundation in HR practice is ideal as it sets out a basis for you to kick start your career. If you are more experienced and want to continue your studies, then you may wish to consider a move into Associate or Advanced. As well as obtaining the qualification, a CIPD qualification also demonstrates commitment to the profession. 

Research your options; bigger is not always better! 

When it comes to exploring career options, it is definitely worth doing your research into not only a job that looks good, but also into the industry and business to see if it is right for you. For example, if you like structure and stability, you may want to avoid a start-up. 

A big organisation doesn’t always mean bigger opportunities, I have worked in both PLC and family run organisations and I gained more exposure and added more value in the smaller organisations. Working in a smaller environment enabled me to really get to know the business and gave me more commercial and strategic insight. 

Do not overlook smaller businesses as it is something that really benefitted my career and even earnt me a nomination at the CIPD People Management Awards in 2012, the projects I was given had a significant impact on the wider business and prepared me for the next move in my career 

Get your commercial head on 

Over the past 12 years, I’ve witnessed the evolution of the HR career and it continues changing. It’s not a career for those who are not comfortable with being uncomfortable; I have many contacts who went into HR when it was mainly about processing payroll, processing forms, cosy conversations with tea, biscuits and sympathy. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth today; HR is now constantly having to prove it’s worth and demonstrating how it can add value; the key to succeed is the ability to build effective working relationships with line managers by giving commercially focussed advice, actively listen to the challenges they experience and coach them when they struggle with the correct processes. 

It can be a tough crowd to please 

Sometimes HR can be seen as a party pooper, we are generally only called upon when things are going wrong, therefore HR can be disliked by employees when they are being performance managed. On the other hand, line managers and even some directors who I have worked with can have an old-fashioned view and don’t see the value in HR. It’s important to remember that HR can provide advice and guidance on best practice, but sometimes this can be rejected so it is important to have a thick skin and brush up on your influencing skills! 

Step outside your organisation 

It is really important for HR professionals to take ownership of their careers, it is no one else’s responsibility. One big and frankly daunting step is to be proactive and enhance your network, but it is worth it. Your network can be incredibly powerful and is instantly available, there are plenty of HR groups on LinkedIn and many inspirational HR figures on Twitter; HR Hour is a place that really helped me to understand different perspectives, share experiences and gain valuable knowledge. Another great place to get involved with is your local CIPD branch, I volunteer on my local branch and I’ve learned so much from some my peers who are all from different organisational backgrounds.  

There is a lot about HR to love 

While there are some challenging elements of the job, such as giving people bad news (you never get used to that), I love the pace, scope and variety that HR offers, I have never had the same day twice! I’ve been fortunate to work with different organisations to contribute to their successes, and on an individual level it is great to be able to help people to be the best they can be by supporting development and enhancing their working lives. Another enjoyable part of the role is supporting and coaching managers to give them the confidence to handle difficult and complex situations, empowering them to develop their own management style and enable them to work autonomously.  

My final piece of advice to anyone embarking on an HR career or who is currently in a development stage of their HR career is that HR is a complex and challenging profession, it is not for the faint hearted. But if you want to improve your organisation, build effective working relationships and make a difference to the organisational culture, then HR is a great career choice for you.

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