Thinking of giving up on my HR career :(


I’ve really demotivated about the trajectory, or complete lack of, in my HR career. I attained a HR degree in 2008 and I’m an associate member of this fine establishment.

Quick career overview; I held a permanent position within HR for 8 years in the same organisation progressing from coordinator to advisor (of the Teacher’s Pension scheme). However, I was then unfortunately given mandatory redundancy.
I took this opportunity to travel the world and experience new cultures for 6 month and since I returned, 2.5 years ago, I’ve been trying to reignite my HR career with no meaningful success.

I managed to get a temporary HR coordinator role for 3 months, a year and a half ago, covering a long term sickness but I've not be able to get another HR role since.
I’m applying for both entry level and HR Advisor roles but it seems to be a glass ceiling and floor scenario due to me either having too much or too little experience. I’ve had 3 interviews for a HR advisor role in the last 12 months, without success, but nothing at the coordinator level.
As such I’ve been forced to accept a few sporadic temporary finance based roles out of necessity. But it’s not what I enjoy and it bores me due to the lack of human interaction among other things.  

I recently pad a few hundred pounds to get a newly designed CV in the forlorn hope this was my issue. It was not and the status quo continues.

I’m signed up to dozens of job websites, apply for most jobs at coordinator and advisor live, and have about a 2% success rate.

I’m really wondering whether as much as I want to work in HR does HR want me as much in return?
I don’t even know what else I want to do with my working life.

  • Hey James

    Sorry to read your post and I understand how frustrating it can be. It sounds like you want to continue so if you do then I’d say don’t give up! There will be a job just waiting for you somewhere.

    You mention a 2% success rate - assume that is applications to interview? If you are not getting interviews then I’d suggest your CV needs a little tweak. Despite the fact you have paid for one doesn’t guarantee success as every opportunity will be different. Are you tailoring for each role? If not I would recommend that you do. It’s better to spend time on your applications and make it easy for employers to see your experience than send out lots of generic applications. Have you had any objective feedback from either your applications or the interviews you went for?

    Also can you get involved with any voluntary help anywhere to get you some recent HR experience back - doesn’t need to be a lot, but may help you also.

    You may also want to think of a more functional CV layout to showcase your skills if you haven’t already done so.

    If I can help further do come back to me. In my experience in this it’s usually the application letting you down so try not to take it personally.

    Don’t give up - the best things worth having are sometimes not the easiest to get. You worked hard for that degree, and obviously still want to do the role so don’t let it go to waste!

    Best of luck!

  • Well, for a start, James, don't give up on HR without a Plan B!

    You aren't alone in struggling to find a foot on the ladder, but you have a significant advantage over others in that you have already had HR roles. However, I'm guessing that you may not have had much involvement in recruitment in your previous roles, as it sounds like you may be misdirecting your effort (and money!).

    1. Most job websites just recycle jobs from other job websites. You should sign up for two, maximum three. Pick one big one (Indeed, say), one specialist HR one (PM Jobs being a good choice) and one industry-specialist one (like CharityJobs for third sector roles).

    2. The easier it is to apply for a job, the more applications it will receive. Jobs that require only a CV and maybe a covering letter are easy, but inundated. Consequently, there is a tendency to look, mainly, at the two most recent roles a person has performed. Focus on roles that ask you to complete a job application form (physical or digital). These filter out more applicants, reducing the volume and making it easier to stand out. They should also provide an opportunity for you to articulate your experience in practical terms, without the reader being distracted by less relevant, more recent jobs.

    By all means, still apply for CV-based jobs (it's quick and easy) but try to tailor your CV. For example, adjust the order in which you report your experience - order it by relevance, rather than date, for example. Emphasize your HR qualification and experience in the (short) opening statement. Focus on your experience (I'm guessing HR administration, onboarding and employee relations, maybe payroll).

    3. Sign up with temp agencies - as many local temp agencies as you can - and emphasize to them that you are looking for HR work and *only* HR work. This will improve your CV, update your knowledge, widen your experience and put you at the front of the queue should these companies decide that they need someone permanent in the role for whatever reason. Treat your temp agency contacts well - tell them all when you are starting a new contract. Let them know when you expect it to finish. Update them when you're a week or two away from completion to let them know your availability and to inform them of any new experience you've gleaned from the time you spent there.

    4. Learn the STAR approach to answering interview questions: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

    5. Work on a Plan B. Somehow or other, you need a way to make a living. While getting back into HR is your Plan A, before you give up on that, you need a Plan B. Look for community courses, volunteering opportunities and ways to monetize your other skills and hobbies.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Hi Robey, Just picking up on your point 2 ( Consequently, there is a tendency to look, mainly, at the two most recent roles a person has performed.) For someone of an older generation who has a longer past record would you advice to cover all past work history on a CV or would you recommend say maybe the last 5 to 10 years ?
  • In reply to Robey:

    Writing a good cover letter helps to stand out on those "easy apply" roles. Read the job and person specs carefully and try to demonstrate how you meet all the essential criteria. Also answer the "why" questions: why this job, why now, why you are a good fit.
  • In reply to Anka:

    To be honest I am not a huge fan of cover letters - I think they are often fluff.

    Many recruiters have a skill of scanning CVs so its vital the key things jump out and hit the recruiter between the eyes
  • In reply to Keith:

    Preferably on page one. Page 2 gets hardly a glance
  • In reply to David:

    Hi David - for someone who (like me!) has a longer work history, i think it is important to get across some key achievements. This can be useful for anyone as it helps the recruiter see what you could possibly deliver for the organisation. But I've found it particularly useful as i've got older - i have key achievements section before i get to work history and that is quite brief, with a summary of what happened between 1984 and 1990 when i had a variety of roles, non HR related whatsoever
  • In reply to Teresa:

    yes you make a good point there, thanks
  • Have you considered applying to smaller businesses where you can often gain much broader experience than within larger corporate companies?

    Make sure your CV lists your achievements in each role rather than just a list of duties.

    Your finance experience could be your USP, so don't talk it down - be proud of the practical and commercial outlook it has given you!

    Good luck!
  • In reply to Keith:

    I have usually taken the opposite approach: I do read cover letters because I find it a) a useful gauge as to whether someone could string a coherent sentence together b) a way of distinguishing between a lot of otherwise samey CVs. So, when job-hunting and applying directly, I put effort into cover letters in case the person at the other end is like me! If you were the recipient, presumably you would not penalise me for having written one, but if the recipient is someone like me, they might penalise me for providing a badly written piece of fluff. I should have specified though that I would only write a cover letter when applying directly (e.g. on Linked In), not when responding to agencies.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Thank you for the feedback Robey.

    I'll be sure to take it onboard especially the suggestion about focussing on roles that ask you to complete a job application form.
  • In reply to Isabel:

    I apply for all organisations, big and small.

  • In reply to David:

    On a CV, I would generally say to cover only the more relevant roles (whenever they occurred, although it will obviously be more relevant the more recent it is) and offer a complete work history on request. To make it clear that you weren't, say, in prison, you might like to include a line covering the omitted period with an explanation - such as "various administrative and management roles with companies such as Extensive Enterprises Inc and General Widgets Ltd". The rule of thumb is to do whatever it takes to keep your CV to two pages (other than reducing the font size below 10 pt).
  • In reply to Robey:

    I wonder whether one issue could be that most of my recent roles, on the first page are financial positions (accepted out of necessity). Whereas the main bulk of my HR roles are on my second page.

    In your opinion could it be a good idea to group all my HR experience on the first page (regardless of when it occurred) and then other non HR roles on the second page?

    I suppose it can't hurt ‍♂️
  • In reply to Anka:

    I also like a personalised cover letter as I feel it demonstrates someone has given more than a cursory glance at the job title and salary and thought 'that will do.'
    It usually demonstrates they have read the advertisement and at least given some consideration to the role and how they would fit.