Career Progression Advice

Hi, I'm looking for some advise on career progression within the HR Profession.  After a long career in the civil service, I chose to leave and pursue a career in HR as it was a profession that I found of interest and felt I had strengths that could be used well within this profession.  I enrolled on a CIPD level 3 course at a local college and whilst studying was fortunate to secure employment as a People Officer in a large public transport organisation.  I passed the level 3 course in June and have now enrolled onto Level 5 which I will hopefully complete in June 2021.  The experience I'm gaining as an HR Generalist in the workplace combined with the information I'm learning on the level 5 course is proving very valuable however I'm now thinking about the future and want to start working on a career plan.

Some questions that I'm interested in hearing views on are:-

Is it better to get experience of different industries and if so, what would be your suggested length of time staying in a specific industry?

Assuming I will achieve the level 5 qualification, what is your view on progressing to level 7? What type of job roles would this qualification help to secure e.g. HR Director or HR Business Partner?

In your experience have you found it beneficial to work with a mentor?  If so, how did you go about finding one?

I appreciate that career progression is very specific to individuals however I'm interested to hear from fellow HR Professionals on how they have progressed their career to get to where they are now?  

Thanks in advance


  • Hi

    There is I think no general rule. And each of us follow our own unique path, what works for me may not work for you. But my own personal opinions...

    I personally have always enjoyed changing sectors rather than risking repeating things in another business in the same sector. It just appealed to me. So I have worked in food retail, hospitality, banking, NHS, outsourcing, utilities, private healthcare and technology. Whilst not always easy to swap sectors (its as much about persuading the interviewer as anything else) I think HR is one of best careers to do this in as after all we are all people.

    There are people who make very successful and rewarding careers in one sector and even one company. That great - but there is a danger of struggling to find a move if you did eventually decide to move. It can also be a challenge to switch from parts of the public sector to parts of the private sector and personally I would advise people intent on doing that to do it earlier rather than later.

    In terms of length of time...how longs a piece of string? But I think there are two key measures. The first is around legacy (Its one of my favourite topics at interviews) - you need to stay somewhere long enough (and particularly higher up in your career) to see the business through a cycle or two and deliver some lasting difference in being there. The second is linked to this and is around not having lots of short jobs on your CV (unless you were in consulting) whilst this sometimes happens (particularly with redundancies) I would personally try and avoid more than 1 or maximum two roles of less than 2 years. I think (based on no science whatsoever) that 2/3-4 years for most businesses looks around the right time length as an average with room both below and above that to push boundaries a little. Clearly some people have multiple roles in same businesses and that is another way of showing you are growing and progressing.

    I would simply focus on getting L5 then consolidating your experience for a year or two before thinking of L7. I think too many people rush through the qualifications as a form of stamp collecting without consolidating the knowledge. L7 is pitched at higher end roles but by no means exclusively HRDs. A "proper" HRBP rather than a rebadged HRM would probably find real benefit in a L7 at the right stage.

    I have never had a mentor but do mentor a few people. They say its useful but perhaps are being polite! On a serious note I would highly recommend it and think HR can be a place where you need an external sounding board, agony uncle and guide sometimes. The CIPD offers a mentoring network but think its often over subscribed. Alternative is just to approach someone who you feel could offer you the right level of challenge, thoughts and support.
  • In reply to Keith:

    Thanks for your reply, that's interesting that you chose to move around different industries and it's advice I've been given by a couple of HR Directors who have done similar. I tend to agree that between 2-4 years feels right with an organisation but as you say it would depend on what projects you are involved in.
    Thanks for the advice re level 5 and level 7, I think consolidation of learning is very important so I'll probably approach the qualifications in this way.
    I am currently seeking a mentor because I do agree that having a sounding board is definitely a good support particularly for me at this stage in my career.
    Thanks again for taking the time to reply.
  • In reply to Fiona:

    My experience is that what works is to do what interests you most without worrying too much about planning your career. When you have work that interests you in an organisation you feel proud of and where you ae appreciated, you will shine, develop and grow. That is what builds a career.

    Like Keith, I also managed to hop from industry to industry early on in my career. It wasn't a deliberate strategy, I just applied for jobs that looked interesting. Perhaps it was easier to do that then as I notice that vacancy ads now often ask for sector-specific experience.

    In the early years of my career I never stayed anywhere longer than 5 years but then stayed for 20 years at my last employer. Again, this wasn't a deliberate strategy. I left 3 of my my first 4 employers because it just seemed time to move on and was made redundant (in a recession!) from one, but at the 5th I kept getting new and interesting things to do and didn't see anything advertised externally that looked as interesting. I was aware that it wasn't my smartest career move and could make it hard to find my next role but as it happens I was able to move to another organisation a couple of months ago, albeit in the same sector. I was all geared up for a long job search but something came up within a couple of weeks of leaving my previous job via networking. I was aware that leaving one job without another to go to is not usually reckoned to be smart and luck played a big part in this.

    Regarding qualifications, I started the IPM qualification, as it was then, when I was in my first job and completed part 1 but didn't take it any further for 25 years, so I didn't have the paper qualifications for any of the jobs I applied for until the position I took on this October and they didn't ask about my qualifications; it was my experience that counted. There are so many people that post on here because they have got a qualification but can't get the experience so you have already got over the biggest hurdle. Not studying, however, didn't mean that I didn't consciously keep up with the latest thinking in the profession. I have always read up on management, motivation, engagement etc etc. I did an MBA before I finally got around to the CIPD - sorry CIPD, but IMO an MBA still has more prestige and I think it was my MBA that helped open the door to an HRD role along with my experience outside HR (I did 3 years in sales and then sales management). You have already got experience outside HR and while it isn't essential, it can enrich your HR practice. You will be able to say you have the L5 qualification and I have never seen an ad that says you must have L7 - but perhaps they do and I haven't noticed. Either way, it didn't hold me back and I don't think it will hold you back. Do L7 when you have time to give it the attention it needs so you get the most learning out of it.

    I do agree with Keith that the big divide is between public and private sector and that it isn't too difficult to go from private to public sector but people seem to struggle to come the other way. You have already worked in the civil service and are currently in a public transport organisation, so if you can get across to the private sector, that would be a great addition to your CV and open more doors in the future. If you can't, or if nothing comes up that appeals to you, then you still have a very big sandbox to play in!

  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Thanks for your reply Elizabeth, it's interesting to hear about your career journey and the approach you've taken. I agree with what you said about the L7 qualification and I also haven't seen many job adverts where this is essential or even desirable however I do think I would like to do L7 or a degree at some point in the future just as a personal challenge/achievement.
    Thanks again for taking the time to reply and I've no doubt I'll be calling on your knowledge and experience to help me with other things in the near future :-)
  • In reply to Fiona:

    Hi Fiona

    I think 'right place at right time' determines a lot of things but you can increase the chances of it happening by moving on to try and find another possible 'right place' as soon as it becomes clear that it won't be the one you're in.

    I also think that getting your foot in the door for a start at possibly the right place and then proving your worth / growing into the job will usually get someone vastly better career progression than any paper qualification. Of course the latter might help at the outset but I'd doubt whether a L7 would help a great deal more than a L5 maybe
  • In reply to David:

    Thank you David for taking the time to reply. Interesting to note your view on L5 and L7 qualifications.
  • In reply to Keith:

    Hi Keith,
    I have same thinking as you, that HR like no other fields is all about people, but also, as you say, when it comes to moving to a different sector, it doesn't come so easy. I have 5 years of HR generalist experience in retail/hospitality. My current contract is finishing in couple of months and I need to move on with a new job hunt. I would like to swap the sector, but I'm not sure how to bite it. I wonder if you could share any tips once you did it yourself many times...?
    Thanks in advance.

  • Fiona, I think because you are switching from a career in Civil Service to HR, I would strongly recommend that you gain more experience in the HR Generalist role after you complete the L5 course, perhaps 3-5 years, because the courses in CIPD are academic in nature despite its practical background, one area that you will need to personally experience for yourself is Commercial Acumen & understanding of the financial side of the business you are supporting as an HR Professional. (not as Financial expert but more to general understanding of basics) Once you strengthen your Commercial Acumen thorough experiencing it, the experience you'll gain will help you in applying your HR knowledge and expertise and give you the chance to determine when is the right time to move on and where to move to.
  • Hi Fiona,
    I worked in a non HR role first and was made redundant and then moved to HR having completed CIPD courses.

    With regards to how long to stay in a role, I have had roles which were fixed term, so they were determined for me. I then had a role in a business that I just did not like. I did not like their approach. Which is fine, I am happy in a role now and look back and I am pleased that I took the decision to leave, as there was something much, much better after. I guess my point is, do what is right for you. If you go in a role and your values and ethics mirror that of the business, and you get good HR projects etc, then stay, but if you ever do go to a role that is not right, then leave, without worrying too much about length of stay.

    When I first went to HR, I asked the question about the length of stay etc, but now I take on the roles that are right for me.
  • In reply to Omar:

    Hi Omar, thanks for you reply. I agree that 3-5 years as an HR Generalist feels about right before thinking about my next career move. Thanks also for your advice on increasing commercial acumen that certainly makes sense.