Every organisation is unique and the size and scope of the HR and L&D function will adapt accordingly. HR departments often embody and project the values of their organisations so when thinking about your first (or next) role you should look first for organisations whose values you share.

The HR and L&D profession offers a wide variety of career options - but which role is right for you? Here’s an introduction to some of the different jobs and specialisms available.

Variety is the watchword here. One day you’re working with management on attracting and developing talent to deliver the business strategy. The next you’re engaging with an employee focus group teasing out bugbears and motivational triggers. You’ll need to be comfortable partnering with managers in the business and be ready to support (and challenge) them as they lead their teams. They’ll be looking to you for insights that can help drive lasting performance improvements.

‘As HR Business Partner, I act as the face of HR out into the business, and the voice of the business back into HR. It really is about managing two dynamic, intertwined relationships. No two days are the same. You have to build good relationships, trusting in the specialists’ expert knowledge whilst often thinking the business’ next thoughts before they’ve even thought them. The variety, the breadth, and the feeling of being trusted as an advisor to the business make for a thoroughly enjoyable role!’
Charlotte Fordham. HR Business Partner, HSBC

As a recruitment and talent planning professional, your role is to help fulfil the short and long-term requirements of your organisation’s strategy in a dynamic labour market.

You may have to plan for changing demographics, the supply and demand for labour, staff turnover and scarce skills. You may be responsible for identifying and attracting the key people who create competitive advantage for the organisation. You might be actively recruiting them; alternatively, you might be developing networks that make it easier to attract talented individuals cost-effectively over the longer term. You could also play an important role in identifying talent across the organisation and integrating that with succession planning and performance management.

When an organisation gets the best out of its people and combines their skills and capabilities, it boosts its performance. What’s more, it helps those individuals discover their own strengths and potential. It adds up to a rewarding role for learning and talent development professionals.

As a learning and development (L&D) specialist, your role will be to help organisations execute their business strategy by aligning learning, training and development of its people with business priorities. L&D roles will depend on the type and size of the organisation but could include activities as varied as delivering firearms training for police officers or development programmes for fund managers. You might support coaching and mentoring programmes for your line managers or develop training strategy for the whole business. You’ll need to be able to think on your feet and you’ll benefit from having strong analytical skills.

Hear about Anton Nisbeth's experience as an L&D Programme Officer

Employee relations (ER) professionals maintain and develop effective working relationships across the organisation. They support managers by motivating and engaging the workforce. Employees perform better when they understand the goals of the organisation and they’ll be more motivated to deliver if there’s an opportunity to feed their views upwards.

As an ER professional you’re contributing to building a culture of trust, a pre-requisite for any healthy organisation. You’ll need to speak the language of the business and understand how people management can drive performance. Strong values are also important. You may be involved in managing the organisation’s relationship with its trade unions and workplace conflict. Whether you’re dealing with individuals or their representatives a genuine commitment to diversity, fairness and equal opportunity will facilitate dialogue.

The reward function plays a critical role. Any organisation that wants to create and sustain a high-performance culture has to ensure that its people’s skills, behaviours, values, attitudes and contribution are rewarded and recognised.

Performance and reward professionals help set salary levels and allowances and manage pay relativities. You may be creating incentive and recognition schemes or evaluating benefits.

You need to be numerate and aware of the legal and regulatory landscape. It helps too if you’re a good communicator. You’ll be liaising with colleagues to create joined-up strategy. You could be asked to explain your organisation’s approach to rewards. And with issues like bonuses and pensions on your agenda, you may be engaging with top management.

Hear about Rajinder Athwal’ s role as a reward analyst

Employee engagement is a distinct discipline in larger organisations. It touches on related areas like employer branding and internal communication. It also connects with employee relations. It’s about building connections between employees and their organisation. How do you get them to feel a sense of loyalty and pride in their work, to go the extra mile, to become ambassadors for the business?

You’ll need strong analytical skills, because before you can change attitudes they have to be quantified. You may be asked to develop surveys, run workshops and focus groups to gauge the mood of employees. You’ll need to be able to make connections and share insights with management colleagues. A business can only be successful on a sustainable basis if its people understand and buy into its objectives. Your analysis and advice will be vital here.

‘You have to understand the drivers of employee engagement – what is the unique DNA that sets you apart? It’s easy to dismiss the management information that can give you real and unique insight. Whilst you don’t want analysis paralysis, you do want deep and meaningful insight and you use this to create a compelling vision for your employees.’
Gill Hill, Senior Manager, Leadership and Development, Nationwide

Organisations today are in a constant state of reinvention. They need to remain agile to cope with the challenges of a fluid, fast-paced external environment. As an organisation development (OD) specialist, you get to play a key role in managing the process of change. You could be asked to deliver programmes that impact on the organisation’s culture or develop its people. They may involve re-organisation and the creation of more effective and customer-focused processes.

Can you communicate change effectively with employees? You’ll need to paint a picture not just of what successful change will look like, but also of the risks and challenges that lie ahead. Organisation development practitioners work in a planned and systematic way – diagnosing issues using relevant data. They take into account the whole organisation and look at how involving people can achieve sustained business performance.

‘ As an OD practitioner, day to day I live out the role of connector, conductor and constructor. I connect people to causes and improvement activities; I conduct research and deliver it to help our people do things better; and I construct the frameworks and pathways that help our people to make this a great place to work.’
Perry Timms. Head of Talent & Organisational Development, BIG Lottery Fund

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