From work experience and apprenticeships to graduate schemes and qualifications - discover the best path for you.
Getting that first job
Although work experience is always important when applying for a job, your personal qualities, flexible approach and academic qualifications will also play a part in impressing future employers. If you want to build practical skills that are relevant to HR, it may be possible to find an unpaid placement or shadow someone who’s already working in the profession. And, if you’ve gained voluntary experience such as managing a budget, training and coaching, or used organisation and teamwork skills – perhaps in a club or society – it’s something to add to your CV.
If you’re a student, why not consider a holiday job? You can approach local companies to see if you can do a short-term work experience. Ideally it will be in an HR department, but any office or administrative role will be useful experience. You can observe how the organisation relates to its employees and possibly ask for a discussion with someone in the HR department during your time there. Employers place a lot of value on people who have work experience – it can make you stand out from other applicants when searching for jobs.
In many cases, your first step will be working as an assistant alongside an HR or learning and development manager. Look out for job titles that include words such as ‘Assistant’, ‘Officer’, ‘Coordinator’, ‘Executive’, or ‘Administrator’. It’s good to register for email alerts on job boards and look on the company websites of local businesses.
When looking for your first role you could try joining online communities, message boards or discussions. The HR and L&D community is active and friendly, often eager to share their knowledge and experiences with others. CIPD has its own online community forum where you can ask questions and connect with HR and L&D professionals. Alternatively, websites such as LinkedIn have lively discussion groups where you can seek advice.
As well as connecting online, CIPD has branches all over the UK which run face-to-face meetings and networking events. Try contacting your local branch to see if there are any upcoming events where you could meet people and learn more about the profession.
Apprenticeships offer you the chance to get real work experience and a wage while studying a recognised qualification. Anyone over 16 and not at school or college full-time can apply for an Apprenticeship. They take between one and four years to complete. At the end of your Apprenticeship you can go into full-time employment, although some decide to go on to university.
There are lots of Apprenticeships you can do, but an Apprenticeship in Business and Administration will give you modules on HR, which is a great way to gain some understanding of this specialist area and what it’s like to work in a business.
Graduate training schemes
If you’re studying, you may decide to apply for a graduate training scheme when you leave university. You can either join a general graduate scheme, where you get experience in lots of different departments along with HR. Or you can join a programme that’s focused specifically on HR. They may also support you to gain a CIPD-approved postgraduate-level qualification.
Specialist university degrees
An alternative to apprenticeships or graduate schemes is to study a specialist course at university. You could apply for a human resources management degree or have a combined degree such as business management and human resources.
Accredited HR qualifications
If you've decided to continue with your studies, the CIPD is the recognised professional body which offers approved HR and learning and development qualifications. Anyone over the age of 18 can study for a CIPD qualification. Dependent on your experience and qualifications, you can apply for one of three qualification levels.
The CIPD Foundation level is a great introduction to HR and learning and development. You have options on how you study (part-time, full-time, distance learning) and many people complete the qualification in one to two years. The Intermediate level is for people with more experience and builds on your HR knowledge. The final option is the Advanced level. Graduates or people who’ve already got experience working in an HR role often apply for this level.
Most CIPD qualifications are a route to becoming a CIPD professional member and, in the future, to becoming a Chartered Member. This means you’ll be recognised as having met the rigorous criteria and professional standards for best practice in HR and you’ll be able to use the letters Chartered MCIPD after your name.
View our other guides:
Everything you need to help you find the right role for you
As your career partner the CIPD can help you build confidence, credibility and expertise