Human resources (HR) officers develop, advise on and implement policies relating to the effective use of staff in an organisation

As an HR officer, your aim is to ensure that the organisation you work for employs the right balance of staff in terms of skills and experience, and that training and development opportunities are available to colleagues to enhance their performance and achieve the company's business aims.

HR officers are involved in a range of activities whatever the size or type of business. These cover areas such as:

  • conditions of employment
  • equality and diversity
  • negotiation with external work-related agencies
  • pay and rewards
  • recruitment and retention
  • working practices.

It's possible to work in either a generalist role, covering the full range of HR work, or to become a specialist in a particular area.

Responsibilities

To be successful in this role you must have a clear understanding of your employer's business objectives and be able to devise and implement policies which select, develop and retain the right staff to meet these objectives.

You will not only deal with staff welfare and administration-centred activities, but also strategy and planning.

HR departments are expected to add value to the organisation they support. The nature of the work varies according to the organisation, but you'll typically need to:

  • work closely with various departments, increasingly in a consultancy role, assisting line managers to understand and implement policies and procedures
  • promote equality and diversity as part of the culture of the organisation
  • liaise with a range of people involved in policy areas such as staff performance and health and safety
  • recruit staff, which involves developing job descriptions and person specifications, preparing job adverts, checking application forms, shortlisting, interviewing and selecting candidates
  • make sure that prospective staff have the right to work at the organisation
  • develop and implement policies on issues like working conditions, performance management, equal opportunities, disciplinary procedures and absence management
  • prepare staff handbooks
  • advise on pay and other remuneration issues, including promotion and benefits
  • undertake regular salary reviews
  • manage redundancy programmes
  • negotiate with staff and their representatives (for example, trade union officials) on issues relating to pay and conditions, contracts and redundancy packages
  • administer payroll and maintain employee records
  • interpret and advise on employment law
  • deal with grievances and implement disciplinary procedures
  • develop HR planning strategies, which consider immediate and long-term staff requirements
  • plan and sometimes deliver training, including new staff inductions
  • analyse training needs in conjunction with departmental managers.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for HR administrators range from £18,000 to £23,000.
  • Salaries for HR officers/advisers are around £24,000 to £35,000.
  • HR managers can earn around £35,000 to £55,000.
  • Salaries for HR directors typically range from around £55,000 to in excess of £80,000.

Salaries within HR can vary considerably between employers and depend on a range of factors, including your experience, skills and qualifications, your location, sector and type of employer, and your level of responsibility, seniority and particular function. Salaries in local government and charities, for example, are likely to be lower than in sectors such as banking and financial services. Having CIPD-accredited qualifications and chartered membership can help with career prospects.

Income data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Reed Human Resources 2020 Salary Guide. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll generally work a standard 37-hour week, Monday to Friday, but hours could sometimes include shift or weekend work. There may also be a requirement to work extra hours to meet deadlines.

Part-time and job-share positions and opportunities for flexible working may be available.

What to expect

  • The work is office-based but may involve travel to other sites such as factories, hotels, government departments or retail outlets, depending on the type and structure of the employer. An organisation might be divided into a number of geographically or functionally-distinct units. A major retailer, for example, may have a central office dealing with overall personnel policies, where a generalist HR officer looks after the day-to-day matters at the retail branches and warehouses.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible as organisations increasingly buy in expertise in particular areas on a short-term basis if provision is not available in-house. HR consultancy is becoming more common due to the rise in outsourcing HR practices. These opportunities are usually for those with experience in the field (a CIPD qualification is essential), possibly with a management or HR consultancy background.
  • Opportunities exist throughout the UK, with the majority of jobs available in larger towns and cities. Some specialist roles are more likely to be found in the headquarters of an organisation, usually in a major city.
  • The type of organisation, structure of the HR department and your own area of work determine the opportunities for travel both within the UK and elsewhere. Careers can be international, even at a junior level.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates and those with an HND or foundation degree, the following subjects may be particularly relevant:

  • business with languages
  • business or management
  • human resource management
  • psychology.

You could also do a combined degree in, for example, business management and human resources. If you're studying a human resource management degree, check whether it is accredited by the CIPD.

Some larger organisations run general management or human resources graduate training schemes. If you're on a general management scheme, it's possible to move into HR after having experienced a range of placements, including HR, within an organisation.

If you don't have a degree, you could start in an administrative role in an HR department and progress to an HR officer and then management role with experience and further training and CIPD-accredited qualifications.

You can also get into HR by taking an apprenticeship, combining paid work with part-time study. The Level 3 Apprenticeship: HR Support provides an entry route into the profession. It's also possible to take the higher Level 5 Apprenticeship: HR Consultant/Partner, aimed at those who are already working as HR professionals and who want to progress their career. For full details, see CIPD Apprenticeship Routes.

Although you don't need a postgraduate qualification to become an HR officer, it may be useful and there are a range of HR/personnel management Masters degrees available. Search for postgraduate courses in human resource management.

Although it's possible to enter HR work without being professionally qualified, some employers will prefer you to have an accredited qualification from the CIPD, particularly for middle and higher management posts.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • business awareness and management skills
  • interpersonal skills to form effective working relationships with people at all levels
  • IT and numeracy skills, with strong IT skills required if managing/operating computerised payroll and benefits systems
  • organisational and planning skills
  • the ability to analyse, interpret and explain employment law
  • integrity and approachability, as managers and staff must feel able to discuss sensitive and confidential issues with you
  • curiosity and a willingness to challenge organisational culture where necessary
  • teamworking skills and the ability to collaborate well with others
  • the ability to compile and interpret statistical data and communicate it in a professional and understandable manner
  • influencing and negotiating skills to implement personnel policies
  • the ability to work well under pressure
  • the ability to juggle multiple tasks and to prioritise your workload
  • potential to handle a leadership role.

In some larger organisations you could also be working with overseas staff, so cultural awareness and having some understanding of work issues in other countries is helpful.

Work experience

Competition for jobs is strong and having relevant experience working in an HR department greatly improves your chances. You can get experience through taking an industrial placement year as part of your course, a summer internship, vacation work or part-time employment. General office and/or administrative experience will also be helpful.

You may also develop appropriate skills at university by taking on positions of responsibility, whether in a voluntary or paid capacity, or through student groups and organisations. This experience could include training or coaching, managing a budget, teamworking, etc.

Talking to staff already working in HR or work shadowing an HR professional will help you make well-informed applications. Networking is important and helps you develop contacts in the industry. Student membership of the CIPD provides access to useful resources and networking opportunities.

Employers

HR officers work in organisations that employ staff, which means that jobs are available in all sectors. Typical employers include:

  • small, medium-sized and large private companies in a range of sectors including engineering, banking and finance, retail, IT and technology, and healthcare
  • the public sector, e.g. the Civil Service and local government offices, and the NHS
  • voluntary organisations, such as charities, which may employ both paid staff and volunteers.

It's important to think about which sector you're interested in working in, as different sectors have different HR challenges.

The work structure within these organisations varies widely. Some employers have just one or two people covering the full range of HR activities. Larger employers may structure their HR departments according to different specialist roles, or the functions can be split among several general HR officers on a departmental or perhaps location basis.

Some very large organisations have a group of HR specialists at a head office who provide support to general HR officers working out of various departments or locations. There are also opportunities to work overseas.

You can also work in specialist consultancies, which range in size from one-person companies to small firms and partnerships. An outplacement service, when a firm engages a specialist consultancy to help staff deal with redundancy, is one example of this type of work. Many well-known firms of management consultants are also developing HR practices, offering services in areas such as compensation and benefits.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also look in the local press for administrative jobs in HR, and the national press for more senior roles. Larger organisations often advertise graduate training schemes on their own websites.

Recruitment agencies and online job sites commonly handle vacancies. Vacancies are also advertised on LinkedIn.

Professional development

Graduate schemes typically last eighteen months to three years, depending on the employer. If you're on a general graduate scheme, you'll usually rotate through a number of placements to get experience in a range of departments, including HR.

HR-focused graduate schemes will usually include a series of placements in different aspects of HR, such as reward management, recruitment, employee relations, and learning and development. Whilst on these schemes, you may be supported to gain an Advanced level CIPD-accredited qualification.

Studying for HR qualifications accredited by the CIPD can help you progress within the profession. Qualifications are offered at different levels, depending on your experience and career aims. For further information, see CIPD - Qualifications and Training.

If you complete an Advanced Diploma and have relevant work experience, you will be eligible to apply for chartered membership of the CIPD.

Short courses, webinars, workshops and conferences are also offered on subjects such as:

  • assessing learning and performance
  • coaching and mentoring
  • diversity and inclusion
  • employee engagement
  • employment law
  • performance management
  • rewards and benefits.

Some organisations will allow you to attend internal or external training courses relevant to your role, for example to:

  • qualify you to administer psychometric tests
  • gain specific skills, such as consulting
  • enhance your knowledge of particular areas of employment law, such as GDPR or contract law.

Career prospects

New graduates are likely to begin their career in human resources by working in a general HR role. You may enjoy the breadth of this work and choose to remain in this environment, or you may prefer to move into a more specialist HR role in areas such as:

  • diversity and inclusion
  • employee engagement
  • employee relations
  • employment law
  • learning, training and development
  • organisation development
  • performance and reward
  • recruitment and talent planning.

These specialist roles are more likely to be found in the headquarters of major organisations, so you may need to move job to find a role that suits you and your career aims.

Promotion depends on ability. With a combination of experience and CIPD qualifications, you can move into an HR management role with responsibility for a number of HR officers. You may find yourself overseeing an area such as recruitment and training or advising managers on a range of HR issues.

In the longer term, HR managers may move into more senior roles and be promoted to a HR director role, possibly as far as board level. As a director, you would be involved in HR strategy and influencing the organisation's wider business aims.

Self-employment and freelance work as a consultant to HR departments is sometimes possible for experienced HR staff.

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