If you enjoy helping others and working with a variety of people then take a look at what it takes to become a human resources officer

As a human resources (HR) officer you will develop, advise on and implement policies relating to the effective use of staff in an organisation.

In the role your aim is to ensure that the organisation that you work for employs the right balance of staff in terms of skill 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;
  • recruitment;
  • working practices.

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 exact nature of the work varies according to the organisation, but is likely to include:

  • working closely with various departments, increasingly in a consultancy role, assisting line managers to understand and implement policies and procedures;
  • promoting equality and diversity as part of the culture of the organisation;
  • liaising with a range of people involved in policy areas such as staff performance and health and safety;
  • recruiting staff, which involves developing job descriptions and person specifications, preparing job adverts, checking application forms, shortlisting, interviewing and selecting candidates;
  • developing and implementing policies on issues like working conditions, performance management, equal opportunities, disciplinary procedures and absence management;
  • preparing staff handbooks;
  • advising on pay and other remuneration issues, including promotion and benefits;
  • undertaking regular salary reviews;
  • negotiating with staff and their representatives (for example, trade union officials) on issues relating to pay and conditions;
  • administering payroll and maintaining employee records;
  • interpreting and advising on employment law;
  • dealing with grievances and implementing disciplinary procedures;
  • developing HR planning strategies, which consider immediate and long-term staff requirements;
  • planning and sometimes delivering training - including inductions for new staff;
  • analysing training needs in conjunction with departmental managers.

Salary

  • HR assistant starting salaries are around £19,000 a year.
  • Partly qualified Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) HR officers or those working toward CIPD Level 5 Intermediate or above earn in the region of £22,000 to £25,000.
  • There are opportunities for rapid progression and salary increases as you gain experience, particularly if you have a CIPD qualification. HR officers with experience can expect to earn £25,000+.
  • For senior posts, such as HR directors, typical salaries can range from around £75,000 to £100,000.

Salaries within HR vary considerably between employers. They can be influenced to some extent by location but also by industry sector, level of responsibility, seniority and particular function.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll generally work a standard 9am to 5pm day 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 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, with a generalist HR officer looking after the day-to-day matters at the retail branches and warehouses.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible and is becoming more widespread 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 much 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 a HND, the following subjects may be particularly relevant:

  • business with languages;
  • business or management;
  • human resources management;
  • psychology;
  • social administration.

There are various entry routes into HR but competition is generally fierce for all routes. Applying to a HR graduate training scheme is one possibility. Early application is strongly advised for such schemes. You could also try sending speculative applications for graduate roles.

Some graduates move into HR after having experienced placements in several areas of an organisation, as part of a general management training programme. Starting in an administrative role in a HR department provides useful experience and it is possible to get promoted into HR management if suitable positions arise.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification in HR/personnel management, while not essential, might be useful. Many postgraduate courses require a degree for entry but some may consider other qualifications such as a HND, perhaps with relevant experience. Search for postgraduate courses in human resource management.

Although it is possible to enter HR work without being professionally qualified, for middle and higher management posts employers will prefer an accredited qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

It's almost always expected that you have a CIPD qualification when applying for high-level roles. You should check with individual employers regarding sponsorship for studying towards a CIPD qualification. There are various study methods available, including full-time, part-time and distance learning, plus a range of educational institutions deliver CIPD courses.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • business awareness and management skills;
  • organisational skills and the ability to understand detailed information;
  • IT and numeracy skills, with strong IT skills required if managing/operating computerised payroll and benefits systems;
  • interpersonal skills to form effective working relationships with people at all levels;
  • a proven track record of 'making a difference';
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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 may be important.

Work experience

Relevant experience gained during a course placement, previous employment or vacation work greatly improves your chances. 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.

Talking to staff already working in HR will help you make well-informed applications, as will reading appropriate publications and websites such as:

Employers

HR officers work in organisations that employ staff. These include:

  • small and large private firms;
  • the public sector, e.g. the Civil Service and local government offices;
  • voluntary organisations, such as charities, which may employ both paid staff and volunteers.

The way the work's structured 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 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:

  • People Management - monthly magazine/website produced by the CIPD.
  • Personnel Today
  • Local press for administrative jobs in HR.
  • National press for more senior roles.

Recruitment agencies and online job sites commonly handle vacancies.

Larger organisations often advertise graduate training schemes on their own websites.

Networking and speculative applications can uncover opportunities that have not been advertised. For named HR/personnel contacts in medium to large-sized organisations see HR Nation.

New graduates entering the profession need to be flexible in terms of geographical location and the type of work that they want as competition for vacancies is usually intense.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

If you wish to progress within the profession it may be necessary, while at the beginning of your career, to study for qualifications accredited by the CIPD. Some employers might sponsor you to study towards qualifying for CIPD membership and allow study leave but this depends on the individual employer. The exact qualification for which you study depends on your role and educational background.

The CIPD offers HR qualifications at foundation, intermediate and advanced level. These qualifications include a range of optional units allowing learners to specialise in areas relevant to their career development needs. For further information, see CIPD Qualifications.

The training available to achieve membership of the CIPD is delivered through accredited universities and colleges throughout the UK and may be completed through a variety of study methods, depending on your location.

Short courses, seminars, workshops and conferences are also offered at various locations on an ongoing basis, focusing on specific subjects of professional relevance such as:

  • assessing learning and performance;
  • coaching and mentoring;
  • diversity;
  • employment law;
  • pay and reward.

In addition, 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 data protection or contract law.

Career prospects

Recent graduates are likely to begin their career in human resources by working in a general HR role. Many enjoy the breadth of this work and choose to remain in this environment or move into a more senior position with responsibility for a number of HR officers.

For those wishing to pursue more specialist careers within HR, a range of roles are available including:

  • compensation and benefits manager;
  • employee relations officer;
  • equal opportunities officer;
  • recruitment manager;
  • working in learning and development.

These specialist roles are more likely to be found in the headquarters of organisations operating in major cities, so geographical flexibility may be required for career development.

Longer term, HR managers may move into more senior roles within an organisation and be promoted to a HR director role, possibly as far as board level. Promotion depends on ability and career prospects are enhanced by completing the highest level of CIPD qualifications.

The CIPD offers various levels of membership including chartered membership, which entitles you to use the letters MCIPD after your name. To be eligible for chartered status you must have a relevant CIPD qualification at advanced level and be able to demonstrate professional experience and impact in the workplace, usually over a period of 12 to 18 months. See the qualifications and membership sections of the CIPD website for further information.

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