If you're looking to enter human resources (HR) and people management, explore the routes to a graduate role or work placement and the attributes you'll need to succeed

You don't need a relevant degree for a job in HR, recruitment or learning and development (L&D). However, employers usually seek graduates with at least a 2:1 and, in some cases, 300+ UCAS points. You'll also probably need to take a professional course by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) at some point in your career.

Most employers in the HR sector will consider graduates of any discipline, but the following degree subjects may improve your chances of landing a job:

  • business management
  • economics
  • finance
  • HR
  • psychology.

Applying to a recruitment consultancy that specialises in an industry related to what you've studied may also increase your chances of securing a job.

Alternatives to taking a Bachelors degree include apprenticeships, foundation degrees or valuable experience gained in the workplace.

For more information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications for specific HR careers, see job profiles.

What skills do employers want?

You'll need to show:

  • adaptability, flexibility and patience
  • ambition and confidence
  • business acumen and an entrepreneurial approach
  • curiosity and the courage to challenge
  • discretion and trustworthiness
  • emotional intelligence
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • organisational skills and the ability to multitask
  • strategic thinking
  • the ability to work to deadlines and meet targets
  • that you can work as part of a team.

Where can I get work experience?

Personal qualities, commercial awareness and the development of practical skills in areas such as budget management, coaching and teamwork are crucial in HR and related professions. Therefore, most types of work experience or a part-time job in an office or administration role can impress employers.

In terms of recruitment, working for a consultancy often requires skills similar to those needed for sales, marketing and public relations (PR) roles, so experience in any of these areas would also be useful.

However, if you want to rapidly progress an HR career and stand out from the competition, you'll need to find out what it's like to work in an HR department.

You could approach local businesses and register to receive job email alerts. Connect online with the HR community and be sure to visit the CIPD website for upcoming networking events.

Large companies that offer HR placements include BP, Rolls-Royce and GSK (GlaxoSmithKline). For an example of what this might entail, PwC's HR department, known as the HC group, facilitates 11-month work placements within one of its four HC teams: learning and development, student recruitment, global mobility and human resources. Logging any activities you're involved in means this can count towards future CIPD study. To be eligible, you'll need to be expecting a 2:1 in any degree subject and be on a four-year sandwich programme.

In terms of internships, L'Oréal is just one major employer that offers full-time jobs to a number of the 100 university students who embark on an internship with the cosmetics company each year. The HR strand offers professional training and project work during the 3 to 12-month opportunity.

Some recruitment consultancies, such as Hays and PageGroup, also offer internships - but as they are very popular with graduates, opportunities are filled very quickly.

To find work placements and internships in the recruitment and HR sector, search for work experience. You can also search for internships at Graduate Talent Pool.

How do I find a graduate job in HR and recruitment?

There are plenty of advertised HR roles that would be well-suited to a graduate. At the entry level, you'll find there is the potential to gain valuable experience and work your way up.

If you're planning on specialising in recruitment, you could send a speculative letter with your CV to local consultancies that you're interested in working for. You can view these at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

Alternatively, you could search for HR and recruitment vacancies at:

To find graduate jobs in this sector, search graduate jobs in recruitment and HR.

How do I get onto an HR graduate scheme?

Graduate schemes with an HR specialism are offered by many large organisations, including BP, GSK, KPMG, Nestlé, Tesco and the NHS. These are aimed at newly-qualified graduates with limited work experience. See more companies that run graduate programmes can be found in the HR sector overview.

They are typically two-year programmes and may involve rotational placements between areas of HR, such as employee relations, learning and development, performance management and recruitment and resourcing, or travel across different office locations in the UK or overseas.

It's worth checking the precise details of the scheme thoroughly, as some employers may also support you to gain a CIPD-approved postgraduate-level qualification - ideal if you're hoping to progress into a middle or senior management role.

For instance, Mitchells & Butlers allocates time during its two-year HR programme for you to study and gain a professional qualification with the CIPD. Similarly, the three-year Civil Service Fast Stream human resources scheme helps graduates to study for a CIPD-accredited Postgraduate Diploma in HR Management.

Some recruitment consultancies also offer graduate schemes or encourage newly-qualified graduates with the right personality traits to apply. For more information, see individual company websites.

To discover which recruiters are currently running programmes in HR and recruitment, search graduate schemes.

What HR apprenticeships are available?

At level 5 on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), the Higher Apprenticeship in Human Resource Management (HRM) is equivalent to the second year at university. This 18-month CIPD/Skills CFA qualification provides an excellent entry route to your chosen career. You'll have a job and earn a salary as you develop your knowledge and skills in this area. A minimum of two A-levels (or equivalent at level 3) are typically required for entry.

Discover how the apprenticeship could possibly lead to roles as an HR executive, HR officer, assistant HR manager or assistant HR adviser by visiting the dedicated human resource management apprenticeships page at GOV.UK.

In addition to higher apprenticeships, HR administration roles are available at levels 2 (GCSE) and 3 (A-level). Find out more about apprenticeships.

What about foundation degrees?

Some universities and colleges offer foundation degrees (FdA) in human resource management (HRM), often with a business component. Equivalent to two-thirds of a degree, you'll gain a vocational qualification that can provide entry into HR careers with commercial and public sector organisations.

For example, the two-year FdA Business and Human Resource Management at the Manchester College teaches a combination of both academic and practical business and management skills. It's aimed at students looking to begin their careers as well as those with jobs that wish to progress their role and continue on the path of lifelong learning.

Search foundation degree courses and find out how to apply by visiting the UCAS website.

What about careers in HR consulting?

As HR consultancies vary in size and the range of services offered, you could be working in different environments, though you'll spend a lot of time at client sites. These types of roles are usually only offered to experienced HR professionals with CIPD qualifications.

A postgraduate qualification in the subject - for example, the MSc Human Resource Management and Consulting at the University of Bath - may boost your chances of employment in this field.

Some major HR consultancy firms take on graduates for training that involves a strong learning element. For instance, Mercer supports new recruits in its 'talent' business as they study towards the MSc in Human Resource Management and become members of the CIPD.

The professional body itself runs programmes for strategic HR volunteers to work at schools in England, supporting leaders as they look to develop effective careers strategies. You'll require plenty of HR or L&D experience and have a passion for tackling youth employment. By joining the national Enterprise Adviser Network, you'll need to commit to one day per month as a volunteer.

Keep an eye out for consultancy jobs at PM Jobs and search management consultancy and HR roles.

See the management consultant job profile for more information on consulting careers.

Do I need to do postgraduate study?

There's strong competition for roles within HR, so if you haven't studied a related degree and wish to join a smaller company, it may be advantageous to study for a related postgraduate degree - for example, a Masters in human resource management (HRM).

You don't need a postgraduate degree to work in recruitment as a consultant. However, professional training courses offered by the Institute of Recruitment Professionals (IRP) may help to build your skills and knowledge.

To work as an occupational psychologist, you'll need a British Psychological Society-accredited Masters, followed by a Doctorate in occupational psychology.

Should I join a professional body?

Joining a professional body is voluntary for most jobs in this sector. However, becoming a member of one can be valuable for developing networks and continuing professional development (CPD).

For example, joining the CIPD can help you to gain chartership and access to the resources that you need to keep your skills as a HR professional up to date, not to mention increasing your earning potential.

Find out more