Central to most organisations, human resources (HR) professionals are in demand. Find out what qualifications and skills you'll need to succeed

You don't usually need to be a human resources graduate to secure a job in HR, recruitment or learning and development (L&D), as most employers will consider graduates of any subject. However, a degree in business management, economics, finance, HR or psychology may improve your chances of landing a job. Employers typically expect graduates to have gained at least a 2:1 at university.

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

You could also study at postgraduate level, with most courses accredited by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Even if you don't undertake a Masters in HR at this point, it's likely you'll need some form of CIPD qualification in your career.

Some universities and colleges offer foundation degrees (FdA) in human resource management (HRM), although they are usually combined with business. 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. Find out more about foundation degrees and other alternatives to university.

See HR courses for examples of what's on offer and consider why study human resources management?

How do I get HR work experience?

Personal qualities, commercial awareness and the development of practical human resources skills in areas such as budget management, coaching and teamwork are regarded as essential 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.

Working for a recruitment 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 your career and stand out from the competition, you'll need to find out what it's like to work in an HR department. Having relevant human resources work experience will give you an advantage over many other candidates.

You could approach local businesses and register to receive job email alerts. Visit the CIPD website for upcoming networking events you may wish to attend.

To a find a placement, search HR and recruitment work experience.

Once you've gained some form of HR experience, the CIPD runs numerous volunteering programmes for HR and L&D professionals to put their skills to use in a way that benefits others. This could involve presenting at schools or mentoring a jobseeker.

If you want to gain experience while earning a wage then an apprenticeship might be the way forward. HR apprenticeships are available at two levels:

  • Level 3 (HR support apprenticeship)
  • Level 5 (HR consultant/partner apprenticeship)

To see whether this route is right for you take a look at HR apprenticeships.

Where can I find an HR internship?

In terms of HR internships, L'Oréal is just one example of a 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.

Large companies that offer HR placements include BP, Rolls-Royce and GSK (GlaxoSmithKline). One example is PwC whose 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. Log any activities you're involved in while on the HR placement as this can count towards future CIPD study.

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

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

If you're planning on specialising in recruitment, you could send a speculative letter with your CV to local consultancies you're interested in working for. Visit REC for steps to choosing the right agency.

When looking for work in HR or recruitment, there are dedicated industry jobsites to consider:

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

You can also discover the various routes into HR, as mapped out by the CIPD, and explore which companies run graduate programmes at HR graduate schemes.

Which HR skills do employers want?

To thrive in this often pressurised environment, 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.

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

How do I get into 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 roles are usually only offered to experienced HR professionals with CIPD qualifications.

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

Keep an eye out for consultancy jobs at PM Jobs. You can also read the management consultant job profile for more information on HR consulting careers.

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