Human Resources (HR) is an exciting and diverse career to work in. There are lots of different roles within HR, but essentially it's a relationship-focused career path. If you love working with people, HR can be an ideal career for you.

An HR professional can be responsible for, or involved in, the hiring, training and ongoing development of employees throughout a business or organisation. A good HR team can help a company invest in their people and make the most out of their workforce.

HR departments act as a crucial link between company management and its people; as well as dealing with important administrative functions that keep everyone happy, healthy and satisfied in their work, they also play a big part in shaping positive company cultures.

Why work in HR?

Those who work in human resources can expect a challenging, exciting and varied professional lifestyle, and can find plenty of reward in being able to help others reach their professional goals and find career success.

The HR industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years as organisations become increasingly aware of the need to attract and retain a diverse and high performing workforce, as well as having dedicated teams to deal with the complex nature of employee wellbeing and employment law.

Working in HR gives you the opportunity to influence different aspects of an organisation and to play a key role in strategic business decisions, as well as working with individuals to help shape their career paths. A successful HR manager will be an integral part of the business and will become known across all departments.

What is career progression like in HR?

Most HR professionals begin as assistants, with a typical starting salary being around £20,000. An experienced HR manager can earn more than £40,000 annually, while HR Directors may earn £100,000 or even more in the largest companies.

Some senior HR professionals come into the industry later having worked in other areas of business first; transferable skills and business experience are crucial for the high-level strategic decisions senior HR professionals regularly make. It is equally possible to climb the ladder within HR only, though. Here's what some HR positions look like:

HR Assistant/Administrator: this entry-level position acts as the first point of contact for HR queries and handling all personnel-related admin, such as employment contracts.

HR Officer: at this level, responsibilities may include recruitment, processing payroll, training and induction, sickness and absence procedures, minor disciplinary and grievance claims, assisting with redundancies, diversity and wellbeing campaigns, and establishing staff support and social networks.

Recruitment Coordinator: this specialist role focuses on hiring, and involves arranging vacancy advertisements, assessing CVs and shortlisting candidates, arranging and hosting job interviews, and discussing business recruitment needs with senior leadership.

Training Officer: this specialist role involves designing and implementing training programmes for individuals or groups. It can be a good route into HR for career changers coming from other areas of business.

HR Manager: an HR manager is involved in a range of strategic policies and practices appropriate to the wider business needs of the company. It often also requires direct leadership and management of an HR team and the delivery of their responsibilities. This is another area where a career changer, at management level, may be able to make a lateral move in their career.

HR Director: at this high level, an HR Director must manage departmental expenditure within agreed budgets as well as implementing HR policies and strategic theory at the top level of business.

What sort of skills does an HR professional need?

As HR involves working with people, sometimes at very important points of their career, the most important quality an HR professional can have is being comfortable with other people.

This means strong communication skills, self-confidence, and approachability. Much of the time, the work and conversations you’ll be dealing with will be confidential, so being trustworthy, discreet and responsible are key attributes too.

The kind of skills and qualities you'll need to succeed in HR include:

  • Patience, empathy and integrity
  • Openness and friendliness
  • Excellent organisation and time-management
  • Being able to mediate and be objective in complex interpersonal disputes
  • The ability to perform under pressure

According to the CIPD, HR generalists will be involved in the following sorts of tasks:

  • Designing people strategies and plans
  • Creating employee engagement initiatives
  • Creating people policies and procedures
  • Setting up learning and development interventions to meet the needs of the organisation
  • Designing organisational structures with business leaders
  • Using HR information systems to gather people data and insights
  • Creating an employer brand and recruiting to key positions
  • Designing pay scales and benefits packages
  • Identifying and retaining key talent across the organisation

If these things appeal to you, it might be a great choice of career path.  

Which qualifications do you need to work in HR?

A degree isn't necessary to work in HR, and it's a career where you can start at entry-level and work your way up. However, degrees can be a useful asset, particularly business-focused degrees.

As your career in HR progresses, though, you can get professional qualifications specifically for HR that'll boost your career and open up new opportunities. Many HR roles are advertised with an HR-relevant qualification being required, or mandate that the candidate is willing to work towards it as part of the role.

The professional body for human resources qualifications is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. They offer a range of courses at different levels, based on existing qualifications and existing experience, with a certificate at foundation level, and diplomas for intermediate and advanced levels. The advanced level qualifications are at postgraduate level and allow you to become a chartered member, which means you can have Chartered MCIPD letters showcasing your HR expertise to recruiters.

A career in HR could be right for you, whether you’re just starting out in the world of business or looking for a change. Either way, it's a career with a vibrant and changing environment with plenty of opportunities for progression and personal growth.