Human Resources is responsible for the development and enrichment of a company's workforce. They handle staffing, conflict resolution and training to ensure staff is running at maximum potential. Graduates successful in pursuing a career in Human Resources can really influence a business from the inside out.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warns that most people working in Human Resources do not begin in the field. It is a position which requires an excellent balance of life experience, key skills and business acumen, and for that reason the path into HR is often indirect.
Graduates keen to go directly into Human Resources should consider a graduate scheme. For those who don't manage to secure a place on a scheme, a career in HR is still possible if the candidate can demonstrate a well-rounded understanding of business, people and strategy. In Human Resources, as in many other fields, it is possible to learn the trade by working up the ladder.
How to Get a Job in Human Resources
While it is rare for graduates to have actual HR experience, some previous employments and skills picked up at university or through extracurricular activities can help with applications.
Candidates should display the following:
1. Excellent interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills are essential to any HR department, and candidates should demonstrate experience working with a variety of people, preferably in a position of authority or responsibility.
Graduates should highlight any past experience which involves managing people - a supervisor position in hospitality or retail, perhaps, or other roles which demonstrate the ability to deal with staff and the distribution of labour. For the most part, the sector or field is not important - what matters is a candidate's people management skills.
2. Strong communication skills
Communication is vital to HR, both written and spoken. Candidates must demonstrate that they are able to establish a clear discourse between management and employees, and make use of communication skills such as mediation and negotiation.
3. Strategic thinking and analytical skills
Analytical skills are found in many university degrees, especially Science, Maths and the Humanities. Applicants should be able to demonstrate examples of their ability to think strategically and analytically, such as through planning a dissertation or group project.
4. Business mind
Human Resources focuses on development, which requires a mind for business. HR must help expand certain areas of a business and improve its productivity. It is important for graduates to show employers that they can identify areas that need improvement, and develop strategies to rectify the problem.
5. Understanding of team dynamics
Human Resources is often responsible for recruiting staff, which requires a talent for assessing gaps in the work force and identifying which areas require support or expansion. HR lead the employment process, and must be able to find the right candidate for the role. Candidates should show a firm understanding of group dynamics and team building.
6. Ability to train staff
Training and developing staff is an important part of Human Resources which requires being ahead of industry developments and technological changes within the company. Graduates should be familiar with the business to which they are applying, and be able to display Commercial Awareness as well as the necessary interpersonal skills.
7. Organisational skills
Another key aspect of Human Resources, candidates must be able to demonstrate excellent organisational skills. Graduates can provide examples of juggling several extracurricular activities or part-time employment alongside their studies. HR involves a lot of responsibility, and employers want to know that an applicant will be able to manage the workload.
Human resources Case Studies
Your clients are the employees of the business and you need to understand what they do. We need to be aligned with the goals of the company.
The Employer - Madeline Clarke (HR Manager - Fidelity Worldwide Investment)
Name: Madeline Clarke
Job Title: HR Manager, Campus Recruitment - Fidelity Worldwide Investment
University: University of Southampton
Course: Management Sciences
What competencies do you like to see in candidates?
The main way for candidates to stand out is the motivational question. Why this company, why this industry and why the programme in HR? Candidates need to really understand this because it's the main way they're going to stand out in a sea of good applications.
In HR, communication and organisation is key. Skills like time management and project management are also very important because you'll have lots of things running at the same time. Also, a logical thought process, so when you are faced with a task, project or issue, you can see the bigger picture.
They need to have a good attention to detail because there are a lot of parts in HR roles that mean people are affected. You need to know nothing is missed because people are the end client.
Can you talk us through the application process?
It is an online application form. It covers all the things a normal CV would: education, work experience, languages and computer software they might have used. Also a motivational question, a personal achievement question and a specific question about the HR programme. We shortlist those for telephone interview, then an assessment centre. Those that get through the telephone interviews are asked to do an online numerical test. It is not a cut off, but another piece of information we can use. At the assessment centre there is a group exercise, a prepared presentation and two competency interviews. After that, it is a final round of interviews.
What is the most common mistake you see in an application, which leads to candidates being rejected?
The main error in applications is that people refer to us as an investment bank or say they want to work for a competitor. Also, it is copying and pasting a generic answer. You can spot them straight away because there is no mention of the company or the industry. HR isn't sector specific, candidates need to explain why they want to work in this sector.
What is the main piece of advice you would give a graduate starting your scheme?
Once someone has realised they want to work in HR, they need to decide what sector they want to work in. When I was starting out I didn't think about what industry I wanted to do HR in. However, I learnt quite quickly that at the end of the day, your clients are the employees of the business and you need to understand what they do and relate to their passion. We need to be aligned with the goals of the company and make sure everything is aligned from HR, through employees and to the goals. If you're not interested in your sector, you won't enjoy your job as much.
What's the main challenge graduates face when they start?
I think it is adjusting to corporate life after university and building networks. Knowing who to speak to about certain things and being able to just go and speak to them. We're here to help; no one is going to shoot you down for asking a question.
Graduates also need a lot of learning agility and to be comfortable with change. They need to be able to get up to speed and leave a bit of a legacy by making a few changes. By the time they feel comfortable they move into a different area.
Where do you see the company in two years' time?
We're a pure asset management company. Our company mission statement is all around the customer, putting the customer at the heart of everything we do, which is a real focus.
With regards to the HR graduate programme, we tend to recruit similar numbers each year. We don't like our intake numbers to get too big because we treat our graduates as individuals.
If you weren't a HR Manager, what would you be?
I don't know how to answer this one. I've always wanted to work in HR!
The Employee - Emma Payne (HR Assistant Manager - Fidelity Worldwide Investment)
Name: Emma Payne
Job Title: HR Assistant Manager - Fidelity Worldwide Investment
University: Sheffield Hallam University
Course: Business & Human Resource Management
Graduation Year: 2011
How did you find your graduate job in HR?
I found the job on one of the popular graduate recruitment sites, I then found out more information on the Fidelity recruitment website. I was quite keen on the financial services, however there were not that many HR programmes in the industry. When I came across this one I read up on the company and its culture and, I thought it sounded perfect.
I applied and it was a standard application form. I got through to a telephone interview, that was quite competency based. I talked through my CV, my work experiences and why I wanted to work at Fidelity.
Why do you think you were successful at Fidelity Worldwide Investment?
When I was at university, during the summer and Christmas breaks, I was temping in HR Assistant roles. A lot of that was admin and project based but it still got HR Assistant on my CV. When I did my placement year at General Motors, it was great because of the amount of responsibility I was given straight away. My role was to recruit all of the following year's placement students. I had to recruit 80 placement students. I went through the whole process: attraction, going out to universities and doing things like what you (the GJ Team) are doing now. I was doing all the screening, the assessment centres, then getting everyone on board and conducting the induction. I managed the whole process and that really stood out when I applied here.
What do you actually do?
The graduate programme is a two year programme, with six month rotations. I started in HR Services, which covered HR systems, HR administration, International Assignments and Payroll. I then spent six months with our Compensation and Benefits team, where I was involved with projects covering employee compensation, salary benchmarking and the benefits we offer at Fidelity.
In October, I went to Hong Kong to do my recruitment rotation. I did three months in campus recruitment, recruiting our equity research and fixed income graduates. After that it was a project role for another three months, still in Hong Kong. When I came back I did a HR Generalist role, supporting a business area. I have now rolled off the programme and I am still working at Fidelity.
What skills do you need?
Communication is number one. You're constantly communicating with the rest of the HR team and with the business. What I can do quite well is liaise with people at different levels of the business. If you are able to do that and tailor your style to your audience, it can really benefit you. In HR, it is all about building your network. There is quite a lot of opportunity in terms of supporting different areas. You have to build up your networks so that when an opportunity comes up, your name also comes up. You have to be able to handle difficult conversations. You need to be quite empathetic, really organised and avoid being too political. In HR, you're between management and employees, youre often acting as the mediator to try and get to a win-win situation.
What is the best thing about your job?
The responsibility. From day one they were always very trusting and willing to give me big projects so you can learn and grow quickly. What I love most is their willingness to throw you in the deep end and let you get on with it. I've never felt that I have been micro-managed and have always been heavily supported.
And what is the worst thing about your job?
For me, as good as the rotation programme is, I think it takes six months to learn a job anyway. After six months you're up and moving on again. That's really specific about the rotation programme, but at the end of the day it develops your experience and your knowledge.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I'd like to hope I would be in a more senior HR role and have built more confidence in handling difficult conversations and making decisions.
What advice would you give to graduates applying to Fidelity Worldwide Investment?
The opportunity to do internships in HR or financial services would be beneficial. Having an interest in finance and economics actually helps. The question I always focus on is 'Why are you applying to Fidelity?' It brings out their passion for why they want to work here because everyone has gone to a good university, got good A Levels and a good degree. It's those questions that give them a chance to shine through.
If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with Fidelity Worldwide Investment, please take a look at their minisite.