Create Your Goal: What HR Job is Right for Me?

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Human Resources, or the ‘People Profession’ as it’s often called, is a huge field, with a diverse range of careers open to people who are willing to put in the hard work.

If you’ve decided that a career in HR is something that’s suited to you, the next step in the process of building your career is to plan your climb up the career ladder.

In this chapter, we’ll explore why creating a career plan is a good idea, look at some of the possible careers available to you on your journey (with their salaries) and explore the difference between two types of HR career approaches: generalists and specialists.

Climbing the career ladder in HR

Human Resources has the potential for plenty of career growth when you compare it to other job areas. With clear boundaries between seniority levels and a defined route for the progression of roles, the HR career ladder can seem easier to understand than the advancement route in other fields.

When you’re building your career, there’s nothing technically stopping you from jumping straight in and just leaving your career progression up to chance. You could just apply for any old HR job and not think much about the progression after it. Ultimately, you could leave it to fate to decide where, if anywhere, you end up.

Whilst it might be easy to do this in the short-term, that approach can be counter-intuitive in the long-run. Your career is a crucial part of your life. In fact, it’s the thing that you’re going to be spending most of your week doing until you retire.

By taking the time to examine the options ahead of you now, before you get your first HR role, you can assess your options and chart a path to your dream role. Crucially, by setting an overall career goal – the ‘dream’ role that everything in your career is building towards – you’ll be able to map out the process and plan how you’re going to get there.

A woman typing on a computer

HR Generalists vs. HR Specialists

As you can see, there’s an awful lot there for HR professionals to sink  their teeth into. As a result of HR being such a wide-ranging profession, the field has a variety of roles. These are generally divided into two types:

  • HR Generalists: A type of role that covers most aspects of HR in an organisation
  • HR Specialists: Roles that focus on one particular area of HR, or one particular

HR Generalists are the ‘all-rounders’ of the Human Resources field. Their broad skill set means that they can perform most tasks that need to be carried out in the Human Resources department. One of the most in-demand types of HR roles, HR Generalists are widely sought after by employers, meaning that positions are abundant and well-paid. According to the CIPD, the leading professional body for HR and people development, the main aim of HR Generalists is to create and deliver people strategies that help organisations meet their goals.’

In contrast, HR Specialists focus their skills on one specific area of HR. They are considered experts in their specific field, whether it’s a topic like diversity, equality and inclusion, or employment law. Specialists help organisations respond to specific issues that require a degree of detailed knowledge to tackle. Whilst opportunities in specific HR fields are often harder to come by, they can be particularly fulfilling and rewarding – salaries are often particularly attractive and benefits can be impressive. Being a specialist in a particular field can give you a real sense of fulfillment and accomplishment too. Specialising early on in your career can be riskier in the short-term, but in the long-term can potentially open up more opportunities for you.

HR Generalist Roles

In the following sections, we’ve drawn the salary data from a fantastic resource, the annual Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends Guide. Hays is one of the world’s leading specialist recruitment consultants and helps employers find the right employees, and employees find the right employers across the globe.

Every year, Hays create their annual trends guide, which explores data that has been gathered during the previous year, from Hays offices around the UK. The guide provides one of the best overviews of the types of HR roles that are currently being recruited for on the market, and their respective salaries across different regions and countries in the UK.

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Junior HR jobs

We can often hold a type of unconscious snobbishness about entry-level roles. They’re usually simpler, not as well-paid and, well, more tedious than the exciting jobs higher up the career ladder that we aim our sights on.

But just because they’re starting more or less at square one doesn’t mean that junior HR jobs are inferior to more senior roles. In fact, when it comes to what they can teach you about Human Resources and how the department works in an organisation, working in a junior HR role is often one of the best ways that you can gather the crucial experience and on the job knowledge that you’ll need to build a sustainable, long-term career in the field.

HR Administrator

Average UK salary: £22,625

Typical responsibilities

  • Responding to correspondence and queries
  • Keeping employee records up to date
  • Managing employee databases
  • Assisting in recruitment, retention and disciplinary and grievance document preparation
  • Supporting the implementation of policies
  • Taking meeting minutes

A key, entry-level position for many people starting their HR career from scratch, HR Administrators complete the essential, behind-the-scenes work that keeps the overall department functioning. It’s not always glamorous, and it’s not always fun, but it is crucial to the healthy functioning of the overall department. Without the efforts of the humble HR Administrator, people management in an organisation would be next to impossible.

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss the influence of an entry-level role, without HR Administrators the whole function of people management in an organisation would get incredibly difficult, incredibly fast.

HR Assistant

Average UK salary: £22,625

Typical responsibilities

  • Helping intermediate and senior members of the HR department with their tasks
  • Assisting with recruitment and retention processes
  • Assisting with disciplinary and grievance processes
  • Responding to correspondence and queries
  • Keeping employee records up to date
  • Managing employee databases
  • Assisting document preparation
  • Supporting the implementation of policies
  • Taking meeting minutes

There’s often significant overlap between the roles of a HR Assistant and a HR Administrator.

Whereas the majority of duties of a HR Administrator are tied up solely with managing the admin that comes with human resources, HR Assistants are generally called upon to perform a broader range of tasks.

They’ll usually help the HR Officer and HR Advisors carry out wider projects that they need help with related to HR, like recruitment for example. That’s not to say that HR Assistants won’t escape from admin management – it’s a key part of their role – but just that the role itself is slightly broader.

The entry barriers for junior HR roles are significantly lower than other more advanced roles in the field. Generally, you’ll need to demonstrate an interest in human resources and hold a CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in People Practice or be willing to work towards one. Some employers may require some type of prior experience of working in HR, but most won’t. Sometimes, you may be able to find apprenticeships centered on human resources, allowing you to work and earn whilst you learn.

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Intermediate HR jobs

When we think of intermediate (or mid-level) career level jobs in an industry, you’re likely to think of management positions or job roles where you have line management responsibility over other employees.

Human Resources is slightly different though in that many of the main intermediate level roles are not strictly management roles in the sense that they have line management responsibility. It’s better to think of them more as intermediate professional roles. 

Usually intermediate jobs in HR will require a combination of relevant HR qualifications and prior job experience in a HR role (like a HR Administrator or HR Assistant). Most employers will generally be looking for at least 2 years of prior HR work experience and a qualification like a CIPD Level 5 Associate Diploma in People Management

HR Officer

Average UK salary: £28,791

Typical responsibilities:

  • Implementing HR strategy across the entire organisation
  • Assisting the HR Manager and Head/Director of HR in devising strategy
  • Managing the recruitment and onboarding process
  • Managing the exit and redundancy process
  • Managing employee training
  • Managing the performance review process
  • Managing disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • Working with junior employees to manage HR databases
  • Providing HR advice to other departments and the wider organisation

Along with the HR Advisor, the HR Officer role is one of the key parts of a HR department. They are responsible for performing and managing some of the most integral processes of the HR department. Think duties like recruiting new staff and managing the development of existing employees through to helping devising strategy and providing advice to other departments on HR matters. The HR Officer role is incredibly broad and calls for a wide range of skills in a lot of different areas. You’ll be able to develop many of the skills that you’ll need for a role like this in junior positions. In fact, many people use junior HR roles as a stepping stone to positions like the HR Officer. It can be a challenging but very rewarding job where no two days are genuinely the same.

HR Advisor

Average UK salary: £36,083

Typical responsibilities:

  • Providing specialist advice about HR policies and processes to other departments
  • Assisting the HR Manager and Head/Director of HR to devise strategy
  • Providing insight and advice during the recruitment and onboarding process
  • Providing insight and advice during disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • Providing insight and advice during performance review processes
  • Analysing the performance of particular policies and procedures and developing plans to improve them
  • Helping manage day-to-day HR processes where required

You can see that whilst the HR Advisor role is very similar to the HR Officer, it differs in a number of distinct ways. Crucially, the HR Advisor is expected to provide more guidance and input to strategy than typically expected from a HR Officer. As a result, HR Advisors will need to have exceptional interpersonal skills, being comfortable interacting with – and influencing – people from across a range of backgrounds. They’ll often be providing advice and support to managers and employees from different departments in an organisation. HR Advisors will work closely with the HR Manager and Head of/Director of HR to advance the HR strategy in an organisation. Sometimes, they may be called upon to provide advice and guidance to senior members of staff too.

HR Manager

Average UK salary: £53,083

Typical responsibilities:

  • Line-managing members of the HR Department
  • Working closely with the Head/Director of HR to develop and implement HR strategy
  • Providing dedicated support and guidance to senior management and departmental managers regarding HR
  • Ensuring that all legal and statutory processes are correctly followed
  • Overseeing recruitment, retention and employee development processes
  • Overseeing disciplinary and grievance proceedings
  • Reporting HR performance to Head/Director of HR and senior management

The HR Manager role is probably the most advanced intermediate HR position available. This type of job differs from the HR Officer and HR Advisor, in that it takes a much more strategic approach to the management of HR in an organisation. That said, the role still does call for a range of practical HR skills though. Directly responsible for line managing HR employees, the HR Manager will be called upon to provide their expertise and advice to senior management and other line managers in the organisation. They’ll usually be responsible for compiling reports on the performance of particular areas of HR in a business, like employee satisfaction or absence rates, for example. They’ll also be expected to ensure that the organisation complies with legal requirements in terms of employment legislation and they’ll ultimately oversee all of the main HR processes on behalf of the Head/Director of HR.

A smiling woman

Senior HR jobs

The most senior roles in the generalist Human Resources world can be some of the most challenging but, ultimately, the most rewarding. They are also naturally  the most well-paid roles in the field, with some senior positions boasting incredibly competitive salaries and great benefits.

Senior positions function as the figurehead of HR in an organisation. They represent the department to the wider business and organisation, taking ultimate responsibility for how HR strategy is devised, developed and implemented.  

Roles like this, at the very top of the dizzying heights of the HR career ladder, are mainly focused on strategy and theory: namely, how these things can be used to improve the people management function in an organisation. As a result, they’ll take an active role in directing the strategy of people management, focusing on the development of policies and practices to improve how it works. They’ll need to be able to analyse and interpret data, represent the department to the wider company, be comfortable dealing with challenging situations and speaking up to other senior members of staff and board members, and ultimately, be incredibly resilient.

Senior HR jobs will require significant levels of work experience and advanced qualifications. For example, most professionals working in senior HR positions will usually have decades of work experience and a qualification equivalent to a degree-level course, like a CIPD Level 7 Advanced Diploma in Strategic People Management. They’ll often be established thought-leaders in their fields and be widely respected in the wider Human Resources world.

Head of HR

Average UK salary: £72,750

Typical responsibilities:

  • Leading the HR department and people management at an organisation
  • Representing the HR department
  • Advising senior management and the Board
  • Line Managing HR Managers
  • Devising the people management strategy and helping managers to implement it
  • Overseeing the performance of all HR functions.

The Head of HR is one of the most senior positions you’ll be able to reach in HR. They are directly responsible for the strategic direction of human resources and people management in an organisation. This means that they’re the person who has final say on the types of policies and procedures that make up the overall human resources strategy a company follows.

One of the most ‘visible’ members of the Human Resources department, this role will ultimately represent the department and will work closely with senior management, senior executives and the board of directors to devise and implement policy. Whilst the two roles are incredibly similar, the Head of HR can differ from the Director of HR role in some organisations. In some organisations, the Head of HR provides on the ground support to members of the Human Resources department when it’s required whilst also taking a strategic role. It’s a good position to aim for if you enjoy the buzz from practical work but love the challenge of more theoretical work at the same time.

Director of HR

Average UK salary: £91,333

Typical responsibilities:

  • Leading the HR department
  • Representing the HR department to senior management and the Board
  • Managing and building relationships with stakeholders
  • Devising the people management strategy used by an organisation
  • Advising on strategic and specialist areas of HR
  • Analysing the performance of HR and creating a strategy to improve it
  • Reporting on performance and compliance
  • Line managing HR Managers
  • Overseeing the performance of all HR functions

It obviously differs from organisation to organisation, but generally the Director of HR plays a more strategic role in the design and implementation of HR at a company. They’ll come up with the strategy that the organisation ultimately implements, managing how it’s implemented and reporting performance back to senior management.

Ultimately, the Director of HR is the bridge between HR and the senior decision makers at an organisation – namely other senior managers, the CEO and the Board of Directors. As a result, a large part of their job is devoted to building relationships with senior management and the board of directors, relaying crucial information and advice about people management in the organisation. This calls for exceptional interpersonal skills, confidence and resilience too. It’s a great role for people who love people – those who thrive on conversation, collaboration and networking.

A woman shaking hands with a man in a suit

HR Specialist Roles

Above, we’ve detailed many of the generalist HR roles that you’ll be able to find in the field. That’s not the only type of HR role that exists though. Like other fields, Human Resources has its share of areas that can be specialised in.

Examples of HR specialist areas:

  • Employment law
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Company culture
  • Benefits
  • Wellbeing
  • People Analytics
  • Talent Management

Junior HR Specialist Roles

Junior specialist roles in human resources can be quite rare and surprisingly hard to find. This reflects the fact that most specialists start off in their careers as generalists. That can seem slightly counter-intuitive at first. Why, if you want to be an expert in something, can you not specialise in it from the start of your career?

The answer is tied up in the complexity of Human Resources and people management. Many of the different areas that HR covers are intrinsically bound up with one another, with each affecting the other in particular ways. For example, company culture can affect wellbeing, recruitment and talent management. There’s a complex relationship between each specialism and to be truly expert in one field, you need to know how other fields affect it.

Working or training as an HR Generalist will help you to build this knowledge. Usually, most employers will expect you to have some generalist experience of HR before you become a specialist. This ultimately proves that whilst you’re an expert in one area of HR, you also have a good understanding of the other aspects of the field, informing your approach to your own specialism.

Intermediate and Senior HR Specialist Roles

As we covered above, the intermediate career level – where you have a few years of work and study under your belt – is generally where HR professionals start to specialise in a specific area. The senior career level is where these roles are further expanded and developed: typically with more strategic focus and responsibility.

Here are a few examples of HR specialist roles that you could potentially specialise in when you get some more work experience behind you:

  • Employee Relations Manager
  • Senior Employee Relations Manager
  • Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Officer
  • Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Advisor
  • Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Manager
  • Change Management Advisor
  • Rewards Advisor
  • Head of Employee Relations
  • Head of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Creating your career goal

One of the most effective ways to set a career goal is to try and visualise where you see yourself at various points during your career development. Usually, this takes the form of asking yourself some hypothetical questions and seeing what answers present themselves.

We’ve explored a basic overview of the most common HR roles that are available on the market throughout this chapter, so have a look at these roles and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. In what role do I see myself in a year?
  2. In what role do I see myself in 5 years
  3. In what role do I see myself in 10 years
  4. In what role do I see myself in 20 years (or just before I retire)?

With the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to start creating your career goals (don’t worry, we’ll explore more about creating workable goals in the following chapters).

If you’re struggling to come up with answers to these questions, work backwards! Start at question 4 and trace the progression route down the ladder (rather than up). Your answer to question number 4 is probably the most important thing to think about at this stage because it directly informs the actions that you’re going to take right now and in the foreseeable future.

Conclusion: Target

Researching the broad range of roles that are available in Human Resources is essential when it comes to developing a career plan. After reading this article, you should have a clearer idea of what types of HR roles are available and how you can progress up the career ladder. Even if some of these positions don’t seem relevant to you at the moment, you never know when they might become applicable further on in your career.

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