How Do I Get My First Job in HR or L&D?

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A career in HR or L&D can be an incredibly fulfilling career path, as it’s a great fit for individuals who want to help employees and organisations thrive. However, being that these career paths are highly sought after due to generous wages and varied roles available, it’s important  to be well prepared before applying for your first role in the people's professions.

In this blog, we explore how you can get your first job in HR or L&D and the steps you could follow to increase your hiring potential. 

1. Write a good CV

When applying for HR jobs - or any job for that matter - your CV serves as the first impression you make on employers, and making a strong first impression is crucial for advancing in the recruitment process. 

According to StandOut CV, recruiters spend an average of 6 to 8 seconds looking at a CV, which means your CV needs to catch their eye as soon as they look at it. 

That said, rather than using a generic CV for all HR or L&D applications, tailor your CV to match each specific job opening you apply for. This approach enhances your chances of being selected by demonstrating your suitability for each role and adapting your CV accordingly. While this may sound like a lengthy process, it doesn't have to be; make quick, focused edits. 

Review the job description, align your skills, and adjust your work history to emphasise relevant roles. Keep it concise, removing redundancies. Work smarter, not harder. 

2. Identify your transferable skills 

Identifying your transferable skills is essential when applying for jobs, especially your first job in a new field, as it helps you recognise your strengths and weaknesses, assessing the roles you’d be most suited to. 

Whether the skills are transferable from other roles you’ve previously had, or skills you have naturally developed, remember to only include those that are applicable to the role you’re applying for. However, don’t just reference these skills in your CV. If you’re qualified enough to move on to the next stage of the recruitment phase, speak to your transferable skills during your interview too and explain how they’ll help you excel in the role. 

To add, your skills suggest to employers that you have potential they can build on, although you may not have any demonstrable experience. According to TestGorilla’s ‘The State of Skills-based Hiring 2022’ report, 92.5% of companies that employ skills-based hiring have seen a reduction in mis-hires, while 91.2% have noticed an increase in employee retention. 

Undoubtedly, having a strong set of transferable skills is invaluable to any employer, allowing them to train new recruits with potential effectively, while reducing turnover and high re-training costs in an attempt to build up those skills. 

  • Problem-solving: It’s very likely that HR and L&D managers will encounter many challenges over the course of their career, so it’s important that they remain level-headed, with a solution-focused approach to resolve disputes fairly.
  • Decision-making: This is an essential skill, especially when hiring, as employers tend to trust people professionals’ judgement and ability to hire the right candidate, so it’s especially important that they’re decisive and confident with that decision. 
  • Proactivity: With HR professionals being the point of contact between employer and employees, a useful skill is to be proactive in spotting potential issues and addressing them to prevent them from escalating.
  • Organisation: From ensuring the correct filing and management of documents, such as employee contracts and sensitive data, to organising their own schedules with endless meetings and setting up employee training and development events, it’s imperative that HR and L&D professionals are organised to ensure they remain productive even when they’re extremely busy. 
  • Communication: HR is a people-focused profession so having good communication skills is vital in fostering employee relationships, helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about anything that may concern them, while the job also demands interactions with department managers, directors and new hires.

3. Gain HR or L&D experience 

Getting your first job in HR or L&D means you likely don’t have much or any experience with working in the people profession, sometimes making it hard to land a job in this competitive landscape. However, gaining some industry experience shows great initiative and your dedication in the field, while also helping you gain knowledge and experiences that can give you a leg up in your next interview. 

We know, however, that gaining relevant industry experience can be hard when you’re already working full-time employment, so perhaps consider volunteering to help your current company’s HR or L&D department with a few of their tasks in order to get some exposure to their work. Ask your HR department, for example, if you can get involved in any of the projects going on or even shadow some of your HR colleagues. This could provide you with great insight into the HR profession, while suggesting to future employers your willingness and appetite to learn. 

You can also research volunteer or internship opportunities online if it’s something you’re interested in doing outwith your current role and company. The CIPD website, as the leading body for the training of HR and L&D professionals, offers plenty of opportunities for aspiring HR managers to get involved and gain practical experience, along with their mentoring scheme and CIPD Trust. 

4. Network with other people professionals 

Considering that HR and L&D are both heavily people-focused professions, networking and building up your contacts with peers and like-minded professionals can be an invaluable way to grow your hiring potential and progress in your career. 

Living in a digital era, networking has become easier than ever before, as you can connect with people online or through professional networking sites. Platforms like LinkedIn are an excellent way to connect with your professional network, while it also allows you to customise your profile, helping you demonstrate your professional abilities to potential employers. Keep in mind it’s important that you keep your profile active, up-to-date, and ‘open to work’ when looking for a new job.

Moreover, professional networking platforms provide an excellent avenue to engage with fellow HR and L&D professionals. Upon securing CIPD membership, you'll gain access to the CIPD Community, an online forum where members can connect with peers to exchange knowledge, expertise, and mutual learning opportunities.

And finally, attending virtual or in-person networking events is also a great opportunity to meet new people, helping you learn from expert speakers and gain insight from others in the industry. 

5. Continue your professional development

Gaining industry recognised qualifications will undoubtedly increase your employment potential, while they also suggests to employers that you have the knowledge and skills to thrive in an HR or L&D role. However the more traditional way of gaining an education continues to be through college or university.

According to CIPD’s ‘Employer Views on Skills Policy in the UK’ 2022 report, 3 in 5 (57%) of employers continue to look for undergraduate or postgraduate university degrees when recruiting staff. It also revealed that a third of the employers that participated in the survey agree that  university candidates are either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ poorly prepared for the workplace. 

Will a CIPD qualification help me get a job in HR? 

Globally recognised, with over 150,000 members worldwide, CIPD qualifications are considered to accurately demonstrate the skills and knowledge HR professionals need in their career. That’s why it’s the favoured qualification of the industry by numerous employers. 

They’re a popular choice among industry newcomers, as well as seasoned professionals looking to move to the next stage of their career. There’s a CIPD course level for every stage of the HR or L&D career:

  • CIPD Level 3: A-level equivalent that targets beginners.
  • CIPD Level 5: Undergraduate equivalent preparing your for HR management roles.
  • CIPD Level 7: Postgraduate equivalent providing you with skills needed for senior strategic HR roles. 

Also, the CIPD has much more reputational clout amongst employers than many higher education institutions, as it focuses on preparing individuals for the workplace, unlike university candidates referred to through the CIPD report mentioned above. 

Will an HR degree help me get a job in HR? 

If you don’t have a CIPD qualification, gaining an undergraduate degree in HR or related subjects such as business management, finance, economics or psychology, is often the minimum equivalent to getting into your first HR job. 

Many universities don’t give you the option of studying part-time, unlike CIPD, which you can study at your own pace, and that often doesn’t fit with many learners’ lifestyle. But, with universities you have the option of specialising in a niche you’re most interested in such as labour law, while CIPD focuses more at your hands-on, practical skills and knowledge.

However, not all university degrees are created equal as there’s no standardised curriculum set, so they could vary dramatically between one another. This means that if you choose the wrong university you could later find that you have a skills gap that may be required by your future employers. 

While most postgraduate university courses are accredited by the CIPD, if you don’t choose to take a Master’s Degree, it’s likely that you’ll be required to gain a CIPD qualification at some point in your career.


In summary, HR and L&D offer a rewarding career accessible from diverse backgrounds, with abundant resources to develop the needed skills. Regardless of your background, following these steps can lead you to your first job in HR or L&D. So, refine your CV, recognise your skills, expand your network, and best of luck!


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