November 2016

Could a Career in HR be Right For You?

Paula Lewis accepting a gift after giving a talk about Human Resources as a Career at LSBMHuman Resources (HR) takes in many different jobs and potential career paths.

At the heart of HR is the management of people, how they interact with each other and the places where they work to ensure that change is smooth, directed and effective.

It is therefore a strategic as well as human centred pursuit.

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) defines it in these terms:

‘Strategic human resource management supports long-term business goals and outcomes with a strategic overall framework. It focuses on longer-term resourcing issues within the context of an organisation's goals and the evolving nature of work, and informs other HR strategies, such as reward or performance, determining how they are integrated into the overall business strategy.’

HR then is a big subject! It has within its remit the whole gamut of human experiences.

LSBM was grateful to Paula Lewis, (in the middle of the picture), a Corporate Induction Programmes Lead, working in the NHS, for coming along to talk at LSBM this week to share her advice and guidance with our students (and others who had chosen to come from outside the institution) about Human Resources as a potential career path.


Everything is Change

The first point that Paula made was that everything is change.

The world is packed with uncertainty in all kinds of ways. She began by considering the world in terms of six areas: Political, Environmental, Social, Technological, Legal, and Economic Change. (It is called a ‘PESTLE Analysis’)

These could include such dramatic external factors as:

  • the Zika Virus,
  • different political philosophies such as expressed in the U.S Presidential Election,
  • rapid changes in technology that makes obsolescence usual rather than unusual,
  • economic impacts forming from such events as Brexit (which may be both good or bad, depending on your circumstances),
  • and a constant flux in the legal landscape both on a macro (country and world-wide) and micro (individual and community) basis.

External factors can then affect organisations on all kinds of levels, so the role of a Human Resources professional is never  boring,  Handling the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that changes such as the above bring to a workplace or organisation is really at the heart of what a human resources professional is expected to deal with.


So, applied in a work context… What does this mean?

In the context of work, Paula felt this translated into seven benefits of a career in HR:

1/ Exciting
2/ Varied
3/ Challenging and Stimulating
4/ Rewarding
5/ Being a change agent
6/ Having many opportunities to develop
7/ Belonging to a community of professionals and gaining exposure to other people who can support you

In practice the scope of these benefits will depend on the specific job you end up doing.

This is linked quite closely to the size of an organisation and also the role it needs you to play.

In a large company often the HR roles will become increasingly more specialist. While in smaller organisation’s you may be expected to wear more hats.

One of the key decisions you will need to make as you pursue a career in HR, is the kind of roles that you will accept. It may be that in a massive company like Tesco, for example, there is a person in HR whose main job is just to order stationery! While in a company with 50 people, that might be a 30-minute job once a month.

Bigger isn’t always better. But by the same token, being in charge of ordering 50,000 paperclips each month may well be a blast!
So you need to assess your own working style and competencies and weigh up the pros and cons of every opportunity before accepting a job.


The Hats You Might Wear…

As an HR professional you might wear many different hats.


The key ones being:

1/ Recruitment and Selection

Planning out the long-term staffing needs of the organisation and then creating a strategy and a plan to find, recruit and select them.

This could involve dealing with external stakeholders (think of websites like LinkedIn, job recruitment sites like Monster, or external agencies). It may involve networking, advertising in newspapers, word of mouth connections, social media, online advertising or meeting talented people at industry events.

It is also necessary to make sure that the organisation has consistent branding throughout the process. It is no good marketing yourself as a ‘green’ company, and then having no re-cycling facilities for example.

Websites like Glassdoor, now make it easier than ever for current employees to anonymously review your company. And along with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and video platforms like YouTube, it is now easier than ever for prospective employees to pass judgement on your organisation before they have even set foot in the door!

Also, this process shouldn’t stop once a candidate has been selected and starts working.

The needs of the business/organisation and the individual will change over time. So a good HR professional needs to make sure that corporate strategy and individual aspiration remains in alignment.

2/ Resourcing

Working with management to attract the right calibre of staff for a particular role is not independent of the way the whole organisation is performing.

It may be that real-world finances and personalities play a key role in organisational resourcing decisions.

So, strategically, you may need to decide on a strategy based on where a business is in its lifecycle, or the strengths and weaknesses of other staff, or how much money is available to hire them.

In his pomp it might have been nice to hire Steve Jobs to run your business... Unfortunately, that particular 'resource' wasn't available!

So you need to temper aspirations with reality where necessary.

3/ Staying up-to-date with employment law

An organisation is NOT an island.

HR needs to be abreast of the latest information about employment and safety law, diversity and inclusion and much more. This is both currently and what may be coming in the future, so that effective planning can be undertaken.

For example, the Equality Act of 2010 set down the following nine ‘protected characteristics’:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

You will need to understand how these are applied and be able to implement the spirit and the letter of the law.

4/ Employee Relations

Within this category will come such subjects as organisational culture, managing conflict, stakeholder management, dealing with external worker’s rights bodies (such as Trade Unions), and making sure that everything is in compliance to the relevant internal and external rules.

Managing employee relations is an extremely dynamic area within HR, because a small change in one area can have a dramatic change on another. Employee relations needs to be continually monitored to make sure that the ship is sailing along smoothly and isn’t either IN stormy seas or about to enter them!

It is also important to bear in mind the difference between 'internal' and 'external' rules.

Often the cultural norms within an organisation can be as (or more) important to its functioning then the written or external rules.

When you join a new company it is worth paying close attention to the 'unwritten' rules of how business is carried out, every bit as much as the written ones. As these will often inform more areas of the enterprise. In this regard experience, social intelligence and being in-tune with the organisation is every bit as important as more formal training. 

5/ Managing the Rewards and Benefits in an organisation

Rewards and benefits is an interesting part of human resources, because it is not a one-size-fits-all category.

You may feel like salary, for example, is the biggest factor in why you choose or stay-at a job. And most times it may well be a critical factor. But you need to be aware that motivating people is often more complex than simply offering to pay them more money.

One recent 'real-world' example of this was the firm Gravity Payments in Seattle. Their CEO Dan Price, raised the minimum salary of all his staff to $70,000, because he had read that this was the level of salary at which people stopped worrying about money.

At first everyone was very enthusiastic (as you might expect!) But soon the firm started losing key members of staff, because some A-Players no longer felt sufficiently appreciated or differentiated from others, and because many felt like the link between performance and reward was no longer in effect. 

"He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump," one staff member, Maisy McMaster, who left the firm, commented.


"The New York Times reports that two of the company's "most valued" members have left the company, "spurred in part by their view that it was unfair to double the pay of some new hires while the longest-serving staff members got small or no raises."

So the net effect was that several key staff members left because they no longer felt appreciated.

You can read about it here.

So rewards and benefits need to be linked to performance within the company if they are to be successful as a motivator of action.

(Then again, who doesn't like a pay rise?! So, getting this right is an area you will need to work on.)


6/ Training and Development

Another key area is Training and Development. Many firms pay lip service to this. They allocate out small amounts of time and money for training and development and leave it at that.

But firms which really believe in this recognise that one-size doesn’t fit all with the training and development of staff. The cost and time requirements of courses and training will vary, and many times the best investment a firm can make is not in new equipment, plant, machinery or premises, it is in making sure that their own staff feel supported by offering them many and varied opportunities to grow and develop.

Firms that don’t do this run the risk of losing their staff to other organisations who take a more proactive approach to developing their staff.

'A-Players' want to keep learning and growing and firms ignore that at their peril.

It is part of the job of an HR professional to recognise both when training is appropriate and encourage staff to pursue it, but also to support them when they take the initiative and propose their own training and development solutions.

There is a great blog post here, that links off to ‘6 TED Talks Every Learning Development Professional Should Watch’ that highlights some good practices in this area.


7/ Talent Management

All successful businesses and organisations really boil down to talented people doing great things.

Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft said this in 1992.

“Take our 20 best people away and I tell you that Microsoft would become an unimportant company.”

When he said that in 1992 the Microsoft share price stood at around $2 a share. It is currently trading at around $60.

Managing talent is important.

It isn’t always easy.

Talented people have choices. They also aren’t always easy to work with. They have high-standards so generally they see better ways of doing things, and change is not always welcomed with open arms by others.

But managing them is among the most important tasks that an HR professional can do, because ultimately they are the difference between success or failure in any endeavour.



Developing a Career in HR

HR then is potentially an exciting career!

It encompasses a range of areas of focus, any one of which could provide a fruitful career.

The next step is to take action.

Here are eight suggestions for moving from the ‘idea’ of an HR career, to the ‘reality’ of an HR career!

1/ Work on your CV – Polish it up. You are competing with everyone else, so think through what you are saying, and make sure that you can justify the statements you make. Don’t be shy about painting yourself and your experience in the best possible light, but frame it in reality!

2/ Do your research – Every firm or place of work is different. You need to make sure that you have done proper research before you apply for any jobs. This could include Googling them, looking at their websites, social media profiles, or chatting to current employees. If you are clearly well-informed about a company when you interview with them, then this will impress upon them that you seriously want the job.

Can you look into secondments? Or volunteering? Or internships?

3/ Ask for testimonials – Sites like LinkedIn allow you to gather testimonials from other industry professionals to confirm you have certain skills. You can also gather them manually. These will help to impress upon others what your skillset really is.

Can you get coaching? Or find a mentor? Or attend conferences or other events?

4/ Talk up your successes (within reason of course!) – Don’t be shy about your achievements. The people competing with you for the same jobs won’t be. But don’t be outlandish! You may be asked to explain certain claims you make, so be sure that you can back them up with facts and evidence.

Have you been involved in any projects that produced tangible results? Or that actively involved you working with other people?

5/ Be visible at work – Keep your eyes open for opportunity. Interact with others. Even if your current job isn’t where you would really like to be there are often opportunities that present themselves because people know you and already respect your work practices.

Can you network more actively? Or take on a secondment in a different area (if you are currently working)? Can you shadow someone else and see what they do?

6/ Pay it forward – Be open to helping others. Often the best opportunities come after you have done someone a favour and they choose to reciprocate. If they do, then great. If not, you have helped someone anyway, so it is a win-win situation!

Do you ever offer to help people without prompting? Could you?

7/ Identify your areas for development – None of us are the finished article. Where can YOU improve yourself? Is there a course you can take, an event you can attend or someone that you could meet who would help you to develop?
Learning shouldn’t stop when you leave LSBM, or wherever your next job is.

LIFE is about learning!

8/ Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – Once you have identified those areas then make sure that you take action! It isn’t enough to know that you need to talk to someone. You actually have to do it. So make sure that CPD is a continual part of your work experience, so you continue growing.



Human Resources is a potentially exciting career and we’d like to once more thank Paula for coming in to LSBM to have a chat with our students about it.

You can take a look at the CIPD website for more industry information and news about training, events and networking opportunities.

If you feel inspired to be an HR Professional, then today is a great day to start!


Stuart Brown
Media and Content Manager


Pictured: (From left to right)
Umair Farooq, (LSBM Senior Lecturer, Operations and Project Management)
Amir Ibrahim, (LSBM Student)
Paula Lewis, Corporate Induction Programmes Lead, NHS
Vladimir Straticiuc, (LSBM Student, seen giving Paula the gold wrapped parcel as a gift from LSBM!)
Usha Mistry - (LSBM, Head of Programme Development)

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