A career in HR and L&D is about helping to create successful businesses through people. From media to engineering and from charities to banks, almost every company will need the expertise of an HR professional.

HR and L&D professionals play a vital role in both business performance and people's careers - it's about making sure the right people are in the right jobs. Attracting people is an important first step, but that’s just the beginning. How do you then get your people to stay with you and perform to the best of their abilities, day in, day out? Are you giving them the skills, training and development to build long-term careers? How do you get them working together to drive business success? Or protect their rights and make sure they are fairly rewarded and treated at work?

This is the important role that HR and L&D experts play at work.

Five reasons why this is the profession for you​

1. Work anywhere!

HR (or human resources) opens doors to jobs in every sector – the world is your oyster. You can build your career internationally or at home. From media to engineering and from banks to charities, pretty much every industry and company will need to hire the expertise of an HR professional.

‘My career in HR so far has meant I’ve worked around the world, for brands I love, on projects that matter, and with people I admire. What’s not to like? HR gives you a passport to get right across any organisation, and to move between industries and sectors.’Tim Pointer, Head of HR, Pentland Brands

2. Keep progressing

A career in HR offers long-term options and a huge variety of roles. You could be involved in recruiting or training staff one day, or helping your company decide how staff should be rewarded the next. There are even roles which focus on employment law, protecting the rights of employees at work.

You can start off your career as an HR administrator but progress all the way to the top of the business as an HR director, helping to drive the direction of the business. Some HR specialists go on to be business owners and set up their own HR and training companies.

3. Never a dull day

You’ll never find you’re doing the same thing from one day to the next. As managing people at work can be complicated at times, you will be kept on your toes with lots of different challenges to overcome.

‘The best thing about my job is working in a fast-paced environment, there’s always lots going on, every day is different.’Luke Smith, HR Assistant, Robert Dyas

4. Help people and help business

HR plays a vital role in both business performance and people’s careers. HR is about making sure the right people are in the right jobs. Attracting people is an important first step, but that’s just the beginning. How do you then get your people to stay with you and perform to the best of their abilities, day in, day out? Are you giving them the skills, training and development to build long-term careers? How do you get them working together to drive business success? Or protect their rights and make sure they are fairly rewarded and treated at work? This is the important role that HR experts play at work.

5. Great earning potential

Not only are there a lot of HR roles to apply for, but you will also have the chance to earn a good salary over time. If you’re just starting out in HR from school or college, you’ll probably earn around £15,000–£18,000 a year. As you gain qualifications and experience, your salary can go up significantly. The average pay for an HR manager is £46,000, and when you progress to the top, you could be earning over £80,000 as an HR director!

Every organisation is unique and the size and scope of the HR and L&D function will adapt accordingly. HR departments often embody and project the values of their organisations so when thinking about your first (or next) role you should look first for organisations whose values you share.

The HR and L&D profession offers a wide variety of career options - but which role is right for you? Here’s an introduction to some of the different jobs and specialisms available.

HR Generalist​

Variety is the watchword here. One day you’re working with management on attracting and developing talent to deliver the business strategy. The next you’re engaging with an employee focus group teasing out bugbears and motivational triggers. You’ll need to be comfortable partnering with managers in the business and be ready to support (and challenge) them as they lead their teams. They’ll be looking to you for insights that can help drive lasting performance improvements.

‘As HR Business Partner, I act as the face of HR out into the business, and the voice of the business back into HR. It really is about managing two dynamic, intertwined relationships. No two days are the same. You have to build good relationships, trusting in the specialists’ expert knowledge whilst often thinking the business’ next thoughts before they’ve even thought them. The variety, the breadth, and the feeling of being trusted as an advisor to the business make for a thoroughly enjoyable role!’
Charlotte Fordham. HR Business Partner, HSBC

Recruitment and talent planning

As a recruitment and talent planning professional, your role is to help fulfil the short and long-term requirements of your organisation’s strategy in a dynamic labour market.

You may have to plan for changing demographics, the supply and demand for labour, staff turnover and scarce skills. You may be responsible for identifying and attracting the key people who create competitive advantage for the organisation. You might be actively recruiting them; alternatively, you might be developing networks that make it easier to attract talented individuals cost-effectively over the longer term. You could also play an important role in identifying talent across the organisation and integrating that with succession planning and performance management.

Learning and development

When an organisation gets the best out of its people and combines their skills and capabilities, it boosts its performance. What’s more, it helps those individuals discover their own strengths and potential. It adds up to a rewarding role for learning and talent development professionals.

As a learning and development (L&D) specialist, your role will be to help organisation execute their business strategy by aligning learning, training and development if its people with business priorities. L&D roles will depend on the type and size organisation but could include activities as varied delivering firearms training for police officers or development programmes for fund managers. You might support coaching and mentoring programmes for your line managers of develop training strategy for the whole business. You’ll need to be able to think on your feet and you’ll benefit from having strong analytical skills.

Hear about Anton Nisbeth's experience as an L&D Programme Officer

Employee relations

Employee relations (ER) professionals maintain and develop effective working relationships across the organisation. They support managers by motivating and engaging the workforce. Employees perform better when they understand the goals of the organisation and they’ll be more motivated to deliver if there’s an opportunity to feed their views upwards.

As an ER professional you’re contributing to building a culture of trust, a pre-requisite for any healthy organisation. You’ll need to speak the language of the business and understand how people management can drive performance. Strong values are also important. You may be involved in managing the organisation’s relationship with its trade unions and workplace conflict. Whether you’re dealing with individuals or their representatives a genuine commitment to diversity, fairness and equal opportunity will facilitate dialogue.

Performance and reward

The reward function plays a critical role. Any organisation that wants to create and sustain a high-performance culture has to ensure that its people’s skills, behaviours, values, attitudes and contribution are rewarded and recognised.

Performance and reward professionals help set salary levels and allowances and manage pay relativities. You may be creating incentive and recognition schemes or evaluating benefits.

You need to be numerate and aware of the legal and regulatory landscape. It helps too if you’re a good communicator. You’ll be liaising with colleagues to create joined-up strategy. You could be asked to explain your organisation’s approach to rewards. And with issues like bonuses and pensions on your agenda, you may be engaging with top management.

Hear about Rajinder Athwal’ s role as a reward analyst

Employee engagement

Employee engagement is a distinct discipline in larger organisations. It touches on related areas like employer branding and internal communication. It also connects with employee relations. It’s about building connections between employees and their organisation. How do you get them to feel a sense of loyalty and pride in their work, to go the extra mile, to become ambassadors for the business?

You’ll need strong analytical skills, because before you can change attitudes they have to be quantified. You may be asked to develop surveys, run workshops and focus groups to gauge the mood of employees. You’ll need to be able to make connections and share insights with management colleagues. A business can only be successful on a sustainable basis if its people understand and buy into its objectives. Your analysis and advice will be vital here.

‘You have to understand the drivers of employee engagement – what is the unique DNA that sets you apart? It’s easy to dismiss the management information that can give you real and unique insight. Whilst you don’t want analysis paralysis, you do want deep and meaningful insight and you use this to create a compelling vision for your employees.’
Gill Hill, Senior Manager, Leadership and Development, Nationwide

Organisation development

Organisations today are in a constant state of reinvention. They need to remain agile to cope with the challenges of a fluid, fast-paced external environment. As an organisation development (OD) specialist, you get to play a key role in managing the process of change. You could be asked to deliver programmes that impact on the organisation’s culture or develop its people. They may involve re-organisation and the creation of more effective and customer-focused processes.

Can you communicate change effectively with employees? You’ll need to paint a picture not just of what successful change will look like, but also of the risks and challenges that lie ahead. Organisation development practitioners work in a planned and systematic way – diagnosing issues using relevant data. They take into account the whole organisation and look at how involving people can achieve sustained business performance.

‘ As an OD practitioner, day to day I live out the role of connector, conductor and constructor. I connect people to causes and improvement activities; I conduct research and deliver it to help our people do things better; and I construct the frameworks and pathways that help our people to make this a great place to work.’
Perry Timms. Head of Talent & Organisational Development, BIG Lottery Fund

If you are interested in getting the absolute best out of people then a career in HR and people development could be the one for you. So what kinds of qualities are important for a career in HR and L&D?

The CIPD Profession Map offers a comprehensive view of how HR adds sustained value to organisations and our research into HR functions and responsibilities has identified some key behaviours necessary for success in HR.

Curiosity

Are you actively interested in what’s going on around you? Are you always looking for better ways of doing things? A questioning attitude and willingness to learn can be very valuable in an HR role. You will continually be looking for ways for you and your colleagues to work better as individuals and collectively.

Decisive thinker

Being able to analyse and understand data and information quickly is important. As part of that you should be able to arrive at robust, defendable views. Whether you are looking at the financials of an organisation or project success indicators you should be able to apply any information, insights and knowledge in a structured way and propose practical options based on the best available evidence.

Skilled influencer

You’ll need to influence people at all levels both within and beyond the organisation. Many HR initiatives succeed through partnership. You’ll need to win commitment, consensus and support if you want your plans to bear fruit.

Driven to deliver

If you accept personal responsibility and have the drive to follow through on your promises you will earn the respect of your colleagues. That will make it easier to deliver on collaborative projects. You should plan, prioritise, monitor performance and be accountable for delivery.

Collaborative

You need to be able to work effectively and inclusively with colleagues, clients, stakeholders, customers, teams and individuals both within and beyond the organisation.

Courage to challenge

There are times when a distinctive point of view enriches the debate. Having the courage to challenge entrenched views can be a useful strength.

Role model

If you work in HR, you need to lead by example. You should act with integrity, impartiality and independence, and aim to apply sound personal judgement in every situation.

Personally credible

Human Resources isn’t like engineering: there’s rarely a definitive answer. The human side of things is always ambiguous, you never get to the bottom of things. Therein lies its great appeal. If you are able to think things through rationally, apply sound judgement and use your emotional intelligence to defend your decisions, you should prosper in HR.

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