first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Rob McLuhan looks at how to get that first job in HR.A period of low unemployment is an excellent time for young people to bestarting their work career. But those choosing the more popular professions canstill struggle to get established. This applies particularly to HR, whichappeals to increasing numbers of graduates hoping to connect with the humanface of organisations. There are plenty of jobs to be had, but not enough to satisfy the burgeoningdemand. With so many candidates, employers can cherry-pick the best, whichmeans disappointment for the unlucky ones who find themselves banging on a doorthat seems to be permanently locked. High on the list of requirements for entry is a CIPD qualification, whethergained as an accredited degree module or as a post-graduate course. But evenmore important for many employers is relevant work experience. Graduates wholack one or the other often find themselves filtered out in favour of thosethat have both. For instance, Sue Watt-Pringle, now group HR coordinator at Portico HousingGroup, says she finds it frustrating that so many advertised jobs will consideronly CIPD-qualified graduates. As a non-UK national, her Masters-level HRdegree qualifications are not taken into account, despite that fact that shehas already been able to put them to use. “As I am not CIPD qualified Icannot progress beyond the starting point,” she says. But without work experience the qualification is often insufficient to swayemployers, as many candidates have been finding out. David Bryden completed anhonours degree in business studies in 1996 and followed this up with apostgraduate diploma at Edinburgh’s Napier University, graduating in 1999. Thisqualification entitled him to CIPD membership. However, since then he has been unable to find an HR job. “When Istarted applying it turned into a never-ending cycle where employers asked forthree to five years’ work experience,” he says. “There didn’t evenseem to be any opportunities for new entrants to be trained up.” Others inhis class also had problems finding work, including some who had already hadjobs with potential relevance to HR. Bryden says he would like to see the CIPD encourage employers to be morewelcoming to newcomers to the profession. “It is always harking on aboutcontinual development and training people with the skills to do the job, butwhat’s the point if companies only advertise jobs for people withexperience?” There may, of course, be additional reasons why certain individuals arehaving difficulty gaining a foothold. Despite Bryden’s obvious determination toget into HR, his attempts to find work in his native Scotland means he isfishing in a smaller pool than graduates in the south. But competition is stillfierce even where opportunities are, in theory, more plentiful. Recruitment agencies say they find relatively few vacancies in HR, becauseit is easy for employers to recruit directly, either from the CVs they receiveor from the local university. “When we get an HR job it is fantastic for us because we know we willplace it straight away,” says Stephen Boardman, director of the GraduateRecruitment Service. “In most cases a vacancy posted on the Monsterboardin the morning will have received several good quality responses by the next dayor even that evening.” He always expects a large proportion of thegraduates coming up to his stall at recruitment fairs to ask about HR jobs. But why should HR particularly be so popular with graduates? Boardman’s view,confirmed by other observers, is that the profession is seen pre-eminently asone that offers the chance to “work with people”. That appeals toarts and humanities students who don’t have commercial ambitions and who aretherefore uninterested in other potential choices such as marketing, sales orretail. Yet the “people” aspect can often be a misconception, he pointsout, because ironically HR, particularly at junior level, often involves rolessuch as administration clerk that are relatively isolated. “HR has a reputation for attracting people from a wide range ofsubjects, but many candidates don’t really understand what it is,” hesays. “It has a dry side: you might be attracted by the idea of using yourskills with recruitment and development, or handling grievance and disciplinarycases, but a lot of it is really administration.” Boardman thinks it is upto universities to make that clear. The potential for disillusionment is confirmed by Carl Gilleard, chiefexecutive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. He remembers as a new HRrecruit years ago expecting to be involved in interesting selection activitiesfrom day one. That was perhaps a little naive, he now thinks. During his firstyear he was tasked with creating a statistical analysis of turnover andestablishing a personnel record – back-office activities that brought himlittle contact with other people. But 30 years ago it was easier than today, he says. “You were morepatient and prepared to take time over learning the basics. This world is muchmore fast moving now, expectations are higher and so frustration sets in morequickly.” Gilleard also thinks there has been a change in HR which has not yetfiltered through to undergraduate perceptions. From having been”people-centred”, the profession has taken on a stronger businessorientation, in which individuals are seen as clients and customers rather thanjust employees. Just as inaccurate perceptions on the part of candidates may be swelling thesupply, structural changes to the profession itself may be responsible for adwindling demand from employers. Linda Holbeche, director of research at RoffeyPark, thinks that the shortage of graduate HR jobs may be the result oforganisational change. The tendency of companies to outsource HR functions orto use shared services has meant a severely downgraded role for remainingsenior staff, she argues. “I work with a number of companies in mature industries that have allgone the shared services way, and the senior HR players don’t really know howto create a strategic role for themselves,” she says. “The last thingthey want is an intake of graduates hanging around making life moredifficult.” Holbeche also points out that some companies are becoming more choosy intheir appointments. She cites Standard Life as one which is aiming for high HRstandards by employing only graduates of a very high calibre. “It is veryclear about the roles and skills it requires – individuals who are commerciallyastute and able to build up specialisms very quickly. So it takes the pick ofthe crop.” A dissenting voice about the oversupply of graduates comes from the CIPD.Angela Baron, adviser for employee resourcing, who acknowledges the popularityof HR, but doubts that the profession is more difficult to break into thanothers such as marketing, media or PR. “There is no reason to suspect that demand and supply are not balanced,although it varies from year to year,” she says. “A useful barometeris job advertisements, which have been pretty healthy this year, and there arestill quite a few aimed at the graduates end.” However, Baron recognises that a CIPD qualification alone is not a passportinto HR, and she thinks the students most likely to suffer in this regard arethe minority who have taken full-time HR courses and whose expectations mayhave been raised to unrealistic levels. Perhaps the first step for students wanting a career in HR is to wise up towhat employers actually want. James Davidson, head of Bath University’s careeradvisory service, acknowledges the lack of understanding among undergraduatesas one of the main hurdles. “If someone here comes to us with anunrealistic idea of what the job involves we would make them more aware of whatit encompasses,” he says. The need for a CIPD qualification is easy to grasp but graduates can bedaunted by employers’ insistence on experience, and don’t always know how toget it. Davidson advises students that HR doesn’t have to be their first joband that there will be other opportunities to get in, perhaps through aninternal appointment. The AGR’s Gilleard agrees. “I do recognise that people are quitedesperate to get that first position,” he says. “It is the classicCatch-22 problem, that employees want experiences but won’t give them the jobsin the first place.” However, all kinds of jobs can potentially provide the kind of insights thatcould convince employers, he points out – a temporary admin job in an HRdepartment could provide ideal networking opportunities, for example, and actas a springboard to something more substantial. Even casual work can berelevant. “If you are just stacking shelves in a supermarket you areworking in a team, dealing with customers, and developing skills that give youan idea about the world of work,” he says. However Peter Sell, director of HR consultancy DMS, warns graduates seekingto impress employers with a job directly relevant to HR to be discriminating.”One idea they often have is to get a job in a recruitment agency to useas a jumping off point. But HR departments perceive this kind of work just asCV pushing so it may not necessarily be useful,” he says. University students need to focus on the longer-term objectives of paid workthat, in many cases, they will have taken on primarily to support themselves.”When you do get a job, it is important to treat it as a learning as wellas an earning experience,” says David Thomas, chief executive of CareersResearch and Advisory Centre, an education charity. “It is amazing howmuch people can learn about HR issues such as workplace practices and teamworkwith a few simple tools.” CRAC runs a programme for third-year undergraduates to help their transitionto the world of work. This includes learning soft skills which Thomas believesare relevant to HR, enabling participants to articulate issues they haveobserved. In partnership with the National Union of Students the organisation is alsodeveloping a free two-day orientation course for year-two students, showingthem how to turn paid work into a learning experience with a career focus. Theproject will soon start with a pilot of 600 places in 12 universities, followednext year by a nationwide roll-out sponsored by employers. As many professionals know from their own experience, getting a foothold inthe occupation of their choice was not actually the insurmountable task it mayhave seemed to be at the time. In retrospect, the apparently unreasonabledemands of some firms simply weeded out those who lacked the determination tofind their own routes. “Because it is so competitive, applicants have to know why they want toget into HR,” says Boardman of the Graduate Recruitment Service.”Above all, leave no stone unturned – try and try again.” 10 tips for HR graduates1 Find out from careers advisers exactly what HR involves2 Learn about individual employers from company websites3 Where possible, talk to people who are already in HR to get an insider’sview4 When working part-time at university, choose jobs that will provideinsights into HR, perhaps by working in a team, rather than isolated activities5 Highlight your work experience on your CV6 Treat careers fairs as valuable field research for the companies you areinterested in7 Don’t assume that a qualification is the only way in: other jobs can be a springboardto HR via internal appointments8 Impress employers with your understanding of strategic HR and show themhow this can advance their business9 Learn about the issues that increasingly concern organisations, such aschange management, skills shortages and outsourcing10 Persevere: you have only failed when you give up From graduate to HR professionalOn 26 Jun 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. 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