Tips for landing your first HR role

A role in human resources is extremely rewarding but challenging. Despite ‘HR professionals making up just 1% of the UK workforce’, human resources is one of the most competitive industries to be in.

If you’re a graduate looking to get your first role in the HR industry, or a professional seeking a career change, here are seven tips that can help as you prepare your applications.

1. Be on-trend with the latest HR and workforce news

HR has the difficult challenge of finding a balance between business and workforce needs. It’s, therefore, a given that HR must be updated on the latest happenings within the company, its industry, and even its customers/clients.

As shown by the impacts of COVID-19, the world of work is in constant change. Organizations needed to adapt quickly to industry movements and shifting employee expectations. In your HR interviews, you need to display that you have a good understanding of these affairs in the HR space.

Follow reputable HR-related websites like the CIPD and Acas for the latest insights. Point out the challenges and share your thoughts on trending issues like hybrid working (combined home and on-site working) or workforce wellbeing. By doing this, not only does it demonstrate your awareness of the topic, but it also shows you have a good grasp of its implications for the workforce.

2. Familiarise yourself with HR tech

A substantial part of an HR professional’s responsibilities is taken up by essential administrative tasks. A lot of companies are using HR systems to manage their key HR admin, like requesting/approving absences or recording performance review outcomes.

With many organizations prioritizing digital transformation, it’s more important than ever that you work on your digital skills and become familiar with various HR tech tools. From recruitment to employee engagement software, there are a plethora of systems out there, so it’s worth knowing each one’s purpose and how they impact HR’s work.

Various tools have freemium (free with limited access/configuration) options or no-commitment trial periods which are good ways to get hands-on experience if you’ve not come across them before.

3. Brush up on your data literacy

Alongside familiarising yourself with technology, understanding the data HR systems provide and how you can use this data is just as crucial. Businesses rely on their HR teams to give them the people-related insights that will help drive workforce decisions.

Knowing what data to look out for, how to set measurable targets, and how to action findings are valuable traits of a successful HR professional. Provide scenarios where you’ll likely need data to act on a certain issue. For example, discuss how you would track absence trends across the workforce and how you would tackle changes.

4. Demonstrate your flexibility

There are many occasions HR has to wear multiple hats. Communicating policy changes, supporting employee wellbeing, and acting as a mediator in a workplace dispute are just a few of the countless tasks HR takes on. In addition, keeping up with the latest employment law, government regulations and data security changes is a daily battle.

To do well in this role, you need to show you’re flexible to accommodate different tasks and workloads. Give examples of previous occasions when you handled similar pressures, adapted to different situations, and completed tasks well. For example, juggling your university workload with a part-time job, or meeting multiple deadlines in a previous role.

5. Apply for HR courses or internships

Getting your foot in the door of the HR industry is challenging, even more so when you lack the experience. We know entry-level HR roles can be competitive. With that said, you can increase your chances of landing that first role by applying for an internship or enrolling on HR courses.

There are paid and unpaid internship opportunities where you can start gaining experience. And due to the pandemic, internships have become much more accessible with the increase of virtual internships.

There is also a wide range of free or paid online HR courses you can do. This can be especially useful for graduates or professionals who have not studied an HR-related discipline/degree before. Universities like MIT or Open University also offer online courses you can sit in for free.

6. Join HR forums

There are many active online HR groups and forums that you can join and participate in. These communities are often very welcoming and are open to sharing tips and exchanging information with other members, including career advice. From absence management to DEI initiatives, you will come across valuable information about HR’s key challenges.

HR forums are also a good place to network and connect with like-minded people. If there’s a particular industry or sector you’d like to work in, it’s easy to reach out to members that work in those fields and seek guidance.

7.   Work on your ‘soft’ skills

Technical expertise, like digital skills, is important but even more so are the ‘soft’ skills. This includes, but is not limited to, communication skills and conflict management. HR plays a central role in implementing company-wide initiatives that affect the whole workforce.

So, HR needs to be able to communicate these effectively to everyone: senior executives, line managers and employees alike. Mediating or resolving conflicts is also something HR will need to deal with, so you should know how to handle these complicated, uncomfortable scenarios.

Take note of times you’ve displayed effective leadership or communication skills, whether that’s taking charge of a group project or simplifying a complicated subject. It can’t be denied that the first step on the HR career ladder is challenging. But by following these steps, you can build up the knowledge and skills imperative for an HR role.

Author Bio

Hannah Mandapat works in the content team at Cezanne HR, the leading provider of flexible, easy-to-implement modular HR software for mid-sized and growing UK and international businesses.

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