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Getting ahead in HR


You probably already know the importance of a great CV, some basic tips for performing well in an interview and the kind of things you can expect from a psychometric test. But the best advice is always going to be specific to your role and for that you need a specialist. We asked Amelia Coulstock from specialist recruitment firm Retail Human Resources to give us some expert advice for HR professionals looking for their next role.

Choosing a career in HR is your first step into a varied and vibrant industry, with many choices before you to consider, whether you’re just starting out in the profession or whether you’re a seasoned professional.

Which companies should I look at?

When you are first starting your job search it is important to consider the kind of HR you want to get into. Most organisations will have some form of people function, but this can vary from innovative HR best practice in global corporates to more pragmatic, commercially driven functions in smaller organisations.

It is natural to want to work for brands that you identify with as a customer, but it is essential that your working style will fit with the ethos and values of the organisation that you end up working for and it is therefore worth being open-minded at the start of your search and using companies’ websites to see if you agree with their approach.

As an HR professional a degree of self-analysis is essential before you even start looking: Do you prefer supporting a high volume employee population (retail stores) or a more corporate team (retail head office)? Do you enjoy working as part of an established team or do you prefer to work independently with your stakeholders? Use your peer network and your friends and family to find out more about organisations you are interested in, to see if they would suit you.

What other positions can I look at with my experience?

Having decided on what kind of organisation to work for, the next challenge is to find the right role. Many HR professionals will start their careers as generalist practitioners covering all aspects and disciplines, but there is also the opportunity to specialise: in recruitment, learning and development, reward, payroll or employee relations.

On occasion candidates will transition between generalist and specialist functions, but often once a specialism has been identified as more enjoyable that will then dictate further career choices.

However one of the many pleasures of a career in HR is the sheer variety of roles and career paths available, so don’t be scared to try something new if it feels right.

Am I restricted to working in London?

Many retail and hospitality head offices are based within the M25, but with most brands having a national presence geography is less of a concern for HR professionals than for other careers within the sector. However many regional HR or L&D roles will involve significant travel, and it is not unusual to be away from home 2-3 nights per week.

For many large organisations global mobility is a pre-requisite for progression to the most senior roles, and experienced UK talent is always in demand in emerging markets, so the world is your oyster if you choose it to be so.

However there are senior HR and L&D roles available nationwide and many UK HR service centres are now being relocated outside of the M25, creating more local opportunities for HR professionals.

What are employers expecting to see on my CV?

Sector experience is always preferred, as it demonstrates an understanding of the challenges that are likely to be faced, but if your experience has been gained in an associated sector then make sure you highlight your transferrable skills.

Career progression is also really important – if you have worked for an organisation for a number of years then make sure you list each role you have held to demonstrate that you have been promoted in-role.

Highlight the specialist skills that you have honed in each position and don’t be afraid to talk metrics – a successful HR department will work to metrics that demonstrate a tangible result and benefit to the organisation, so highlight these on your CV.

Lastly, be careful not to just list your job description but try to demonstrate the difference that you have made in your position, after all it is you that the company will be hiring and not your previous job.

What else should I include?

Ensure you have highlighted your qualifications – the CIPD is well respected but any studies/workshops/seminars that you have attended are also worthwhile listing. If you have specialist skills i.e. psychometric testing or professional affiliations then make sure they are clear, and also list the HR systems that you have used.

Interview preparation

The interview is your chance to demonstrate what a great asset you will be to the company. To do this you need to be prepared – go through the job description and make sure you have relevant examples that show your skill and experience in each area.

Make sure you have researched their company website and visited at least one physical site, more if you can. Where possible talk to current employees about the organisation and how they find it (always being discreet about why you are interested) and look at the organisation not as a customer but as a potential employee.

Make sure you know the dress code for the office where your interview will be held, and make sure you are reflecting the company brand in what you choose to wear. And be sure of why you want to work for them, as  this will definitely be a question that you will be asked.

The interview

Finally the day has come and this is your chance to impress, so make sure your passion and enthusiasm comes across.

Make sure you give specific examples of what you have done in the past, not theoretical answers of what you would do, and make sure you talk about your individual impact rather than just you as part of a team. Make sure you have at least two interesting questions to ask the interviewer, and talk about your positive experiences of the brand so far.

Make sure you understand your role in the structure, and what future career paths would be available, but most importantly be really interested in the role on offer and ensure you highlight your experiences that are most relevant to the role.