Graduate opportunities in HR are withstanding the faltering economic recovery, with organisations offering both specific graduate programmes and, thanks to the constant need to re-organise and upskill post-recession, a steady stream of entry level positions to enable graduates to get a foothold in HR.
Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), to be published later this year, has found that more than 200 roles for HR graduate programmes were advertised in private and public sector organisations during 2010.
Other CIPD research supports the suggestion that graduate opportunities remain: its "HR outlook survey", published in May 2011, identified that HR may be heading for a "war for talent". It raised questions about whether or not the right successors were in place for organisations' key HR roles. "This, combined with HR functions looking to drive up overall capability within their teams, may explain why we are seeing an increasing number of HR graduate vacancies for those looking to build a career in the profession," says Louise Edwards, CIPD senior capability consultant.
What to expect from the graduate recruitment process
The CIPD's Louise Edwards has found that the typical pattern for graduate recruitment can incorporate:
- An online application.
- Applications sifted according to fixed criteria, sometimes based on degree discipline and typically achievement of a 2:1 or higher.
- Online psychometrics test.
- Telephone interview.
- An invitation to a one- or two-day assessment centre, which usually involves group-based, and role-play exercises and sometimes written tests based around problem solving.
As part of the CIPD's drive to raise the profile of HR as a career choice, Edwards is researching how graduates are attracted into the HR profession.
She found that successful applicants can expect a package which is in line with graduate programmes in other professions. The average starting salary is in the region of £25,000 per year. The profession carries extensive development opportunities such as placements, rotated every six to 12 months, which have the inherent benefit of mentoring by senior HR people.
"Some of the organisations we have spoken to are looking at opportunities for international placements to support a global mindset within their HR teams. Others are introducing placements into other parts of the business to build commercial awareness," says Edwards.
Graduates who are not successful in finding a place on a specific programme are likely to try to find a route into employment via HR administrator roles.
"Many achieve progression through a direct entry role into HR", says Edwards, "and work their way up, and others bring valuable commercial skills through a sideways move from other business professions," she says.
It is important for graduates to think of how they will gain CIPD qualifications, which are generally regarded as essential to HR career progression.
"Many organisations have sponsored CIPD qualifications as part of the development offering for their HR graduate programme. The intent is usually to work towards CIPD membership in conjunction with their rotational placements so that the graduate has the benefit of complementing their hands-on experience with some theoretical learning and thought leadership," says Edwards.
At Allianz Insurance, successful graduate recruits are supported while they study towards CIPD recognition, says HR graduates manager Amanda Haig.
So what do employers want to see from graduate candidates? Haig says that she expects candidates to demonstrate a clear, genuine interest in the discipline.
"There are a lot of intelligent and capable graduates coming out of universities", she says, "and it's important that they make their CV stand out from the rest. Participating in either paid or voluntary work experience with a HR team will strengthen a candidate's CV and give them a better opportunity in the job market."
Laura Campbell agrees that it is vital to show commitment. She is HR director of national youth leadership charity Changemakers and previously worked in graduate recruitment at Abbey National.
"Winning a graduate position means that you are special and that the company will invest in you," she says," and you have to show that you take this seriously from the application stage and throughout your career." She says that the way to do this is to research the organisation before you apply, and display a willingness to develop.
It is also crucial to display employability skills such as a clear communication style and a positive attitude, says Kate Llewellyn-Cripps, future talent client partner at recruitment giant Bernard Hodes. And - as with all job hunting - it pays to prepare.
"Students should apply as soon as they can in their final year," says Llewellyn-Cripps. "Be encouraged to apply early - you don't have to wait for your results."