How do I re-enter HR after a career break?

Job hunting is never more challenging than during an economic downturn. In tough times, applicants feel driven to cast their net as wide as possible and consider either revisiting previous careers or reinventing themselves, in order to demonstrate the relevance of their skills to multiple scenarios or in an attempt to expand their skills portfolio.

A recent insight into this trend can be seen on HRSpace (see quote in box right), where visitors to the site have considered whether it is possible to return to a career in HR after a break, even with entry-level experience in the profession.

quotemarksI don’t currently work in HR although I did get about 18 months’ experience in assistant and officer-level positions in a couple of short-term contract and temporary positions back in 2007/08. I was unable to capitalise on my new experience as my family and I had to move, which, combined with the recession, meant there was precious little HR work available, and I now work in a different permanent role. I really enjoyed my time in HR and would love to get back into it. I can’t afford to do the CIPD training but I feel I have some good skills and experience under my belt. Is it possible to re-enter HR?”

There are numerous reasons why it is tough to appeal to recruiters that might have a pile of more immediately relevant CVs in front of them, but the idea is feasible, as Paul Duffield, director of recruitment specialists BetterPlaced HR, explains.

“Nothing is insurmountable – some employers are open-minded,” he says, “but in the current market, where employers receive many applications, they are looking to screen them.”

Duffield advises applicants to work hard to draw attention to their relevant background and skills, which, even after time away, will count. “Employers will ask if you have experience in a key area, such as recruitment or reward. Those sorts of skills are never out of date.”

The generalist skills of candidates who are looking to return at entry level are not as subject to trends as those of higher-level or specialist candidates might be.

It is important, however, to get some current experience under your belt – and on your CV – again. Having a relevant job title takes you a step closer towards re-inventing yourself and an interim role can be a route to getting this experience.

Other tactics to consider in the current climate include making a direct approach to local, large employers (and so circumvent the rigorous screening processes which they ask agencies to put in place), or asking employers for work experience.

One major hurdle for the returner to HR is a lack of CIPD qualifications. Most companies use these as a benchmark when recruiting, with the majority of job ads asking for CIPD qualifications. Consequently, applicants who haven’t got these need to make sure that their application emphasises their relevant achievements and that they know how to apply their knowledge to best effect.

Roles such as HR adviser often bring the opportunity to study for further qualifications, or it can be helpful to start with a CPP qualification, which is often a reasonably priced route. There is an argument that studying for CPP at a well-known university often pays dividends because employers often approach universities to recommend outstanding students for new vacancies.

Returners and job hunters should follow the golden rules:

  1. Write a CV people will notice Recruiters spend around three seconds glancing at a CV when they do the initial sifting. Make sure it is set out with white space and easy-to-read essential contact information with a profile that lists proven experience and the role you are now looking for.
  2. Keep your CV short List your academic qualifications at the end of the CV and make sure that the CV is no longer than two pages.
  3. Tailor job applications to the advert Don’t be afraid to use your CV or covering letter to repeat some of the words used in the advert and to show how your experience and outlook reflect those of the recruiting organisation.
  4. Demonstrate achievement Use the CV to show key achievements in your current and previous role. Recruiters are not just interested in what you did, but how you did it and the benefits you brought. Emphasise transferable skills.
  5. Keep covering letters brief You only need to use a handful of paragraphs in your covering letter. These should show why you are applying and give a brief overview of your career achievements.