You don’t always need a qualification to get into HR

Kessar Kalim won HR Business of the Year before being made Overall Winner of the Personnel Today Awards
Kessar Kalim won HR Business Partner of the Year before being made Overall Winner of the Personnel Today Awards in 2015

Last year’s Personnel Today Awards overall winner Kessar Kalim discusses why not having a formal HR qualification has not hindered his career.

A common assumption among graduates embarking on the first steps in their careers, or among working professionals considering a career change, is that an HR or related qualification is essential to pursuing a career in the HR profession.

For some employers, a qualification in human resource management (or a business-related discipline) may be considered an advantage when recruiting to a role in HR, but is certainly not essential.

This is a view echoed by Jess Whitehead, head of HR practice at Page Executive, who says: “In our experience, a degree is not particularly important when building a successful career in HR… a significant number of very good HR directors don’t have degrees.”

A quick Google search of job descriptions for HR roles at all levels from entry level to management, however, will show that a significant number of employers still consider a HR or related qualification to be important when recruiting people management positions.

This leaves a couple of pertinent questions: are some employers missing a trick by limiting the potential pool of candidates they may consider hiring by placing prescriptive barriers to entry for HR roles? And would the HR profession benefit from recruiting individuals from broader educational and vocational backgrounds? My own experience may help in answering these questions.

Broad horizons

Having read economics at university, I studied the various factors that determine the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in an economy at the micro- and macro-economic level.

I was able to acquire valuable learning on supply and demand elasticity, and gain a better understanding of the formulation of government and fiscal policy and how these can impact upon various industries and sectors.

Are some employers missing a trick by limiting the potential pool of candidates they may consider hiring by placing prescriptive barriers to entry for HR roles?

And would the HR profession benefit from recruiting individuals from broader educational and vocational backgrounds?”

Studying human resource management or a related degree may well have been just as rewarding. But by studying economics, I feel I benefited (and continue to benefit) from broadening my knowledge in an area of study that may not be seen as a conventional route into HR.

Likewise, I have worked with other HR professionals who have studied subjects that are likely to be considered unconventional routes for a career in HR (history, theology and geography to name just three), and people from other professions (teaching for example) who have carved out successful careers in HR.

What these individuals possessed was an inquisitive mind, a desire to learn and an intellectual base that meant acquiring HR knowledge once they entered the profession was an exciting challenge and endeavour.

The fact they did not formally study HR at college or university did not hinder their entry or progression either. In fact, they were able to use aspects of their broader academic knowledge and experience once they entered the profession and bring something different to the table.

Recruit for potential

That is not to say that having a HR or related qualification is not important or valued. Many people working in the profession will have studied HR, management or a business-related subject, acquired chartered status and have successfully progressed in their careers.

But while this may be considered the obvious and natural route into the profession, it should not be the only one.

My own personal experience, and that of many others, demonstrates that it may be prudent for employers looking to recruit to HR roles in their organisations to be open and flexible to the wider benefits a broader educational or vocational background can bring to the profession.

They could start by relaxing the prescriptive nature of educational requirements in job descriptions (particularly for entry/junior roles), to being more creative with the methods and routes organisations choose to source talent and, importantly, seeing the benefits of recruiting for potential.

There is absolutely a business case for recruiting for potential. A recent Harvard Business Review feature on the most commonly followed “super boss” practices found that 84% of respondents focused more on potential than on experience when evaluating job candidates.

In PwC’s 2015 annual global CEO survey, 73% of the 1,300 CEOs interviewed for the report “People strategy for the digital age” ranked skills shortages as the biggest threat to their business, forcing CEOs to rethink their hiring and talent strategies.

There are key lessons here for employers and business leaders when recruiting to roles in HR. Having prescriptive academic and professional qualification requirements as key entry criteria not only narrows the possible pool of candidates that could be available to employers, but also reinforces unnecessary barriers to entry for high-potential individuals.

Some prominent employers have already taken the step of removing the requirement for degrees altogether for all new jobs. With the search for talent being increasingly competitive, employers who continue to adopt traditional and conventional methods of recruitment could be at a competitive disadvantage by closing the door on talented and high-potential individuals.

For individuals seeking to pursue a career in HR and who do not possess a HR or related qualification, it would be wise use this to your advantage and it should not prohibit you from entering and progressing in HR. It didn’t for me.