Career coach: HR career progression

Q I am currently an HR recruitment assistant. In September, I am going to take up my Masters in human resource management and organisational analysis at King’s College London. I will also gain my CIPD qualification. Since I graduated in 2004, I have had two years’ experience in HR. When I finish my Masters, where will I be slotted on the ‘HR career ladder’? I know that I cannot become an HR director overnight, but I would like to know how to progress.

A It isn’t clear from the question whether you are studying full-time, or continuing to work while you study. If you are studying part-time, then you will obviously be gaining further experience while you study.

At the end of the two years, you could be confident that you would be a credible candidate for an HR officer role, or even an HR manager in a smaller part of a big organisation where lots of HR processes are already established and specialist functions are centrally provided.

If you are taking time out to study, your problem will be demonstrating recent relevant experience when you start applying for jobs again. An HR officer role would be reasonable to expect, but an HR manager role would be less likely, because employers will tend to look for generalist experience that is very current.

This answers the detail of where you might fit onto the HR career ladder, but where you go from there requires you to look at a much bigger picture.

You say that you have two years’ experience in HR since graduating, but I’d like to know what you have done and what you have learned. The way you present this work experience will be critical to your next step, particularly if you are studying full-time.

An even more important question is why you are taking the Masters degree so early on in your career. You are presumably still struggling to demonstrate the kind of experience that employers value, and your strategy appears to rely on your Masters and your CIPD membership to improve your prospects. You may be putting the emphasis on the wrong part of your career development – clocking up qualifications rather than thinking about relevant work experience.

However, since you are now committed to the MA course, aim to get the most out of it. Treat exposure to your lecturers, fellow students and work placements/case studies as miniaturised forms of work experience. Take every opportunity you can to learn how it’s done in other spheres, and make a point of actively bringing ideas into your own role, now or in the future.

John Lees, career strategist and author

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