Checklist for creating the best entry-level HR roles

Are your entry-level HR roles challenging enough for best business minds?
Are your entry-level HR roles challenging enough for the best business minds?

The HR directors of the future are graduating now. Some of them should become the CEOs of the future too. But what are today’s HR leaders and managers doing to bring the best business minds into the profession?

Consider this. In the past 30 years, so much has changed. The numbers of people graduating from university have tripled. We are seeing massive increases in postgraduate qualifications in HR and related fields. The profession has changed – no more personnel; more human resources and increasingly just “people”.

The profession is far more business focused and value adding than it was. And the aspirations and career expectations of young people have changed beyond recognition.

But has there been a similarly radical change in the way we shape entry-level roles in HR, and the career paths to develop the people who take these roles? Not so much.

We still cling too often to the model that fresh recruits come into level 3 personnel administrator roles. Do we really think these are the roles that the brightest, most highly qualified postgraduates from our best universities are looking for? Bottom-rung-on-a-hierarchical-ladder HR admin?

Sure, HR career paths are far more fluid nowadays. There is a far greater tendency for bright, business-minded professionals to transition in and out of HR from other functions. We may well find graduates of the best business schools entering HR having spent time in different departments.

That is a good thing. The HR profession benefits from welcoming people who have spent time in operations or other specialisms. However, we in HR have to take more personal and collective responsibility for doing more to attract and retain the brightest and best into entry-level HR roles with substance.

Here is a checklist for the kind of star-of-the-future attracting roles that HR needs more of:

  • Are the roles designed to allow people to move around, without preciousness about the boundaries with other functions or within HR?
  • Are they designed with an expectation that the person will be assigned to a variety of projects?
  • Will the role develop business people, not just experts in employee relations?
  • Can you build in a presumption that the incumbent will be encouraged to find ways to automate or outsource non-value adding work, taking advantage of tech-savviness among the younger generation?
  • Is there an expectation of rotation around specialist functions: reward, to learn about pay and pensions; facilitation of employee engagement focus groups, so they really understand the front-line; running training sessions and other aspects of learning and development?
  • In short, are you creating roles that mix things up, keep things moving, maintain interest and demonstrate challenge, and expose the brightest and best to the whole business, and to the real people problems we encounter day in day out?

If you can tick off that checklist, you have a chance of both attracting and realising the potential of our best business graduates. Sure, you might encounter some of the same talent once another function has brought them in, and allowed them to spend some time in HR.

But if HR cannot play more of a lead on this agenda, it is a pretty poor show. We are good at managing talent for the rest of the business; but not so good at doing it for our own profession.

Susannah Clements

About Susannah Clements

Susannah Clements leads the executive HR search team at Ithaca Partners. She was deputy chief executive of the CIPD from 2013 to 2015, having previously held senior HR posts at Care UK, Anglian Water and Whitbread.
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