First steps in HR

Cheryl King, Careers Executive at the CIPD, looks at how to get into HR.

A career in people management and development can be diverse and challenging. You may prefer to be a generalist and do a bit of everything, or you may want to specialise in areas like recruitment, training or employment law. Whatever you do, you have the opportunity to play a real part in the future success of the organisation you work for.

It is possible to start a career in personnel and development before being qualified, but it is a highly competitive area. Employers often expect a CIPD qualification for middle and senior management posts. If you want to start a career in HR but have no relevant experience or qualifications you will probably be looking for a role at assistant or administrator level.  Although this role may be fairly routine in nature, it is a good way of gaining valuable experience within an HR environment and gives you the chance to decide whether this is the route for you.

If you are a graduate without much work experience, try to get some general office experience to build up your administrative skills.  This may not necessarily be in an HR department at first.  You can always transfer to HR at a later stage.  

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) offers a range of qualifications to suit your needs, with full-time, part-time and flexible learning courses. These focus on providing you with insights and skills that are directly relevant to your job. The range of qualifications is designed to suit everyone, from those with little or no experience to those in more senior positions.   Qualifications place particular emphasis on interaction, discussion and high levels of participation. 

Certificate qualifications include Personnel Practice (CPP), Training Practice (CTP), Recruitment and Selection (CRS) and Employment Law and Practice (CELAP). The Certificate in Personnel Practice (CPP) covers a broad range of topics and is a good place to start for those who do not want to specialise or those who are unsure of what they want to specialise in. It is a foundation course for those who have little or no knowledge of HR and gives a good general overview of what’s involved in working in HR.  It normally takes between six and nine months to complete the CPP.  To find out where you can study for this qualification take a look at

The Professional Development Scheme (PDS) is the CIPD’s post-graduate level qualification and is aimed at those wanting to advance their managerial career in personnel and development.  A number of colleges and universities throughout the UK and Ireland are accredited to run this qualification or their own version of it.

Once you have the qualification you will find many more jobs are open to you. Use all the usual resources, such as national, local and free press, job centres and recruitment websites and agencies. 

Try to increase your knowledge of what’s happening in the world of HR, by staying up to date with the latest employment issues.  You can do this by browsing websites such as, the CIPD website (, ACAS ( or the DTI website(

But the qualification is not the end of the line. Once you have the qualification and three or more years of relevant management experience in HR, you will be eligible to apply for Chartered Membership of the CIPD.


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