HR career issues: moving up the HR career ladder

Q What skills and experience do I need to make the jump from a mid-level to a senior HR post?

The HR view:

This will depend on your particular sector and whether you’re planning an internal promotion or applying to a new employer. However, either way you must be able to demonstrate a good level of competence in your current role and continuous professional development. There is also no substitute for research – about the organisation and the level of seniority. Don’t just consider the paper requirements – if you can, talk to people at that level and find out what brought them promotion.

In most environments, good understanding of the objectives of the business will be as important as personal success to date. Consider what you have achieved and how it links to the senior role and be prepared to showcase that in applications or at interview.

Assume extra responsibility whenever you get the chance. A ‘dry run’ is valuable experience and good for your CV. Those who have already coped with new challenges will also seem like less of a gamble for promotion.

Finally, someone once said: “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want”. This is probably equally good advice in terms of behaviour.

Linda Maughan, HR director, Middlesbrough Borough Council

The recruiter’s view:

This depends perhaps more on how big the jump is, as opposed to what the skillsets are. For example, a number of HR directors’ roles have come up across the NHS within the past 12 months and there has been a concern that the gap between assistant director and director is too large and difficult to bridge for the majority of candidates, potentially creating a ‘vacuum’ within the NHS career ladder.

One key area at senior level is the ability to think strategically. HR has fought long and hard to have a seat at the top table and the ability to assess how organisations manage their workforce is becoming more important than ever.

We also see clients asking for leadership qualities – the ability to make tough decisions when necessary, while having an awareness and interest in how the wider HR team can contribute operationally, is the signature of strong managers.

Candidates also need to be able to demonstrate that they have the credibility to step up and be taken seriously at the highest levels. This is about inspiring confidence through demonstrating drive and ambition.

Rebecca Beardwell, associate director, Morgan Law

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