HR careers

HR professionals are employed in all sorts of organisations and your responsibilities will vary depending on the size, nature and sector of your organisation. 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 one thing’s for sure, no two days will ever be the same.

Most HR careers involve a wide range of activities including identifying organisational needs, creating strategic plans, devising organisational policy and procedures, measuring performance, identifying training needs, achieving results, co-ordinating resources overseeing recruitment and employee development.

Starting an HR career

It’s possible to start an HR career before being qualified, but it’s a highly competitive area and employers often expect a CIPD qualification for middle and senior-management posts. If you’re looking for an HR career, you may choose to start at assistant or administrator level. Although this role may be fairly routine in nature, it’s a good way of gaining valuable experience within an HR environment and will give you the chance to decide whether this is the route for you.

If you don’t have 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.

You can find more information on beginning an HR career in personnel and development on the CIPD website along with advice for 16 – 18 year olds interested in HR careers and HR career information for undergraduates and graduates.

Types of HR work

Professionals in HR play a major part in the operational part of a business, and CIPD research suggests they are becoming strategic partners in more and more organisations.

HR generalists tend to do a bit of everything and get involved in all aspects of personnel and development. However there is scope and demand for you to specialise in areas such as training and development, reward, international employment law, recruitment, health and safety, management and employee relations and you’ll find other specialist areas may be open to you, depending on who you’re looking to work for.

Qualifications to launch and develop your HR career

The CIPD offers a variety of full-time, part-time and flexible learning courses that focus on providing you with insights and skills that you can use in the workplace. The qualifications are designed to suit everyone, from those with little or no experience to those in more senior positions, and place particular emphasis on interaction, discussion and high levels of participation.

Find out where you can study for a CIPD qualification.

Planning for your future career in HR

Achieving a CIPD qualification will improve your career prospects and will be your first step towards becoming a chartered member. Once you have the CIPD qualification and three or more years of relevant management experience in HR, you’ll be eligible to apply for chartered membership of the CIPD. Becoming a chartered member will enhance your career prospects and give you greater recognition within the profession and your organisation.

HR career progression

There are a variety of HR job titles you may come across as you progress your career. The following examples of job descriptions are based on the Reward Group Salary Survey, and provide a typical profile for the different positions within an HR department. They could all equally have ‘personnel’ in the title instead of ‘HR’. The average salaries for each role are taken from the Croner Reward/CIPD Personnel Rewards salary survey 2006-2007


HR assistant – level

Reporting to the HR officer, typical duties may include:

  • maintaining employee records
  • arranging staff training
  • organising interviews for job applicants
  • providing administrative support to the personnel department
  • being responsible for medical and sports facilities and possibly social events.

To perform well in this role, you need typing and word-processing skills and possibly experience of spreadsheet applications.

The average salary for this role is £16,000.

HR officer – level

Reporting to the HR manager, duties include:

  • interviewing and testing job applicants
  • maintaining the salary administration
  • working on specific projects, such as job evaluation
  • liaising with line managers to identify and monitor training and staffing requirements.

You need a good standard of education and possibly two or three years’ general HR experience for this type of job. And you will usually need to hold or be studying for a CIPD approved postgraduate-level qualification.

The average salary for this role is £26,000

HR manager – level

Reporting to the HR director or managing director (depending on the size of the company), you’d normally be responsible for the company’s HR function. This includes:

  • overseeing the recruitment, selection, training and welfare of staff
  • advising other managers and directors on HR matters, including employment law
  • recommending and implementing appropriate HR policies.

An HR manager would normally be expected to have a degree, be a Chartered Member of the CIPD, and to have at least five years’ HR experience.

The average salary for this role is £40,000

HR director – level

Reporting to the chief executive, duties include:

  • formulating strategy
  • influencing business policy and goals
  • being responsible for a substantial personnel or training function
  • having overall responsibility for the development and implementation of the company’s HR and training strategy, and management of the HR function
  • advising on HR issues at board level.

You’d normally be expected to have at least 10 years’ HR experience. As in most management functions, chances of promotion depend far more on personal achievements and the potential demonstrated than on qualifications.

The average salary for this role is £68,000.

HR professionals in different organisations can have very different responsibilities, even when they share the same job title. This is because the work of the HR department often depends on what the organisation does, if it’s in the private or public sector, its size and whether or not there’s a union involved.

Resources to help you develop your HR career
CIPD members enjoy access to an exclusive range of member benefits and services designed to help you through each stage of your career.

These include:

  • access to our comprehensive library and information services
  • free access to over 320 full text journals and magazines and 650 company reports
  • exclusive access to member only resources on our website, including the latest research, information and news
  • immediate access to our range of leading podcasts
  • immediate access to our online Communities – used by over 11,000 HR professionals each month
  • free professional and personal telephone advice on all aspects of UK employment law
  • access to a national network of local branches and special interest forums
  • exclusive discounts on all CIPD conferences, publications, research reports and training courses.

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