On the outside looking in – what jobseekers think about careers in human resources

What can human resources (HR) do to make it a more attractive profession? Our exclusive survey of current jobseekers reveals exactly what they think about a career in HR.

Finding and keeping talented people in the HR department is a perennial problem facing the profession. HR directors constantly tell us what a challenge they’ve got on their hands when it comes to finding decent recruits – which is why we decided to find out what current jobseekers really think of HR.

Are they attracted to HR as a career? What impression do they have of people who work in HR? Does it have an image problem, as some HR professionals are inclined to think? And what can HR departments do to lure high-calibre candidates through their doors?

We teamed up with Totaljobs.com to survey 684 jobseekers currently looking for a new position through the jobs website. Not all of the respondents are looking for an HR role: 25% are actively seeking a job in HR 31% would consider an HR career at some point in the future and 44% are not currently considering a career in HR – meaning our survey results give a pretty balanced picture of how the HR profession is viewed by the jobseeking public.


Who’s got the power?

So, let’s take the nitty-gritty question first: which business function, in their opinion, has the most power and influence?

Our recent ‘oomph’ survey revealed that HR professionals believe their own department has the most oomph (Personnel Today, 18 September), but our Totaljobs respondents don’t concur. One third (34%) say that finance packs the biggest punch in their organisation, followed by operations (14%). HR comes joint third with sales (12%), and IT brings up the rear, with just 5% of respondents believing it has real power.

The fact that HR is ranked lower by those outside the profession rather than inside could be to do with the impression that HR has an image problem. More than half (54%) of the respondents agree that’s the case, rising to 60% among men. The older the respondent, the firmer the belief that HR is not exactly dynamic: two-thirds of respondents in their 50s (64%) believe the sector has an image problem, compared with 52% in their 20s and 30s.

Two-thirds believe HR appeals more to women, but a disappointing percentage say that HR people are ‘dynamic go-getters’: just over half (52%) agree that’s the case. While 70% of those looking for an HR job think the profession is full of get up and go, only 40% of those not seeking an HR-related job agree.

It’s not all negative, though. Candidates may not regard the function as a whole as having oomph, but three-quarters (76%) believe that HR professionals have real influence in their organisations – with 80% of male respondents believing that to be the case. Even 68% of those who are not considering HR careers agree that HR practitioners have real weight (rising to 85% of those who may choose HR as a career in the future, and 83% of those currently seeking an HR post).

Nearly half (47%) of the jobseekers who took part in our survey agree that HR is the best route to take if you want to get to the top of your organisation. And our question about the calibre of people working in HR being low was pretty much dismissed by many respondents. Two-thirds (64%) disagree the calibre is low – rising to 70% of HR jobseekers, and 59% of those looking for a job that’s not in HR. And 74% of those from within the public sector and 64% of private sector do not agree that the quality of HR people is poor.

Role with it

Most (81%) have a good understanding of what the HR role involves – rising to 91% of HR jobseekers. However, the results suggest that the HR profession could step up its efforts in publicising the kind of roles and career paths a candidate can expect, as only 54% believe there is enough information about careers in HR. This is particularly the case with younger respondents, as just 46% of those in their 20s say they are well informed about the options open to them.

Our results could help HR figure out the best way to ‘sell’ the profession to potential jobseekers by focusing on those elements of the job that hold the most appeal.

For those actively considering a career in HR, for example, the fact that the role involves working with people is very appealing and quite appealing for 71% and 23% of respondents respectively.

The majority (94%) find being involved in strategic decisions very or quite appealing – more so than earning a lot of money – as is the opportunity to get involved with all parts of the business. Overall, two-thirds find this one of the most attractive things about working in HR – and it is of particular interest and relevance to those aged 30 to 39. So while the opportunity to use their softer skills may attract many into the profession, most of our respondents (81%) agree that there is more to HR than just tea and sympathy.

Even the admin side of HR doesn’t put off too many potential candidates – although one in five men isn’t interested in the admin at all, and neither are a quarter of those in their 50s.

However, reducing the amount of admin and upping the strategic involvement would be the main way of enticing more people to consider HR as a career. This came top of the list of reasons among people currently not looking for an HR role (cited by 42% of respondents).

What would also make HR a more enticing place to be is a better reputation (36%) and better pay (34%). When asked what specifically would make HR an attractive option, these were some typical verbatim responses:

  • Making strategic decisions not sitting on the fence
  • More of an active role in the business
  • Better recognition of the value of HR to the business
  • Move HR away from being a female role
  • For HR to market itself better.

Definitely some food for thought for HR departments currently scratching their heads and wondering how to bring some top talent on board.

What would entice you to consider a career in HR?

  • Less admin, more strategy 42%
  • If HR had a better reputation 36%
  • If the profession was better paid 34%
  • If the name of the profession was more appealing 17%
  • The people who work in HR 16%
  • If it offered a quick route to the board 13%

Base: people not currently considering a career in HR

Which business function has the most power and influence?

  • Finance 34%
  • Operations 14%
  • HR 12%
  • Sales 12%
  • Marketing 11%
  • IT 5%

Base: all respondents

What are you doing to attract top talent? E-mail personneltoday@rbi.co.uk

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