What can HR do for my career?

The HR profession is working hard to shake off its reputation as a “siloed” career with a limiting skill-set, but how transferable are HR skills? Can they act as a passport into other business functions?

“It may sound obvious, but the number one HR skill is people management,” says former HR director Corinne Mills. “This is transferable to other positions because, unless you are based in a hermetically sealed environment, you will be dealing with people at all stages of their career, and the emotions that go with them.”

Transferable HR skills

1. Encouraging, managing, and monitoring employees’ performance.

2. Understanding how an organisation works.

3. Handling internal politics.

4. Facilitating discussion.

5. Managing change.

Source: Corinne Mills, Personal Career Management.

Mills, who left HR to become managing director of career coaching and outplacement company Personal Career Management, says that experience gleaned in HR, such as dealing with aspirations at the recruitment stage, or managing workplace conflict, is useful in most management situations. Recruiters are receptive to this as long as it is made clear to them.

“When applying for roles outside HR, the key is to choose HR examples relevant to the job for which you are applying,” she says. “So, if the remit for an operational role is about motivating the team, and managing efficiencies, then you need to highlight one of your quantifiable HR achievements such as reducing the sickness rate, or making the department work more efficiently through redesigning the team workloads.”

Business savvy

Anyone who leaves HR needs to place their professional experience and knowledge into the context of business, says Peter Cheese, who moved from HR to head up Accenture’s talent and organisational performance division before becoming chair of the Institute of Leadership and Development. “They need to show how human capital contributes to the business strategy – it’s all about being business savvy,” he says.

Cheese is keen to see “wider skills building” across HR and other aspects of the business. “We need to make the walls and boundaries between functions more porous,” he says. Cheese wants see secondments and career development between HR and finance, for example, so that both functions can enhance the value and contribution of HR.

Although HR skills can be a passport into other environments, this does not mean that a sharp learning curve can be avoided.

“When I branched out into business I had to learn about sales and marketing, and develop a sharp commerciality,” says Mills.

“I had come from the public sector which was about sharing information and making time for everybody, whereas in the private sector people are competitive.”

Mills adds that leaving HR can mean learning the skill of self-promotion: “HR people are often uncomfortable with promoting themselves,” she says. “They are used to being facilitative for others.”

Careers to consider outside HR

  • Consultancy.
  • General management in a sector where you have worked before.
  • Charities.
  • Lecturing, training.
  • Employer bodies, trades unions, advisory bodies, management roles.

Source: Corinne Mills, Personal Career Management.

She also says that a different approach to time management is often required: “I would make a lot of time to listen to everybody, but now, because business doesn’t survive without the bottom line, I have to evaluate what is the best use of my time at that moment.”

Transferable skills

Even HR professionals who don’t want to leave the function would do well to explore how their transferable skills fit in another department, says deputy director of HR at the University of Cumbria, Paul Boustead.

Boustead, whom Personnel Today has shortlisted for the HR Rising Star Award for this year’s Personnel Today Awards, was seconded into a business unit for a year in his previous role in a local authority.

“Looking at HR from inside the organisation was valuable,” he says. “I think more and more organisations are looking for an ‘HR-plus’, such as organisational development, where the business becomes the prime concern and HR is almost secondary.

“Even if HR is your bread and butter it pays to get involved in the rest of the business,” he adds.

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