Work experience outside HR

HR professionals looking to progress in their careers should consider gaining experience of different business functions.
According to new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), gaining work experience outside HR can help professionals understand how the rest of the business works and give them more credibility within an organisation.

Jessica Jarvis, learning, training and development adviser at the CIPD, says: “Our research suggests that gaining this experience can help HR to be accepted as an equal business player within an organisation. It is up to HR professionals to take charge of their careers and push for a secondment or a short-term career change if they believe it will help.”

Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, agrees with the CIPD’s findings.
“HR activity should always follow the overall business strategy so that the organisation has consistent goals that every team is contributing towards,” she says.

“Working with other business areas will not only strengthen cross-team relationships, but also give managers from both teams an insight into how the work of each impacts on the other.”

David Longbottom, HR director at Dixons, says: “If you are going to be part of a senior management team, you can’t go to meetings and sit there until a people issue arises – you need to be able to contribute to discussions about running the business.”

Gaining extra experience can also help HR in the role of coach and mentor for staff, he says.

“If you are going to mentor people, it is always better to be able to call on experiences you have had.

“This will improve your credibility and will also help you to operate on a broader business front,” says Longbottom.

Jarvis says it is up to HR to try to create new career structures to allow more mobility.

Longbottom adds that if it proves difficult securing a secondment, taking on new projects while continuing in HR can be beneficial. “Volunteer for projects outside of HR,” says Longbottom. “For example, I have an HR manager running a project designing new store formats.”

How to get to the top

  • Know your numbers – financial performance is always on the board’s agenda. Don’t aspire to be on the top team if you feel uncomfortable with financial data. Take a formal course in analysing data and get experience in dealing with commercial problems.
  • Understand your business – the type of business functions you should aim to get work experience in will depend on the type of business you work for. But any experience at an operational level can help you to get to grips with what really makes an organisation tick.
  • Make it happen – opportunities to move around an organisation may not be obvious. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start a trend. Ask about secondments and job swaps, enquire about internal vacancies and volunteer to take on
    projects that fall outside HR’s usual remit.

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