Human Resources

Main information

Today, Human Resources (HR) is at the centre of business performance. HR professionals have an important role to play in driving decisions that enable their organisations to perform at their best.

HR professionals aim to make the most effective use of the people within an organisation. Given that anyone working in an HR department will deal with a wide range of people on a day-to-day basis, an approachable, relaxed, but professional attitude is key.

Recruitment roles look after the recruitment function solely and may be based either in-house (managing the recruitment needs of an organisation) or in a consultancy (handling recruitment for a range of different clients). Executive recruitment consultancies (headhunters) typically operate in specialist areas sourcing candidates for senior appointments. They often approach individuals directly rather than advertising openly.

Companies are becoming more aware of the value and importance of HR functions and almost every organisation now has HR staff in some capacity. The professional association for HR/Personnel specialists and generalists in the UK is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and its current membership stands at over 135,000. Although most graduate opportunities lie with the large commercial organisations with big HR teams or in the large public sector employers, opportunities exist in firms of all sizes.


HR jobs include:

  • Generalist HR assistants, officers and managers
  • Training and development officers and managers
  • Compensation and benefits specialists
  • Employee relations specialists
  • Performance managers
  • Health and safety managers
  • Resource planners
  • HR Consultants

Recruitment jobs include:

  • Recruiters – including graduate recruiters
  • Recruitment consultants
  • Headhunters

Generalist HR officers will tend to get involved in some, or all, of the following: strategic resource planning, recruitment and selection, training, pay and benefits and related administration, employment contracts, handling disciplinary and grievance cases, advising management and staff on policies and procedures, creating new performance management policies, reporting on HR issues, negotiating with trade unions/staff associations or councils and much more.

Vacancy on organigram - HR conceptThe key thing to note about generalist HR work is the constant change in the type of interaction with people. One minute you may be supporting the business to hire new talent and the next you may be supporting a member of staff who has raised a grievance against their manager. Some HR professionals will work across the whole range of areas and others may specialise. In small organisations, where there may be only one or two HR representatives, it is more likely that you will need to cover all areas.

Recruitment is a specialist area of HR; recruitment consultants and headhunters seek to match prospective employees to clients’ vacancies. Recruitment consultancies often specialise in particular employment sectors and, invariably, they aim to make as much commission as possible by successfully placing the individuals who register with them. Building good relationships with employers is key. It is a fast moving environment, riding high or low depending on labour market condition; the availability of entry-level positions for graduates will also depend on the labour market. Headhunters, on the other hand, tend to look for fewer specialist or senior staff and rely much more heavily on strong networks of contacts in the sectors concerned. They approach targeted individuals on behalf of prospective employers.  Other recruiter roles may be based in-house, meaning they source employees for specific vacancies or training programmes within the firm.

Salaries vary considerably depending upon location, specialism, sector and level of seniority. Basic salary levels in London range from an average of £23,000 for entry-level HR graduates in retail & leisure organisations to upwards of £100,000 for HR directors in professional services firms (data taken from Bear in mind also that recruiters working in agencies tend to earn a basic salary and then have an element of commission on top.


A wide range of skills is required for these business-focused roles. No specific degree discipline is required, although psychology, law or business related studies are useful. Although the competencies for HR programmes within large organisations are likely to mirror the general graduate competencies at that firm, some key skills that may be required include:

  • Resilience, with an ability to handle pressure.
  • An analytical, often procedural, approach.
  • An ability to form good working relationships and apply good interpersonal skills.
  • A good level of business/commercial awareness.
  • Well-organised, flexible and numerate.
  • Ability to persuade and negotiate, influence, listen and question.
  • Excellent oral communication skills and have the ability to switch from one type of situation to another rapidly, adapting your communication style as necessary.
  • Integrity and approachability, as managers and staff must feel able to discuss sensitive and confidential issues with you.


A huge number and range of organisations recruit for HR vacancies. High Flyers data shows that 44% of leading UK employers are recruiting for positions in HR in 2013. Starting positions are often on formal graduate training schemes; a broad range of organisations from public sector (NHS, Bank of England & The Civil Service Fast Stream) to large corporations (Sky, British Airways, Nestle, Centrica, Deutsche Bank & Barclays) run specialised HR graduate programmes. If you are not joining on a graduate training programme some organisations prefer to take entrants who have achieved the CIPD practitioner-level qualification. The core fields of study are: leadership and management, people management and development, generalist and specialist personnel and development and applied personnel and development.

Study can be undertaken on a full or part-time basis; more information can be found on the CIPD website. Many organisations who hire graduates onto HR graduate programmes will provide support to take this qualification while working.

Recruitment consultancies regularly recruit new graduates, sometimes onto their own training schemes. Headhunters sometimes look for researchers to assist more senior staff – an increasing area of opportunity for graduates. Alternatively another good place to start is as an administrator or secretary in an HR department or in a Personnel Assistant post. The CIPD qualification is less commonly requested for entry level positions in recruitment.

Whichever route you take, you can expect to be given as much responsibility as you can handle quite quickly.


HR experience is not essential but is often a distinct advantage. Large multi-national organisations in a broad range of sectors offer HR internships such as Nestle, Lloyds TSB, EDF Energy, J.P.Morgan, P&G and Goldman Sachs. Some work placement opportunities are also advertised on CareerConnect.

In the case of smaller organisations, you will need to adopt a ‘speculative’ approach, sending your CV and cover letter to potential employers. Don’t wait for advertisements to appear, think about your network of contacts and how they could help you. Any form of business experience is useful, so think laterally.


Vacancies are advertised on the individual organisation websites, as well as journals and newspapers. Check our website, particularly in Michaelmas Term. Vacancies may appear under other sectors as well as HR, e.g. General Management, Administration, or the sector of the organisations main business, for example an HR vacancy at a bank may well come under the finance sector. Recruitment consultancies will advertise vacancies throughout the year; you could try Hays, Michael Page, Frazer Jones, Changeboard or Digby Morgan.

Speak to HR professionals at all kinds of recruitment fairs and employer presentations and build your network of useful contacts. Look for vacancies at lower levels within HR that will allow you to work your way up. Target HR consultancies that regularly advertise. Look also in the main professional journals Personnel Today and People Management.


There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Your personal circumstances regarding career choices, and whether you should or need to tell a potential employer about your circumstances (e.g. time out from studies owing to depression or health needs) is very personal. Although there is legislation which informs you of your rights and responsibilities, you may find it helpful to see a Careers Adviser. They can help you talk through your particular circumstances, to decide whether you wish to tell someone about your situation and issues, and – if you do decide to inform a recruiter – at what stage in the application process you might do so. Careers Advisers can also help you decide how to present your situation and potential needs effectively (often termed as disclosure). We have Careers Advisers who specialise in matters relating to disability and diversity. To arrange a discussion about your personal circumstances with a Careers Adviser, please contact our Reception Team on or telephone 01865 274646.

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.


Unless you have a relevant postgraduate qualification in HR Management that provides exemptions from all or part of the CIPD Practitioner-level qualification or have fully or partly achieved the CIPD Practitioner-level qualification, postgraduate qualifications are unlikely to set you apart from undergraduates who are applying. However, it will be worth examining closely how your postgraduate qualification helps you provide evidence that you meet the job requirements, as this may give you leverage when it comes to agreeing a salary.

The broad advice given in this briefing applies to postgraduate students (and research staff) as well as to undergraduates. Even if job adverts do not ask for a postgraduate qualification, many graduate employers are keen to employ people who have postgraduate qualifications, whether at Master’s or DPhil level, and see them as often offering enhanced maturity and a broad set of transferable skills. Whatever your particular circumstances or career aspirations, the careers advisers here are well equipped to discuss resources relevant to your needs, how best to find jobs and how to market yourself effectively.


Frequent changes to visa rules affect international students and recent graduates wishing to work in the UK.  Now, non-EEA graduates are most likely to gain permission to work by being sponsored by an employer under Tier 2 of the Point Based System.  DPhil students nearing completion could apply for the Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme – allowing 12 months to remain in the UK to look for and start work or self-employment.  For those with entrepreneurial skills and a credible business idea endorsed by Oxford, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) allows you an initial one-year’s permission to get your business up and running, with the possibility of extending for a further year.  There are more limited opportunities in other visa categories. For the most complete and up-to-date information, check Oxford University’s webpages or the UK Council for International Student Affairs’ website. You can also email the Oxford’s Student Information and Advisory Service on for specialist visa help.



The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Contemporary Human Resource Management, Tom Redman & Adrian Wilkinson
  • Quick Look at Human Resources


The following e-books are available through SOLO:


  • People Management, fortnightly
  • Personnel Today, weekly

Online Resources






Like our Facebook page to get reminders of our major events straight to your newsfeed, as well as last-minute news from employers.


Want to know what those in your chosen field are talking about?  Use Twitter to listen in on the conversation, find out about opportunities or ask questions. Start by following our Twitter to get careers related news and tips, and check out our lists to find a ready-made batch of interesting Twitter feeds for your chosen field. Twitter is also a great way of demonstrating your interest in a sector – there’s a reason it’s called ‘micro-blogging’!


If employers search for your name and university, a LinkedIn page ensures they find what you want them to know. It’s a place to showcase your skills and qualifications, and to get publically recommended by those you’ve worked with. It’s also a phenomenal research tool to find people to contact, and learn about the background of those in your ideal job. We run a regular talk on how to create a profile on LinkedIn, and how to use the site to network. If you already have a profile, join our group here.

Related Events

  • Oct
    Oxford Careers Fair
    Oct 21 @ 2:30 pm
  • Recent News

    • Careers Fairs in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai

      23rd Jun 2014

      Thinking about working in China? The Careers Service is hosting 3 joint events in late August and early September with Cambridge, LSE and Imperial in China's major cities. These fairs are designed for anyone considering a career in China, whether in the short or long term, and they are completely free for you to attend.… Continue reading →

    • Job and Internship Fair 2014

      18th Jun 2014

      Thursday 19 June 2014, Exhibitors from 14.30-17.30, Oxford Town Hall Are you looking for work experience over this vacation, or a full-time job if you leave Oxford this year? In eighth week we are holding our final fair of the year, to help you with your search. At the fair you can: Meet thirty employers, all with job or… Continue reading →

    Source: People Management

    Source: HR Hero

    Source: HR Magazine