Human Resources

HR personnel are central to helping organisations work as effectively as possible. Their roles have evolved and expanded over the past few years, to include new responsibilities such as implementing organisation-wide working from home policies and ensuring staff have the resources to work from home effectively.

HR professionals deal with a wide range of people in an organisation on a day-to-day basis, from the most senior directors and executives to the most junior staff. Therefore a highly professional, calm and approachable manner is key.  They also handle and have access to highly sensitive information on staff, therefore a commitment to maintaining confidentiality and knowledge of all applicable employment laws is a necessity.

Recruitment is a major function within HR and roles in this area 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. They often approach individuals directly rather than advertising openly.

Organisations are increasingly 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). Although most graduate opportunities are within large commercial organisations with large HR teams or in the large public sector employers, opportunities exist in organisations of all sizes.

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HR jobs

There are wide range of jobs within HR, below are some examples:

  • Generalist HR assistants, officers, managers and directors
  • Training and development officers, managers and directors
  • Compensation and benefits specialists
  • Employee relations specialists
  • Performance managers
  • Health and safety managers
  • Recruitment
  • HR Consultant


Generalist HR officers will be 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.

Generalist HR work involves a constant change in the type of interaction you have with employees. 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 be required to cover all areas.


Recruitment is a specialist area of HR. You can work as a recruiter within an organisation (often either focusing on graduate or experienced hire recruitment) or as recruitment consultant or headhunter. Large organisations, such as law firms, banks, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and retail companies, will often have dedicated internal recruitment teams responsible for managing the recruitment process from application through to the assessment process and making offers. The key skills for such roles are:

  • very strong interpersonal skills – especially the ability to work with colleagues  at all levels within the firm including very senior staff
  • strong attention to detail
  • the ability to multi-task effectively

Due to the high volume of recruitment in some organisations the recruitment teams may also engage the services of recruitment consultancies or headhunters to help find candidates, especially those at the senior level or with specific expertise.

Recruitment consultants and headhunters work with their clients (companies and organisation of various sizes) seeking 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. The ability to build good relationships with employers is key skill to have in this sector.

This is a fast moving environment, riding high or low depending on labour market conditions; the availability of entry-level positions for graduates will also depend on the labour market. In contrast, Headhunters, actively search and approach (“headhunt”) specialist or senior staff and rely more heavily on strong networks of contacts in the sectors concerned, approaching targeted individuals on behalf of prospective employers.

Many organisations actively recruit to fill their HR vacancies.  Starting positions can either be on a formal graduate training schemes or a direct entry-level position. A broad range of organisations, including banks, professional services firms, FMCG companies (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), other corporates and the NHS run specialised HR Graduate Schemes.

If you are not joining a graduate training programme, some organisations prefer to take entrants who have achieved the CIPD practitioner-level qualification. 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 may provide support to take this qualification whilst working. So before enrolling on a course make sure you check whether qualification is necessary for the roles you are applying for and/or if your employer can support/sponsor your studies.

Large national/international recruitment consultancies also sometimes recruit new graduates,  onto their own training schemes. Headhunters sometimes hire recent graduates researchers to assist more senior staff. Alternatively another good place to start is as an administrator in an HR department or in a personnel assistant position. 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 fairly quickly.


Skills needed

A wide range of skills are required for these roles. Most roles don't require a specific degree, although psychology, law or business related studies can be useful. The competencies for HR programmes within large organisations are likely to reflect the general graduate competencies at that organisation, however 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 effective interpersonal skills when dealing with people of differing levels of seniority
  • 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 communication styles as necessary
  • Integrity and approachability, as managers and staff must feel able to discuss sensitive and confidential issues with you

Getting experience

HR experience is not always essential but is often an advantage. Large multi-national organisations in a broad range of sectors usually offer HR internships. In previous years firms such as P&G, J.P.Morgan and Goldman Sachs have offered internships. Some work placement opportunities are also advertised on on our website. Having a sales, marketing or customer service experience may be useful for entry into recruitment, but isn't always essential.

In the case of smaller organisations, you may 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.

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.


Vacancies are advertised on the individual organisation websites, as well as in journals and newspapers. Larger organisations often hire for their HR Graduate programmes during the typical graduate recruitment cycle (from September to December each year), so check the websites of the firms you are interested in early, to confirm the dates and deadlines. These schemes will be competitive with usually just a small number of places available.  Vacancies may appear under other sectors as well as HR, e.g. Human Capital Management, 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 often advertise vacancies throughout the year.

Try to speak to HR professionals at recruitment fairs and employer presentations and build your network of useful contacts. Look for vacancies at more junior levels within HR that will allow you to work your way up. Be prepared to start at the bottom of the ladder and build your experience and qualifications as you go. You may even need to start with another office based role, such as administration before moving to an HR role. Target HR consultancies that regularly advertise. Look also in the main professional journals Personnel Today and People Management.

Internships & Work Experience

Some larger organisations such as Banks and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies have dedicated HR internship programmes. However other organisations may also be willing to offer work experience, be proactive and contact them to find out if there are any opportunities to work shadow or get some work experience. A temporary role/job during the vacation is also a great way to get experience in HR.

Will I get Paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce, and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and insight events that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers.

Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act and the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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