How do I start a career in human resources? Key tips to become a HR professional

By Robert Half 1 October 2019

Technology may be changing the way we work, but people not machines, are still an organisation’s best asset. Faced with a skills shortage and intense competition for talent, companies recognise the need for expert support to attract and retain high quality employees – and build loyal, engaged teams. And that’s driving strong demand for human resources professionals.

You may be wondering, “How do I start a career in human resources?” The first step in selecting any career is understanding exactly what the sector is all about.

Put simply, HR professionals help companies maximise the value of their human capital. This involves attracting and retaining top talent, motivating workplace teams, and helping employees reach their full potential by developing their skills and talents.

These activities all contribute to a company’s success and profitability. This ability to add value to an organisation, and the diversity of the role, can make a career in human resources extremely rewarding.

It also means that HR professionals are in hot demand.

A study by Deloitte Access Economics found Australia’s human resources workforce is forecast to grow by 2.3% annually over the next three years. This is expected to see organisations hire an additional 27,000 human resources professionals by 2022.

This puts you in good stead if you’re planning a career in human resources.

How do I start a career in human resources?

Starting a career in human resources begins with assessing your personal skill set to be sure you have what it takes to achieve success.

Soft skills can be especially important for HR professionals. Most notably you’ll need:

Excellent communication skills

As a HR professional it is likely that you will work with all levels of employees. You may also be called on to be an advocate for change – especially in today’s technology-driven workplaces.

This demands the ability to communicate ideas clearly and effectively, both in writing and verbally, across the entire workforce, from frontline teams right through to senior executives and even the Board of Directors.

Strong time management skills

On any working day, your career as a human resources professional will see you engaged in a variety of tasks. You may find yourself working on employee’s benefits package, developing training programs, or drafting staffing strategies.

However, amid tight deadlines, and in a high pressure environment, you could be juggling multiple projects simultaneously. That calls for strong time management skills to execute the responsibilities effectively.

Empathy and interpersonal skills

As a HR professional, it’s a given that you will be working closely with people. This requires empathy and strong interpersonal skills to manage a variety of different personalities.

You need to be able to engage with employees across the entire workplace spectrum, making them feel welcome and valued in their job, promoting and encouraging open communication, and understanding what it takes to motivate people to consistently deliver their best effort.

A collaborative outlook

The HR function impacts almost every aspect of a business. As such, you can expect to liaise with colleagues across multiple departments – and possibly external business partners such as recruitment professionals.

Maintaining a team spirit throughout all these interactions is essential. The ability to consider differing viewpoints, and negotiate outcomes that meet a variety of objectives – while still satisfying the needs of your company and its workforce, will help you achieve positive results.

What academic qualifications do I need to start a career in human resources?

As the human resources function is highly varied, you will need to navigate workplace legislation, industry awards, occupational health and safety standards, and stay abreast of trends around salary and non-monetary benefits.

If you don’t have tertiary qualifications, a Certificate IV in Human Resources can provide the foundation skills to launch a career in human resources.

However, the complexity of the role means that tertiary qualifications will support career growth, and many HR roles require candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in Human Resources, Business or Psychology.

Postgraduate qualifications can further progress your career in human resources. The Deloitte research found that postgraduate study often leads to a significant uptick in salary for HR professionals. Australia’s peak industry body – the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), offers a program of learning leading to postgraduate HR certification.

Membership of recognised professional bodies such as AHRI, while not essential, can help you stay up to date with the latest developments in human resources.

Starting a career in human resources can be a smart strategy

If you relish an opportunity to work with people and make a measurable impact on an organisation, a role in human resources can be an outstanding career choice.

It’s an opportunity to be part of a profession that’s enjoying strong demand, with options to progress your career in a role that combines variety, challenge and rewards.

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