Future-proof your HR career

Published on: 28 Feb 2011

HR professionals have to think in terms of future-proofing their careers, not just by honing the skills that they think will keep them marketable, but also by understanding how their organisation and sector may change over the next decade. With these tensions in mind, we present 10 tops tips for future-proofing your career.


1. Build the right foundations

Work for an organisation that is interested in your development, particularly if you are in the early stages of your career. Look for a mentor, perhaps from another department, to deepen your insight of the organisation or of complementary roles.


2. Be pro-active about technology

Organisations are always looking for, and finding, faster and leaner ways to do things. If you think that blogging or podcasting will help meet business objectives then say so. Don't be left behind.


3. Polish your transferable skills

These are not just the skills that are transferable within a generalist HR role but those which could take you into a specialism or even into a new career. Communication and leadership skills, for example, will always be highly sought-after, so make sure that you have tangible proof of these on your CV.

Will HR professionals even be known as "HR experts" in the future? International business guru and author Ram Charan talks in terms of "talent masters" rather than pure HR practitioners, because they will have to work with their organisation to produce and develop a talented workforce, which in turn will drive continued success.


4. Take a world view

Most of us operate in a global marketplace and are familiar with outsourcing to international suppliers. Your CV will be enhanced by experience of international projects or assignments overseas. Evidence of a foreign language is always well-received and you must be comfortable with appreciating and managing diversity.


5. Record your success

It is important to keep your CV up to date. It should be a clear record of the results that you have acheived, not just the tasks that you have completed. It is also a good idea to keep positive feedback, letters of congratulations and performance reviews on file.


6. Network effectively

There are many facets to networking. It is not just about meeting the right people and belonging to effective professional bodies, it is also about how you liase with colleagues, use email effectively and manage your "personal brand". It is also a good idea to participate in a range of activities and build relationships outside your current sector.

Networking is a favourite topic of self-help books, such as Gael Lindfield's "Confident networking for career success and satisfaction". But no book, to quote the author, can be a subsititute for "incorruptible integrity" or "authenticity". Style cannot win over substance.


7. Stay ahead

Remain aware of changes and trends in the economy, the profession and the industry you are in. Choose to work in industries and for employers that have long-term sustainability. Not only will they give you a safety net, but they will also provide insight into commercial prescience and survival.

Pay attention to trend-spotters. A new breed of soothsayers are not only predicting the future but shaping it too. Gurus such as Magnus Lindkvist, author of "Everything we know is wrong", have introduced concepts such as the "results-only work environment" and employers are taking note. 


8. Avoid road blocks

Career blocks are rare in fast-growth industries. However, if your sector goes into decline then your personal development plans may be blocked or disappear. Sometimes its pays to jump ship (with courtesy and professionalism), but research your next option before you leap.


9. Develop resilience

It takes an average of five career steps, over a period of 20 years, to get to the top in HR, according to surveys by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Such a long career is bound to be punctuated by some setbacks, and you will need resilience to see you through.

Resilience comes from maintaining a positive frame of mind. It can be cultivated by developing and reaching attainable goals, and being realistic about what can hold you back.


10. Sharpen your commercial focus

The sure-fire way to future-proof an HR career is to be positioned at the heart of the business and so demonstrate the commercial value of yourself and your department. Make sure that you maintain communication among all departments within your organisation. Understand what they do, and perhaps even look for a short secondment or joint project.

Ram Charan highlights the example of his native India, where HR people are becoming CEOs: "They understand how the business makes money."