How to make the move into.. HR data and analytics

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 23 Mar 2015

Skills in business intelligence and data are increasingly demanded of the HR profession. has been tracking this upward trend over the past two years and encourages readers to use data to drive business insights. Meanwhile the Jobs Hub is seeing more specific opportunities for HR analysts, with salaries ranging from £40-£100 k.

Commentators on evidence-based HR, such as Robert Bolton, partner in KPMG’s HR centre of excellence, expect to see further demand for skills in data management. “There is absolutely a place for analytical capability and there will be an increase in roles”, he says.

In addition, Bolton advises that all HR professionals, even if they want to pursue more traditional careers paths as generalists, should be supplementing their skills with an ability to read and understand data. “They need to know which data tools to use”, he says, pointing out that these techniques will help HR to have more informed business conversations with peers from other disciplines and “talk the language of numbers.”

Apply wisely

As with any job application, it is best to apply for the analytical roles where your skills and experience fit already, or are transferable. Any experience in statistics is likely to give you a head start, particularly as this skill is still in short supply, even among recent HR graduates. “Only 30 per cent of degree courses in HR actually have an element around statistics”, says Professor Nick Holley, co-director of the Centre for HR Excellence at Henley Business School.

The data scientist-type roles are likely to be outside the HR skills base, and are the preserve of those with a Masters degree in algorithms or statistics. These highly sought-after specialists are usually consulted by managers to make business predictions. “They create the visualisation piece”, explains Joseph Nabarro, head of HR operations and analytics recruitment at Annapurna HR.

HR analyst roles, designed to offer past and present insight, are, in contrast, suitable for applicants from an HR background, especially if these are in research-based roles in a bank or university. The ideal applicants are likely to be experienced in advanced Excel and already working as an HR analyst, data assistant or administrator.

Key skills

The most attractive candidates for HR analytics roles are those who are accomplished in exporting data from HR systems, commenting on it, and developing insight and analytics. For this reason, roles at major consulting firms and financial organisations can be helpful launchpads for careers in analytics because candidates are more likely to have been immersed in an numbers- driven environment.

A flair for the whole Microsoft Office suite is also expected. “It allows you to visualise data from Powerpoint, and then utilise this to work with senior stakeholders, for example”, says Nabarro.

Transferable skills from other areas of HR include producing commentary on data, “and problem solving” says Nabarro.  Other recruitment specialists are finding that expertise in business intelligence and big data are sought-after.  “We are hearing more about Hadoop [the open source software project that enables distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of commodity servers]”, says Gary Simpson, the managing consultant specialising in analytics at Search.

Career development

Applicants from an HR background will find themselves competing with other disciplines for analytics roles. “We are hearing less from generalists and more from people from different career paths such as taxation, accounting and HR analytics, or from client-facing roles in the Big Four [consultancies]”,says Jamie Newton, practice lead, reward and analytics at Oakleaf.

He find that experts who can manipulate data and ‘model’ data -- an expression which is being used more regularly these days – are likely to come from technology consultancies rather than HR administration. Newton thinks that these people will then be well-placed to move into “finance and reward roles but not necessarily take a career path into generalist HR.”

Next steps

An understanding of analytics is expected in every HR professional’s skills portfolio, as ambitious managers must prove that they have business insight.

This does not mean that they can see the figures in isolation. Holley says that HR must be able to collect and interpret data which is relevant to the business and its people management objectives,not mine data for its own sake. Good HR professionals make sense of the data. “What we don’t need in HR is the context agnostic”, says Professor Nick Holley.

So where could a career in data take you? Working in HR analytics for a couple of years could facilitate a move into compensation and benefits, or act as a stepping stone into a generalist role in a larger organisation. “The future of HR is in data”, says Holley, “and it can be used to build solid foundations for an HR career.”


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