As with most sectors, it’s easier to break into HR if you have appropriate qualifications. And there are a range of qualifications to choose from, each offering their own benefits.
If you haven’t already undertaken any form of HR study, such as a degree covering an HR discipline, there are still plenty of options available to you.
HR qualifications start at entry level, and go all the way to higher qualifications such as an MCIPD, which is a chartered membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and is typically obtained by HR professionals with demonstrable experience in the sector.
The CIPD is the major HR industry body in the UK, and as such, its qualifications generally set the standard for the wider sector. The majority of HR employers hold CIPD qualifications in high regard, and they are often a prerequisite for HR roles at a number of levels – particularly those at the more senior end of the spectrum.
If you can devote the time – and the money – to invest in a CIPD qualification, it’s well worth exploring this option. They are broken down into foundation, intermediate and advanced levels with awards, certificates and diplomas offered at each level. If you’re a newcomer to HR study, then the foundation level is likely to be your starting place.
There is also a range of learning options – you can study full-time, part-time or on a distance learning basis; and fast track options are also available. In addition, most CIPD qualifications lead to some form of CIPD membership, which is also a useful tool for any HR professional – or an aspiring one. Membership appeals to employers since it demonstrates you conform to the CIPD’s standards and that you act in accordance with industry best practice.
Further, detailed information on the range of CIPD qualifications is available at its website.
However, the CIPD isn’t the only route into an HR qualification.
If you’re an undergraduate or have recently left university, you could apply for a graduate training scheme in an HR function. This will result in practical experience and an opportunity to learn at the same time. Or, there’s also the option of a placement or internship in an HR department, which, while it might be for low pay or unpaid altogether, is a useful first step in gaining experience in the sector. Plus, having one of these on your CV shows potential employers that you’re keen.
A postgraduate HR qualification is also a sensible early step, and these are available either through the CIPD or via other organisations (although these are still often CIPD-accredited).
Alternatively, if you’re in a position to undertake a degree course, whether full-time or part-time, consider whether an HR-related degree is right for you. There are numerous relevant degree courses on offer from universities across the UK, and again flexible learning options are available.
And remember, HR qualifications aren’t absolutely essential if you’re just starting out.
In some cases, you might be able to take on a junior HR role, such as an HR assistant, without a formal HR qualification - provided you have good GCSE and/or A-level results. Once you’re in a role like this, you will subsequently be able to study and gain qualifications in the near future.
Or, you could embark on a ‘stepping stone’ role, for example in recruitment, which will often make it easier to make the transition into HR. This will allow you to gain relevant, practical skills and experience that will make it easier to transition into an HR career.
Similarly, a non-HR role within an HR department – such as an administrative position – will help to get your foot in the door.
There are plenty of avenues for on-the-job learning that enable you to get practical experience while working towards an industry qualification. This can go hand-in-hand with student membership of the CIPD, and the good news is that some employers will fund this type of training while you’re working for them. What’s more, an extra bit of good news is that this year the CIPD has restructured its membership fees, making it cheaper to join as a student member.
However, while it’s possible to get into HR using some of these routes without formal qualifications, consider the current job market and the increased competition for roles. You might be up against candidates who hold a qualification of some description, putting you at a disadvantage. So, in a competitive market, obtaining a qualification gives you a significant head start in the hunt for roles.
Finally, regardless of which qualifications you choose in order to get into HR, be prepared to take on further qualifications throughout your career.
Continuing professional development is an expectation across many sectors, and HR is no different, as employers encourage practitioners to develop and increase their knowledge as their career progresses and as the industry evolves.
In HR it would be rare to sit back on the entry-level qualifications that first got you into the sector, and ongoing learning is crucial for a successful career.