My 3 Pieces Of Advice For HR Graduates


Starting a career in HR is a very exciting prospect. A daunting one too, but definitely exciting. The stock answer many HR graduates have given me when I ask them why they want to work in HR is that “I want to work with people”.

Okay. That’s absolutely fine, and you will work with people. People who need your help, people who need your support, people who need your advice, people who need a critical friend and people who need to be told when they need your advice, when they should have taken your advice, and people who need to be told about the consequences of their actions. You are going to get the spectrum.

I’ve recruited, worked alongside and employed various HR graduates over the years and often like to help them along by giving them these 3 important pieces of advice.

1) Practice, is very, very different to theory

If I’m completely honest, I did much of my learning ‘on the job’ and from the people around me. I grew up and literally completed my apprenticeship in the steel industry as you would have known from my previous posts. My Higher Education studies could not and did not prepare me for understanding employee relations, disciplinary and grievance case management and paying people correctly (forget strategy, get this wrong and it’s all over).

I am definitely not saying my academic studies weren’t important they just weren’t as relevant to me for a while. It was in later life in more senior roles that I started realising how important some of the earlier modules I learned were.

I see many eager and enthusiastic graduates looking forward to applying all they have learned, very quickly, into their first HR job. Now don’t let me beat the enthusiasm out of you, or put a dampener on things, but you’ve a whole lot more to learn in the world of practical HR that academic HR simply could not have taught you.

Its going to be different – not better or worse, but different and HR graduates need to be prepared for that.

2) Don‘t underestimate the importance of learning the basics, and take time to learn them properly.

The basics are crucial. I preach this to everyone. The best HR practitioners I’ve ever met are those that took the appropriate amount of time to learn the basics and therefore built their HR credibility on strong foundations. Also, there’s no kidding these people.

Understand what the core duties of the most common role in the organisation are, for example, in healthcare find out what a carer actually does – shadow them for a shift and put everything you are ever involved in into context.

Learn how the wage structures work, why the policies reflect whatever they reflect and how the shift pattern fully works for example. Believe me, knowing this information is going to be invaluable to you.

A side note, not a swipe to all HR graduates and please don’t take it that way, but unfortunately some have had this view in my experience. The essential, fundamental, ‘support function’ type activities are not beneath you. Don‘t ever think that. It’s incredibly important work.

3) The HR career path is often unpredictable so learn to enjoy the ride and say yes to every new learning experience you are offered

I have always admired people who had an idea of a structured career path that they wanted to follow and a plan in place to help guide that path. I strongly encourage everyone to think about how they want their career to pan out. However, I’ve realised that many career paths in HR are unpredictable.

At 21, I wasn’t expecting to be asked to spend 3 months at a plant I’d never been to before to manage a redundancy programme and despite this not being a particularly pleasant task, I was definitely not turning this opportunity down.

I encourage all HR employees not just HR graduates to learn to enjoy the ride, to take the rough with the smooth and to embrace new learning experiences that arise – they may never come about again.

Ignore the haters – HR is an exciting profession. Make the most of it.