Your questions answered (part two)

Following the CIPD London Student Conference, we asked two of our speakers, Perry Timms, PTHR CEO and Vilma Nikolaidou, Head of OD-Leadership and Culture, Tate, to answer some of your burning questions we couldn't get round to during our panel discussion on the day. 

For someone who is starting out and is new to HR, how should one go about looking for real work experience to help build out their CV?

Perry: 2 things: one is work on something like TEDx as a volunteer and offer to do HR related stuff like recruiting others; working on feedback so people could help each other; learning and sharing knowledge. Assume the role of an HR leader in a startup. The other is perhaps find a freelance HR / Learning / OD consultant and offer to work with them. They are experienced, have a network and would welcome any support whilst you are learning more about how HR works from this direct experience.

Vilma: assuming that you can work for free or expenses only, volunteering is always a good start and small charities always need good people. Many people can’t work for free so they start elsewhere. I started in retail where store managers for example carry a great deal of HR and training responsibility. Catering is similar.

How do you transition from a line manager in a non HR role to a HR professional?

Perry: I did that. You find the thing(s) in HR that you’re most passionate about and good at and work on that in projects; form a learning partnership with an HR professional and go to HR conferences and events. As a line manager you bring relevant people management practice and experience so it’s about then finding the specialism within HR that most suits you.

Vilma: I also did that so it’s not uncommon. I worked for a retailer and as I said before I was carrying a lot of people management responsibilities already. I presented all of those responsibilities in a more formal HR language and used a lot of the CIPD resources to show that I was already committed and building my knowledge in the best possible way. Ultimately though I had what many ‘pure’ HR professionals did not have which was real life business/line management experience so this can be your advantage!

I consistently find that companies like my personality and approach to work and HR. However, there is always someone with more experience who interviews, making it seemingly impossible to break in to gain that missing experience. There are aspects in my role, but it's not HR focused. How can I convince potential employers I'm worth the risk?

Perry: Mindset, I’d suggest you think of yourself as an opportunity, a wildcard, a fresh perspective over a risk. Then I’d get some - even minor - experience. Whilst doing this, build your network of HR professionals. So when a company says “what experience do you have?” you can point to the network you’ve created as having all the experience they’d ever need (that of course you can tap into) AND talk up your freshness in perspective, your energy and commitment and that you’re their HR pro of tomorrow not yesterday. It might just work.

Also find companies where you believe the culture is looking ahead not down at the immediate now or even past. Startups, growth enterprises, new players or existing players with a new function. They’re more likely to suit the way you want to operate anyway. Instead of people focusing on what you haven’t done, you can help them see what you could do with what you’ve shown you’re capable of through illustrative examples.

And some companies will use this as an excuse. If they have to do that, you probably wouldn’t like their way of working anyway.

Vilma: this can be dispiriting. Perry is right about re-framing how you see yourself. This will then mean you present yourself as an interesting prospect, an outsider that can bring in fresh perspectives. If you lack experience, mention how you would make up for that: through your network, a mentor or real life experiences you may have had. Focus on the things that you have and which are difficult to train people on: trust, building relationships, having a can do attitude, a strong work ethic. You can train people in HR practices but it’s much harder to train someone on the above. Make that your proposition to any future company.

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