Human resources and recruitment

Human resources

Knowledge of human resources (HR) is required for nearly every organisation. As a result, there are widespread opportunities in human resources and personnel roles, with HR staff employed in a the full range of businesses, including private, public and voluntary sector organisations of all sizes. Job opportunities can arise in most towns and cities, although HR staff in large organisations may principally be based in head offices, rather than across the business.

Besides opportunities to work in the HR department of individual organisations, some human resources staff work in specialist consultancies which carry out HR functions on behalf of client organisations. This ‘outsourcing’ of personnel services to consultancies means consultancy staff provide advice on HR matters to a varied range of organisations and members of their staff.

A career in HR offers long-term options, with clear routes for progression, opportunity to gain professional qualifications, and a wide range of roles to diversify into.

Types of graduate roles

Roles within HR can be broadly categorised into two discrete areas - Human Resource Management and Human Resource Development.

Human resource management deals with day-to-day HR tasks including contracts, annual/maternity leave, discipline, absence management, and grievance.

Human resource development deals with training and development of staff, diversity, health & wellbeing, staff rewards, policy & procedure and business planning.

The roles are largely hierarchical in structure, and tend to follow the system below. Some companies may have different structures, or the role may have a different name (e.g. instead of HR, it may be called “Personnel” or the “Department of People”).


  • “Entry level” role or work experience/ graduate internship.
  • Role includes movement of information (eg applications/emails).

  • Possible to enter this level as a graduate with relevant experience. 'Associate - level' membership of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is advised.
  • Deals with general enquiries, maternity/paternity and annual leave and contracts.

  • For this, a graduate CIPD qualification is required, which includes professional examination.
  • Deals with grievance, discipline, absence management, casework, support, hearings, policy and procedure.

  • The line manager for the HR department. Human Resource Managers advise senior staff in their organisation on key business decisions as well as developing HR policies.
  • Demonstrates continuous professional development with evidence of appropriate skills/experience to progress through the levels of the profession.

Entry points

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the professional body that supports professional development in HR. An appropriate level of membership of the CIPD may be required to progress through HR roles. At the highest level, you can become a ‘Fellow’ of the CIPD.

To move through the roles and membership levels, undertaking professional qualifications and evidencing your relevant professional development will be required. It is not a requirement to have CIPD membership to get into an “entry level” role, such as an administrator. For graduate roles, CIPD membership can be useful, but it's not a prerequisite. Be prepared to “start from the bottom” and then build your way up.

To progress to higher levels, it is possible to undertake a CIPD accredited postgraduate qualification. Locally, there is a 1 year full-time MSc in “Human Resource Management” available, at either the University of Sheffield or Sheffield Hallam University.

Skills and experience required

It is advisable to build up relevant experience, which can be achieved through work experience/shadowing, placements and internships. Relevant transferable skills can also be attained through extra-curricular and volunteering activities. It is important to show that you have a genuine interest in HR practice. Additionally, students can use online learning via the CIPD website to pick up relevant skills.

In general, excellent communication, organisation, time management and interpersonal skills are required for all roles.

Roles in human resource management can be challenging, and resilience is required especially when handling difficult conversations with staff members. Subjects that these roles could be particularly suited to include Psychology, Business Studies and Law - but the career is open to all degree disciplines, and a genuine interest is more important.

Roles in human resource development are challenging in different ways. There is a need to have creative ideas for staff training, to have an attention for detail and the ability to come up with new ideas/concepts. These roles are also open to all degree backgrounds, but again, you must have a genuine interest.

Job search strategies

HR roles are widely advertised online through general search engines (eg Targetjobs, Career Connect), company webpages, and specialist jobsites (eg Personnel Today, Simply HR Jobs). Placements and internships are also advertised, particularly with large organisations, but it may be necessary to write speculative applications to discover opportunities.

Useful websites for further information
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
The professional body for HR. Includes a knowledge hub, training and development. See the 'New to HR and L&D' section for careers information.
HR and recruitment (Targetjobs)
Graduate jobs, training schemes and placements.
People Management
Monthly magazine/website produced by the CIPD.
Recruitment and HR (Prospects)
Job profiles and information on careers in recruitment & HR, plus graduate jobs.
Simply HR Jobs
Jobs board.
See also

Related careers information appears in the following sector:

Last updated: 22 Jan 2019