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Key considerations for professionals looking to switch to HR

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The human resources function has changed in face and nature from what it once was. HR is seen as a much more accessible function and one aligned to business objectives. What are the advantages of moving to HR from another business function? What are the Benefits and what should professionals bear in mind when wanting to make the break into HR?

From 'personnel' to 'human resources'

We have come a long way from the old fashioned stereotypical view of the ‘personnel officer'.

Today’s HR professionals need a wealth of different skill sets – skill sets that are not only based around the traditional ‘people’ areas of recruitment, reward and retention, but also more strategically focused skills. 

The fact that HR is now much more business focused is good news for those wanting to make a transition into HR from other areas.

HR now aligned with business objectives

As with other professional careers, the main entry route into HR is either through qualification or solid relevant experience. While the CIPD qualification route is still the preferred option for many organisations, this criteria is largely set by other HR professionals themselves. 

Line managers many not necessarily see this as so important – what is far more relevant for them is great people management skills coupled with all round commercial and business acumen. Consequently HR can be a good choice for career changers. The key is knowing what skills are in demand and transferring those skills within an HR context.

There’s an increasing emphasis towards recruiting HR business partners who can work with business leaders to ensure that HR strategy is aligned with overall business objectives – quite a big departure from the more reactive approach taken in the past. This increasing focus on business and customers increases the opportunity for people to move across from other areas of the organisation.

What are the key competencies for HR?

Pragmatism and an ability to deal with practical reality rather than just theory or models is essential. You can’t practice HR from a textbook – it’s a role that evolving all the time. Economic conditions, while improving, are still far from predictable and so the ability to plan for any eventuality is key.

Today’s HR professionals need an instinctive understanding of the all the obstacles that a business or team faces – and how to overcome these through relevant people activities. 

A down to earth nature is also important. Sometimes those in HR are mistrusted because they are seen to be ‘in the know’ about issues that may affect individuals, teams or whole departments. An approach that encourages rather than alienates is essential.

How easy is it to transfer to the HR function?

Those that have been in the front line themselves will find it the easiest to transfer across as operational experience will be of value as will being able to think strategically about how HR can add value to the bottom line. 

Acutely understanding the issues faced coupled with a real passion for people management can be a powerful combination. Leadership skills are also hugely transferable – some managers may be able to demonstrate leadership skills that their peer group do not possess. 

The ability to transfer these into HR can help inspire and develop these qualities in others and are the sorts of skills that can make a real difference to line managers and business leaders who are looking for true ‘business partners’ in both good times and bad. What they really need are partners who are willing to 'throw themselves in the fire', take risks and stand shoulder to shoulder rather than just advising from a distance. In essence it’s about making a real difference – not being a necessary evil.

Coming from other business areas - fresh approach

Some organisations are definitely seeing the value in transfers into HR from line. 

A CIPD case study featuring Centrica concluded that:

“The HR leadership team was keen to see transfers into HR from the line. This enhanced the status of HR and improved its knowledge of the business.

Transferees would fit into generalist or project roles but, apart from learning and development, not into specialist posts. Having line managers join HR is a good thing. Besides business knowledge, they bring a Challenge to the function”.

HR - still accountable to the business

There are obvious other potential crossovers into specialist HR roles. Recruitment and resourcing departments for example have become a hotbed for recruitment consultants who may want to move on from what they may perceive as ostensibly a sales role. 

A word of warning though. In-house resourcing professionals will have targets too and while it may give you a foot in the door, the hiring organisations will still want to see Results and a return on their investment.

HR's about people and business together

In essence the most important thing to remember is that HR is a business function – it is not a welfare operation and anyone transferring into HR needs to clearly understand this. 

The phrase “people are an organisation’s greatest asset” may be a cliché but is also a truism.

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