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What does it take to become a successful HR professional?

2 Mar 2018 By Helen Floor

Recruiter Helen Floor rounds up the key qualities that the most ambitious candidates have in common

I recruit HR professionals at every level, and over a long career I have enjoyed watching candidates begin their career and eventually progress to senior roles. Although not everybody wants to move up the career ladder, I am often struck by the qualities that unite those who have. As the need for senior talent is critical in an uncertain and challenging world, here are the qualities I believe could help HR practitioners to take the next step.

They partner other business functions 

Successful HR professionals can speak compellingly to everybody, from the most junior new starter to the board, and they can speak the CFO’s language. Key to this is an understanding of how HR fits within an organisation and the challenges and ambitions of all business functions. One way to learn this quickly is to get involved at the earliest opportunity with talent planning and business structuring, in which capacity you will spend time with managers and functions across the business. 

Boards today recognise the competition for talent, and expect HR and marketing to work together to attract the best people. This provides opportunities for HR to get involved with social media and brand advocacy – key tools in the war for talent. 

They want to solve problems

While they’re careful with their time and attention, some of the best HR people I know have furthered their reputation by taking on a problem, regardless of whether or not it was their job to do so. HR’s increasingly cross-functional remit means there are now plenty of opportunities to expand and define your own role.  

They challenge assumptions 

The sheer pressure on businesses to perform can result in creativity being stifled, with time-stretched individuals adopting a mindset of ticking a certain number of boxes in a day. Yet few companies really want an army of box-tickers. Successful candidates often question the status quo, whether that’s a system, a process or a set of assumptions, and always seek a better way.   

They take the long-term view  

Successful people often think pragmatically about their career and have a plan that means taking the long-term view. For example, some of the best HR candidates I’ve interviewed have been willing to take a sideways move at a key stage in their career to gain skills they know will be valuable (for example, by taking secondments into systems or L&D projects). 

They’re great at talking about their career 

Whether because they started out with a plan for their career and stuck to it, or simply because they practise the art of talking through their CV, many of the best candidates I have met are skilled at delivering a compelling, joined-up precis of their career. I think you can gain easy points in an interview by practising beforehand how you describe your career journey until it becomes second nature. 

They get qualified 

Ambitious people seize opportunities to qualify in their field. CIPD qualifications and sponsored degrees or master’s degrees undertaken alongside work are invaluable and can help you to broaden your skillset or discover new specialisms.  

They champion employees

HR should be forward-looking and an agent for people growing with an organisation. So the best HR professionals are curious about people and can recognise individuals’ strengths and – above all – potential. HR has a role to play in ensuring a business is community-focused, which applies to employees and stakeholders alike. HR now speaks for the employee community – so it needs to listen to it, too. 

Helen Floor is managing director of 1-1 Recruitment Group

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