HR careers: Plugging the hole in your CV

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In her blog on the Wall Street Journal website, Columbia Business School associate professor Rita Gunther McGrath wrote that for many career HR people, their knowledge of “actual leadership activities” was purely theoretical.

“Companies should insist that nobody gets to have an important job in HR unless they have actually run a P&L, developed a strategy or executed against a major organizational change,” she wrote.

“The best HR people I’ve worked with don’t just echo the eternal HR whine ‘we want to be business partners and have a seat at the table’. The best HR people know how to see opportunities for improving the organization, know how to tailor incentive and development plans to foster the engagement and retention of critical people, and don’t wait to be invited to the table, they earn their spot there.”

So what kind of practical experience will companies want to see on your CV and how do you go about getting it?

Gill Rees, Bankwest’s executive general manager, human resources, said HR was about understanding business, problem solving and finding solutions.

“Some of the best HR people I've worked with over the years had mathematics and engineering degrees, and as the world becomes more digital and data driven, attracting young people with these skills is critical for the development of our profession.”

David Owens, the managing director of the HR recruitment company HR Partners, told HC Online that the more senior the HR role, the more likely it is that the hiring company is going to look for a track record which includes demonstrated skills in transformation or change management-related activities.

“By no way is it the only thing around, but it’s certainly one of the key attributes that senior HR professionals should be able to demonstrate well when applying for a top job. In my view, change management skills are best demonstrated by people who have run a change management process two or three times. It’s one of those things that you get better at each time you do it.”

Demonstrating transformation skills – whether the transformation be cultural, performance-related or structural – was also an advantage, he said.

It was also not unusual for larger organisations to require an HR leader with a good grasp of risk management in whatever form that took for the business in question.

“It could be in relation to workplace management, workplace relations, employee relations, industrial relations, but it also could include safety. It depends on the HR portfolio that’s being discussed.”
Owens said HR leaders like Dharma Chandran, chief HR and corporate services officer at Leighton Holdings, were a good example of how senior roles can be broad.  

“He’s had senior roles that have encompassed risk, operations and communications as well.”
For those wanting to climb the ladder, experience is the key, said Owens.

“Doing it and doing it well, demonstrating an ability, building up your knowledge and experience, getting involved in the opportunities around you [are key]. If you want to move up the ladder, you’ve got to have the experience.

“Work with experienced people and learn as much as there is available about the situation you find yourself in. I believe in ongoing learning and I think HR people collaborate well so I think that’s something that should be achievable.”

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