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The Myths About HR Careers

October 28 2005 - A new CIPD survey finds most HR professionals are happy with their career choice and 81% would make the same choice if they started all over again.

The CIPD report looks at the career experiences of over 1,800 HR professionals and challenges many of the negative myths about human resource specialists. According to Jessica Jarvis, CIPD Learning, Training and Development Adviser and author of the report:

"It sometimes seems that it is fashionable for the HR profession to indulge in doom, gloom and self-loathing. But this survey turns some of the myths on their heads. A profession where the vast majority would pick the same career path if they could start over again is a confident one that is happy with itself."

Main findings:

  • Contrary to the common belief that the most senior people in HR have little background in human resources and are parachuted into their jobs, the average HR Director has 20 years HR experience, has worked in four different organisations, and taken five major career steps to their present jobs.
  • Human resource professionals are (mostly) not serial career changers. They average 15 years service within the HR profession.
  • HR professionals do not lack experience elsewhere in the world of work. Just 26% of those surveyed began their careers in human resources. 83% of respondents had worked outside HR at some point in their careers - typically, sales/marketing/retail, or possibly general business/management and finance.
  • Survey respondents rated the most important factors in a HR career as personal drive, business/industry awareness and generalist experience.
  • Moving between organisations is seen as important to career progression. On average, respondents had taken four major career steps and worked for an average of three organisations.

Staying in one organisation, over specialising and call centres/shared service centres were highlighted as ignificant barriers to career progression. 40% of respondents felt outsourcing was having a negative impact on HR careers.

Apart from age, there were few reliable indicators of the chances of reaching senior levels in HR. These were: being a generalist rather than a specialist; having a degree; having worked for a number of different organisations and having had a number of significant career steps. But many other factors - including qualifications, experience and competencies - had an influential role in reaching senior ranks.

Jessica Jarvis commented:

"It seems that this voicing of more positive beliefs about HR from those we surveyed signals a change in attitude within the profession, with people gaining more belief in the function's ability to become a more credible and respected business player. Certainly it seems that the time is now ripe for this to happen. Several factors are coming together to improve the standing of HR in the business community - the rise of business partnering is making HR more integral to the business and prominent issues such as human capital reporting and corporate social responsibility are carrying HR up the corporate ladder. HR must step up to the challenge and demonstrate how their strategic activities can impact in business terms.

The CIPD report also highlighted some other myths and realities:

  • "Nobody applies for top jobs any more - it's all done by head hunting" - Not true according to the survey. Job applications were the most likely way to senior HR positions. Only 26% of Directors and 17% of Senior/Group Executives.
  • "Consultants are too young to know much about HR" - Not according to the survey, the Independent Consultant group had an average age of 51. They had also, on average, been in HR for 22 years - longer than the average HR Director.
  • "People in HR don't understand the business" - A mere 17% of respondents had no experience of working outside the HR function. 'Business awareness/sense' was the second most important factor in getting to the top in HR, and three-quarters agreed that 'Experience in another function (outside HR) furthers HR careers'.


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