How to develop a career in HR

As an experienced HR professional, I am often asked for advice by those just starting their HR career.

Top Tip

The key piece of advice I would give is to make sure you focus on your professional development (notwithstanding there is both a need and an expectation as HR professionals to maintain our knowledge and skills during whichever point in our career we are at).

Next steps:

  • Identify your professional development needs based on what your business needs from you. This way you will close the gap between what you already know and what you need to know to do your job well. A progressive career will then naturally follow as you build up a proven track record of performance.
  • The starting point should be clarity about the role you are required to play in your organisation. Job descriptions are great for this, but some organisations don’t have them so if this is the case for you have a conversation with your line manager so that you are clear on ‘what’ you need to do and how success will be measured.
  • The ‘What’ you need to do will become the ‘People’ part of the business plan. It doesn’t have to be a complicated plan, but it gives you something to work to, and to monitor progress against. (Remember at this stage we are talking business-based plans, not your personal development plan).
  • Once you have your ‘People’ plan you are then able to do a gap analysis on what you already know and can do, and what you need to know and/or learn to do to be able to deliver your people plan. This becomes your professional development plan and is personal to you. This will contain technical development (knowledge) and behavioural development (Skills).
  • Remember, technical knowledge alone won’t make us great HR professionals, we need great behaviours too, so make sure you have a balance on your development plan. The way you work will be key to managing your increasing responsibility as your career progresses and should include processes and approaches you put in place to help you.


  • Review the CIPD Development Tool to make sure you understand the behaviours HR professionals need to add value in the business
  • If your organisation has a competency framework, make sure you assess yourself against this too
  • Attend your local CIPD branch meetings to gain insight into HR subjects and to get different perspectives
  • Sign up to receive email alerts from professional bodies to stay up to date. I’d recommend at least:
    People Management and ACAS
  • Use LinkedIn to gain knowledge and insight. Link with or follow key people who are active and share information. You don’t have to comment if you don’t want to, but if you see something that’s been shared you can then follow that too and build your reference sources
  • Keep up to date with the news for things that are happening that are relevant to HR and business. This will help you help others to see the link between HR practices and real life.
  • If you like reading, there are some great books out there. The CIPD has its own bookstore, and there’s some good stuff on Amazon. These can be a particularly good when focusing on behavioural development
  • Build your network of like-minded people.
  • Consider a HR coach if you don’t have someone in your organisation who has the time to support you on your journey. You won’t need a coach forever, but they can be great at certain points in your career. I have had coaches in the past and their roles have varied depending on the stage I have been in my career and what I have needed. My first one was a HR expert; subsequent ones provided coaching in leadership. If you want/need your organisation to pay, then suggest a personal development bond agreement

Best of luck!

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