HR Graduates– What you need to know about your first job in HR

There is no doubt the first few years in any career can be challenging.

Having successfully completed a hectic undergraduate degree where you’ve been encouraged to think and challenge the norm, you are about to head into a job where the reality is that the chance of you putting all that theory into practice, or being encouraged to think differently or creatively outside the box, may not be the immediate priority for your new team.

Most people are pretty pragmatic about the transition. Everyone has to start somewhere. You need to find your feet and learn the ropes.

So you start out with big brains, big ambitions, big potential and big energy, but perhaps a little light in the way of practical know how.

It is wise to expect that the first few years of your HR career will be a challenge. You will be enthusiastic and ready to put your learning into practice, you will know all the latest ideas and thinking but the harsh reality is that you’ll rarely be invited to do much of anything with your best thinking in those early years. Instead, you’ll be working on matters that you’ll probably feel ill-prepared for. Worse still, whilst it will all be new to you, everyone around you will seem to know how to do it easily!

Take heart, we’ve all been there.

Hard as it may seem, these formative years are also the ones that can set you up for the future. The experiences, skills and mindset lessons taken from these first few years are the ones that the best HR practitioners carry with them throughout their careers.

So, how best to approach those first years to ensure you get the best possible start?

Here at mwah. we think these are the three aspects that form the foundation of a successful HR career and what you should focus on developing in your first years;

Mindset – Know people, know the business

Mindset always comes first. Get mindset right and you are a long way ahead of the pack.

Come to terms with the fact that the role of HR is to line up the business, the customer and the team and get everyone humming along together. Understand that businesses thrive when people thrive. In those first few years of your career take the opportunity to learn from people in operations who are really close to the business. Spend time with customer services, on the front line, in the engineering department… don’t just think you know people, really get to know people!

HR is not a place where you get to wear the hero cape often. Instead, the best work of HR is done behind the scenes, ensuring every person in the business can shine. What matters to them. What motivates them. What frustrates or challenges them.

Prioritise Relevant Work.

Most likely you’ll be given a job spec but you’ll probably not look at it again after your first week. You’ll have the basics to greater or lesser degrees – how to write, critically analyse, work in groups, apply the law – however, you need to learn how to apply judgement and prioritise for greatest impact.

Here at mwah. we think the way to achieve this is to;

  • Listen to what people want you to do (the long list), and then decide what will make a difference (so you can prioritise).
  • Be brave and influence others to do the ‘right thing’, not just the ‘easy thing’.
  • Enter into potentially difficult conversations and situations, long before they get overly tough.
  • Be generous and teach others the confidence and tools they need to get the people piece right.
  • Order the long list in a way that best impacts the whole system for business and people.

Get Experience.

Put your hand up, again and again. Use every opportunity to get exposure to a variety of situations and experiences. What you learn in these first few years will be the foundation for your whole approach throughout your career. With the practical nuts and bolts stuff that every great HR person can do, exceptionally well.

Hire great people. Manage performance. Support development. Coach. Spot and foster talent. Fairly and kindly manage exits. Write inspiring communication. Lead change. Be a right hand person for a Leader, or two, or ten.

And that’s the secret. The holy trinity of what matters most as you build your HR career – a mindset that appreciates people; the ability to wisely prioritise relevant work that has the most impact and the aptitude to develop experience in the things that will form the ‘bread and butter’ of your job.

As we all know, HR is changing, and changing fast! In your first early years, grabbing these core capabilities will be the ticket to join the most progressive and creative group of HR professionals that are already designing and leading our HR profession for the future. As soon as you’re ready, they’d love your help!

Article by Rhonda Brighton-Hall and Sonja Ankucic from mwah.