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Careers Centre


Sector Overview

This page has been written by Shona Mach, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Human Resources (HR) is at the centre of business performance with HR professionals driving decisions that enable their organisations to perform at their best. HR professionals aim to make the most effective use of the people within an organisation. Given that anyone working in an HR department will deal with a wide range of people on a day-to-day basis, an approachable, calm and professional attitude is key.

Recruitment is a major function within HR and roles in this area may be based either in-house (managing the recruitment needs of an organisation) or in a consultancy (handling recruitment for a range of different clients). Executive recruitment consultancies (headhunters) typically operate in specialist areas sourcing candidates for senior appointments. They often approach individuals directly rather than advertising openly.

Organisations are increasingly aware of the value and importance of HR functions and almost every organisation now has HR staff in some capacity. The professional association for HR/Personnel specialists and generalists in the UK is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and its current membership stands at over 135,000. Although most graduate training schemes lie within large commercial organisations with large HR teams or in the large public sector employers, opportunities exist in organisations of all sizes.

HR attributes profile

Key attributes needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
Decisive thinker: able to analyse information quickly and use it to make robust decisions This is likely to be gained and evidenced through your academic studies. It can also be developed through positions of responsibility in student-run societies and student representative.
Courage to challenge: has the courage and confidence to speak up and will challenge others even when met with resistance or unfamiliar circumstances

These can be gained from involvement in extra-curricular activities such as debating.  A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics


Skilled influencer: able to gain commitment from different quarters in order to benefit the organisation
Collaborative: able to work well with a range of people both within and outside of the organisation Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to develop your skills of teamwork and collaboration
Role model: leads by example

CAPOD offers Leadership courses within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put your leadership skills into practice

Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Personally credible: aims to become an expert in both HR and commercial issues, and takes a professional approach
  • Driven to deliver: focussed on delivering best possible results for the organisation, and shows determination, resourcefulness and a sense of purpose in achieving this
  • Curious: inquisitive and open-minded, seeks out new ways to support the development of the organisation
Key attributes taken from the CIPD HR Profession map

Nature of sector or roles

Human resources

Human resources (HR) specialists aim to make the most effective use of the people within an organisation in line with its overall aims and objectives. They are often represented on ‘the board’, with staff seen as one of the many resources an organisation uses. People are still their core business and the skills needed are focused on the range of ‘people interactions’ they have, but many HR professionals actually have more contact with managers in the business than with staff, and there is a move in many organisations towards them acting more as internal consultants. Roles can be generalist and as such very varied, or specialist and many require a good knowledge of employment law.

Some organisations choose to outsource their HR function rather than employing in-house staff and this need is met by HR consultancies offering specialist services. Consultancies may also be hired by a company to develop and implement specific policies.

Human capital consulting

Human capital consulting is a growing industry which has developed from management consulting to address complex human resources management tasks and decisions. Human capital consulting services offered include executive/employee compensation and awards, mergers and acquisitions consulting, HR transformation strategy and planning, HR outsourcing, talent strategies, taxation, actuarial, retirement and benefit strategies.

Recruitment consultancy

Recruitment consultants and executive search firms/headhunters seek to match prospective employees to clients’ vacancies. Recruitment consultancies can specialise in particular employment sectors and, invariably, they aim to make as much commission as possible. Building good relationships with employers is key. It is a fast moving environment, riding high or low depending on labour market conditions. Headhunters, on the other hand, tend to look for fewer specialist or senior staff and rely much more heavily on strong networks of contacts in the sectors concerned.

The CIPD's HR Profession Map sets out comprehensively how HR adds the greatest sustained value to the organisation it operates in, now and in the future. It describes the highest standards of professional competence for the organisation. TARGETjobs helps to contextualise this for students and graduates.

Networks - why and how to use them

Why are networks important?

Networking is particularly important and can really help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for an organisation you are applying to you will have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you.

Attending the Management and Finance Careers Fair and individual employer run events are great ways to make valuable connections. Use these opportunities to introduce yourself to representatives; ask for their business card so you can make contact in the future.

Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with employers and the sector.

Where alumni work now

St Andrews graduates have gone on to work in many major and not-so-major companies in the UK and around the world. These alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews.

Your networks

There are several ways to make contact with alumni:

How to gain experience/internships

Although not essential, HR work experience can often be an advantage when applying for a graduate job. Any job can give you useful experience, particularly if you use the opportunity to observe people’s interactions, as an understanding of human behaviour is essential for HR roles.

Summer internships

Summer internships are an excellent way of gaining relevant experience in this field. These are highly competitive but a good range of internships are available across the sectors.

A number of employers offer structured internships in HR, many with application deadlines in the autumn/winter. Examples include:

Job search websites

Sign-up early to the following websites for alerts about HR internships with a wider selection of employers:

Other ways to get experience

How to get a (graduate) job

HR opportunities are available in a number of ways

If you’re not joining on a graduate training programme, some organisations prefer to take entrants who have achieved the CIPD practitioner-level qualification. Study can be undertaken on a full or part-time basis; more information can be found on the CIPD website.

Graduate training schemes

These are usually advertised from late summer/early autumn of your final year for a start date the following summer. Deadlines are often in the autumn/winter, but there are exceptions – eg the Sky HR graduate programme closing date is 13 May for a start date in August 2015. Regularly check websites for up-to-date deadlines.


  Some employers who have advertised HR graduate training schemes in the recent past
Private Sector
Public Sector

The following websites advertise HR graduate training schemes:

HR job search websites:


Some Human Capital Consulting graduate training schemes

Recruitment Consultants

Recruitment consultancies advertise graduate trainee consultant posts all year round via CareerConnect.  Their professional body, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation has a searchable database of consultancies.

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

The recruitment process for HR graduate training schemes can vary from company to company, but is likely to consist of the following:

Formal assessments are, however, uncommon for direct entry jobs. Interview questions will probably be designed to find out about your interpersonal and team skills – be prepared to give examples to back up your claims. You can improve your chances of success at interviews if you keep up to date with trends and practices in the HR sector.

Research the company prior to an interview to understand the skills and competencies they are looking for. Also check the employer’s website as many provide details on their own individual recruitment and selection processes.

Relevant Postgraduate Study


Although not essential, a relevant postgraduate qualification can prove an advantage with some employers. Most employers offering HR graduate training schemes will enable you to study part-time towards CIPD qualification whilst working.

If you’re interested in funding a relevant course yourself contact the institution or try to visit before making an application. Assess what you may gain from such a course before committing yourself to considerable expense and ask questions about how successful these courses have been in gaining jobs for their past students.  An integrated work placement can add value.  Check that those courses you are considering are recognised by the CIPD.

Recruitment Consultancy

You don't need a postgraduate degree to work in recruitment as a consultant. There are, however, training courses offered by the Institute of Recruitment Professionals which may help build your skills and knowledge.

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources



Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:


Relevant Careers A-Z pages:

General HR-related careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines


USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.