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Career progression – what are the key topics for the junior to mid-level market?

Over the past six months, I’ve been meeting with senior HR individuals to talk to them about how they’ve succeeded and progressed in their careers. Why did I do this, you ask? Well, having specialised in recruitment for the junior to mid-level market for three years, there has always been one reccurring question… ‘Does this company offer progression?’

This mentality could be traced back to the ‘millennial generation’ (I am also classified as a millennial), which is identified as confident, ambitious, and achievement orientated.

The usual route to progression in today’s market generally starts at the HR Administrator role. From here, you can progress up the ladder until you reach the Director/Head of HR level. However, of all of the professionals that I met with, none of them followed this path and each had their unique strategy to reach their desired level.

To save you from reading a huge amount of information, I’ve analysed each meeting to identify the key topics that aided progress:

Challenge yourself

‘I love my employees to stick their hand up to take on more work, it makes my job easier!’ an HR Director from a leading Insurance firm cheekily said. Which makes sense, when you think about it. How are you able to progress without having exposure to different challenges? I agree that this isn’t always possible in every organisation, but as the motto goes, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

Have a structured progression plan, but don’t be afraid to fluctuate from this

Structure. I love it, it keeps me motivated and engaged. However, the career plan we map out for ourselves should always have the flexibility to allow for personal and professional goals. This was perfectly explained by a Senior HRBP from Australia. She had always wanted to get to an HR Director level as soon as possible, but one day she was offered a secondment in London. On paper, it was a great challenge, but would it affect her progression plan? The answer in her mind was yes! The role was a lateral move, in another country and she had no idea what her options would be should she want to change companies in future. But she took the leap and moved to London. Four years on she’s still working at the same firm in the UK and is pleased about the best decision she ever made.

Don’t just focus on core HR – become a pure generalist

This topic initially confused me, with my first question to the HR Director being, ‘Really? Surely core HR will give you exposure to the likes of ER, L&D and Recruitment?’ Although that question was correct, the key word I used was exposure. Exposure is great, but an HR director within a smaller firm will have to lead, advise and manage the full HR spectrum. Having specialist experience enables you to efficiently cover all the core HR functions to ensure the minimal amount of ‘learning on the job’ is required.

Show your confidence, ambition & determination

This one is difficult to analyse. Not everyone has confidence, some people struggle with determination over a prolonged period of time, so why is it so important to show these attributes in interviews, to your employers and employees? ‘No one is perfect,’ explained an HR Manager from a Trading firm, but leading by example in confidence, ambition and determination will only rub off on others in a positive manner, be that in an interview scenario or your day-to-day job.

Network – this is key!

Networking was the one topic that each individual advocated the most, and all for varying reasons. Networking doesn’t need to be a two-hour seminar after a long arduous day. It can be a mentor, friend within HR or a coffee break with someone from your client group. Networking enables you to build relationships, gain knowledge and to most importantly learn and teach! A Head of L&D from a boutique firm, with a background in advertising, charity and financial services, ensures that she attends a thought-provoking seminar on a monthly basis. The motivation towards this wasn’t to increase her mental capability, but to grow a network of similar minded professionals. From this network she managed to secure her previous two roles.

To sum up, there is no right or wrong way to follow your career aspirations and being unique is something that everyone is and should be. But hopefully this article has given you an idea of what you can do to achieve your goals.

Oakleaf Partnership also believes that networking is key, which is why we offer a mentoring scheme for all placed candidates. We have an unrivalled network ourselves, which enables us to link HR professionals together who are able to bounce ideas off each other, or offer guidance.

Thank you very much to all the individuals who gave me their time to discuss this interesting subject. If anyone has any questions in regards to this article, please feel free to reach out.

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