Improve your recruitment prospects: spreading HR’s business wings

by 04 Mar 2010

HR professionals can broaden their experience in a business by rotating through other functions. HR Leader looks at this trend and how it can improve the recruitment prospects of HR proponents

HR professionals have often been stigmatised by the perception that they lack business nous. Compared with other organisational functions, such as operations, finance or IT, HR has some times not been considered one of the more important functions when it comes to essential parts of a business.

One move that HR professionals can sometimes make to broaden their business expertise – as well as their subsequent recruitment and career path prospects – is to move into other functions. David Owens, managing director of HR Partners, suggests that this is a more commonly held aspiration now than it used to be. “It is seen as a highly desirable thing to do – particularly by the more ambitious HR professional,” he says.

Emma Egan, manager of Hays Human Resources, says “it is becoming less common” for HR professionals to move into other functions, and that they tend to leave an organisation rather than move into a different function. “This might be partly due to the market over the last 12 to 18 months, with people shying away from any possible career risk. In addition, such a move usually involves a pay cut, whereas if an HR professional built on their existing HR skills they may move up in remuneration and career potential,” she explains.

James McConochie, manager of Michael Page Human Resources, explains that HR professionals in large organisations tend to be specialists, which makes it difficult to move into other functional roles in technical areas such as IT and finance. However, he notes that a move from HR into another department is more common in small businesses. “HR professionals tend to have a broad remit and strong operational focus rather than the specialised roles that exist in larger organisations. In many instances the breadth of operational experience HR professionals gained was heightened during the eco nomic downturn when small businesses had to do more with less,” he observes.

Steps for skilling across functions

Any potential move into another function is led by appropriate qualifications, whether it’s an MBA or a degree in an area such as finance, McConochie states. Beyond this, he recommends investigating any opportunities to increase opera tional involvement with the business in existing roles to improve skill-sets. “Again, this is more of a prospect in a smaller-sized company as opposed to a larger organisation,” he asserts.

There are a couple of easy wins for HR professionals who may be considering a cross-functional move, Owens says, including landing a position of the HR professional responsible for a client group, such as finance, sales and marketing or IT. “After all, the HR professional who has an understanding of the commercial activity in each segment of a business is going to be more informed and more credible and, therefore, more capa ble of constructively advising on the best outcomes,” he states.

Egan recommends taking on specific projects on top of day-to-day duties. Hands-on experience gained from being involved with a specific project or team work can be invaluable, she says, adding that it’s also important to stay on top of industry changes, such as IR legislative updates and increasing OH&S responsibilities. Conferences can also be a great help, while coaching or mentorships can be beneficial, Egan says.

Michael Murrie, Sydney director of The Next Step, says it can be helpful to build relationships with managers across different parts of the business with a view to moving functions. Getting actively involved in the business and with line man agers and demonstrating that you can add real value is essential to this process, he says, which can open up different opportunities.

“It’s up to the individual HR person to do this,” Murrie asserts. “HR professionals are very good at moving people across the business and helping others with their careers, but they also have to take responsibility for their own career and look after themselves.”

Improving your recruitment prospects

Murrie believes it’s highly beneficial for HR professionals – and their career paths – to boost their skills and experience in other functions. “I love to see people who have had commercial roles in their businesses with P&L and management responsibilities. I’m a big believer in people who have moved across functions because they can fully empathise with business managers, so experience in an operational business role can only enhance you as a professional,” he says.

HR professionals who have held non- HR roles usually prosper, according to Owens, because their experiences are valued and appreciated more. “Generally speaking, the HR professional benefits from the expansion of their firsthand knowledge of having worked in a non-HR role,” he explains.

“The value of having had a non-HR role translates into heightened commercial acumen, insight and appreciation of other disciplines, and, by default, credibility. The non-HR experience should really assist in building stronger bonds with the leadership team, and, therefore, enable you to contribute more directly to the direction of the business and the opportunity to earn the accolades and rewards that flow from that.”

Egan says that HR professionals with broader business experience will come across to potential employers as being flexible and happy to take on additional duties and build broader HR experience. With exposure to a broader business perspective, she says “this can be a great advantage and selling point when looking for your next role”.

“At the moment, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of employed people looking to change jobs. A lot of people are unhappy in their current roles, and so a lot of good candidates are starting to actively look for their next step up.”

Having a plan

Before stepping out of HR and into a line role, David Owens, managing director of HR Partners, says it is important to plan for both the short-term and mid-term future. While it is helpful to have a connection with the business line head, he says it is also important to understand the expectations required in the role, what is required from a performance point of view and if it is a fixed-term appointment or a permanent move out of HR. “It’s important you know what the experience will give to you and you should be able to see a lot on the upside; you should, however, assess the risks and think about what the downside looks like,” he says.