The HR career ladder: the view from Asia

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 May 2010

10 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Traditional steps to HR

While HR professionals could come from various educational backgrounds, the most highly regarded route into the HR profession would be to possess a bachelor’s degree in HR, personnel or any other related disciplines. Such related degrees offer you the best training for an HR career, and would successfully place you on more hiring shortlists.

Other indirect routes include internal transfers within the same organisation. If you are already working in a different department and would like to make the switch to an HR related position, earning certifications in an HR related field could help you smoothen your transition. Some large organisations would consider internal resources for new HR positions, and people with related majors in business, sociology, social sciences or psychology could very well find themselves considered, especially for more entry level positions.

An absolutely essential ability for HR professionals is the capacity to possess a genuine passion for people development. It's all about soft skills, as well as having a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ). As equally important, would be the ability to build and manage relationships while networking with different levels of people within the organisation.

Key traits for HR professionals

Having a keen sense of empathy and awareness is crucial to becoming an effective business partner in an organisation. These qualities would enable you to develop the interpersonal skills and flexibility to make the toughest decisions and deal with the most difficult staff, while continuing to maintain organisational interest within the constitution of individual interests. To be an effective HR person, it is paramount for you to recognise individuality instead of looking upon employees as a mass. 
It's also imperative to be able to distinguish between the parameters of judging a right from a wrong, and to be able to customise policies in appropriate circumstances. In addition, a sense of conscientiousness and integrity would help you to build your relationships with employees based on trust and faith. It's absolutely important to maintain personal credibility while handling confidential people records.

Also essential would be the ability to deal with downsizing and restructuring, as well as being able to handle ambiguity.

Transferrable skills

An example of a very contrasting role switch could consist of a high-performing sales professional who wants to move into the HR profession. He/she could face more difficulty in terms of various factors, the most obvious factor being compensation differences -instead of being rewarded based on a commission scheme, this person could very well find that there could be an eventual drop in annual salary since his/her performance is no longer tied to sales targets like before. Faced with the realisation that HR roles are regarded as back office support, such professionals looking to make the switch should be able to derive satisfaction from other job factors such as the personable aspects of the role.

That said, a sales professional with an excellent understanding of the business function in a sales environment would make an exceptional HR business partner with a focus on sales roles.

Conversely, a recruitment consultant who is tired of meeting sales targets and yet still interested in recruiting, could consider moving into the HR profession, since in-house HR allows them to continue hiring people, but without the stress of having to meet sales statistics.

The HR market in Singapore

2009 proved to be a challenging year for the Singapore HR market. With global headquarters implementing hiring freezes across the board, recruitment activity was greatly reduced.

While some areas of HR saw a greater number of redundancies than others, the number of HR professionals retrenched was relatively low. Robert Walters provides a comprehensive salary survey and offers an annual insight into the salaries presently commanded in each market.

HR candidates should be honest while building relationships with recruiters. It's important to work with credible recruiters who have a good understanding of career progressions in the HR field, as well as being genuinely interested in helping them develop themselves.

What employers look out for

Employers typically look out for relevant market experience as well as specific role experience. While there is a higher level of acceptance to hire atypical HR profiles, candidate selection varies according to the different levels of employers’ expectations and open-mindedness.
Larger organisations may find it easier to hire non typical profiles for junior HR positions -since they have access to more resources and are therefore better positioned to be able to train such new hires; as opposed to smaller organisations, which may have lesser resources to work with.