HR advisor to HR manager: going beyond the textbook

Written by
Changeboard Team

13 Dec 2014

13 Dec 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Are you ready to make the change?

To follow on from our article HR assistant to HR advisor, we wanted to continue the theme and analyse what it takes to make the next step in an HR professional’s career – moving up to HR manager. Differently to the earlier step, this move is much more of an individual process that has no set time scale, no blueprint and ultimately comes down to you, your knowledge and your own confidence in your expertise.

HR advisor to HR manager: the conundrum

Without sounding too philosophical, it's important to first state that unfortunately this question does not have a definitive answer. Being ready to move into HR management is not purely down to technical understanding of HR process and procedure or length of experience and therefore cannot have a specific blueprint. In comparison to the more junior levels, becoming an HR manager is less about being able to tick boxes in line with your technical abilities and more about having a certain level of confidence and a state of mind in your approach to your work.

Additionally, realistically not every HR professional is going to be an HR manager, as not every HR professional is going to become an HR director. To be an HR manager encompasses abilities that go beyond the operational and technical and these are intrinsically linked to personality traits and an individual’s personal psyche. With this in mind, it makes sense that as we are all different we can not all demonstrate the characteristics needed to be a good HR manager and there will therefore be some who cannot develop into this level.

In no way is this a negative view of the HR community nor does it mean that one has failed in their career to reach their potential if they don’t make this jump. Again, to use the analogy of the HR director, you have not failed if you aren’t the HRD of an international organisation. It is simply a point that sometimes technical ability is not enough in life to progress, but neither is being a technical expert a bad thing.
Now with this in mind it's important to try and break down what characteristics we are referring to so we can help you identify whether you are ready to make that next step. First and foremost, it is key to understanding the fundamental differences between the two levels.

The differences between the two levels

The best place to start is to analyse the job titles themselves. It's not trite to say that HR advisors advise on issues, while HR managers manage issues. An HR advisor will advise and guide stakeholders on company policy and guide cases in line with this and current legislation. For example, an HR advisor dealing with a team leader wanting to discipline an employee will be able to discuss the company policy and disciplinary process and guide on any legislative issues for the team leader to bear in mind. After this, the HR advisor will help the team leader agree a course of action and may help conduct the disciplinary hearing or be present as a source of additional support.

Although the HR manager would approach the disciplinary in the same technical way, their thought process and approach to the issue would be different. The HR manager may start asking: “why is the team leader looking to discipline the employee in the first place?” and will want to look at the commercial impact of the actions of the team leader in conducting this disciplinary. Aside from advising on policy, procedure and correct legislation an HR manager should be looking at why this situation has occurred, what the best solution for the business and employee is, and what consequences we are looking at in the long term be it in relation to finances, team morale, or employee engagement.

The signs that you are ready to make the jump

A fundamental difference between the HR advisor and HR manager is that the former will base a solution predominantly on technical knowledge. The HR manager on the other hand should always start with a diagnosis and explanation followed by an action. This is why in structured HR functions there will always be an escalation point for HR issues where the manager gets involved over the advisor. It doesn’t mean that the HR manager’s approach to a situation is going to be better, but the hope is that it will negate both short and long term risk more than the guidance of an HR advisor potentially would.
Some organisations are more clear cut in the different issues handled by the HR advisor and the HR manager, but the point we are making for aspiring HR advisors is that there is a fundamental difference in the thought process of the more senior level. So, how can you identify the signs that your approach is becoming more managerial than advisory? When advising a line manager on a basic performance issue that is relatively common within your business, there may come a time where your approach to dealing with this issue will become more holistic and commercial than advising based on your knowledge of company policy and precedent. When you start looking for a diagnosis and thinking about the consequences of certain solutions, potentially you are a step closer to being ready to take that step.
This is not to say that if you take a standard issue and spend two days analysing route causes that you are ready for promotion. Commerciality is gained through depth of experience and instinct and intellect combined. An HR manager will be able to see the bigger picture almost instantaneously and then investigate further. To use a pop culture analogy, when watching the famous detective Columbo, you always had a sense that he knew who the murderer was 5 minutes into the programme, however, he always revealed his cards 30 seconds before the end of the 60 minute episode. Why did he wait so long to reveal his thoughts? Like the HR manager he went through the appropriate scenarios, looked at evidence and presented such a well thought out case that he was always correct.


What attributes do you think are needed to be a commercial HR manager these days? We asked Laura Bello Castro, who recently made the move from HR advisor to HR business partner:


From an organisation perspective, your line manager is responsible for designing your career development and building your skill set as a professional. Realistically, however, you cannot only rely on your line manager to drive your career forward. Due to structural and time constraints, they do not always have the freedom to promote you as and when they see you are ready. Therefore, sometimes you need to take your career into your own hands and look outside this relationship for professional advancement.

This can be in the shape of external training courses or seminars but can also come in the shape of a mentor. For a number of our HR manager candidates, identifying a mentor provided them with some excellent inside advice and greatly helped elevate their careers. It should be someone who is well established within their own career and therefore can advise you on your long term prospects by passing on guidance on how to do this from their own experience. Controversially, this doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in HR or within your own organisation as at this stage in your career you need someone who can offer you advice that goes beyond the technical.

Will I need a qualification?

This is a question frequently asked by candidates trying to make this jump. Nowadays, it's true that more and more managers are CIPD qualified. For example, out of the last 100 HR managers registered by Piper Pritchard, 68% were CIPD qualified.

However, having a CIPD qualification doesn’t automatically make you a good HR professional. The criteria for becoming MCIPD accredited, which is an acknowledged management qualification, is slightly woolly and doesn’t offer any details around length of service or more specific boxes that need to be ticked beyond ‘working as a generalist HR professional’.

A qualification will round off or increase your technical knowledge, but it doesn’t provide you with commerciality and the understanding of how a business works. Fundamentally, a qualification doesn’t give you the commercial awareness and intellect to be a good HR manager.

A lateral move?

There is a stereotype that every time you move jobs you have to make a move upwards, especially in terms of job title. This really doesn’t always need to be the case. A lateral move can sometimes be one of the best ways to increase your knowledge and experience and ultimately elevate you to that HR manager position. Do not be scared to make a move from one HR qdvisor role to another HR advisor role which will provide you with more experience and knowledge. Organisation size, team structure, line management, HR’s position within the business and the nature of your role can all play big parts in your development and these elements will naturally change when you move to a new organisation and environment.

For example, a recent candidate of Piper Pritchard started his career in a small firm which was a great opportunity for him to learn the logistics of an HR team and build a solid foundation of HR knowledge. However, after four years he felt he was ready for more but not for an HR manager role. Therefore, he made the proactive decision to move to a much larger organisation and HR team where he was able to get an understanding of how HR works in a different business. After two more years in an HR advisor role in this new organisation he was able to move up the ladder to HR manager and while feeling 100% confident that he had made the move at the right time.

Career progression is not always defined as a salary increase or a change in job title, but more importantly an opportunity to develop your skills and get involved in different areas of HR that you haven’t really touched on, or even working within a more established and more commercial HR team.

The next step

What key advice would you offer an aspiring HR manager trying to make the next step?

About Emma Vanden

Emma is a senior consultant at Piper Pritchard and specialises in recruitment for up and coming HR professionals circa 50k.