What internal moves or decisions can help someone move up and accelerate their career?
Gareth Russell, Appleby [GR]: Get involved in mergers if possible − this will expose you to all facets of HR work as you seek to bring two organisations together. You will accelerate your learning and get good exposure to senior business leaders and how they operate. It's also exciting and interesting work. Take the opportunity to do something you've never done before and back yourself to deliver.
Martin Blackburn, Baker & McKenzie [MB]: While I was an accountant at Ernst & Young I got a secondment into HR, which gave me an opportunity to understand the business and HR and bring the two to together. HR team members were encouraged to spend time out on audit so they could see what the fee earners did.
Neil Middleton, Capsticks [NM]: For me it was taking the opportunity to move to Hong Kong and set up an HR practice in Asia. It was very daunting at first, but it gave me the opportunity to be involved with and contribute to the business at a level which I wouldn't have been able to do in the same way in London.
Caroline Rawes, Taylor Wessing [CR]: When looking to return three days a week, I accepted a role I wouldn’t previously have considered − leading on a large HR system implementation project. It taught me the versatility of what I had learned and my capacity to apply myself to a whole new area of work. I think that flexibility stood me in good stead.
Jonathan Bond, Pinsent Masons [JB]: I was offered a sideways move to Head of HR for the global corporate practice. The dilemma was: do I stay in a safe job where I’m doing well, or move to one where I’ll struggle but improve my knowhow? I did the brave thing and moved. The first six months were horrible, but the learning was excellent and it was definitely the right decision.
Are there opportunities that you regret not taking?
MB: I could have taken more opportunities to get closer to the business, work-shadowing a senior member, for example.
CR: My only regret is not having found the opportunity to be seconded internationally. I think it is an increasingly valuable experience.
Robert Halton, The College of Law [RH]: No regrets is the key – learn from mistakes and look for the positives in all of your experiences.
What advice would you give to junior HR people who are planning their careers?
GR: Be patient in the first five to 10 years. The range and repeated experience you gain will pay dividends later when others will expect you to know what to do in all instances and when the issues are not black and white.
Observe how other senior people operate and lead so you can judge what works. There is not one right way to lead, so the more you can learn from others, the more options and approaches you will have to fall back on as you become more senior.
JB: Be brave, not safe – take on roles where you will learn, even if you will struggle at first. Get experience outside HR and try to understand the commercial drivers of your organisation.
RH: Don't plan too far ahead. Be aware of what you are good at, build on your strengths and find a mentor or role model – then grasp opportunities when they come your way.
NM: The most effective HR practitioners really understand what the business does and needs to achieve. Get the business plan for the firm/areas you support, ask lots of questions and work out how you can support that.