Many of the best HR professionals we know started out in agency recruitment. This is because once you get beyond HR Advisor level, your success in HR is largely dependent on your ability to influence stakeholders and think in a commercial way. Years of shepherding tricky candidates and clients and pressure to deliver revenue therefore act as a great precursor to a career in HR.
At Hawkwood have observed, and indeed supported, three types of transition from agency recruitment in to HR:
Join at entry-level as a HR Assistant
The first thing for you to consider here is that these roles pay 25–28k in London. Even at a time when your commission cheques will be depleted, a drop like this might be a bit much to swallow so some careful planning would likely be necessary.
If you can make this work, then this is arguably your easiest route in during the current economic climate. Whilst entry-level HR roles (like most roles) will be harder to come by and very over-subscribed, your working experience alone will set you aside from the graduate market, not to mention the fact that you’re likely to know how to interview well and have some experience working with HR professionals as a supplier.
Go in via an In-house Recruitment role with a view to transitioning in to HR later
This has been the default path for the majority of your peers for two main reasons. Firstly, you’re likely to be earning a minimum of £35k as an In-house Recruiter and, secondly, in a good market there is a healthy demand for In-house Recruiters so making this transition has been fairly easy.
It’s too early to say to what extent the in-house recruitment market has been affected by COVID-19 but the signs so far indicate this is going to be a very tough market for at least the remainder of 2020.
Whilst overall demand for In-house Recruiters will be lower than before, you’re also faced with intense competition in the form of not just your agency peers, but existing In-house Recruiters who are out of work. In most instances, a business will give preference to a Recruiter with prior in-house experience, so this will be somewhat of an uphill battle until the majority of the good ones out there gain employment.
One thing to consider is that there are seldom any guarantees that you’ll get the kind of HR exposure you’re seeking or the option to transfer in to a generalist HR role by pursuing this path. You’re unlikely to want to explicitly demand guarantees during the interview process through fear of talking yourself out of the recruitment job, and it is therefore a somewhat hopeful move, albeit one in the right direction (join a part of a wider HR team).
With perseverance you’ll get there eventually but you’re likely to be doing a Recruitment role for 2+ years first, and if your employer doesn’t make a HR role available to you, you may have to look externally; facing the prospect of taking yet another In-house Recruitment role, and going through the same process again.
Join a start-up or small business
Start-ups offer two things that are really favourable to you in these circumstances — firstly, a broader level of exposure which may very well include HR. Secondly, the opportunity to take on more responsibility than you’re actually really ready for right now — this is ideal when forging a new career for yourself.
Start-ups have begun building out In-house Recruitment teams much earlier in their lifecycle, leading to an overall uplift in demand for people like you. Like their larger peers, they typically prefer prior in-house experience but they’re also open-minded depending on salary demands, values-fit and the relevance of the specialism you’ve recruited to their business.
The draw-back of these roles has always been that to get the level of HR exposure you’re seeking in the role, you may need to join a start-up with no current HR presence. As the Recruiter you can establish yourself as the “go-to” person for any general HR queries and begin to take on more responsibility in that area. However, your lack of a HR line manager/mentor will likely limit your learning and you may be exposed as the company grows.
Lastly, we’re expecting the start-up market to be a tough place for job seekers during the current crisis. Many small businesses have been badly hit by the crisis so opportunities within start-ups may be thinner on the ground throughout 2020.
If you can afford to live off of a salary of around £27k then we would personally advise taking the most direct route in to HR as a HR Assistant. You may actually find that an employer is open to sponsoring your CIPD qualification which might compensate somewhat for the lower salary you’re receiving.
During and immediately after a crisis, organisations will have lots of operational HR issues to resolve so there should be a fairly steady demand for junior-level HR resource, relatively speaking. As discussed, we expect these positions to be very sought-after, but your time in recruitment should give you an edge over many others who are applying with little working experience.
If you have experience recruiting in a niche, in-demand market (e.g. software engineering, data science, product) and are reluctant to take a significant drop in salary, then we’d advise going in via the in-house recruitment route. Your valuable candidate network should help to separate you from many other recruiters out there, thereby making you a relatively attractive option despite your lack of prior in-house experience.
This isn’t to say it will be straightforward given the current climate, but with perseverance it should be a viable option. From there, your ability to develop HR exposure will likely depend on your ability to fulfil the recruitment side of the role, your willingness to learn and natural flair for HR (empathy, wider business understanding, conscientiousness, etc).
If an exciting opportunity presents itself in a start-up then go for it, but we would advise trying to find one with a HR/Talent line manager if possible. If not in this role, then at least in the next role, as we do observe greater long-term career potential in the majority of those who have had that extra level of rigour to their training & development.
If you, like many, are considering moving from agency recruitment in to HR, hopefully this piece has offered some useful guidance and points to ponder further.
The evolution of HR has established it as a very prosperous career path with most organisations really understanding the powerful impact a strong HR presence can have on their commercial success.
We’d recommend reading Work Rules by Laszlo Bock and Powerful by Patty McCord to get a better feel for HR as a starting point