How HR Managers can advance their own careers

Posted on: Thursday, 25 October 2018 in Opinion Pieces .

How HR Managers can advance their own careers

HR Managers are, by the very nature of their job, so busy and distracted looking after everyone else’s career that it can often be at the expense of their own. In this article, Joanne McAuley offers tips and guidance on how HR Managers can enhance their professional prospects, climb the corporate ladder and land that dream job.

An HR Director role is generally regarded as the zenith of an HR professional’s career, and the next logical step if you are currently in an HR management role.

While fierce competition and the fact that HR managers will always outnumber directors means it can be difficult to secure such a role, there are certain things you can do to improve your chances of success.

Get strategic

Most HR managers perform their daily tasks perfectly well simply through mastering the transactional side of Human Resources – the important, but often menial tasks of payroll, reporting, company policy and compliance and so on.

However, making the step to directorship will also involve you spending a great deal of time learning and becoming confident in the strategic side of your profession, such as:

  • Culture, engagement, employment brand, operational efficiency, and learning and development
  • Creating and implementing a change management program
  • Overseeing and participating in mergers, takeovers and acquisitions
  • A greater focus on succession planning, talent management and talent attraction

While most HR managers will be familiar with these tasks, fewer will have had any direct experience in actually dealing with them at any meaningful level. If you are serious about making the step up to HR director, and standing out from the competition, you should think about participating, where possible, in the strategic aspects of your business.

Understand the business you are in

Your willingness to learn about the business and seeing where you can add value will help in your journey to becoming an HR Director.

Spending time every day talking with other departments such as sales, production, quality and accounting will help ensure you know what is going on with the ‘bigger picture’. To improve your business acumen, and particularly that relating to your current employer, take time to understand your customers, your products and/or services. Get involved in cross-departmental projects and strategic planning sessions all of which will help give a holistic viewpoint of the business.

Manage upwards

HR directors will most normally report directly to the CEO, CFO or COO of a company, and perhaps on occasion directly to any shareholders. These are people with a huge amount of experience in business, and at this level you will not be reporting only on matters of HR, you will be reporting on the effect of your department on the overall business itself.

To be able to cope with such pressures, it's important that you practice the art of managing upwards with senior figures in the company as soon as you possibly can. Like any business skill, managing upwards takes time to develop but is worth the effort!

Be visible

It is vitally important to be visible not only within your organisation but also outside of it.

As an HR manager, you may have never had the opportunity or desire to attend industry seminars, conferences and networking events, but they are necessary to perform the job of HR director successfully. Not only will it improve your awareness of what’s going on in the industry, but the more influential people you are acquainted with, the higher your chances of landing your first directorship role.

Adjust your CV

Targeting your CV for a director-level HR role doesn’t necessarily have to involve a complete re-write, just a few adjustments here and there. While HR managers are usually expert critics of other people’s CVs, when it comes to our own we can be neglectful.

Each employer values certain qualities over others, especially when it comes to directorship. Therefore, make sure your profile addresses one or two of the key requirements from the job description, such as previously working in a senior hands-on position, or experience in organisation design and structure.

You also want to make your individual strengths immediately clear on your CV, especially when applying for a director-level position. Underneath your profile, consider introducing a ‘core HR competencies’ section that addresses not only your most impressive achievements, but also the experience the employer is looking for in a successful candidate.


The classic route to HR director level takes five career steps over a period of 20 years, according to CIPD research, but the beauty of an HR career is that it allows you to enter and leave at different points, and to move between generalist and specialist posts. It is possible to get to the top without having a textbook career progression in the discipline with some hard work on the issues talked about above and perseverance.

Top tips

  1. Position yourself to influence business strategy, not just people policy
  2. Seek out a more experienced mentor or sounding board
  3. Keep tending to your personal development – attend professional HR conferences, meetings and events
  4. Attend executive leadership and management meetings in addition to your HR meetings
  5. Seek out people who will ask you questions and challenge your beliefs so you can continue to grow
Joanne McAuley

Joanne McAuley

Joanne McAuley is a Partner at Clarendon Executive, specialists in executive search, performance and the provision of interim management in Northern Ireland. With over 20 years’ experience in recruiting at the highest level, Joanne has an exceptional track record in senior and board appointments within the public, private and third sectors.

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