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Career progression: What are the key topics for the junior to mid-level market?

Over the past 6 months I have been meeting with senior HR individuals within Financial Services to explore their career path & what they felt was integral in them succeeding and progressing their career. Why did I do this you ask? Well, having specialised in recruitment for the junior to mid-level market for to 3 years there has always been a reoccurring question… ‘Does this company offer progression?’

This mentality could be aligned to being from the ‘millennial generation‘ (I am also classified as a millennial), which is identified as confident, ambitious, and achievement orientated.

Now the usual answer to progressing to the top in todays market is generally to start as a HR Administrator then progress up the HR ladder to eventually reach the Director/Head of HR level.  However, of all of the professionals that I met with, none of them followed this path & each had their unique strategy to reach their desired level.

To save you from reading an unprecedented amount of info, I have analysed each meeting to identify the key topic in to how they progressed:

Challenge yourself

‘I love my employees to stick their hand up to take on more work, it makes my job easier!’ a HR Director from a leading Insurance firm cheekily said. Now that statement was tongue in cheek, but it does make sense. How are you able to progress without having exposure to different challenges? I agree that this isn’t always possible in every organisation, but as the motto goes ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

Have a structured progression plan, but don’t be afraid to fluctuate from this

Structure. I love it, it keeps me motivated and engaged (sounding more and more like a millennial the further this goes on!). However, the route in our head that we all have to get to the level we want, be that HR Administrator or HR Director, it should always have the flexibility to achieve personal and professional goals. This was perfectly explained by a Senior HRBP from Australia. They had always wanted to get to a HR Director level as soon as possible, but one day they were offered a secondment in London. Now on paper, it was a great challenge, but would it affect her progression plan? The answer in their mind was yes! The role was a lateral move, in another country and with no idea what this would look like should she want to change companies in future. In reality, having international exposure is amazing, but I digress. 4 years on they’re still working at the same firm, in the UK & pleased about the best decision they ever made.

Don’t just focus on core HR – become a pure generalist

This topic initially confused me, with my first question to the HR Director being ‘Really? Surely core HR will give you exposure to the likes of ER, L&D & Recruitment?’ Although that question was correct, the key word I used was exposure. Exposure is great, but a HR director within a small Private Equity firm for example will have to lead, advice & manage the full HR spectrum. Having specialist experience enables you to efficiently cover all the core HR functions to ensure the minimal amount of ‘learning on the job’ is required.

Show your confidence, ambition & determination

Now, this one is difficult to analyse. Not everyone has confidence, some people struggle with determination over a prolonged period of time, so why is it so important to show these attributes in interviews, to your employers and employees. ‘No one is perfect’ explained a HR Manager from a Trading firm, but leading by example in confidence, ambition and determination will only rub off on others in a positive manner, be that in an interview scenario or your day-to-day job.

Network – this is key!

Networking was the one topic that each individual advocated the most, and all for varying reasons. Networking doesn’t need to be a 2-hour seminar after a long arduous day, it can be a mentor, friend within HR or a coffee break with someone from your client group. Networking enables you to build relationships, gain knowledge and to most importantly learn and teach! A Head of L&D from a boutique Financial Services firm, with a background of Advertising, Charity & now Financial Services ensures that she attends a thought-provoking seminar on a monthly basis. The motivation towards this wasn’t to increase their mental capability, but to grow a network of similar minded professionals and from this network she managed to secure her previous 2 roles.

In conclusion, there is no right or wrong way to follow your career aspirations and being unique is something that everyone is and should be, but hopefully this article can give you an idea of what Senior HR professional who may have been in your situation in the past have done to achieve their goals.

Oakleaf Partnership also believes that networking is key, which is why we offer a mentoring scheme for all placed candidates. We have an unrivalled network ourselves, which enables us to link HR professionals together who are able to bounce ideas off each other, or offer guidance.

Finally, thank you very much to all of the individuals that gave me their time to discuss this interesting subject. If anyone has any questions in regards to this article, please feel free to reach out -


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