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Career change to HR specialist in 40s?

(16 Posts)
PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 11:45:54

Can anyone tell me more about recruitment/talent or reward as well as getting into these pathways without starting in a HR generalist role? Is it even possible to start in it in your 40s?

I'm in a niche operational role, middle management, in financial services. It's fine, but it's way too routine now after 20 years, and I'd really just like to get out of this industry totally. I simply can't see myself doing it through my 50s, 60s and I think I would like to try something else once my youngest starts secondary in a couple years. I'm cool headed, conversant in numbers (accounting & finance degree from a good uni), a sociable introvert. I hate admin and line management but am pretty commercially-minded, a good communicator and respected by senior management. I prefer specialising in anything I do.

I am aware it will be a massive pay cut but think it's entirely possible to rise back to a decent pay level in time. However I think getting into it (at this age) is the hardest part?

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Heartlake Mon 14-Sep-20 11:48:44

You might be best working as a recruitment consultant at an industry specialist firm. Emphasise your commercial acumen and your communication skills and you could be there. A lot of it is sales-based, but it would be a good step into a more specialised role, and perhaps not such a big drop in salary.

After that you could look at talent roles in-house in bigger employers.

PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 15:01:21

Thanks heartlake. I can see recruitment consultants is 100% sales/sales support and commission driven and always thought it's for young hungry grads or very extroverted/energetic highly networked types particularly for senior roles... I imagine recruitment agencies wont like it if they suspected my agenda e.g. do a HR masters part time and leave after.. but yes it could make a good entry point (if I can even get into recruitment) after a few years to then move in house talent or reward analyst.

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maxelly Mon 14-Sep-20 15:19:09

Hi, my experience is public sector HR so maybe not directly translatable to the private sector, but if you want the kind of job I think you mean, I wouldn't advise starting in a recruitment agency. The money can be quite good but as you say it's really a sales job, not an HR job, and we would only hire someone with that as their main experience into an entry level in-house recruitment job, so you might as well go straight there if in-house recruitment is where you want to be, IFYSWIM? I have to say though that even when you get to be a bit more senior, in the public sector anyway, most recruitment is very process driven, compliance oriented, systems based work, so I think if you find your current role boring recruitment will be just as bad!

From the sounds of things, talent management/OD/reward/learning and development might be more your bag? I think you are right though, getting that first step will probably be the hardest part, you may be seen as over-qualified for the more entry-level positions into those kinds of roles (typically these are graduate jobs), whereas the higher level posts will want more direct experience. I don't think it's impossible though, just got to find the right opportunity. Are the HR department at your current company friendly, would they be open to having you do some shadowing or perhaps even some discretionary effort/additional project work with them to get something on your CV? Or would you consider self-funding the masters and doing it alongside your current role? The best masters degrees will include an element of work placement scheme arranged for you to build your experience/CV (and potentially lead to job opportunities afterwards) - it might be quite difficult doing this alongside the day job but maybe you could drop a day a week or take a sabbatical or something? Or finally, have you considered applying for an HR graduate scheme? These tend to be super competitive but often open to graduates of any age, not just recent graduates, and with your experience you might be in a really good place to ace the selection process?

PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 17:04:55

Thank you maxelly. That's very insightful and you've read me spot on - no wonder you are in HR!! My role is very much systems/process/compliance driven and it makes sense that at a more senior level that's what recruitment will become especially in larger organisations (I have always and want to work in larger firms). I guess then, it's not worthwhile me trying to switch to recruitment. By extension, I suppose talent management is similar, while there is some interesting OD aspect, I imagine the reality is onboarding admin, recruitment/performance management systems and implementing change etc

It means reward is the area I'd be most enthusiastic about. I find that our own HR team arent as numbers/finance/tax savvy as they could be. I can think about asking my HR team about shadowing although then cat is out of bag and they will know I'm intrinsically demotivated. May wait till after the next bonus round...!

Definitely considering a masters. And I didnt realise some HR graduate schemes are open to mature candidates. Is this public sector only?

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TheGinGenie Mon 14-Sep-20 17:12:04

Agree that recruitment is definitely admin- heavy! I'd also say that getting experience is a lot more beneficial and will open more doors than getting a masters. I'd recommend a CIPD course over a masters if you do want a qualification but you will still need to get experience - on the CIPD boards there's lots of people who are qualified but struggling to get a foot in the door. Can you volunteer somewhere for experience? (While working, I realise full time volunteering is probably not financially viable for most people!)

TheGinGenie Mon 14-Sep-20 17:12:53

(To be honest all HR is quite process/system heavy, at all levels)

TheGinGenie Mon 14-Sep-20 17:16:49

What is it you don't like about line management? HR is also very much about people management, even if you're not actually their line manager, you're still dealing with all sorts of management issues every day, difficult conversations etc.

TheBlessedCheesemaker Mon 14-Sep-20 17:45:08

I worked in FS and had a bit of a passion for understanding all this stuff, so at 40 I did a part time MSc in HR at the LSE. With appropriate work experience (not difficult in mid mgt level and some mgmt responsibilities/flexible boss) this leads directly to CIPD qualification in HR which is the gold standard.
Whilst I was led to understand that the MSc was time-consuming, that wasn’t the case for me; there were lectures but I could obtain notes without attending, and I had maybe 2x2 hr sessions a week on campus in tutorials. Exams were straightforward with a bit of weekend work, and only hard slog element was dissertation so I made sure it was something I was 100% passionate about and something useful for my own organisation (which meant they allowed me to conduct research in my own workplace). I carried on working full time and had a 3-week old baby & a 2YO when I started And it took me 2 years (minimum time you could do it on part-time). Obv it was hard at times but not the same slog you get with chartered accountancy quals. If you google CIPD they show you the university options you can follow to get qualified.

PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 17:52:15

I do enjoy people management and developing others. No issues with difficult conversations or work relationships. Also I accept that admin/processes is inevitable in most jobs.

Line management, on the other hand, in my world is more operational. E.g. distributing workloads, keeping on top of everybody in my team and fighting fires e.g. if someone makes an error or has conflicts, having to take the heat when resources are unavailable, being the political defender/negotiator between my team and other functions, plus managing upwards to get the resources I need...that sort of thing. It's not all bad I guess but it's exhausting !

Yep I do get that it is quite competitive to get in... i think the suggestion of trying to gain experience through my current work is a good idea. My head of HR didnt come from a traditional HR background (came from business management actually) so she may be open to it, though my department head will not like that..

Is there much point having the full CIPD in specialist areas like reward?

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PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 17:56:03

Wow blessedcheesemaker you did well managing a masters with 2 little ones. Are you in HR now?

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fartyface Mon 14-Sep-20 18:36:17

I would echo that a lot of it is quite boring. I have fallen into a stragetic hr role in a small org and I now find recruitment tedious and time consuming and have limited appetite for grievances / disciplinaries. I do like org change a lot however, which makes up for it a bit.

I did wonder about specialising with cipd quals as there are always loads of jobs being advertised, but I've lost interest and don't want to get in that box.

PlanBee Mon 14-Sep-20 21:33:10

Farty I appreciate your comment too I really need to hear the flipside as nothing is ever all gravy. Why have you lost interest in specialising?

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maxelly Tue 15-Sep-20 10:42:48

No worries OP, in theory no graduate scheme these days, public or private sector will have an explicit age limit because of discrimination laws. In reality they do still tend to be majority recent graduates purely because most will have quite high expectations in terms of willingness to relocate around the country, work long hours, study on top of a full time job etc. But the major public sector ones at least will usually have at least a few 'mature' candidates each year and if you do have young children, or other caring responsibilities etc. allowances can usually be made to avoid disrupting them too much.

I disagree that all HR is all boring systems/compliance work as some PPs said, like all corporate jobs there's some of that of course (and recruitment is particularly heavy on it), and also typically most HR people in whatever specialisms experience some frustration at slow corporate/bureaucratic mechanisms, having to persuade/negotiate with business management to make improvements and implement HR/people strategies, having to work within limited funding and resources and with ever shifting executive priorities etc etc., but on the whole I'd say once you reach the middle/senior grades it is an interesting and rewarding job. I definitely think with your finance background and skills you would have a lot to offer esp in the reward space and possibly to workforce planning stuff too, I would say commercial and financial savvy is a common weakness in HR people, the number of relatively senior people I know who proclaim themselves 'not to do numbers' and can't drive a simple spreadsheet is a bit blush for the profession IMO.

The job is definitely not as 'people oriented' as people imagine HR to be though - by that I mean a lot of people have the idea we spend a lot of time directly talking to staff, delivering training, giving people bonuses and promotions and so on - some HR jobs are like that but for the majority normally we touch on individual staff only where things have gone badly wrong (grievances, disciplinaries, redundancies etc) or otherwise we work on more of a population/system level (when walking on reward schemes, learning and development etc). A lot of the 'nice' bits of people management like leading and motivating people, offering jobs/promotions etc, holding their hands and supporting them when things are tough (hopefully!) are done by line managers, and a lot of training these days is either elearning or delivered externally. So it's certainly not as 'fluffy' as people imagine it to be!

Re CIPD, I would certainly say most people in middle/senior HR roles in my experience have at least level 5, normally level 7 CIPD qualifications and/or a relevant masters degree. Nearly all MAs and MScs in HR Management will come with CIPD accreditation, but if you ended up wanting to specialise in OD for instance, some people go down the MSc in Occupational Psychology route so it might be better to wait until you are sure of specialism before fixing on a qualification.

I definitely think some kind of work experience in HR would be really useful for you, ideally getting to spend some time with different teams/specialisms as there's nothing like seeing it in action to understand the reality! Where I work we get quite a lot of requests like that from people in the business thinking about a career change to HR, and we always try and accommodate (and it doesn't make us think less of them for wanting a change from their current job although perhaps private sector is more cut-throat!) - as a minimum we give them some shadowing and sometimes we are able to offer some project work or similar to help build a CV (the odd CF does ask us to fund their CIPD which is a bit of a no as we always have a queue of people already working in HR for the limited number of funding spots available). Many people do get a bit disenchanted when the reality of HR doesn't match up to the idea in their head (as I say I think they see themselves dispensing tea and sympathy to struggling employees or spending all day delivering motivational speeches, neither of which enter much into any HR job I've had grin ), but at least then they know if it's not for them before embarking on time consuming/expensive study or quitting their day job!

CloudsCanLookLikeSheep Tue 15-Sep-20 19:17:52

I work in HR and my personal experience has been that it is very competitive and I've struggled to get ahead, but to be honest I've put my family life first so perhaps if I'd had different priorities.

The market is absolutely dire at the moment so probably not the best time, but if things improve in the future then there may be openings.

I specialise in ER, and it's almost a coaching role ( I have a team of ops managers who call on me if they have staff problems they cant solve) so if you enjoy the coaching/development/advising side of things you may enjoy it. Giving people (managers) options and helping them decide the best course of action. Very rarely do I actually get involved with the employee directly, that's not my job .

Hollyhocksarenotmessy Tue 03-Nov-20 23:13:48

I changed career to HR in my late 40s, and I really enjoy it now I'm at HRBP level as it is
varied and challenging. I've always been in generalist roles rather than specialisms. I think that on the whole if you want to specialise in one of the more interesting areas, you need to on that track early.

Almost everyone I know in HR finds recruitment both boring and stressful, unless they've come from an agency background and are grateful to be able to drop the sales focus.

There is a lack of people with the right financial, maths and analytical skills in HR. These are especially important for reward and MIS roles.

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