Here at WhiteHat, we’re thrilled to announce that we’re working with BP to help them find their next cohort of up and coming HR and business professionals. Starting in October, those chosen will spend four years rotating across a range of HR and business functions, gaining invaluable experience in one of the world’s biggest companies, all whilst studying for a degree in Chartered Management. You can apply here!

The goal is for apprentices to align with BP’s graduate programme in the last year of the degree apprenticeship programme, meaning that successful candidates will be well on their way to a brilliant career — with a highly respected qualification under their belt, debt-free.

To celebrate the launch of our hunt for BP’s next stars, we caught up with WhiteHat’s Head of Talent and Curation, Anna. Read on to find out why she chose to kickstart her career in HR, and where it’s taken her…

Anna hard at work helping candidates prepare to take their next steps

First of all, why did you decide to take on an HR role?

I’ve always really enjoyed working with people — my first job was working at Pizza Express as a waitress, and I just loved the people element. I loved it when team members came to ask me questions about how they should handle customer queries, and I loved it when customers asked me for recommendations. I’ve always been the one in my friendship group that others comes to with problems, I’m always giving out advice — so I think it just made sense!

When I was starting to think about jobs and my career, I asked my mum what I should do and she recommended looking into HR. I did lots of research online and found that I liked the sound of the kinds of roles I was coming across. I did a placement year in between my second and third years of uni, half HR and half recruitment, and loved it — and then after uni, I landed a job that was pure HR.

Q: What are the best bits about working in HR?

The best part is: you know everyone in the business, so you walk into the office and everyone will say hello to you! You know who to go to in the company for any and every issue, and you get to be the gatekeeper to other people within your organisation so you have quite a degree of control. You get to see employees progress through all the different stages of their job life cycle too — from the excitement of a job offer to that first day, their first promotion, right through to seeing someone go off on maternity leave for their first baby, and even then maybe onto an amazing new job somewhere else — you see someone’s whole journey and you get to see people you really care about succeed.

People always think of HR as a cost on the business, but in reality it actually saves money! If you can make sure the company is hiring the right people, avoiding getting sued, and investing in in-house training so that you can save on agency fees — you’re massively increasing efficiency. I like that it’s a function that’s hugely underrated, but has such a big impact.

Q: What does a typical day in the role look like?

There is no typical day in HR because really it’s an umbrella department that covers a whole range of business functions. There are 5 main areas of HR:

  1. Admin. This involves processing people on systems, making sure all their data is up to date, getting them paid on time.
  2. Employee relations. This involves handling more complex HR issues — maternity leave, any disciplinary actions, organisational restructures, performance issues.
  3. Recruitment. Hiring the right people!
  4. Learning and development. Making sure employees have the right tools and skills to do their jobs. And making sure the best people are being recognised for their efforts and being developed further.
  5. Rewards and benefits. Are people being compensated fairly, are the rewards that we offer relevant for our teams? What else could we offer to appeal to the workforce.

Initially, HR will involve a lot of admin work — but that’s such an important place to start because it underpins so much of the business. If you don’t have the right bank details for an employee, that person isn’t going to get paid and then they won’t be satisfied — which brings a whole host of further issues, so it’s crucial that the admin is done well.

Q: What qualities does a good HR person need to have?

Attention to detail is an absolute must, as is high emotional intelligence — after a short conversation, you need to be able to figure out how someone really feels about an issue, and act quickly to solve their problem.

You have to be incredibly trustworthy — you get access to so much data so you have to be responsible and keep things to yourself! And you need to be analytical, constantly on the lookout for ways to save the business money, introduce efficiency, be more productive.

Finally, I think openness to change is really important — you are often the part of the business that instigates change, so you should be willing to embrace it.

Q: How has working in HR developed you as a professional, and as a person?

It’s given me a really good understanding of the structure of a business, wherever I go onto work — I’ve had such an insight into how a company actually runs and operates. It’s also taught me a lot about how to get the best out of people — because you hear so many stories of problems, and you’re working with experts in the business so you get to learn from how they go about solving them all.

On a super practical note, it’s made me really aware of how not to get another business into trouble, because you’re so much more aware of employment law and how badly things can go wrong — so you always play by the rules! It’s also developed my analytical skills hugely, because I was always encouraged to look at the numbers and use data to make decisions, rather than acting on instincts.

Q: How does working in HR make you feel empowered as a key part of the business?

You do the hiring/inducting/training of all the people who then go on to become rockstars in the business — so you really feel that you are setting people up for success! Without you there to support, they wouldn’t excel. You also enable and fight for employees at different points along their personal journey — whether that’s helping a mother return to work part time, or helping someone else take a sabbatical or take paternity leave —so you’re facilitating really important life decisions for people.

Q: Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into a career in HR?

Keep an eye on recent legislation that impacts HR, as it can be a really good talking point in interviews. Practise your attention to detail — even if that’s playing a silly spot the difference game on your phone! And start to be more inquisitive about the HR operations in your part time job — how does it work, who’s in charge? It will give you a great insight into the workings of any HR department.

Q: What different pathways can a career in HR lead to?

Any! You’re gaining skills that help you work well with people, and people are always going to be part of a business. You can’t replace people completely with technology, so there will always be a demand for your skill.

You could go down one of the 5 specialist pathways within HR and become a real expert; or equally, you could go into a sales role because you’re used to dealing with people and managing people’s expectations; or a finance role because of your analytical skills and attention to detail. Anything really!

Q: Any final thoughts around why HR is a great place to start your career?

HR professionals are often the most supportive part of an organisation — so if you want a manager who’s going to be a mentor figure who’s really invested in your development, you often can’t do much better than an HR professional. Everyone in the department wants to help you learn and grow.

Another great motivation for working in HR is that if you’re passionate about diversity and equality, it’s a good place to be embedded in the organisation — because it’s where the policy comes from. It’s the easiest place to be a change maker.

Finally, if you’re inquisitive and don’t always take things for face value/want to dig, it’s a good place to be! You can often uncover all sorts.

Does this sound like your dream role? Read about the role here and apply today!