Recruitment specialist in HR, Sales and Operations

Becoming an HRD | Lessons from recent interviews – Part 2 – Experience choices

April 1, 2022  /


As I complete on the delivery to a retained campaign to hire a Global Group HR Director for one of my favourite clients, I am left reflecting on how brilliant it has been to talk to a very impressive range of HR Directors throughout the process.

It has been a privilege to talk to a group of individuals who have managed to go all the way – achieving Executive Director, Board level listed appointments, driving the people agenda and being part of the ExecCo for some of the UK’s and Europe’s largest firms.

It always fascinates me to learn from successful people. I believe that there are valuable lessons from this population; aspiring HR professionals can learn a lot from them as they look to realise their own dreams and aim to secure the most senior of HR roles in their career.

In this series of mini blogs I will share insight into what it is required to get to number 1 HR roles. In my first, I looked at characteristics and traits of the individual. If you would like to read that, copy this link to your browser: In this, my second, I will share my observations about experiences gathered and decisions made that seem to have made a difference in propelling careers forward to the top.

In managing the campaign I reviewed close to 250 HR director profiles and Cvs. I screened 35 and interviewed 18 to arrive at my short list of 5.

This is what I observed from those 35:

  • All had targeted early experience of managing change.

It was evident that for a large proportion  of the pool, they had pushed for and gained experience at an early stage in their career of managing change. Talking more about this with them, many reflect that this was important. Some described how they felt this helped to elevate them away from transactional, day to day HR duties. Others described  how they cut their communication teeth and increased their confidence through managing change. Others described how managing these processes opened up communication and interaction with senior stakeholders in their organisations at the time, which in turn raised their profile.

  • Many had consciously sought broad functional expertise – in an attempt to cover all specialist areas.

I noted with interest that for a few, who had really raced to the top, there was a noticeable trend that they had sought to gain exposure across different functional areas. Some had taken roles leading L&D departments and then HR Ops, others had consciously moved into Reward for a period and then come back out. I found this interesting, all who had done this felt that it had helped them subsequently lead HR functions in their entirety; they felt it helped them to shape and spot what was good in functional areas as a leader.

  • Most had pushed for supervisory and managerial responsibility quickly.

Perhaps an obvious one, but many had focused on managing people as soon as they could. Some had moved employers at a periodic 2-3 year stage in their early career, at each time leading larger teams. Others  talked about applying for internal supervisory and managerial opportunities as soon as they became available, no matter if they felt totally ready or not. All enjoyed managing and leading people and really recognised team management as a skill and something they  wanted to practise and learn as soon as possible.

  • All had asked for promotion/s.

All could describe situations where they had been brave and asked for promotion or new opportunity. No one had stood still and had been in a role for too long. After all, most had a plan and a goal – whilst one stage was being delivered, the next was being planned and pushed for!

  • Most had sought international experience.

A trend that was clear to see was that this populations’ outlook was quite global and curious internationally. All had wanted to gain international experience and had sought to secure it within one employer or had changed employers to gain that exposure. It seems logical  that the biggest and most senior HR roles available will be within the biggest businesses and they will inevitably be global.

  • Most recognised the importance of, and had gathered exposure to, REMCO.

Perhaps most noticeably all recognised the importance of REMCO and had looked to gain experience and understanding of REMCO as soon as they could. I think this is an interesting point. Outside of some senior Reward hires, REMCO experience/understanding will often be required in roles that sit at the top table in UK business.  This lines up blog 3 which will come out next week. But for this piece, it was evident that the population were planning for their development to be taking in wider business and organisational governance and business responsibility. Inevitably a HR lead role will  have input and focus here; to get experience of REMCO is a differentiator.

Stay tuned for blog 3 next week which will look at qualifications, CPD and learning that has helped HRDs along the way. If you are planning a search or hire into your team, reach out to discuss how we can help you

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