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How I changed career from law to HR in the UK and lessons learnt

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

I think this is a great question. When you are a small child, many people tend to ask you 'what do you want to be/do when you grow up?'. Same question seem to pop up when you go to primary, secondary/high school. Answers probably vary from time to time. I, for example, always thought I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist. I was quite talkative and confident as a young teenager and thought these professions would suit me well. I cannot remember if my mom and dad tried to persuade me or give any ideas but this is what I remember.

As I lived in a small town where universities offered a limited number of courses, I ended up doing law as journalism was not offered at the time. There were suggestions around medicine as my mom worked as a nurse at a local hospital and all my childhood I was surrounded with nurses and doctors. I remember saying I did not like medicine and did not want to study it. Plus, medicine was not available to study locally. You had to go to a bigger city to study and live there. However, when I reflect on it now I think it was due to money. My mom and dad never had a lot of money to send me to a bigger city and pay for my course fees and also accommodation and living expenses. I never asked to be honest as I knew this would be a challenge for them. I, therefore, stayed at home and studied law. This was the easiest option. I actually feel a bit sad by writing this now. Anywaaaay! Let's carry on...

How I went from law to HR - Human Resources in the UK | The Beginning

So, I graduated in 2008. I managed to get a fixed term legal assistant role in a small insurance company. Finding local jobs was super hard. You had to know people who knew people and my mom and dad never had any strong business connections. They truly minded their own business and still do to this date. I soon realised I was on my own, trying to do something. I have found the decision to leave my home town, family and friends easy. I did not even blink. I was determined to leave. I was dreaming about some other world, better world, with more fair system, where you get rewarded for working hard. I could go on...

So, I arrive in the UK (England) in December, 2009. I was a fresh law graduate (I graduated in Bosnia and Herzegovina - Southeastern Europe) with a 12 month experience. I mentioned this in my blog 'How to ask for work experience in the UK' and how I approached my career journey in the UK when I arrived here in 2009. I emailed several local law firms if I could have some work experience (unpaid) and after a few weeks a small law firm got in contact and invited me to attend an interview. After a few weeks of working there, they offered me an employment contract to stay as a trainee paralegal (more known as a legal assistant). Oh, dear! I was the happiest person in the word, I made it I was thinking. Boom! The salary was super low, but I did not care. Hey, I was earning money. I was becoming more and more independent.

This small law firm advised on employment law matters (UK) only. I soon learnt a lot about employment law legislation, employee protection and rights, employment law tribunals, contracts of employment, terms, conditions etc. I ended up dealing with HR professionals and their organisations. I started looking at what HR professionals actually did. I soon realised how employment law and HR as two professions were linked and relevant to each other. I thought I could work in HR and started looking at what qualifications I had to do in order to make the move. CIPD - Chartered Institute of Personnel Development - is a relevant governing body that gives HR accreditation and support to HR professionals. There are 3 levels of CIPD qualifications and different entry routes. If you are interested in doing HR qualifications and what CIPD is all about, you can find out more on their website here

My first role in HR

I completed a CIPD level 3 (first level) in HR Management at a Solihull College in Solihull/West Midlands in 2012 which I paid for myself. It cost me c£1000. I had to go to the college two evenings after work for 12 months. The level 3 was completed in 2013. After nearly 3 years of working as a paralegal, I started looking into HR roles. It was not easy, it took me nearly 6-9 months to start securing interviews and get noticed by organisations. I also quickly learnt how recruitment agencies seemed to be a waste of time and highly unhelpful. I will write more about them in my next blogs as I have never been lucky with them. In fact, to this date I have secured all my roles by directly applying to the employing organisations. I decided to start applying for roles that were only advertised directly by employing organisations, not recruitment agencies. Finally, I was making some progress.

I was invited to attend an interview for the HR associate role at a local engineering company called Tata Technologies which was based in Coventry, now in Leamington Spa. This organisation operated internationally with head quarters based in India. They needed someone with strong employment law knowledge and how to apply it in practice not just theory. I was offered the role and I started working for them in August 2012. I stayed there for nearly 4 years and then moved onto other HR roles in different sectors and organisations. More about this in my next blogs.

4 Lessons Learnt to Note Down

1. Be careful with recruitment agencies.

Perhaps you will have more luck than me, however, I would not get high hopes with them. They do seem to be a hit and miss with many people. Do a proper research and only sign up/contact the ones that are either recommended by someone you know/used them or google ratings that confirm they are credible and worthy of your time. I also suggested that you register and use LinkedIn and see what people post about them there. I will do a detailed blog around this and LinkedIn to assist you.

2. Do a location and organisation mapping exercise.

I suggest that you ask yourself following questions - which locations can I work in, how can I get to work from home and how long will it take me. Think about potential sectors/industries you would like to work in if you have already thought about this one. If you have not, then I suggest that you focus at least on locations so your every day can run smoothly with no major stress as and when you secure a role.

3. Salary and terms and conditions of employment.

If this is your first role in the UK, then I suggest that you accept what is offered and focus on growing your work experience, developing knowledge and new skillset. This is actually invaluable that no one can take away from you. More is yet to come anyway, it is only the beginning of something great...

4. Be patient.

I read somewhere that 'good things happen to those who wait'. I actually googled this saying as it just popped to my head as I was writing this blog. It looks like it was used in a Heinz (ketchup) commercial in the USA in the 1980s and Guinness (a beer) a UK commercial in the 1990s and 2000s.

Please comment below or send me an email at if you have any questions.

Thank you

Sanja Williams

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