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Human resources and recruitment in Australia: an overview

Emmanuel Payne

Human resources and recruitment is a critical part of any organisation. Find our what it’s really about and how to start your career in human resources.


Business leaders agree on the critical importance of attracting, hiring, training, and retaining effective personnel. For example, the business consultant Jim Collins wrote “a great vision without great people is irrelevant”. The corporate finance executive Dave Bookbinder was blunter still: “The value of a business is a function of how well the financial capital and the intellectual capital are managed by the human capital,” he wrote. “So you'd better get the human capital part right.”

The process of selecting staff, cultivating their skills, helping them develop their careers, and retaining them falls within the realm of human resources management, which seeks to maximise employee performance in support of their employer’s strategic objectives. Recruitment is a component of human resource management that, due to its time-consuming nature and reliance on specialist expertise, has given rise to the professional ‘recruiter’, for whom the identification and employment of desirable talent is a full-time endeavour.

What’s involved

From agriculture to medicine, non-government organisations to top law firms, organisations in almost every industry employ HR professionals—after all, effectively attracting and managing talented staff is beneficial for any enterprise.

HR professionals contribute to this goal by overseeing all activities relevant to the staff of an organisation. This includes training, recruitment, compensation, benefits, payroll administration, staff redundancy, and the implementation of employment law. HR professionals are usually also the first point of contact for staff who wish to make complaints or discuss aspects of their employment, such as performance reviews or resignation dates.

While in smaller organisations these responsibilities might fall to a single worker, it’s not uncommon for larger enterprises to possess a HR department in which different professionals assume ‘ownership’ of specific tasks. For example, the HR department might employ a training and continuing professional development specialist, a payroll specialist, a recruitment specialist, and so on.

Recruitment specialists (recruiters) focus specifically on the processes involved in the acquisition and retention of staff. Unlike most other HR professionals, recruiters don’t necessarily work in-house. Instead, organisations often rely on external contractors or recruitment agencies, who aim to find good candidates, and assist with the hiring process, often by performing initial interviews and assessments to screen candidates. External recruiters seldom have any final say in the hiring process: rather, their role is to direct promising candidates to the company and provide support to internal decision-makers.

Who are the key players?

Dedicated businesses in the human resources and recruitment sector include Morgan McKinley, Hays Recruitment, GradAustralia, and Australian Internships. Within a dedicated recruitment agency, there may be staff who focus on different aspects of the recruitment process, such as advertising roles, analysing resumes, interviewing candidates, or liaising with clients (i.e. the company for which the recruiters are sourcing candidates).

Of course, large corporations almost invariably have their own internal HR and recruitment staff. The key players might be thought of as companies that are well known for their innovative or unique HR departments or recruitment practices. The most prominent examples are international companies like Google, where staff-focused policies have led to it being named ‘the best place in the world’ to work for several consecutive years;1 Facebook, which seeks talent from all over the world; and, closer to home, businesses like PwC, KPMG, and Westpac Group. Famous HR personnel include Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook, and the person who oversees their HR department);  

Entering the sector

Necessary skills

Successful HR professionals possess integrity, discretion (for much of the data they deal with, such as employee data, is confidential), and highly developed interpersonal skills. Ordinarily, HR staff are involved in people-focused processes like advising staff members, resolving any issues in the workplace, hiring new staff members, overseeing performance reviews, and negotiating benefits, working arrangements (such as rosters), and salaries. To assume such responsibilities effectively, it’s important that HR staff are effective communicators, and leadership skills are often advantageous.

Necessary qualifications

The diversity of roles in HR has traditionally made it an appealing career path for entrants who don’t necessarily possess related degrees (or any degree at all). This remains the case insofar as HR personnel are often hired from a range of disciplines. However, in today’s competitive economy, it’s increasingly advantageous to possess accreditations that are specifically relevant to a career in HR (for example, a Bachelor of Business with a major in industrial relations and human resources management). If you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, you might consider a postgraduate qualification, such as a Master of Human Resource Management or Master of Business Administration. A Masters degree is considered essential if you wish to pursue high-paying jobs in the field.


According the Australian Federal Government’s Job Outlook page, full-time human resources managers earn $1,886 per week, which is significantly more than the average weekly pay of $1,200. Of course, entry level salaries may be lower, but should rank alongside (or slightly above) the average graduate salary of $62,000 per year.