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So you want to be head of reward

Compensation and benefits experts have been in demand over the past couple of years. We look at what it takes to become a head of reward.

Reward jobs are popular

As general pay levels have been fairly static, businesses are becoming more creative in the ways they reward their people – which has made this an interesting area to work in. And as reward specialists become more valued, their own pay has increased. 

Reward jobs integral to business

One common myth about reward is that it is a backroom, non-client facing role where you’ll mainly be dealing with technical systems. But the truth is reward specialists are integral to HR and the business as a whole. You’ll need good communication and ‘soft’ skills as well as a strong numeric ability. You’ll also need to show a real flair for the more technical aspects of HR, with strong Excel and HR systems knowledge.

How can I get into reward?

Heads of reward generally come from three different types of background. They may:

  • start as generalists and then specialise in reward;
  • progress all the way up the reward ladder, or
  • start in HR payroll or HR systems but show an acumen for strategy and policy.

To secure a head of reward job, you’ll need to demonstrate both commercial and technical nous, excellent reward knowledge and the ability to communicate with internal clients.

What does a head of reward do? 

You will be responsible for developing new reward strategies. Where pay is a key consideration – especially in professional and financial services and in the public sector – you may also sit on the main board.

As head of reward you will lead a team, although how big this will be depends on the size of the organisation and complexity of the reward structures in place. Some big retail banks have reward teams of up to 80, while smaller organisations have more modest reward teams. In these cases, the Head of Reward role tends to be much more hands on.

Skills you will need

To secure a head of reward job, you’ll need to demonstrate both commercial and technical nous, excellent reward knowledge and the ability to communicate with internal clients. 


The skills and experience you will need will depend on the size and nature of the organisation and whether or not it has any international divisions. As a basic guide you will need:

  • CIPD qualification at degree level
  • Proven people management experience
  • Strong numeracy skills and high attention to detail
  • Up to date knowledge of benefits legislation
  • Confidence to be credible and be able to influence with authority

If you are seeking a Head of Reward role in a global organisation, you are also likely to need:

  • Global M&A integration and TUPE experience
  • Proven experience of overseeing a global payroll
  • Global experience of implementing large scale cost effective reward solutions

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