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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Career Development

Dear Evil HR Lady

I know that you're evil. You work in HR and you even mention it in your name.
But still, I think you're the person who could give me some precious advice.

I've been working in HR for almost 10 years and am looking for a new challenge. The difficulty is that I don't really know what to look for now. I've done it all: hiring, calming down employees, advising managers, saying no more and more often and also some firing. So should I continue on this path and become the "super-generalist" leading a team (people management would be a new challenge), or should I start specializing in one area?

I've got about 30 years ahead of me before retirement and I believe that I'm not a Peter yet.

What do you recommend?

Thank you so much for your advice!

Whatever you want.

Really. 30 years ahead of you is a long time. You want to be a super generalist now? Go for it. You want to manage people now, go for it. You want to be a specialist, go for it.

See, aren't you glad you took the time to write?

There is no clear career path for HR. It depends on what you want to accomplish and what you want to do with your life. I work in a fortune 500 company. I DO NOT want to be a Senior VP of HR for such a company. I don't. Really. Not interested. So, I'm not choosing that path.

I've been a specialist almost all of my career and I enjoy the specialist life. There's little employee contact in my current job (some, but not tons), but lots of policy and procedure, which I like.

If you want to climb a corporate ladder you need experience managing people. You also need strong experience in all areas. You didn't mention compensation, benefits or reporting/metrics. The latter has become so much more important, even in the past few years. You don't necessarily need to know how to do it, but you need to understand and apply the results.

If you want that brass ring, try to work your way into a job outside of HR. Get some business experience and then come back. Get that MBA.

But, if you don't want that (after all, at the end of the day, all you have is a brass ring), don't go chasing it.

The important thing is for you to realize there are consequences to your actions. Going to the next job will help determine what jobs you are eligible for after that. If you have a specific end goal, or more realistically a specific "10 years from now" goal, and you know someone who is there, make an appointment. Go talk. Ask what she was doing 10 years ago, what mistakes she made, what she would have done differently.

Then follow that.

I do, however, think it's easier to go from a generalist role to a specialist role than it is to do the reverse. Others may disagree. In fact, I hope they do (or agree) in the comments, to give you a better idea of how they've gotten where they are.


Gautam Ghosh said...

Well as the EHL says "It depends on what you want" even becoming the VP of HR at a fortune 50 company might come with a question what next?

I personally always chose to be a specialist in the Learning area as I did not see myself climbing the corporate hierarchy after working for firms like HP, Dell and Deloitte. However, being a specialist comes with a caveat. During good times, your skills demand a premium, since very few people specialise, however, during bad times you might be the first ones to get laid off, and your generalist bretheren might be the one doing the job !

The biggest questions people have to ask are:

1. What do I want to do?
2. What are my strengths?

It's no good saying you're going to be a L&D specialist if you have no head for program development and design.

Just another HR lady... said...

Great idea to sit down and think about what you are interested in for a career path (there are so many avenues to go down in HR!), but I would also suggest also considering the job market in your local area.

I began my HR career as a Comp and Benefits Specialist for an HR department in a large urban area. It was an amazing experience and Comp/Benefits is a great speciality to have in your background, it's the basis of so many areas of HR.

After several years in this role, I decided to move to a smaller city, and as a result, companies were simply not large enough to employ "HR Specialists" meaning that I ended up obtaining a Generalist role. It took quite some time however, to prove to the job market that I could do a Generalist role as my HR experience was very specialized.

I am now in an HR leadership role, but still basically am a generalist. I simply enjoy many different facets of HR. My specialty background is of great help to me daily, but it did limit me when I moved back to this smaller city.

If I was offering advice to a new grad, I would strongly suggest starting out in a generalist role where they could experience all facets of HR, and then choose if they wish to go down a specialty path.

For yourself who has been in HR for some time, you're at the point I was before I moved to management. Do I want to manage people? Do I want to deal with the politics that exist at the executive level? Do I want to move out of the "daily" HR responsibilities to more of a strategic role? All questions you have to answer for yourself. And guess've chosen a career with a thousand different paths...what an opportunity!

Anonymous said...

I agree harder to go from a specialist to a generalist, then vice versa. You got to figure out what you want down the road and what will be a good fit for you. If you are looking for a VP spot, go general. And if you want to be a good VP learn business (MBA not a bad idea) and learn the business (your industry and your companies.) But you really have to decide what’s a good fit for you. Johnny’s disposition might make him a great benefits specialist, but a terrible generalist or recruiter.

Adrian said...

Thank you EHL and all commenters for taking the time to give me some great advice. Much appreciated!

Some of the things confirmed that I'm on the right track, others pointed in interesting directions to do some more research and even more thinking.

I just hope my boss isn't reading this ;-)

Wally Bock said...

I have to disagree with Evil on this one. I know that I'm running the risk of winding up on the business end of some kind of HR spell, but here goes. I don't think it should be "whatever you want." I think you should ask how you can build a career based your strengths.

When I coach clients with this kind of question, I ask them to make two lists over a couple of days, and with the input of friends, family etc. List one is "What I'm Good At." List two is "What I Love to Do." Things that appear on both lists are a good starting point. You've got ten years of experience that can help you fill in those lists.

Look carefully at Gautam's post. He chose to not climb the corporate hierarchy. That's a great career goal if you want it and will enjoy it and will be good at it. But in today's world too many companies push talented people into leadership roles who really aren't cut out for that specific kind of work. And far too few individuals recognize that they want something else, and, like Gautam, are wise enough and strong enough to choose it.