If you’ve just entered a career in human resources or have made it into management, it’s important to set more than one goal for continuing to climb the ladder. Because of the diverse nature of HR, you have many opportunities to advance but must prepare for each of them in advance. Understanding what you can do to create a career as an HR generalist or a specialist will help you determine the best path for you.
Learn the Game
Before you start creating career goals and objectives, get a thorough understanding of what jobs are available in the HR profession. Some people work as consultants, some as generalists at small and midsize companies and others as department directors or specialists. The areas you should become familiar with include recruiting, training, legal compliance, benefits planning, compensation, morale, wellness, payroll, organizational development, employee management and budgeting. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these, but knowing how they integrate into the HR function of a company will help you determine your interests and which of these skills you’ll need to develop.
Generalist or Specialist?
After learning as much as you can about the different areas of the HR profession, determine if you’d like to specialize in one or two areas or if you’d like to work as a generalist. Specialists have fewer opportunities than generalists because more companies hire generalists, but specialists have less competition for jobs, can earn more money and can be harder to replace. A generalist has more opportunities not only to land work, but also to get management-level positions. As part of your assessment, consider whether you want to work as an employee or as a contractor. The latter opportunity lets you work for yourself as a consultant or for HR firms.
Even if you’ve got an HR degree, professional landscapes change and you most likely didn’t get in-depth experience in any one area of HR. If you’ve narrowed down the career options you’ve chosen to pursue, take continuing education courses, attend seminars and workshops and get certified. The more specific HR credentials you can add to your resume, the sooner you can begin to specialize, if that’s your goal. If you want to be a generalist, being able to prove you can handle multiple, specific HR tasks will help.
You might not have the opportunity to get the hands-on experience you need to build your CV while you’re working as an employee, especially if you want to specialize in a narrow area or get management experience. Look for small businesses or nonprofits in your geographic area that need HR help and volunteer your services to get experience. For example, you might help a small business analyze its current organizational structure and create a three-year growth plan. You can help a nonprofit with its hiring or assist one on a limited budget by developing a voluntary benefits plan for its employees. You’ll get helpful hands-on experience while you improve your resume.
Build Your Network
Many of the best jobs are never advertised, and building an HR-specific network will help you increase your chances of getting noticed. Join local, state and national professional associations, such as the Society of Human Resources Management, and participate. Write articles that showcase your knowledge of specific areas of HR. Join professional association committees, serve on a board, attend meetings and volunteer as a speaker. Set up informational interviews with top executives to learn how they made their climbs.