Lots of people have asked me the answer to the big riddle “I am starting my career in HR – Could you tell me if I should be a generalist or specialist?” I am often flummoxed by that question – because I think that is the wrong question to ask !
When I look at my friends, after spending more than a decade in the HR career – here are my thoughts:
1. Planning a career is overrated: Most people have switched from being a generalist and a specialist depending on organizational factors – and depending on how the larger economy was doing.
2. One can’t be assessed on all strengths in the beginning of the career: You know the psychometric tests that B Schools make you fill up in the 2 years you spend there? Well, don’t let those shape your perception of what you can do and can’t do. I know of shy sensitive people who never thought they could do a Recruiting role become really good at it , or revel in numbers as a Compensation Analyst.
3. Mentors are underrated: One of the big common threads when I talk to my friends is the presence of a big influence, usually in the first or second job.Presence of a mentor who helped them think out their limiting perceptions of capability and capacity.
4. Industry is underrated: Most people don’t seem to realise it, but we are all becoming specialists – however not in a sub-function of HR – but in an industry. Some are IT industry specialists, some are FMCG specialists, some Pharma specialists.
But hey, back to the first question: Well depends on what your goals are, if you want to be a consultant, work flexitime, and have a great risk appetite, become a specialist.
If your goal is to be a head of HR of a company/group – spending the majority of your career in a generalist role – leading some sub function for a couple of years and moving on to another would be the way to go.
But then, that’s the reality today, who knows how it’ll change in the next decade!
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