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!


About the author:

Gautam Ghosh is a Consultant with OD Consulting firm Vyaktitva. He blogs on HR topics. He is an XLRI alumnus of the 1999 batch. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook