HR: to specialise or not?

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Specialising in an area of HR can be extremely rewarding and, in some industries, may pay a higher salary than a more generalist role. Both choices offer pathways to senior, strategic roles - so what should HR professionals in the early stages of their career consider when planning their career path?




Choosing what to specialise in should not just be about the salary potential of the job but what you can see yourself doing and being committed to for a good number of years. Factors to consider include your working style, technical skills, what you enjoy and your career aspirations. 

Areas to specialise in include:

A decision to specialise cannot be made without consideration of future market conditions.

  • Learning and development
  • Rewards (compensation and benefits)
  • Talent management
  • Employee relations
  • Employment law
  • Organisational design
  • Recruitment
  • Management information

Consider the market

While a generalist can apply for a wider range of positions, they can also face intense competition from a larger talent pool. However, while specialists can often find themselves in relatively high demand and low supply, opportunities may run a bit thin when spending slows.

Before you make this decision, consider how this move will play out given the likely nature of the market. If you’re considering another qualification, is this a good time? Or will this be risky given the current climate?

I’ve moved from a generalist to a specialist position, will I be able to return?

It is common for a HR specialist to move back into a more generalist role. And, while it may be more difficult to make the move, it is not impossible.

If you are looking to move back into a generalist role, it can be somewhat easier to do this internally or within the same industry sector. Relying on your industry knowledge will make the transition easier, particularly when leveraging your past generalist experience.

If you have chosen to specialise early on in your career, for instance moving from a role as a rewards analyst to a rewards manager, you may decide to upskill or undertake another qualification in order to bridge the gap and bring yourself up to speed on current best practice.

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