To specialise or not to specialise?

HR professional at work

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 patherways to senior, strategic roles - so what should HR professionals in the early stages of consider when planning their career path?

 

 

"In the early years of your HR career, its good to adopt the ‘try before you buy’ approach, gaining experience across the widest variety of areas possible," said Vicky Salt, Manager with Robert Walters.

"To make the right choice, you’ll need to consider not only what you’re good at but what makes you tick. Specialising should not only come down to your salary potential, it needs to be something you have a passion for and something you will be able to practice in for a number of years."

Factors to consider include your working style, technical skills, the size of your ideal organisation to work for, what you enjoy and your career aspirations. 

Areas to specialise in include;

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

Consider the market

Specialising should not only come down to your salary potential, it needs to be something you have a passion for and something you will be able to practice in for a number of years. 

A decision to specialise cannot be made without consideration of future market conditions. 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 an HR specialist to move back into a more generalist role. And, while it may be more difficult to make the move, it’s certainly 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 you up to speed on current best practice. 

Consider the opportunities available to you as a specialist by accessing our job search page.

Or, find out what you’re worth using the Robert Walters Salary Survey.

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