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Moving from a generalist to a specialist HR role

The demand for HR specialists is increasing, and if you are a generalist professional looking to move into a more specialist positions, you may need to consider some important aspects.

The need for specialist skill sets is driven by new regulations, skills shortages and the changing nature of the workforce, meaning HR professionals could be well-placed to specialise in a growing area and develop their careers.

There are vast opportunities for generalists considering the move into a specialist are,

 “For generalists considering moving into a specialist role, there are vast opportunities, but it is essential to acknowledge a number of factors before doing so”, said Dawn May, Senior Manager at Walters People.  

We explore three key steps to help you transition from a generalist to a specialist role.

The demand for HR specialists is increasing, and if you are a generalist professional looking to move into a more specialist positions, you may need to consider some important aspects.

The need for specialist skill sets is driven by new regulations, skills shortages and the changing nature of the workforce, meaning HR professionals could be well-placed to specialise in a growing area and develop their careers.

There are vast opportunities for generalists considering the move into a specialist are,

 “For generalists considering moving into a specialist role, there are vast opportunities, but it is essential to acknowledge a number of factors before doing so”, said Dawn May, Senior Manager at Walters People.  

We explore three key steps to help you transition from a generalist to a specialist role.

Identify key areas

Specialist roles often develop in response to changing business conditions, requirements, trends and expectations. If you intend to specialise, look for HR areas where the volume of roles is growing, or the nature of the roles are changing.

Certain areas of HR cover specialist roles which you may consider and include the following:

  • Compensation/regulation and benefits
  • MI/data analytics
  • HR change/transformation project/programme manager


“In the financial services sector, reward and compensation specialists are in high demand due to growing pressure from regulators, particularly within investment banking,” said Dawn, “as are change and transformation specialists in businesses who are looking to improve HR efficiency of internal operations.”

If you intend to specialise, look for HR areas where the volume of roles is growing, or the nature of the roles are changing.

Things to consider

It’s important to understand why you are looking to specialise, before you transition into a specialist role. Firstly, how long have you been a generalist? It may be beneficial to build a strong skill set and understanding of HR generalist duties before specialising.

“Generalist roles have the scope to take on a specialism. A generalist who has strong specialist knowledge in employee relations will be in demand to support re-structuring work,” said Dawn.

Secondly, what are your motivations to make the move? Are you seeking a new challenge, or do you have a passion for a particular specialist area? Make sure the path choose reflects your interests and skill set.

Key skills

As a generalist HR professional, you require a broad knowledge of all HR functions to perform well in the role. As a result, you will often gain a broader knowledge over various business areas and so be a good point of contact for others in the business.

“Starting your career in a generalist role can significantly help with the transition into a specialist role,” said Dawn. “Not only will you gain exposure to various speciality areas over time where you can develop your skill set, but you will also gain an understanding of which area is of interest to you and which may be best suited to your skills.” 

One step at a time

If you are interested in transitioning into a specialist HR role, consider the following:

  1. Work a specialist assignment – accepting or seeking out a task in a specific area can help you gain exposure and build the key skills you need when making the move
  2. Manage other specialists – not only is progressing to managerial level a step forward in your career, it also means you’re the go-to person for any queries which aids in expanding your knowledge
  3. Assume responsibility for a critical function – this will help you to focus and gain exposure in one area which is a strong step to potentially becoming a specialist in this function

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