From generalist to specialist - how can HR make the break?

Written by
Changeboard Team

03 May 2010

03 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Explosion of HR candidates

As recent as six months ago, HR vacancies were a rare species. So when we did come across one (a role for a generalist £40k HR manager in Bristol) the first thing we did was laugh, cry and hug one another, being thankful that we hung in there and that yes there was a recruitment god and he was good. The second thing we did was announce it to the HR community through our networks, LinkedIn connections, job boards, twitter, google. Anywhere where we could get the message out that HR and the recruitment industry were anything but finished. The third thing we did was take a long deep breath and wait for the response.

And it a giant tsunami. An immense volume of CVs and covering recruiters, comp and bens experts, learning and development specialists, OD practitioners, talent managers, diversity consultants, HR project managers, graduate recruiters, change management advisors. You name it, we got it. Needless to say there were more than a few disappointed applicants.

How can HR professionals make a transition?

This brings me to the very point of this article. As a specialist, how easy is it to transfer between subject areas or to put it another way, move ‘cross-ways’?

If you wake up one morning and can't face the prospect of standing up and delivering yet another ‘managing performance’ training session, is it possible to pack up your suitcase and catch the train to recruitmentville, taking your highly refined communication skills with you? Should you shudder at the thought of managing yet another major redundancy programme, is it conceivable that your capacity to manage highly sensitive projects will go down well in the world of talent management?

For me, the answer partly lies in identifying who is doing the recruiting.

Look beyond recruitment consultancies

As much as it pains me to admit this, if you're looking to move ‘cross-ways’ then recruiters (and I mean consultants) are not your best solution. Our clients expect thebestcandidate™ which normally equates to ‘the right amount of technical ability plus the right soft skills multiplied by availability in the market here and now, divided by the right cultural fit’ (and there you were thinking recruitment was not that scientific).

Yes, we have development opportunities for those who are ready for ‘the next step’ and if a client really trusts us then we can have a frank conversation about a candidate’s potential. But more often than not, we are limited in how creative we are allowed to be.  We certainly have a valuable role to play, but in this instance we’re not the right channel.

Have you asked on the inside?

If you're directly applying to a company via an online advert, then history often repeats itself. Come closing date, the in-house recruiter will have deployed their shortlisting matrix and be strictly assessing evidence from your CV, only to fling your beautifully crafted application in the pile labelled ‘maybe next time’. Worst still, you're unlikely to have had an opportunity to talk to, let alone build a relationship with, somebody ‘on the inside’ in order to convince them that you are equipped to make that cross-ways move.  Your chances remain very much high and dry.

But is the answer sitting there right in front of you? In your own organisation? You might scoff, but have you asked? Most jobseekers don’t. Believe me, I ask them and if they say no, then I ask them why not. And they don’t usually have an alternative answer to leaving. Does an organisation want to really lose all that knowledge, experience and talent? Or would an organisation rather look at ways to retain, support and develop it, if they can see the commercial benefit for doing so?

Consider internal opportunities

Think about the positive aspects of this situation and how they influence your chances of making a cross-ways move:

  • Firstly, you are already known to the organisation. Assuming that’s a positive then....
  • ...the organisation should already be aware of the fine qualities you bring.
  • you already have (positive) relationships in the business with which you may be able to exert influence.
  • there's also a fair chance that the organisation has provided the very platform with which you are able to approach this conversation – your appraisal or performance management process. 

How to look for external opportunities

But I can already hear a number of you shouting at your screens: “It just doesn’t work like that in my organisation!” So looking external has to be a viable option. Of course there are things you can do to better your chances:

  • ask about internal projects which might help you gain useful and relevant experience that you can add to your CV.
  • take a professional qualification, certificate or study the areas that interest you – clearly it shows willing but you will also have the theoretical knowledge to reflect on.
  • talk to people at your CIPD meetings, events and conferences and build a network of contacts who might be specialists in the area you want to work in and can offer advice, or who might even be able to open doors.
  • regularly use LinkedIn – join groups relevant to the area you want to work in, get involved in the discussions, build strategic contacts in organisations you want to work in and seek advice from subject experts.

A combination of all of these along with a little determination and hard work will undoubtedly put you on the right path and make your ‘cross-ways’ search a more positive experience.