In search of a specialty

I am interested in specialising in employee development. How early or late did you choose this HR path?

Dear HRM Magazine Asia, 

I have been with my first HR role, as a generalist, for just over six months, but am already keen to take on a new challenge. In particular, I’d I think I am most interested in specialising in employee development. How early or late did you choose the HR path that would carry for the majority of your career thereafter?

- In search of a speciality, Singapore

Laurence SmithLaurence Smith: There are a couple of interesting points to make here.

Firstly, I don’t think you should be specialising after only six months as a generalist. I think it’s good to get more experience in that role – a year or two at least. But by all means, start volunteering for projects involving employee engagement and development, or ask if you can “double-hat” and continue your role as a generalist but also take on additional responsibilities with the L&D team.

The other point I’d make is I think that the days of deciding early in your career what your long-term journey is going to look like are well and truly over.

 Increasingly these days, people are looking for different challenges every couple of years. And organisations are also looking for those that can be flexible. They are looking for people who can be good generalists, then step into a specialist role for a couple of years, and then transition back into a generalist role or even into line management.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, talks about the most critical new skill being that of an “infinite learner”: the idea that you should always be learning new things.

So keep learning, and operating as a generalist. Start to learn more about the specialist area that you are interested in.  If in six or nine months there is a chance to move into that area by all means do so. But don’t see that as your last move. See it as another learning opportunity, and a stepping stone to a different challenge again in two to three years.

Laurence Smith is a board-level advisor to Smartup.io. With 25 years of working experience in consulting and HR, his career has spanned across different industries and countries, including stints and projects with LG Electronics, GE Capital, McKinsey, the World Bank, and as Managing Director of Learning and Development for DBS Bank.

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