Issue: Your skills and interests may favor one of two different types of HR: field or corporate.
Benefit: Recognizing your preferred path (and planning accordingly) is critical to your satisfaction level and your career growth.
Action: Do some soul-searching and self-assessment to identify your best fit.
Field HR or corporate HR: Neither career path is necessarily better; each has its own challenges and rewards. But there are important differences between the two that influence your career direction. Knowing those distinctions is a key step in any HR job move.
What's the difference? Corporate HR is strategic; field HR is tactical. Corporate HR develops the organization's HR policies, direction and goals; field HR is responsible for implementing them successfully. Corporate HR tends to see managers and employees collectively as a group or entity, interacting frequently with company execs; field HR interacts directly every day with managers and employees as individuals. Corporate HR's focus is longer-term; field HR's role is more immediate.
Because corporate HR professionals focus on large-scale strategic issues and need to advise senior execs, they tend to be specialists with deeper knowledge in one or more functional areas, such as compensation and benefits, or training and development. On the flip side, field HR must handle a variety of employee issues and are, therefore, more likely to be true generalists with a basic command of all HR functions.
How often have you heard that the only way to win at office politics is with dirty tricks? Margaret's company was doomed, her job kaput, her career in shreds, but then she remembered her mom’s advice …
Field HR pros are more likely to see their decisions pay off more directly. Corporate HR sees results by having their ideas implemented on a large scale.
Finding your direction
To judge where you fit best, do an honest audit of your past and future. Look at your personality, work style, education, experience, achievements and professional goals. Where have you excelled before, and where have you come up short? Are you task-oriented or an "idea person?"
Honestly examine the current stage of your career and life. For example, the ability to travel frequently can be an important job requirement in many field HR positions. Midcareer professionals with family responsibilities may not find that attractive.
Also, think about the size and culture of an organization. The dynamics and politics can be very different, and that can influence HR's responsibilities. Example: At a smaller or midsize company, you'll have more opportunity to blend certain aspects of both field and corporate HR work. In a larger organization, you'll find more opportunity for specialization in one or two HR functions.
Bottom line: If you crave predictability and set schedules, a field HR job won't be the best fit. But if you thrive on hands-on work and have a knack for reading situations and resolving problems, influencing people, building consensus and finding solutions quickly, field HR may be the perfect assignment.
If you're sharp in analytical strengths, demonstrate business acumen and, prefer a more structured routine or enjoy contributing to longer-term projects, corporate HR may be the right focus. But even corporate jobs include some unpredictability, especially in smaller settings.
For more career advice for the HR Professional, see The Little Black Book of Executive Secrets.
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