By Brian Kreissl
My post from a few weeks ago discussed how people’s careers often take them in a direction they hadn’t initially considered, and while career planning is helpful and important, sometimes it is best to take the path of least resistance when it comes to our careers.
I want to explore this theme further in relation to HR careers and what to do when an HR practitioner’s career takes her in a direction beyond the profession. Should she fight tooth and nail to get back into HR or throw in the towel and do something else instead?
Non-traditional HR career path
By now, most readers will know I am an HR practitioner by profession. Even though I have been working in publishing for the past eight years, my work has been exclusively focused on developing products and solutions for the HR market. In many ways, I’m doing real hands-on HR work to develop HR programs and solutions for our customers to customize and use in their own organizations.
I have written a few times over the years that once you’ve been away from traditional HR for a while, it’s as if you have somehow turned your back on the profession. While we pay lip service to the notion that getting line management experience is helpful to one’s HR career, the reality is often quite different.
Other professions aren’t quite so hard on those who do something a little different for awhile. But it seems like if you’re an HR professional, you are expected to maintain a laser-like focus on HR and only HR and not to deviate from the traditional path. Other than for the most senior practitioners, even pursuing general business education is seen by some as demonstrating a lack of commitment to the profession.
At this point, even though I maintain a keen interest in the profession and an awareness of current developments in HR and employment law theory and practice, I realize there’s little chance of me going back into a traditional HR role.
While I’m not ruling out a return to a traditional HR career at some point in the future (“Never say never.”), for now I enjoy what I do and am quite content to continue on my current path. That path is a career that combines HR with product development, marketing, technology and project management.
Other types of non-HR careers
There are a number of different careers that could potentially make use of an HR practitioner’s transferrable skills. The knowledge, skills and competencies gained as an HR professional translate rather well to several other types of roles – although some of them may also require further education and training.
I have previously mentioned project management as a possibility. I also discussed marketing and how, like HR, marketing focuses on the people side of the business, albeit from an external as opposed to an internal perspective.
A previous post mentioned the significant overlap between human resources and general management. It is a cliché that to a certain extent every manager is a human resources manager, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Today’s HR practitioners are largely focused on developing and enhancing managerial capability and are frequently a repository of knowledge of effective people management practices. Even knowing about HR programs such as training, compensation and performance management can help managers because there is usually an important role for them to play in those programs.
It is possible to transfer one’s HR knowledge and expertise to others in roles such as training and development, academia and HR consulting. There are also opportunities for HR practitioners in areas on the edges of the profession in disciplines such as organizational development, labour relations, human resources information systems and payroll.
Moving a bit beyond those areas are roles such as corporate communications, executive coaching and career counseling. In fact, any job that makes use of an HR practitioner’s skills and competencies could be fair game.
But what do HR practitioners do particularly well? Understanding that might help an HR practitioner to choose a future career.
Returning to yet another previous post, I believe HR professionals generally have strong verbal, written and interpersonal communication skills, training, facilitation and conflict resolution skills, interviewing skills and a strong understanding of the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence. Those types of skills would be helpful in a number of different fields.