HR Career Pathway

Discover how to shape your HR career pathway effectively, utilizing insights on skills, gaps, and tools available for your professional growth. Learn strategies for navigating various HR career routes to enhance your development and impact.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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How do you create a career pathway in HR?

Creating a career path for yourself in HR is essential to achieving your professional and personal objectives, regardless of how much experience you have. Depending on your interests and competencies, you have many options for developing and molding your career. By creating a career path map for yourself, you may decide how you want to progress in the future depending on your skills and professional goals in HR.

Your HR career path plan will provide you with insightful knowledge about:

  • Your abilities and proficiencies: The possible avenues for internal and external vertical and horizontal growth within and beyond your organization
  • Present skill gaps that must be filled in order to advance professionally
  • The tools at your disposal to close any skills gaps

The field of human resources encompasses more than just standard HR, and HR specialists have a significant and broad impact on the company. You can offer general business advice, assist with the adoption of technology or other digital initiatives, create and preserve a positive workplace culture, or cleverly incorporate the HR value chain into operations.

In this post, we’ll discuss the several HR career routes you may choose from based on the four HR profiles we’ve created. We will also provide three HR career advancement examples to motivate you.

The modern HR career path

A career was formerly thought of as a sequence of steps up to the pinnacle of achievement: holding a leadership position. A worker’s career path would normally advance from employee to manager supervising a team, director of a function, vice president of a department, senior VP, and further up the ladder. Put another way, your career often followed your organization’s hierarchical structure. Every post you had served as merely a steppingstone to help you advance to a more senior role.

But it’s not the standard these days to think of a career as part of a company hierarchy. These days, a career path is thought of as a sequence of events that give you chances to advance your knowledge and abilities. It’s possible that your career will continue to progress and that you’ll become Senior Vice President in the end. But your previous positions weren’t merely steppingstones to your greatest professional achievement.

The idea here is that careers are becoming experiences rather than a hierarchy. 84% of workers believe this transition to be important or extremely important, according to Deloitte research. This shift can be partially explained by the fact that traditional hierarchical career progression alone is not enough to succeed in today’s disruptive business environment—the COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of how this is true. Instead, you need an array of skills and competencies.

More than just a thorough understanding of learning and development, talent acquisition, and salary and benefits are required of a successful HR practitioner. Furthermore, you need to understand how the company runs, including how its goods are produced, how it provides services, how it turns a profit, and so forth. For this reason, it’s not unusual to find HR specialists with backgrounds in product development, marketing, or sales.

Career advancement in HR: What makes it possible?

Employment in HR is expected to increase by 10% by 2030. Furthermore, since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of HR job posts in the US has increased by 87%. More non-traditional HR job paths and opportunities are emerging as a result of the expansion of HR tasks and responsibilities pertaining to sustainability, digital transformation, and well-being.

Not only are HR professions no longer straightforward, but a more diverse career path is now expected of you. Professionals change jobs and companies more frequently now than they did a few decades ago. It is also common for employees to assume various responsibilities while yet completing the same task.

This suggests that if the end goal is to become a CHRO, you don’t necessarily have to go through the conventional route of beginning as an HR Assistant, progressing to HR Specialist, HR Manager, and finally HR Director. It’s also feasible to start your career as an HRIS Analyst and advance to HR Operations Manager, Shared Services Manager, and then CHRO.

In HR, your career advancement is simply a culmination of your significant experiences. You develop new abilities and competencies with each position you take on, which advances your career and personal development. They will also enable you to progress in your professional development. Remember that different firms may require different skill sets, competency sets, and portfolios for the same job, depending on their structures, sizes, and industries. This means that you have a limitless number of options.

It also means that you have to expand on your HR expertise and acquire more generic HR competencies that you can use in a variety of situations. These skills will enable you to adapt to shifting work environments, future-proof your professional path in the face of global upheaval, and cooperate and innovate across the board.

HR fundamentals: The T-shaped HR specialist

Four skills stand out as essential when we delve deeper into the skills required to carry out various HR-related roles. It has been observed that an HR professional is generally T-shaped, meaning that during their career, they will need to acquire a set of both operational and general abilities.

The four fundamental talents of business knowledge, literacy in data, digital proficiency, and people advocacy are prerequisites for being T-shaped. There are various dimensions to each of these abilities, and these dimensions comprise particular behaviors. These are fundamental abilities that were previously discussed, and which are applicable to many HR positions. In addition to these, you’ll need to focus on at least one HR specialty. Recruitment, HR analytics, DEIB, and organizational growth are some examples.

How to chart the course of your HR career

The best HR career path for you cannot be determined in a one-size-fits-all manner. Your goals, interests, and abilities will determine the course you take, so even though you both have similar backgrounds and levels of experience, what is best for you may not be the same as what is best for another HR professional.

Nevertheless, there are still standards that you can adhere to in order to choose which course is best for you. Your ideal job is where you should start. Consider the following question: “What job would I love to have?” If you have an idea of what you want, all that’s left to do is determine what experiences, abilities, and competencies you’ll need to acquire to get there.

After that, you just need to chart out your next steps.

If you are unsure of your ultimate objective, it is best to concentrate on the experiences and talents you would like to have and begin searching for positions that will enable you to obtain them.

This can be a difficult endeavor given the variety of HR roles that are available and the various abilities needed for each one. To assist you in determining what abilities you must learn and which responsibilities will enable you to achieve your goals, we have provided a framework. With the help of this framework, you can clearly comprehend the various skill sets and behavior combinations required to succeed in various HR roles, which are divided into:

  • Knowledge, abilities, and conduct related to the four aforementioned core skills (data literacy, digital dexterity, business acumen, and people advocacy).
  • Functional competencies, which are particular to the HR specialty you have, such as Learning and Development or Comp & Ben, as well as role-related abilities, such as networking and communication and project management.
  • Since there are numerous HR specializations, you must be proficient in hundreds of operational skills and role-related abilities. Fortunately, the majority of HR roles fall into one of four major categories, which are Advisory, Strategic, Service Providers, or Solution Providers, depending on the primary role they play in the company. This indicates that positions that carry out the same primary purpose share a core set of behaviors and skills.

The Advisory profile includes roles like local HR Business Partners, specialists, and global HRBPs. The positions in the local learning and development teams and the Global Centers of Excellence are included in the Solution Provider profile. The Service Provider profile covers junior and intermediate management positions within the Shared Services centers. The strategic profile includes roles operating across various functions or business lines, including local HR executives and global CoE leadership teams.

You will need to know precisely what behaviors and abilities you need to develop to move between different positions, whether within the same profile or across multiple profiles. In the next section, we’ll go over each operational profile and provide examples of various roles that call for the specified behaviors of each profile.

Options for a career in HR

We have outlined several HR job path examples that you may use to map out your own career progression in order to advance either vertically or horizontally. A vertical move is an advancement in your career that takes you to a higher position. A horizontal move, on the other hand, describes a shift toward a different job (or functional profile) that is comparable to your existing role. It’s important to start with the operational description of your current position in order to determine your career alternatives.

HR positions in the Service Provider category

These are middle-and lower-level management positions inside the Shared Services centers. These can include jobs like HR Scrum Manager, Benefits Manager, Payroll Administrator, or Administrator.

It is the duty of those who work in a service-championing position to deliver prompt, attentive, and high-quality service. This expert must be devoted to the client and guarantee a scalable, repeatable, and consistent experience. In order to be successful in the HR Service profession, you must possess the following habits and skills related to the four fundamental competencies:

  • Prioritize the client (business acumen)
  • Possess the ability to convert analytics and data into value for the company (data literacy)
  • Have a thorough understanding of various HR platforms and technology (Digital Dexterity)

You must also have functional and role-related competencies, including knowledge of compensation and benefits, payroll, and other role-related abilities. Other examples include the following:

  • HR functions
  • Skills in project management
  • Agile technique

Generally speaking, your actual role will significantly impact your functional competencies and role-related skills.

Benefits Coordinator

Let’s examine the Benefits Administrator’s HR career path in more detail. In addition to overseeing and monitoring benefits administration, the benefits administrator is in charge of creating high-quality benefit plans for the company and looking into new and improved initiatives.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Maintaining the standard of benefits service delivery by carrying out the daily operations of group benefits programs
  • Assisting staff members with questions about benefits and offering advice on how to make the most of the benefits they receive from the company;
  • Using carefully designed benefits programs to support maintaining and enhancing employee engagement and satisfaction.

Benefits Manager

The benefits administrator may eventually transition into a benefits manager, who creates, implements, and oversees the organization’s benefits policies, processes, and programs. The benefits manager makes sure that benefit plans are affordable, meet employee demands, and adhere to regulatory standards.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Advising staff members on matters pertaining to benefits so they have the information they need.
  • Creating new benefit plans and enhancing current ones to make sure the company can attract and retain personnel in a manner that rivals those of its competitors.
  • Ensuring that the benefit plans adhere to local, state, and federal laws and regulations and satisfy the demands of the organization.

Manager of HR Operations

The Benefits Manager may eventually transition into the HR Operations Manager position. In order to promote the best possible employee experience, this position is in charge of managing the effective implementation of HR procedures and technology.

Important duties for this position include:

  • The day-to-day operations of the HR Operations Department are overseen.
  • HR service delivery is tracked and reported on to guarantee the best possible employee experience at the lowest possible cost.
  • HR processes, policies, and technologies are designed, monitored, and improved over time.

Careers in HR that fit the Solution Provider model

These include positions in the Learning & Development teams or the Global Centers of Excellence. You can work as an employee relations specialist, facilitator, data administrator, or L&D specialist.

Creating HR procedures that soundly, thoughtfully, and practically meet the needs of the business is the responsibility of a professional working as a solution provider. They ought to be able to empower others to implement HR solutions at scale throughout the company. In order to be successful as a Solution Provider, you must possess:

The following habits and skills related to the four fundamental competencies:

  • Develop a digital culture and optimize technology design (Digital Dexterity)
  • Integrate relevant HR trends into the business context (Business Acumen)
  • Utilize your expertise to achieve business impact in HR (Business Acumen)

The following knowledge is part of the functional competencies and role-related skills:

  • DEIB
  • Education and Training
  • Acquiring talent
  • Gathering and preparing data
  • Management of change

Expert in Organizational Development (OD)

You can advance from being an Organizational Development (OD) specialist to an OD Manager and, ultimately, an OD Head. For every department, the OD specialist guarantees ongoing organizational changes. Their principal duties consist of the following:

  • Creating and putting into practice OD programs to match employees with important corporate objectives and strategies.
  • Maximizing organizational performance through prompt and suitable interventions.
  • Offering guidance and counseling to groups and individuals to resolve organizational issues.

Manager of Organizational Development (OD)

An OD specialist may eventually advance to the position of OD Manager, where they would be in charge of creating and carrying out training and development plans for business staff members. Additionally, they promote interventions throughout the corporation and advise business leaders on issues pertaining to OD.

The following are the main duties of the OD Manager:

  • Creating development plans that are tailored to the requirements of the workforce in order to maximize productivity.
  • Giving corporate executives advice on issues related to leadership development, organizational development, and performance.
  • Ensuring that development programs are continuously improved using feedback, assessments, and the most recent best practices.

Head of Development within the Organization

The Head of Organizational Development job may eventually be filled by the OD Manager. They oversee and assist with the organizational needs assessment. They also create, carry out, and assess activities that maximize the efficacy of the workforce.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Providing their knowledge of workforce design, behaviors, culture, and working methods and processes to help build a future-proof strategy.
  • Managing the day-to-day operations of the Organizational Development department, including hiring, performance management, and workforce management.
  • Developing and implementing OD interventions that close the gap between the organization’s current and ideal states.

Manager of Human Resources

An OD specialist can pursue a different career path in addition to vertical advancements to become an HR manager. This individual plans, coordinates, and directs the management of the HR department, which includes hiring, training employees, and paying and providing benefits.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Overseeing the complete implementation of the HR Value Chain, encompassing tasks like hiring, training, employee relations, and compensation.
  • Working together with other department heads to create and implement appropriate training programs and meet staffing shortages.
  • Assisting the leadership group in creating and implementing talent and HR strategies.

Jobs in HR under the Advisory profile

These include positions like HR Managers, Global HRBPs, Consultants, and local HR Business Partners.

An advisor functions as the organization’s reliable and respectable HR specialist. They provide good, sensible, and carefully thought-out counsel pertinent to the situation and the company’s requirements. In order to be successful as an advisor, you must possess:

The following habits and skills relate to the four fundamental competencies:

  • Possess a keen understanding of business and its realities, as well as commercial awareness (business acumen)
  • Drive evidence-based HR with data (Data Literacy)
  • Possess the ability to balance internal and external stakeholder needs (business acumen)

The following are examples of role-related abilities and functional competencies:

  • HR Guidance
  • HR Administration
  • Company administration
  • Communication and networking
  • Presentation abilities and storytelling abilities

Human Resources Officer

For instance, the HR Officer may be an entry-level to mid-level HR generalist with a wide variety of responsibilities, or they may concentrate on a single HR domain. To develop the culture and objectives of the business, they recruit, educate, and support its people—the most valuable resource.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Assisting the management group in developing and implementing HR rules and regulations.
  • Actively involved in hiring and retaining staff to ensure the company has the expertise it needs to succeed.
  • Upholding workplace regulations and attending to workers’ health, safety, and happiness at work.
  • Assuming full accountability for the administrative processes related to HR.

Business Partner for HR

An HR Officer’s next career step would be to become an HR Business Partner (HRBP). This individual serves as the business’s and HR’s strategic point of contact. Important duties for this position include:

  • Empowering line managers to handle problems pertaining to people, organizations, and change.
  • Maximizing organizational performance by utilizing HR procedures like strategy planning and organizational design.
  • Directing and counseling the company on the use of HR procedures, practices, and policies.

Senior Business Partner in HR

The HRBP has the potential to progress to Senior HRBP status over time. At a major corporation, they are also referred to as the HR Manager or the Vice President of HR. They advise the executive team and utilize their business acumen to make sure that HR aids the organization in achieving its objectives.

Important duties include:

  • Maximizing organizational efficiency through the use of HR procedures like organizational design and strategic planning
  • Serving as a strategic business partner to match HR focus with company objectives and priorities.
  • Directing and counseling the company on the use of HR procedures, practices, and policies.
  • The Global HRBP represents a step higher on the HR career ladder. This role’s primary duties are substantially the same as those of the Senior HRBP. The Global HRBP does, however, currently conduct business internationally.

Jobs in HR that fit the Strategic profile

These roles work across different business units or divisions, like the local HR Executives and the worldwide CoE leadership teams. This profile allows you to pursue roles such as Shared Services Manager, Head Talent, Employee Relationship Executive, and Chief Human Resources Officer.

An expert working as a strategist is an important collaborator in determining the organization’s future and an important contributor to the business plan. They create the HR plan and guarantee that the company has the people resources it needs to prosper both now and in the future. Usually, these are experts with a good deal of prior expertise in a range of HR-related tasks. In order to be successful as a Strategist, you must:

Have the following habits and skills related to the four fundamental competencies:

  • Utilize data-driven, insightful insights to shape HR strategy (Data Literacy)
  • Adopt the company’s mission and vision (People Advocacy)
  • Promote and defend the organization’s ethics, values, and environmentally friendly procedures (People Advocacy)

Knowledge of the following functional abilities and role-related skills is required:

  • HR Management
  • Strategy for HR
  • Leadership abilities
  • Lean administration

Chief Learning Officer

As their first leadership position, someone fitting the Strategist description can begin as the Chief Learning Officer. This C-suite executive is in charge of an organization’s learning management. They design and implement a company’s learning plan according to the demands of the business and the workforce.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Overseeing and managing the operational and strategic operations of the Learning and Development (L&D) department.
  • Making certain that staff members have the information and abilities necessary to be successful in their positions.
  • Addressing the organization’s developmental goals by determining training needs and skill gaps, coordinating L&D activities with a company’s strategy, creating an L&D plan, and making sure there is funding available to carry it out.

Director of HR

In the near future, the Chief Learning Officer may take on the role of HR Director, overseeing the HR department’s personnel, activities, and policies. By counseling the board on the ramifications of its actions for human resources, they support the company’s overarching strategy.

The following are the HR Director’s primary duties:

  • Ensuring adherence to the law and the effective execution of the organization’s personnel strategy and mission.
  • Coordinating the HR strategy with the overarching plan to guarantee that personnel policies and choices are in the best interests of the company.
  • Providing senior business leaders with advice on HR advancements and the ways that systems, rules, and strategy affect workers and corporate culture.

Chief HR Officer

The CHRO position is the next logical step for an HR director. This person leads an organization’s HR and culture. They go by a variety of titles, including VP of HR, Chief of Talent, and Chief People Officer.

Important duties for this position include:

  • As a vital strategic partner to the organization, ensuring that the HR strategy aligns with the business strategy and overseeing the strategic and coherent operation of the HR department as a team.
  • Promoting an inclusive and diverse corporate culture to establish a work environment where each person is treated with respect and feels appreciated.

Switching between profiles

HR professionals wear several hats in many companies, especially in small and emerging businesses. This implies that they can play a variety of roles.

Generalist in HR

The HR Generalist position is the most prominent one. This mid-level professional’s duties include hiring, handling benefits and compensation, managing HR, and other duties. They typically serve as part of a team that services various business areas or are an organization’s first HR hire.

The following are the main duties of the HR Generalist:

  • Assuming responsibility for recruiting, orienting, educating, and supervising staff to guarantee the company has and keeps the talent it needs to thrive.
  • Overseeing a variety of administrative procedures, such as handling leave and absence requests, legal applications, and pay and benefits.
  • Directing and counseling the company on the use of HR procedures, practices, and policies.

HR Assistant

The HR Assistant is another position that frequently mixes a variety of profiles. The HR Assistant is in charge of the day-to-day operations of an organization’s HR department.

Important duties for this position include:

  • Assisting with the everyday tasks of the HR department.
  • Keeping accurate HR records, files, and paperwork up to date.
  • Offering secretarial and admin support to HR executives, staff members, and candidates concerning conventional HR procedures, hiring practices, benefits, and other relevant topics.

HR Specialist 

The position of the HR Specialist serves as a third example. This HR specialist specializes in a particular aspect of HR, such as benefits and pay, labor and relations with workers, or recruiting. Usually, HR specialists work in bigger HR teams.

Important duties for this role consist of:

  • Creating efficient procedures and guidelines in their field of expertise.
  • Communicating with colleagues about their work.
  • Analyzing and assessing activities in their field to develop improvements.

Examples of careers in HR

Now that you have a solid understanding of how to transition between the HR functional profiles, let’s look at some real-world examples of how an HR professional might advance. Andrea, Michael, and Lucy have granted permission to use the following three stories. All identities have been altered to protect privacy.

HR Assistant to CHRO

After earning her Generalist HR degree, Andrea has worked in HR for the past 20 years in various jobs. She began her career in one of the largest mining enterprises in her nation as an HR Administrator assisting the HRBP team. Andrea worked along the whole HR value chain. For Andrea, this position was an invaluable learning opportunity.

When she transferred to a financial services company two years later, it helped prepare her for her first HR Generalist position.

Before relocating to the telecom industry to take on a Senior HRBP post, she oversaw several HR projects in this capacity. She got the chance to lead long-term projects, communicate with other HR specialists, and work with the business on higher-level goals as a Senior HRBP.

Four years later, Andrea took a job as an HR executive for the first time. She was employed as the Head of HR for a different telecom company that was going through a merger at the time. One of their biggest enterprise service lines was under her purview.

Three and a half years later, this experience gave her the skills she needed to take on the role of CHRO in a public sector firm. Andrea is currently employed by one of the largest multinational banks in her nation as a more senior CHRO. In her role, she is in charge of the strategic HR strategy and solutions for the more than 30,000 employees.

From Human Resources Consultant to CHRO

Michael began his work in the insurance industry as an HR consultant. In his initial position, his primary responsibility was assisting the HR group services team in implementing various business-wide interventions. He went into an HRBP role, where he was in charge of matching HR priorities to the demands of his firm. He had realized that interacting with the business was his genuine passion.

Michael’s success in recruiting allowed him to be transferred to the position of excellence. In his capacity as Head of Talent, he oversaw the whole talent management portfolio for the company. He later assumed responsibility for the Learning and Development portfolio, which enabled him to advance to the position of Manager for OD and Learning.

Michael wanted to use his HR knowledge and skills in a different sector after 14 years of experience. He was promoted to Group Executive for Organizational Development at a logistics company. He was exposed to the strategic human resources sector and had the chance to work together with a range of stakeholders to advance specialized HR operations. This enabled him to gain his next position as Vice President of Shared Services. He was responsible for planning, developing, deploying, and refining HR technology solutions across the board for his company. Michael is currently employed as the CHRO of a multinational manufacturing company.

From Assistant in OD to Head of OD

With twelve years of experience in various jobs within a multinational firm, Lucy is a human resources professional. She began her HR career in the financial services sector as an OD Assistant. In this capacity, Lucy helped the company carry out a number of interventions, and she came away with a solid idea of what a specialist did.

Later on, Lucy transitioned into an HRBP position, where she gained insight into how HR interacts with and contributes to the company. Her role’s broad emphasis, which enabled her to comprehend every stage of the employee lifecycle, was especially enjoyable to her.

Four years later, she joined the Organizational Development team as an OD Specialist. Lucy eventually assumed the position of OD Head, overseeing the company’s growth portfolio.

Now it is your turn

Our world is full of uncertainties and disruptions, from widening skills gaps to the impending automation of many jobs. HR professionals must possess a diverse range of abilities in order to effectively navigate current and future difficulties and leverage them as personal growth opportunities.

The HR operational profiles and the many HR career path possibilities within each operational profile have been introduced in this article. Different combinations of basic and functional competencies—which are broken down into skills and behaviors—are needed for different types of roles.

But knowing what skills and personality traits you’d need is just the beginning of your quest to become a future-ready HR practitioner. The following action item is to ascertain your present ability level and pinpoint your individual skills gap.

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