Career Insight: HR Generalist
(employment law and resourcing)
First off, why did you choose a career as an HR Generalist?
I moved into HR accidentally, and because I had a natural interest in employment law. My back-pocket and specialist skill is resourcing (recruitment), which was the back door into an HR career for me. However, by having that specialist skill, I now have a broader understanding of each business I work for. And resourcing has opened doors for me that a straight career in generalist HR may not have opened.
What path did you take into it?
As above, an accidental tour into HR came to me, as the company I worked for had no HR resource, employed 80 people and needed to know how to manage them. I was asked to look into this, and from there committed myself to an HR course.
At the time, I didn’t realise what I was getting into. The first course was based on employment law; the Do’s and Don’ts of this complex area. I then attended a workshop run by employment law lawyers, and I was hooked. I wanted to do her job; loved the case histories, the thin line an employer can cross when they get it wrong, and the downfall of companies who had foolishly ‘bent the rules’. It was addictive and I was addicted!
What, in your opinion, is the best bit of being an HR Generalist?
My current role is excellent in that it straddles both HR generalist and resourcing; managing legal and regulatory compliance with the attraction, hire and on-boarding of new employees. Additionally I manage and advise on immigration, meet with government teams and law enforcement ministers, and write about complicated pieces of immigration based on the countries I manage.
Every job has its downsides. What do you think are the worst bits?
The diversity of my role makes it a double-edged sword. Whilst loving the pressure and different strands, there are so many pieces of work to manage at the same time, making it quite pressurised. All pieces of work are a priority for the business needing support, and all need very specific information, which has to be 100% correct. If I get it wrong, then the business suffers, which could impact the business through reputational or financial loss i.e. tribunal claims etc
Is it what you expected when you first started out – and what’s different?
Most certainly not! I didn’t realise I was forging a career until someone told me I did have one! Planning the next step, what I want to do next is the hard piece, as I have been fortunate in carving out opportunities that have worked for me.
There are so many people working in HR now: It’s such a recognised and chosen field that I am not sure I would have been given the same opportunities today as I was offered when I started out. The upside is that there are many more specialist areas of HR. It’s a recognised field of expertise and skills. For a new HR person to gain skills and expertise in only a couple of areas lends weight to credibility as an HR practitioner.
What do the public least understand – or mistake – about what you do?
They assume I hire and fire people. Every time I mention HR, there is an assumption I must be fairly brutal at my job to have lasted so long!
What kind of people tend to do well? (skills, strengths, values, personality)
I can only comment on my areas of expertise – ambitious people with a good understanding of the operation behind any business. Someone interested in people and someone who understands the mechanics of good staff within the workplace.
My sector is very female-dominated; I would like to see more men in this sector for a more balanced perspective.
Finally, any advice you’d offer to people looking to get into this line of work?
Understand your skills and strengths. Understand where you feel your specialist skill could lie, research it and think of where you would like your career to take you i.e. international, national or small business.
Give yourself a 5 and 10 year plan, and most importantly, talk to people in the profession you want to work in, and not just friends. Offer to do a work experience placement, or internship/apprenticeship. Get a feel for it before you buy into it.