There are several different paths that you can take in Human Resources. The first step is to identify your Career Strategy. What is your ideal career path and do you have the skills and experience to achieve that career path.
My career strategy has changed throughout my journey. When I began college, I aimed to work on Wall Street, but eventually realized that it was not the right fit for me. During an internship, I discovered Human Resources and decided to pursue it as my career. However, at that time, I had no clear idea about my HR career path, except that I wanted to work with people and enjoyed my internship experience.
About five years into my HR career, I realized that recruiting and talent acquisition were my areas of interest. So, I started learning everything related to recruiting, the industries, and the departments I recruited for. Eventually, I became the Director of Talent Acquisition for a Fortune 500 company and was on the verge of becoming the highest-ranking talent acquisition professional in the organization. But, I left the job as I realized that my path lay elsewhere. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and help multiple companies instead of just one. My career strategy changed once again, and I aspired to become a successful entrepreneur.
I believe that a career strategy changes throughout one’s life, as people evolve, develop new interests, passions, and desires for their careers. Having a tool to help you identify your career strategy throughout your life is crucial to evolving and growing in a confident way.
A Career Strategy includes identifying your career goals and path, creating SMART goals to achieve your career goals and developing a plan of action. Let’s explore the steps.
Self-reflection and Assessment
The first step in identifying your career goals is to reflect on your values, interests, passions, strengths, and weaknesses. Assess your current skills and knowledge to determine the direction of your career strategy.
Values are the beliefs that motivate your behavior. There are hundreds of possible values that you can list for yourself. When considering your Career Goal Values, think about the values you desire from your company, your manager, peers, and yourself. Select 3–5 values and define them according to your understanding.
What do you enjoy doing? By answering this question, you can identify your interests. Take a few minutes to brainstorm everything that you enjoy doing, whether at work, with family and friends, or your hobbies. Your career can include your personal interests or hobbies, so be open to exploring all of your interests.
In the book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks discusses the Zone of Genius. This is where expertise and passion join forces. Personal satisfaction and energy live in the zone of genius. What are your passions? By understanding your passion(s), you can connect them with your expertise and knowledge to create your career path.
Hardest part of self-reflection is understanding strengths and weanesses. Strengths and weaknesses can be expertise, experience, education, skills, etc. To understand your strengths and weaknesses, you want to ask peers, leaders, family and friends. Look at past performance reviews. Write 3–5 strengths and weaknesses.
There are several career assessments that you are able to take if you need more guidance. Here are a few free or low cost assessments to consider:
- Truitiy– The Typefinder® for Career Planning
- 123 test– Career Aptitude Test
- My Next Move– O*Net® Interest Profile
After completing your self-reflection, the next step is to do some research, which should include position, job market, and company research. There are several career paths in HR, including traditional, specialty, and technical.
The traditional career path in Human Resources involves moving up from an individual contributor to a manager and leader. The most common entry-level roles for HR include HR Intern, HR Assistant, HR Coordinator, and HR Specialist. The most common mid-level roles are HR Generalist, HR Supervisor, HR Business Partner, and HR Manager. The most common senior-level roles are HR Director, Vice President of HR, and Chief HR Officer. In this path, having knowledge of various HR areas is essential. The traditional career path is suitable for small to mid-size companies with a lean HR department.
The specialty career path involves becoming an expert in one or more HR areas, such as:
- HR Strategy: Culture, Organization Design, Change Management and Analytics
- Employee Engagement: Planning, Strategy and Analytics
- Total Compensation: Benefits, Compensation and Recognition
- Performance Management: Coaching, Goal Setting and Performance Reviews
- Talent Management: Workforce Planning, Assessment and Succession Planning
- Talent Acquisition: Sourcing, Recruiting, Recruitment Marketing and Internal Mobility
- Learning & Development: Onboarding, Employee Development and Leadership Development
- HR Operations and Infrastructure: Structure, Policies, Compliance, Employee Relations, Technology and Budget
Becoming an expert in one area can lead to opportunities in large corporations and consulting.
The technical career path in HR involves becoming a Super User, System Administrator, or HR Architect, among others. A technical career path can include roles such as HR Helpdesk, HRIS Analyst, HR Project Manager, Data Scientist, and HRIS Architect. Technology and HR go hand in hand, and there are several types of HR Technology, such as HR Information Systems (HRIS), Payroll, Recruiting, Employee Experience, Compensation Management, Learning Management Systems (LMS), Time & Attendance, Onboarding, and Benefit Software.
To learn more about your HR capabilities, use AIHR’s HR 2025 Competency Assessment.
Once you have an idea of the career path, the next step is to research the job market and companies. Job market research enables you to understand if the role is available, the type of companies that have the role, salary expectations, and the required skills and experience. After identifying the companies that have the role, you can conduct a deep dive review of the company.
Use sites such as Indeed.com, LinkedIn.com, and Google.com to search for roles, salaries, and company reviews. Salary.com is an excellent source of salary information. You can also ask ChatGPT questions to gain information about the job market and companies. HR is continually changing, and if you want a career in HR, you need to be prepared to learn and adapt.
Now that you have an idea of the roles you want to pursue in your career, it’s time to set goals to achieve success in your chosen career path. One effective approach to goal setting is using the SMART goals framework.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. By setting SMART goals, you can create a clear plan of action that will help you reach your career objectives.
Select a goal and work through the SMART goals steps.
Specific — Define your goal as clearly and specifically as possible. What exactly do you want to achieve?
Measurable — Determine how you will measure progress towards your goal. What metrics will you use to track your progress?
Attainable — Make sure your goal is realistic and achievable. Do you have the necessary resources, skills, and support to achieve your goal?
Realistic — Ensure that your goal is relevant to your overall career objectives. How does it fit into your larger career plan?
Time Bound — Set a deadline for achieving your goal. When do you want to have accomplished it by?
SMART goals ensure that you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish the goal and the hurdles you may face to achieve the goal.
Remember to regularly review your progress towards your SMART goals and adjust them as needed. By following this framework, you can stay on track and achieve success in your chosen career path.
Develop a Plan
Creating a plan of action is an essential step in achieving your SMART Goals. Begin by selecting one or two goals that will help you progress towards the next step of your career path. Once you have accomplished these goals, move on to the next one or two. The timeframe for achieving your goals will depend on the amount of time, energy, and effort required.
Start by developing a 90-day plan for your goals. For each SMART Goal, identify one to three areas of focus that you need to work on. Then, break down each focus area into specific tasks and set a timeline for completing them. This will help you stay focused and on track towards achieving your goals.
By focusing on the tasks only for 90 days, it will help you stay focus and not overwelmed.
Review and Update
Your Career Strategy should never be static. You should review it annually, or more frequently if needed, because the skills and tasks required for a role can change. You may have to upgrade your skills or learn new ones to remain relevant in your chosen field, and your Career Strategy can help you with this.
Just like me, your Career Strategy may evolve throughout your life, so stay open to changes. If your Career Strategy changes, create a new one.
Once you have a Career Strategy in place, you’ll need a Career Search Strategy to secure the right role for your Career Strategy.