The Path Taken

By Susan J. Wells Jul 1, 2003
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HR Magazine, July 2003Field vs. Corporate: Weighing the Choice

Deciding on a direction for your HR career depends on many things. Experts say you should weigh not only your education, background, experience, personal work preferences and professional goals but also various facets of both field and corporate HR jobs.

First, corporate HR may offer more job opportunities, says Bob Gatti, president and founder of Gatti & Associates, a Medfield, Mass.-based search firm that has specialized in placing HR professionals for 18 years. In the past five years, he estimates, about 12 percent of the jobs his firm has filled are in field HR, mostly with district or regional responsibility, while 88 percent have been in traditional corporate or major divisional HR.

It’s a meaningful ratio. “In my experience, there are going to be roughly eight corporate jobs to every one field job,” Gatti says. On the other hand, there may be less competition among peers for the best field jobs, Gatti notes. “Because not everyone in HR wants or has that type of experience, someone who does will stand out and is somewhat unique,” he says. Gatti & Associates’ candidate database, for example, highlights HR pros with field experience in a special category.

Second, certain stages of a person’s career may dictate whether they’re likely to be more interested in a field or corporate post. For example, the ability to travel frequently can be an important job requirement in many field HR positions, Gatti says. Mid-career professionals, those with family responsibilities or single parents, may not find that attractive, he says.

Finally, always consider the size and culture of the organization, says Russ Yaquinto, vice president and senior consultant at the Dallas office of Right Management Consultants, a global career management and organizational consulting firm based in Philadelphia.

“The dynamics—and politics, if you will—can be very different,” he says. Yaquinto, a 25-year veteran of both corporate and field HR, has coached HR professionals at all levels of career development and transition for more than 14 years.

At a small or mid-size company, for instance, you may have more opportunity to meld certain aspects of both field and corporate HR work. “Even at the corporate HR level, that may mean you get a greater chance for a faster pace, quicker decision-making, more direct impact and closer connection to the people you serve,” Yaquinto says. In a larger organization, there may be more opportunity for specialization in one or two HR functions, and a greater sense of control, participation and clout.

“It really comes down to taking a hard look at your own preferences and your own style,” he says.

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