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From HR Generalist to Strategic Partner

A woman is giving a presentation to a group of people in a conference room.

​Mentors and a can-do attitude can help HR professionals move up the career ladder. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

I have been working as an HR generalist for six years now. Recently, my role was relabeled as HR Operations Senior Specialist, though I actually perform a generalist role.

I am frustrated. I want to move up to an HR business partner (HRBP) position with
more strategic tasks, but I feel stuck. I love the company where I work, but I think the only way to get to a higher-level position is to get a degree in HR.

What do you think, and how can I progress in my career? What is needed to become a junior HRBP?


A relevant degree can only increase your credentials. However, also note that people do sometimes make the wrong assumption that another degree will solve all of their job search or career progression problems, when the real issues could be something quite different: maybe your resume doesn't work, you aren't getting enough interviews or you don't perform well when you do. Someone early in a career is wise to consider all options. The mature professional is advised to look at the more immediately practical solutions.

The path to making strategic career moves is complex. You start by identifying the skills required of an HRBP  and then do a GAP analysis between the skills you have and the skills you'll need to be considered a qualified candidate.

 You are already off to a good start. You say, "I love the company," which I believe means that you strive to make a real difference for good every day. This approach to your work creates a strong foundation for successful promotions, career segues and transfers. In many departments, 20 percent of the people generate 80 percent of the results, and it is those 20 percent who are recognized by management. These are the people who get the plum assignments, best raises and chances of promotion. 

Next, SHRM chapter monthly meetings can help you gain skills and enable you to get to know and be known by the most committed and best-connected people in your area. Once you identify the required skills for an HRBP role, you can seek out other members who are HRBPs and ask about  how they developed the experience that gave them needed skills and credentials to make their own career progression. You can build a panel of HRBP mentors and grow your professional network.

Such mentors can be especially helpful in familiarizing you with the guts of an HRBP role. Each required skill area in your target job helps you execute your responsibilities successfully. You must know the work well enough to identify, anticipate, prevent and solve the problems that regularly occur. For most people, this only comes with on-the-job experience, but you can leap ahead of your competitors by consulting your mentors to understand the job's responsibilities and challenges—and all the options for their prevention and solution. 

You will be able to volunteer for projects that will give you experience and credentials and a grasp of the job's real issues, which will make you someone who can head off challenges before they reach a manager's desk

And if an internal promotion is not available, you have more options and better connections of making a strategic career and increasing the likelihood of being recruited.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  


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