Your Career Q&A: Where to Go When Your Career Options Are Limited

By Martin Yate Nov 29, 2016

​If your HR department is small or flat, where do you look when you want to move up? 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.

Hello Martin,

I've been in compensation for six years, and our department is flat. I like the company I work for, but there is no [opportunity for] advancement in our compensation department. We have a lead, a manager and a director. The lead is in title only; she does not lead the team. The manager manages our core team members. 

I love what I do, but I want more of a challenge. I would like to expand my knowledge into a different area of HR. I am very interested in learning and development. I've been looking into conferences I could go to so I can learn more.

I would like to take my career to the next level, but I am sure I do not want to stay in compensation. Any suggestions?


Yours is a good question, and one that applies to many people working in small companies.

The credentials, skills, experience and performance required to get a promotion or higher-level job at another company are at least as important as your potential, which is proven by your past performance, professional behavior and values—your values being principles that support your efforts to help your employer succeed.

[SHRM members-only content: Start a discussion on SHRM Connect to network and share job search tips.]

To succeed in another area of HR, you need to build up those credentials, skills and past performance. I understand wanting to move out of your niche, but don't give up on compensation yet. Use your compensation skills to move to a larger environment and, once there, examine other options within a larger HR department at close range.

You suggest conferences as a path to new skills. While everyone benefits from participation in a professional association's local monthly meetings and regularly scheduled conferences, these events will give you only awareness and some knowledge about which in-demand skills could help your cause. These activities don't translate to the credibility that serious-minded training and real-world experience deliver.

However, that professional connectivity is an integral part of any professional growth program, plus you also get to know and be known by the best connected and most committed professionals in your immediate professional world—not a bad networking strategy if you intend to embark on a job search.

It's clear from your question that your lack of career growth (along with possibly missing out on the sense of self-worth and earnings that come with attaining promotions) is the result of the restricted availability of opportunities in your small company.

A strategic career move is probably in your future, so double down on your commitment to your current job. Just as dogs can smell fear, employers can sense the change in enthusiasm that comes with your decision to move on. Take the initiative to develop a track record that shows a willingness to pursue new areas of expertise. Volunteer for projects that will help develop in-demand skills needed in HR areas associated with compensation.

To get more information about possible new jobs, I'd start with the SHRM website and look for content that addresses career paths within compensation.

Also, take advantage of your specialty's close relationship to businesses' profitability and finance department and use that relationship to find to influential contacts.

Then widen your search to examine areas within HR that are most closely related to compensation; benefits administration, for example, makes you a front-line point of contact with employees at all levels and in a position to build a deep and broad professional network.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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