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The Five Sweetest Jobs in HR and Talent Management

July 30, 2008
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Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Career Development, The HR Profession, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
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Readers of Workforce Management, the HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent know that I have opinions. Opinions on whether your HR job stinks, career killers for HR pros, how to limp through the year with the immense challenges you face, and the five worst jobs in HR.

Notice a trend? When you’re providing opinions as part of your gig, it’s always easy to focus on the negative stuff.

But that’s an easy way out, sometimes. And so I interrupt the normal stream of columns written with a slightly negative spin to bring you a little ray of sunshine: the sweetest jobs in HR and talent management.

I’ve expanded the list to include the mystic (and maybe mystifying) term "talent management." Your BS meter has likely started buzzing.

But there’s a reason for the terminology shift. Over the past 30 years, there’s been a progressive movement to redefine the value proposition of HR through titles and classification. Here’s the rough timeline:

  • Back in the day: HR wasn’t called HR, it was called personnel (and still is, in some places). Move the forms, get the transactions done. That was pretty much it.

  • Today: The profession got reclassified from personnel to human resources, in part to signify we had arrived as a strategic partner. Some fulfilled the vision, some didn’t.

  • The future: Less than satisfied with being classified as HR along with folks still doing personnel-type activities, those in the high end of the HR practice have begun to classify themselves as talent management.

With history and semantics in mind, I’ve expanded the list of sweetest HR jobs to include talent management roles. If you’re a performer in HR, you’ll increasingly find strategic opportunities for growth in roles with talent management in the title. Don’t be intimidated, because you’re qualified for consideration as long as you’ve kept an active hand in areas like recruiting, performance management and leadership development.

Here’s my countdown of the Sweetest Jobs in HR/Talent Management, fed to you again in countdown style like I’m Casey Kasem (keep reaching for the stars, by the way):

  1. (Tie) Corporate recruiter (professional/management positions and up) and niche third-party recruiter: The heart of any organization is talent, and it’s the recruiter who goes out and brings the carcasses back to your office park. If you love the chase, the key to the best internal and external recruiter jobs is the focus. For the internal corporate recruiter, it’s a sole focus on filling professional and management-grade positions for the mother ship. Sell the company brand and go pick off top talent, without the nastiness that comes with heavy entry-level recruiting or the churn and burn focus of the call center. What could be better?

Of course, corporate recruiters aren’t going to buy beach houses with their compensation. That’s where the niche third-party recruiter comes into play. Armed with a singular focus on a specific industry or micro-niche (think health care IT sales professionals as an example), the niche third-party recruiter has the ability to build relationships nationally and develop deep subject-matter expertise. That reduces the number of cold calls over time, and a little sales/marketing ability, combined with deep expertise in the niche, can catapult the third-party recruiter into the earnings stratosphere.

Both types of recruiters still get to enjoy the thrill of the chase. Whether you can chase new business effectively determines which role you end up in, and also your lifetime earnings.

  1. Director of talent management: Turn the aforementioned BS meter off for a second, and let’s talk about what’s real. First up, no one can agree on the total scope of this role. With that in mind, most people seem to agree that the director of talent management role starts with talent acquisition (a highfalutin way of saying "recruiting"), then helps to maximize the abilities of those hires as they enter and move through the organization. Strategic activities like leadership development, succession planning and performance management are usually part of the mix in this role. How is that different from the director of HR role? No messy employee relations, risk management or cost-of-health-care considerations to deal with. Just deal with the talent, my friend. 
  1. Google HR: If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an HR or talent pro at some level. If you’re an HR professional, you’ve seen Google at the top of the best places to work lists and turned green with envy. Admit it, you want to be part of the Google HR team so you can live large and take charge from a people and talent perspective. It’s the HR version of joining the Yankees or The View, depending on your perspective, gender or interests in life. Just don’t be the person managing the massage specialist, corporate concierge or the day care center. Back rubs, laundry runs and diaper changes are traps for the upscale HR pro. Even at Google.
  1. Recruiter, Microsoft Xbox Division: That’s right, Microsoft comes in ahead of Google, but not just for any job. The one you want holds responsibility for recruiting technical and creative talent for the Xbox division in Redmond. Washington. I didn’t even know this job existed until Jason Pankow, senior recruiter for Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE and Xbox Software groups, was referred to me and started sharing his thoughts at the Fistful of Talent blog. Think about it: You’re recruiting for one of the strongest corporations in America, but your sole focus is on the gaming industry. You’re the gatekeeper for the jobs that about 21 million kids consider to be their dream gig, and you get to help pick the cream of the crop. Heavy interviewing day? No sweat, just fire up the Xbox in your office and take in a session of "Halo" to reduce your stress. Heck, invite the candidate in and make that part of your interview.
  1. HR manager, director or VP (excluding single-person HR practices): You want the seat at the table. You’re told to take the seat at the table. Guess what? There’s only one job that qualifies you to be at the table, and that’s the HR generalist role at the manager, director and VP levels. Everything else in HR and talent management contributes to these leadership generalist roles. From the HR manager level and up, you’re responsible for everything related to employees in your operational unit or company. Without question, it’s a tough role, and you’ll have to balance the needs of the business with employee advocacy. It’s No. 1 on the list because it means you lead the function. You get to help call the shots in your unit or company. That’s why you got in the game to begin with, right?

So that’s the list. By the way, you probably can’t afford day care (or a house) in Silicon Valley, and Jason Pankow has already glued himself to the chair of sweet job No. 2 in Redmond. But there are three other sweet-job categories left, and to land a position in one of them, make sure you have a hand in how talent comes into your company and what happens once it’s there.

Whether you call that personnel, HR or talent management, that’s where the growth and opportunity will be in the years to come.

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