Moving from Talent Acquisition to generalist HR (2019)

Two thoughts after 13 years in Talent Acquisition

Moving from Talent Acquisition to generalist HR (2019)
Photo by Bethany Legg / Unsplash

After six life-changing years in the Talent team at Air New Zealand—the last few leading the function—I’m making a career development move into generalist HR.

It's been an honour to work with people who are true believers of the mission, purpose and impact of talent acquisition and talent management. Leading leaders in this space has been my most challenging and rewarding career experience to date.

This career pivot gives me pause. Firstly, I’m deeply grateful that my organisation is making a big bet on me to grow laterally in a different domain to accelerate my career development. Secondly, while I’ll be learning quickly to come up to speed as a generalist practitioner, talent acquisition has been a powerful incubator for diverse skills and experience.

Here are two things I'm thinking about a lot at this moment.

When Talent is your product, you can get early access to the highest levels of the organisation—it's a privilege

Leaders and top talent are always buying your skillset. Compared to some other jobs and customer personas, that's a gift. Respect that your candidate-customers have been working, in some cases, over 20 years to get to that conversation with your executive hiring manager. Respect that your hiring manger-customers rely on you to:

  • Be present, sharp and responsive
  • Be hooked into the latest market intelligence through constant learning, rich networking and technical discipline. However, don't wear your theory on your sleeve; the customers expect that you know your stuff and are not interested in an academic conversation.
  • Have a view—an opinion, unique perspective or nuanced insight that is informed with sound reasoning and reflection. Have a conviction about this, whether your stakeholders agree or not. The authenticity speaks to credibility and you can sharpen the diversity of thought in decision-making.

Respect that your HR business partner-customers value you presenting your expertise as complimentary to their own. Put simply, help make the HRBP look good having brokered your services. Oftentimes, they have a much longer arc in the relationship with the leader/hiring manager and are rightly need to protect that and their own credibility. They will always have to live with the consequences of your service—good or bad. Business leaders don’t necessary distinguish between generalist and specialist HR; we’re all HR and one break in the value chain impacts the whole experience. This applies to how we may partner with external search providers too.

Fundamentally, to rise to the challenge and reward of our unique roles, we need to establish credibility and trust then follow through on what we said we would do. For more on this, check out "Presence" by Amy Cuddy.

Talent Acquisition is not a comprehensive enough descriptor for what we do when we do our jobs well—or for the future of our discipline

At its most reductive, recruitment is about attraction and selection. We have to be masters of the craft to achieve a basic impact for the organisation. For this reason, my personal preference is for end-to-end recruitment experience/delivery.

In our business, we need the comprehensive technical skill (strategic sourcing, deep market intelligence, digital literacy) and business partnering acumen in order to get credibility in the first instance. However, to continue to add value, we need to expand our skills and experience into talent management, product management, agile and user experience practices in order to build out the talent experience across platform, process and personalisation. To be competitive, we need to be more empathetic, very human, digitally-enabled, simpler, faster and more delightful (easier to do business with)—not just deliver the core service.

Some recruiters massively benefit from the customer-centricity and resilience forged through adversity in agency recruitment. This comes with owning the sales cycle and talent delivery while developing a learning-on-the-job ethic. Structured training is not something we tend to get in our early careers. Whether internal or external, recruiters need to be learning animals for life which requires curiosity, experimentation and reflection.

This is how we stay relevant today to the demand for innovation, speed of change, operational constraints, economic climate and future of work trends (which actually require us to make change now). If your team doesn't have a habit of reading, reflecting and sharing insights while designing, testing, failing and learning new ideas, you are losing to your worthy rivals.

I see modern recruiters more as "business/product people who work in Talent" because of our necessary agility and huge impact on the Employee Experience (EX) lifecycle.

The scale and diversity of problems we solve are regularly above and beyond our objective role and responsibilities. Consciously or unconsciously, great recruiters often have to clear big rocks in commercial, operational, talent leadership, workplace relations and technology areas just to deliver the core service. This isn't something that's well understood by our stakeholders which is fine. We have to be adaptable, flexible, gritty and get on with it.

Ultimately, it makes us more valuable to hiring managers if we can reduce adjacent pain points. However, we need to be mindful about what else we undertake to do (in a collaborative, sustainable way) or risk over-extending ourselves, creating dependencies and slowing down the recruitment machine due to trade-offs across the whole system.

EX starts with us. Candidate Experience is just one end of the EX spectrum and what shows up on the inside (the culture we help curate) shows up on the outside (our organisation's customer experience). Throughout the EX lifecycle, there are a multitude of meaningful moments related to Talent. We must be involved in co-designing these for the better.

It's tempting to be myopic about your department, defending core metrics like time-to-offer and making sensible fixes. However, if you just focus on fixes/repairs, you never innovate and risk becoming irrelevant over time. Equally, if you just focus on new features your product become miles wide and inches deep, restricting your ability to deliver and scale your essential service to meet the business' operational needs. (For more on this, check out Inside Intercom and Intercom on Product Management.)

Recruiters need to thinking strategically and deliver seamlessly: innovating while executing; equally valuing operational culture as much as new technology/features. To constantly evolve our discipline, we need to make hard trade-off decisions between product experience and core delivery along the roadmap.

Have you made a career move into a different HR discipline? I'd love to hear about your experience.