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Where you are in the world and the education you receive have a surprisingly huge impact on your first job. Some universities offer a Bachelor’s or Master’s in HR, giving those with this qualification a leg up on their talent competition. Therefore, that all-important first job, in an equally all-important first company, plays a guiding role in determining the future steps of your HR career.

In many organizations, HR takes a backseat to Sales and Finance and has less say in critical decision making. And the size of the organization also impacts HR’s sphere of influence. If you’re starting at a larger company, you will have greater career flexibility in the future as you can always move to a more senior role in a smaller company. However, starting at a smaller organization and trying to get recruited into a more senior role at a larger one, takes more time and greater strategic positioning on your part. You’ll have to show a great deal more initiative and make sure you participant on company-wide projects outside of HR if you want to have a better chance at a larger role in a larger organization.

You’ll also want to consider whether the current HR structural setup is centralized or decentralized. Centralized organizations often have more advanced HR systems, but the trade-off is that it offers less autonomy, which translates into less opportunities to refine your critical thinking and decision-making skills.

However, the most critical aspect of HR’s influence is where the company is in its overall business lifecycle. Growing organizations are focused on recruitment and retention, engagement, and learning and development. Conversely, if you join an organization in the midst of restructuring or downsizing, the focus is often on performance management, employee relations, and streamlining (doing more, or at least the same, with less).

Depending on which type of role you accept and in which company and at the organization’s stage of growth, your experience in HR (and thus your future attractiveness to potential employers) is made, in large part, based on a single choice. Therefore, it can definitely feel like your HR career path is predetermined before you ever really get it started.

The Power of Choice

Our future has never been limited to geographical positioning and alma mater status. Our ability to make decisions can bend time and alter destiny. Who you are, the choices you make, and your work ethic will have the biggest impact on your career in HR. If you want to rely on the status of your Master’s, then so be it. But know that someone without it, someone who has been working “smarter” and raising their hands for projects that push them can, and probably will, surpass you.

When choosing that all-important first job, or any subsequent roles throughout your career, pay attention to the organization’s culture, the team you’ll be working with, the HR processes, and internal opportunities. Don't be afraid to take challenges and make mistakes. Don't become complacent, thinking life is about going with the flow. Instead, dream big (go for that dream job!), influence, and make a difference in the world! Or at bare minimum, to your own future.

And remember...

If somebody offers you an amazing
opportunity, but you are not sure you can do
it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!
Richard Branson