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Unapologetically multifaceted: Heidi’s offbeat career

Do you love doing a little bit of everything? Have you ever felt lost, guilty or accused of being “unfocused” because you’re a Jack of All Trades who can’t seem to choose or stick to a single thing? We’ve got news – you can definitely build a career out of that! There’s nothing quite as useful as the versatility, flexibility, resourcefulness and speed that a generalist brings to the table. Ask Heidi: having worked every HR role under the sun (plus many other roles outside of HR!), she’s here to tell us how being a generalist has defined her, why generalists triumph in this job market, and guarantees you don’t need to choose to be happy!

Welcome to Offbeat Career‘s interview series, where I bring in professionals with multifaceted, unusual careers. They’ve worn multiple hats, lived multiple lives…and do so unapologetically!

Dear Heidi, what an honor to host you at Offbeat Careers! Let’s start with this: you have defined yourself as a generalist in the past. According to your LinkedIn profile, you have 10(ish) years of experience working in different HR and Team Management roles in Tech, Retail and Service Operations. What would you say are some pros and cons of being a generalist, or someone who can do – and wants to continue doing – a bit of everything?

In my early twenties I struggled a lot with the idea of choosing just one profession and then grinding with it for the next 20+ years. The worst part was that I struggled quite alone – it seemed to me that everyone else had this clear career trajectory all figured out and then there was me, stupidly curious about everything and absolutely incapable of making up my mind what to really do when I grow up. This led me to acquire quite a stack of degrees though, so no regrets! In order to fund those degrees, I also did a lot of odd jobs, which again led me to have a hilariously mixed up bundle of working experience from different fields. This is probably one of the challenges of being a generalist: you do need a variety of experiences before you can fully utilise your special generalist power and the process is slower than a straightforward specialist career.

I don’t think I fully understood the beauty of being a generalist until I landed my first start-up job. The pace and working style was totally different compared to my previous corporate jobs and I was just blown away by the opportunity of utilising all my skills in one job. Gone were the days of getting bored and then feeling guilty about it! No more doing the same thing day after day! If you land a good generalist job, you feel like your brain is finally awake and you’re able to use it the way it was meant to: combining and mixing information from all of your expertise areas.

Your path has included an impressive variety of roles, from onboarding to UX research, talent acquisition, organizational development, learning & development, internal communications, career coaching, and even community management. That’s basically everything that exists in HR and even beyond! How did that happen? Was it a purposeful commitment towards variety, or did you make decisions as opportunities presented themselves? As you explored these different skills and sides of you, what unexpected things did you discover about yourself? 

There was nothing purposeful (at least in the start) of my HR career – just a series of coincidences and an attitude of “okay, why not”. I noticed already early in my career that I always ended up onboarding or coaching other employees, regardless of the role. My first interview happened totally by accident, when my manager just told me to “have a chat with this dude”. Halfway during the chat, I realised “the dude”  was applying for a job and I was the interviewer 😄 I think I’ve been in so many sudden weird situations during my HR times that I’ve just learnt to accept that you can never be fully prepared.

Different People roles piqued my interest slowly but surely and they still continue to do so. I’ve never seen HR being a separate little corner function – for me it’s always been the core business and growth driver. It’s the perfect playground for a generalist: you need to understand all the moving parts in the company in order to do your job properly. Once you take HR out of its bubble, good things happen. 

After trying so many different activities within the field of HR, what would you say are common myths or misconceptions people still have about this field that you’d like to warn them about before they jump in?

Much like in any other field, your work will be dependent on multiple factors: company and team size, industry, product, culture etc. “HR field” is really the worst umbrella term ever and as such, a really poorly defined career goal. I would advise anyone interested in HR to start with digging into different roles inside of the People function: read a few job descriptions, snoop around on LinkedIn, get to know people who work in HR related fields. 

The most common cliché of “I like to work with people, so HR is the obvious choice, right?” is not the worst starting point. In most cases you will be working with people a lot – both when they’re having a bad and a good day. But if you think that’s all that you’ll be doing, you might be unpleasantly surprised: most junior positions start with a lot of admin, documentation and data tasks. It’s crucial that you’re highly organised, handle pressure well and internalise that every employee is basically your customer. This is not a warning though, it’s encouragement to understand the basic day-to-day tasks before jumping into HR.

Have you faced any struggles as you pursued a diversified path that didn’t always play by the rules? Have you ever questioned what the hell you were doing with your career (I know I did ☠️)? How did you cope and what tips can you give to those who are feeling the same at this point in their lives?

Constantly! If a month goes by without me wondering about that, I feel like something is going terribly wrong! It’s a blessing in disguise, really – in my opinion people in general don’t question and reflect their current career path as much as they should. I’ve had my fair share of career disasters and they’ve made me resilient. And hopefully a better person. 

If you run into a point in your career when you feel like everything is going wrong, my advice is just to take a time out if you can. When you’re really stressed and upset, you don’t see clearly: there are always options. Try not to make any sudden decisions, instead evaluate possible scenarios to improve your situation. Ask for help and be compassionate towards yourself. 

From your perspective as a career advisor; let’s say a client comes to you unsure whether they want to follow a diverse and multifaceted scope, or specialize in a particular field. I’m sure a lot of moving pieces would come into play here (that’s the benefit of coaching – getting a unique, personalized assessment!). But if you can give a rough idea, what are some tell-tale signs that a certain profile would fit a more generalist, multifaceted role? On the other hand, who would you recommend stays away from such a role and specializes instead? 

This is my absolute favourite topic! I don’t think it’s necessary to limit yourself with the question “Am I a generalist or a specialist?” in the beginning – you’ll figure it out during the journey. And honestly, I think we’re all generalists to some extent, the normal working culture is just stopping us from realising and utilising that.

I would start with listing ALL your skills, not just the work related ones. After that I’d organise all of these based on what you genuinely love doing, even if no one is paying you for it. And lastly I’d divide this list into two columns: the skills you’re confident with and the skills you’d like to improve. (Hot tip: use Notion for this!)

After doing this little reflection exercise it’s time to discuss new combinations! Generalists tend to have a variety of different skills and interests that seemingly don’t fit together at all. Specialists usually list a lot of closely knit skills and throw in a few hobbies. It’s also good to note that people who have already acquired a specialist education or working experience, have repeatedly been told that that’s it, stick with this. It’s the best thing ever when a highly specialised person figures out that they do have other career interests too, but haven’t just identified those as potential skills.

By now, it’s clear that you’re a multipotentialite (Emilie Wapnick’s definition), also known as a scanner (Barbara Sher’s definition). Alternative terms include “polymath”, “Renaissance person” or “multipassionate”. For those unfamiliar with the concept, this means that someone has several (equally strong) interests, passions and creative pursuits throughout the course of their career, and feels deeply unhappy when compelled to choose one label/path and specialize. Can you tell us more about your many interests? Do you find any common threads among them, even if they could seem random to outsiders? Do these diverse interests enrich your job too?

I’ve always been interested in people. This has led me to dive into not only HR, but also communication, marketing, UX research, sales and customer excellence. I’m fascinated about how people think, what motivates them and most importantly: how do they connect. I’d say connection is my keyword here, it’s the core of my interests! 

I also love art, writing, crafting, creating – it’s like my brain is obsessed with trying out a new thing every once in a while. The common misconception is that HR is not a creative role at all, with which I totally disagree! People roles require a lot of creative power: you are constantly writing, ideating and educating people.

And last but not least, I also love numbers. I actually studied accounting for a year, but guess what, I decided it’s too specialized profession for me 😄 Being data-informed and overall interested in testing and iterating your projects has been a great benefit when working in HR and especially in start-ups.

What competitive advantages has your diversified path brought to you as a professional? What can multipotentialites and generalists bring to the table in order to stand out? 

Multipassionates are curious about everything and experts in learning; they have a lateral skill set, are social chameleons, are constantly thinking outside the box – or combining multiple boxes! When goals are set, multipassionates will jump to action. (Note: Heidi wrote an extensive, fantastic blog post about this topic, which you can find here!).

I loved your recent article about how Legos are the solution to career transition challenges (!). In it, you use Legos as metaphors for the building blocks of our career, such as our strengths, skills, interests, quirks, aspirations, and more. You explain that we can make stronger career decisions moving forward not by starting from scratch all the time, but through re-organizing, stacking and building up from those basic Legos that always remain the same; that regardless of what life throws at us and how rapidly we grow, we have a solid foundation of basic Legos that keeps the pillars intact. So I have to ask: what are your basic Legos and how can we discover ours?

I tend to buy an extension pack for my legos every so often – recently I acquired shiny new Design Thinking blocks! But my core blocks are always the same: communication, training, project management and marketing skills. The basic lego blocks are big concepts that you can break into specific skills and then combine and stack the way you need. I’ve been able to use this 4-block combo equally efficiently in recruitment, growth marketing and UX research for example.

You’re an advocate for the “Pancake Round”, which is a fun term I’m intrigued by! Tell us more – not only about what this means in the context of a job, but what it has done for you personally. How can it serve us too? 🥞

“Pancake Round” is an actual term we ended up using with the amazing folks at Lateral. It’s the first iteration and experimenting phase of any new idea or project. Much like the first round of pancakes you make, your project might not be very pretty in the beginning but it’ll get better! To me the concept of a pancake round is an essential building block for psychological safety in a team. It encourages people to try out and test new ideas together in a creative and safe space, with the embedded question of “how can we improve this?”. 

You can equally use pancake rounds for your individual ideas and pursuits too: the core lesson is to understand that you don’t need to be 100% ready to start something. But you need to be 100% willing to change it for the better.

Let’s look ahead. What other skills, interests or unexplored sides of your career are you planning on growing? What other stories would you like your career to tell some years from now?

I’m actually in a really exciting phase in my career right now since I recently launched my Career & HR Advisory business. I have a wild vision for it: I want to help 1000 people to get a good job. When it comes to finding meaning in your work, this is definitely it for me. It’s also my manifesto for making an impact on a small scale: even if it’s just one person, there’s still a chance to bring positive change in the world. Let’s see how long it takes me to get to three digit level 😄 (And yes, because I’m a bit of a data nerd, there is a tracker for this on my website!)

Being a solopreneur comes with a lot of marketing and growth tasks, especially content-wise. And I love the challenge! One of my degrees is in the field of communication and journalism, but I’m also working hard to update my skills and learn more about writing in general. Maybe in the future I’m able to offer People-centered content writing services, how cool would that be? Until then, expect at least a few e-books and guides about career development, recruitment and job hunting from me!

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