Choosing a Human Resources Career Path

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Human resources departments serve a vital role in corporations, ensuring that recruiting, pay, benefits, employee relations and other important functions of the company are taken care of. With the rise of data science and the corporate world’s increasing focus on diversity in hiring, new challenges face human resources departments every day. These new challenges require skilled individuals to meet them.

Human Resources Career Paths

HR Generalists

HR generalists do a little bit of everything in a company’s HR department. Also called HR assistants, HR associates, HR clerks and so on, an HR generalist’s job duties are varied and comprehensive. Generalists handle many of the day-to-day tasks of staffing and recruiting, policy documentation, compliance, performance management, facilitating communications between employees and handling compensation and benefits.

Human resources generalists must be good communicators, must have a good head for policy and documentation, and must always work toward maintaining and improving the overall health of the business. In addition, human resources generalists must be familiar with employment laws, must have good computer skills and must be capable of keeping a high degree of confidentiality.

Most human resources generalist positions require a bachelor’s degree, usually in human resources, business, organizational development or something similar. While a master’s degree is often preferred and can improve job mobility and pay, a graduate degree is not strictly required by most companies. Those looking to enter into a human resources generalist position can bolster their resumes by taking internships in human resources, as many human resources generalist jobs require some amount of experience within the field. Human resources certification exists, in the form of the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification; this is required by some positions, but for most, it is simply a preferred qualification rather than a requirement.

The median salary for a human resources generalist position is around $51,000 per year. An entry-level human resources generalist can expect to make between $39,000 and $44,000 per year, while those on the upper end of the career path can make as much as $69,000 per year.

HR Specialists

Where a human resources generalist handles all aspects of the human resources field, a human resources specialist focuses on one or two areas of human resources, usually with a higher degree of training and knowledge. A placement specialist, for example, might focus on matching employers with job seekers, comparing candidates’ skills with the needs of employers and suggesting interviews based on matches. A benefits specialist, on the other hand, would manage all aspects of employee benefits for a given company, answering questions, negotiating insurance premiums and mediating disputes related to benefits.

Other types of human resources specialists include training and development specialists, human resources information system (HRIS) analysts and employee assistance plan managers. Training and development specialists conduct employee training and ensure that a company’s workers have the training and skills they need to succeed. HRIS analysts oversee the functionality of human resources information systems for a company, combining human resources work with IT. Employee assistance plan managers focus their energies on maintaining the wellness and work-life balance of a company’s employees, managing programs like child care, flex time and physical fitness programs.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), human resources specialists must typically have a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a field related to their area of specialty. Coursework in fields such as business, psychology, writing and accounting are all common. Some HR specialists obtain professional certification, like the PHR certification or the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) certification. But as with generalists, certification is typically voluntary rather than required. Human resources specialists must have good decision-making skills, communication skills and listening skills and must be detail-oriented.

The median salary for human resources specialists is $58,350, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent of HR specialists make around $34,000, while the top 10 percent make around $100,000.

HR Managers

Human resources managers oversee human resources departments, or specific parts of human resources departments. Which of these functions an HR manager fills is largely a function of the company’s size and structure; a company with a small HR department is likely to have one manager, while a company with a large HR department might have multiple managers overseeing different aspects of the department. HR managers must oversee benefit programs, manage workforce allocation, handle staffing and recruitment issues, act as an HR advisor to other managers and fill a variety of other managerial functions.

Like HR specialists, HR manager positions can come in a variety of different types. Labor relations directors help set policy for a company, negotiate labor contracts, mediate employee disputes and handle other aspects of employee relations and management. Payroll managers ensure that a company’s payroll department functions smoothly so that neither the employees’ compensation nor the company’s cashflow is interrupted. Staffing managers oversee the process of recruiting new employees for a company and filling particular positions, and might supervise teams of recruiters.

A human resources manager typically needs at least a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree in a field like human resources or labor relations might be required for higher-level managerial positions. In addition to education, a human resources manager usually must have work experience in a human resources position or in staff management. Human resources managers must be highly organized and detail-oriented, must have excellent decision-making and interpersonal skills and must be effective leaders. As with other HR professionals, certification is typically voluntary; however, in the case of an HR manager, HR certification can be a way to demonstrate expertise in human resources or a particular subfield.

The median salary for human resources managers is $104,440, per the BLS. Salaries can range from about $61,000 per year to $187,000 per year.

Pursue a Career in Human Resources

Human resources workers need good business skills to excel in their field. Campbellsville University offers an undergraduate online business degree and an online MBA that both allow students to specialize in human resource management, so they can learn the skills they need to pursue a career in human resources. Join our flexible online environment, where you can learn at a pace that works for your busy life.