HR professionals are typically in charge of planning, directing and coordinating an organization’s administrative functions. Duties can range from recruiting and hiring, to compensations and benefits, to training and development.
Many HR positions are in strong demand, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall HR employment is projected to grow 17% through 2020, faster than the national average for all other occupations. Two of the fastest growing HR positions are HR generalists and HR specialists, with a projected job growth rate of 21% through 2020.
Generalists and specialists have a similar job title, so it can be difficult deciding which career path is the right fitfor your professional skills and attributes. To help decipher the differences between HR generalists and HR specialists, here is an overview on each position:
HR generalists may have expertise in more than one area, but they generally have enough experience in each area to provide reliable advice and counsel to employees and managers alike. Generalists typically work directly with employees, so they can have varied responsibilities. In general, their duties include:
- Staffing & recruitment
- Compensation & benefits
- Personnel policies & procedures
- Employee relations
- Workplace safety & security
Individuals who prefer variety and diversity in their work may be well-suited as an HR generalist, because they rarely complete the same duties every day. Rather, they may have to switch focus suddenly from one project or issue to another based on the situation or daily need.
Unlike the HR generalist, an HR specialist has expertise in one specific HR area, rather than some expertise in multiple HR disciplines. Specialists tend to have a more comprehensive expertise of their subject, some of which include:
- HR development specialist
- Risk management specialist
- HR information systems specialist
- Employee and labor relations specialist
- Organizational development specialist
Specialists typically have more routine responsibilities, well-defined goals and time-frames, as compared to HR generalists, but as an expert in a specific HR area, they are required to exhibit a strong work ethic and a keen attention to detail.
Whichever pathway you decide to take toward becoming an HR professional, a career in HR typically requires a strong knowledge base in business management and strategy, workforce planning and employment and HR development. Often, HR graduates begin their career as an HR generalist, find a niche area that they feel comfortable exploring further, and then pursue it as an HR specialist.
In general, on-the-job training and experience, augmented by the advanced knowledge provided by academic courses can help HR individuals navigate their way toward a bright future as an HR professional. In addition to advanced degrees, certification through educational institutions may be required, as they act as a symbol of professionalism and dedication to continued learning that supports career advancement.