HR Generalists wear many hats and need to be proficient on a number of different HR topics.  HR Generalists are a “jack-of-all-trades”.  They may not be an expert in all areas but need to have at least working knowledge to jump from hiring, to benefits administration to overtime and FLSA exemption.   Being a HR Generalist offers diverse job duties and something new every day.   HR Generalists are often employed in smaller organizations and might serve as the one person HR Department for the work site.    Working as an HR Generalist is a good fit for someone who gets bored with routine and it can also be very rewarding to see the whole picture of how HR activities are connected.  It can also be challenging to be an HR Generalist with the increasing complexity of HR laws and regulations.  The constant shift in focus can be frustrating for some HR Generalists.

Choosing Which Path to Follow

The decision to be a HR Generalist or HR specialist should be made after careful consideration.   Many entry level positions are HR Generalist roles.  Working as an HR Generalist provides an opportunity to learn more about each role and to gain some insight before deciding on specializing in one area.  HR Generalists may also find some advantages in terms of career mobility and flexibility.  Gaining experience in multiple areas can also be beneficial if your ultimate goal is to become a Chief Human Resources Officer.

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About the Author

HR Specialists, as the name implies, specialize in one of the major functional roles of HR.  As specialists, they develop a deeper level of expertise in one area.   The work of a HR specialist is more predictable than an HR Generalist.  HR specialist will find more opportunities for employment in larger organizations with a more extensive HR function.  Being an HR specialist allows an individual the opportunity to focus on a specific area of interest and strength.  It allows provides opportunities to work on more complicated projects.  The HR Specialist role might be appealing to someone who is detail oriented. Some examples of HR Specialist job titles are:

  • Benefits Coordinator 
  • Compensation Analyst
  • Training Coordinator
  • HRIS Coordinator

by James Kinneer, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, CBP

Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States

Certifications serve as a mark of expertise for HR professionals.   Credentials such as SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP offered by the Society for Human Resource Management demonstrate mastery of a number of HR topics and are well suited to HR Generalists.    HR specialists might also consider specialized certifications.   Examples include the Certified Employees Benefits Specialist credential offered by International Foundation of Employee Benefits Programs or the Certified Compensation Professional and Certified Benefits Professional offered through World at Work.

Credentialing for HR Generalists and Specialist

Human Resource Generalist

Dr. Jim Kinneer is a Chief Human Resources Officer and also an adjunct HR professor at Southern New Hampshire University.   He is an alumnus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he earned his bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and his doctorate. He was worked in the Human Resources field for over twenty five years and has earned several HR certifications.   To view his profile or connect with him on LinkedIn, please visit

In the next section, learn about the different schools, degrees, and certificates are available to HR professionals. The foundation to a solid HR career is a solid understanding of HR laws and best practices.

Human Resource Specialist

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Human Resource Professionals have the option of working in the role of an HR Generalist or as an HR specialist.   Deciding which role is right for you requires consideration of your special interests and talents. It is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each path.

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by James Kinneer, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, CBP
Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States