HR Generalist vs. HR Specialist: How To Decide Which Career Is Right for You

As a human resources generalist one has to have a wider scope, and acquire knowledge in all core HR disciplines such as hiring, training, compensation, performance management, and so on. As a human resources specialist, one can choose to focus only on one or two of the above areas and develop in-depth skills in those.

Professionals in human resources typically choose one of two career paths: specialist or generalist. The human resources specialist, as the title suggests, gains expertise in a particular HR discipline. In contrast, the generalist is an HR jack of all trades. For all HR-related issues, the generalist is frequently the first point of contact for employees and managers.

People who enjoy concentrating on a particular field of expertise are excellent candidates for the specialist role. By making sure the opportunities and benefits the company offers are competitive in the market, specialists design and manage benefits and other systems that support the business. These services make it simpler to draw in and keep the top talent.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources generalists may have expertise in one or more HR specialty areas, but are typically competent enough in each area to give employees and managers sound advice and direction. To guarantee the programs and information they are providing to their employees are accurate and comprehensive, HR generalists collaborate closely with their specialist coworkers. In comparison to the specialist role, the generalist role is less routine.

Because they interact directly with employees, generalists face problems that are as diverse as the people they serve. The generalist handles everything from providing training to mediating disputes between employees, in addition to outlining benefits and compensation. The generalist role is best suited to people who enjoy variety in their work and can shift their attention quickly from one project or issue to another.

How to Choose a Career Path: HR Generalist vs HR Specialist

Why is it important to decide between an HR generalist vs. an HR specialist?

Making a choice between the two HR careers—HR generalist and HR specialist—can help you focus your skills on a particular position right away and enable you to launch your career more quickly, particularly for an HR specialist position. HR specialists concentrate their attention on a particular set of skills or knowledge that enables them to perform specialized duties in the human resources field, in contrast to HR generalists who frequently learn a wide variety of skills to complete the many functions of their job.

Knowing which specialty you want to concentrate on and starting to learn those skills right away can be helpful if you decide your career goals lead to a position as an HR specialist. For instance, if you want to work as an HR development specialist, think about enrolling in college courses on employee development or consulting with an HR firm’s development specialist to determine how you can do so.

How to choose between an HR generalist vs. an HR specialist

You can use the following seven steps to help you choose between a career as an HR generalist or HR specialist:

1. Learn the duties of each position

Knowing the responsibilities of each position is crucial because it can help you determine whether or not particular HR specialties are of interest to you and what abilities you need to acquire to pursue each career. HR generalists, for instance, frequently work in the majority of human resources-related areas, from hiring and onboarding to assisting with company benefits. It frequently requires abilities in a variety of areas, such as communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, to help you carry out your daily responsibilities if you’re pursuing a career as a generalist.

However, as an HR specialist, you might only need to have knowledge of one aspect of the HR field, such as risk management or employee and labor relations. Understanding the duties of each position can help you decide which one you’d like to pursue because the knowledge and skills required for each can differ greatly.

2. Set career goals and objectives

You can focus on your passions and better understand your aspirations in the human resources field by setting career goals and objectives. The HR generalist position might be a good fit if you’re looking for a position that frequently presents fresh challenges each day. The HR generalist must use specific skills to assist various departments or employees throughout the course of the workday as they frequently solve a variety of unique problems.

However, if you are aware that your goals and interests lie in a particular area of the HR division, such as streamlining a company’s or business’s workflow, an HR specialist position in organizational development may be more appealing to you.

3. Research market opportunities

Knowing which position the majority of employers are looking for can be helpful before choosing between a career as an HR generalist or specialist. Knowing which professions are currently offering more employment opportunities can help you assess how simple or challenging it might be to find a job in that field. For instance, you might find out through research that businesses require more HR generalists. If so, it might be best for you to pursue a career as an HR generalist since it might increase your chances of landing a job.

To determine which positions are most available, take into account searching job posting websites and particular businesses that interest you. You can learn which specific specialties are currently in demand for the position of HR specialist by searching for specific keywords or positions. These positions can include:

4. Take classes

Consider taking specialty classes if you are currently pursuing a degree in human resources to aid in your decision as to which HR position is best for you. The majority of colleges and universities offer courses that cover various HR specialties, like employee training, benefits design, and information systems By taking these classes, you can develop your generalist HR skills and determine whether or not particular HR specialties are of interest to you.

5. Apply for an internship

Internships are a great way to learn about various HR responsibilities in-depth and can help you determine which position would be the best fit for you. You can apply for some internships that concentrate their work and training on particular facets of the HR job. These kinds of internships can help you concentrate on particular HR specialties that you might find interesting. However, the majority of HR internships typically cover experience in a variety of HR tasks, which can help you both when pursuing a career as an HR generalist and when determining which HR specialties you may be passionate about.

6. Find a mentor

Whether you’re in the process of earning your undergraduate degree or you’re already employed in the field of human resources, finding a mentor can help you understand the various duties of different HR specialties and perhaps even help you hone your skills in those roles. Consider speaking with managers or coworkers who are HR specialists if you work for a human resources company or department. You can determine if a position interests you by asking them questions about it. If they do, think about requesting their assistance in helping you advance to become an HR specialist in their department.

If you’re still in college, think about contacting local human resource companies to see if you can speak with some HR representatives about their careers. It’s possible that people who are already employed in your industry would like to connect with you on a professional level in order to share their knowledge or, at the very least, expand their network of contacts.

7. Start as a generalist

Consider beginning as a generalist first if your objective is to work in a human resources department or organization but you are unsure of your preference to specialize just yet. Being an HR generalist allows you to gain valuable experience and knowledge in all human resource roles while determining which HR department or field most interests you. Prior to applying for a job or seeking a promotion, it can also assist you in developing your skills, fostering professional connections, and showcasing your expertise in particular specialties.


Is an HR generalist higher than an HR manager?

HR managers are immediately above HR generalists in terms of job level or position in larger organizations, but they are typically found at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy.

What pays more generalist or specialist?

Being a generalist has drawbacks, including a lack of in-depth knowledge of subjects. Since it costs more money and training to become an expert, specialists can earn more money.

Is HR specialist the same as HR manager?

specialist. The creation of personnel policies and procedures, hiring and recruiting, training, workplace safety and compliance, and compensation and benefits are all under the control of HR managers. On the other hand, HR specialists frequently concentrate on a single area of human resources.

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