Becoming an HR Generalist: Job Description & Salary Information

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An HR generalist's mean annual salary is about $63,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the career outlook to see if becoming an HR generalist is right for you.
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An HR Generalist Career: Pros and Cons

Human resources (HR) generalists oversee all HR services for a company, firm or organization. Read below about the pros and cons of becoming an HR generalist to decide if it's the right choice for you:

PROS of a Career as an HR Generalist
Average projected job growth (8% from 2012-2022)*
Relatively high earning potential (about $63,000 on average as of 2014)*
Needed in nearly every industry (almost all companies have hiring needs)*
Job prospects are projected to be much faster than average for overall employment services industry from 2012-2022*
Lots of variety in daily activities (training, payroll, interviewing, etc.)*

CONS of a Career as an HR Generalist
Often requires previous HR-related experience*
Many employers want you to have certification*
Computerized HR systems are making some generalist positions less necessary*
May require travel to company branches or to recruit employees*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

HR generalists are trained to perform a range of HR functions, including compensation and benefits, payroll, evaluations and HR document management. You might recruit and interview prospective employees, process employment paperwork and train new hires, in addition to implementing new company policies and enforcing old ones. Performance assessment is also an important part of the job, and when employees aren't meeting up to their expectations, you may have to take corrective action. Additionally, you may be called on to defend employees in labor disputes or mediate employee conflicts. Doing so calls for a great deal of tact and discretion. You also need to have a strong understanding of federal and state laws and how they relate to HR activities.

HR generalists are needed in almost all facets of industry. You may work directly for a company or organization, or you could work for an employer organization, employment placement agency or temp agency. You'll typically work a full-time schedule, and you may be required to travel in order to recruit new employees or, if you work for a large company or agency, visit other branches.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for HR specialists - including HR generalists - were expected to increase 8% from 2012-2022, which was about as fast as the national average. Growth will be due in part to increasingly complex human resources regulations; however, technological advancements have encouraged many companies to automate certain HR specialist services. As such, many of these new jobs will be in the employment services industry, including employment placement and temp agencies, which was projected to see much faster than average job growth.

As of May 2014, HR specialists and generalists received an annual average salary of about $63,000. The lowest-paid ten percent of these professionals earned about $34,000 or less, while the highest-paid ten percent earned about $98,000 or more.

Education Requirements

To be an HR generalist, you'll generally need a bachelor's degree in human resources or a related field, like business. Human resources degree programs can prepare you for the field with coursework in compensation and benefits, organizational management, employment law, staffing, performance assessment and training methods. An alternative option, if you already hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field or are looking for additional HR training, is to complete an HR generalist certificate program, which can be found in a number of college and university continuing education departments.

Useful Skills

The ideal candidate for an HR generalist role is detail-oriented and able to juggle a number of responsibilities at once. Other skills employers look for in an HR generalist include:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Ability to listen to employee needs
  • Public speaking talents for training and presentations

Jobs Posted by Real Employers

Most organizations want you to have HR education and experience. Employers look for people who have computer skills and are good at building relationships. Many employers also favor applicants who are certified and willing to travel. Read some sample job postings from May 2012:

  • A payroll management company in California was looking for an HR generalist to manage its Los Angeles clients. Applicants needed four years' experience and a valid driver's license. An associate's or bachelor's degree and Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification were preferred.
  • A city government in Washington was seeking an HR generalist to work with a team that supported 1,200 employees. The position was involved with employee relations, leave administration, job postings and staffing. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in HR and/or five years of experience. Public sector HR experience was desired, as was PHR or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification.
  • A Texas oil service company needed a senior HR generalist to work on recruiting, training, employee relations, payroll, benefits and change management. Applicants needed at least a bachelor's degree in HR management or a related area and eight years of HR experience. A master's degree was preferred.
  • An HR generalist was needed at a physician services company in New Orleans to administer benefits and pay, perform employee relations and execute new hire orientations. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in HR and five years of experience. The employer preferred that applicants have experience in healthcare and be certified as a PHR or SPHR.
  • A coffee manufacturer in Vermont wanted to hire an HR generalist with 5-10 years of HR generalist experience, ideally in manufacturing. Applicants needed a degree, as well as PHR or SPHR certification. Some travel was involved.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Get Applicable Experience

One way to stand out among your competition is to gain work experience that can apply to human resources. In fact, the BLS reports that many HR generalist jobs require that you have related experience. You can gain this experience by starting out in an entry-level position, such as human resources assistant. You might also work in a related field, like customer service or retail management.

Earn Certification

Certifications are not required, but many employers prefer HR generalists who have them. May 2012 job postings reveal that the most common forms of certification include the PHR and SPHR credentials, which are offered by the Human Resources Certification Institute. The PHR credential is for HR professionals who have two years of experience and a bachelor's degree or an equivalent amount of education and/or experience. The SPHR certification is for upper-level HR professionals who have five years of experience and a bachelor's degree or an equivalent amount of education and/or experience. Qualified candidates must pass a certification exam to obtain the PHR or SPHR credential.

HR generalists working in the public sector might choose to earn a credential offered by the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR). To sit for the professional or specialist certification exams, you must have a bachelor's degree and four years of experience, with one year in the public sector. Any equivalent of eight years of education and/or experience is also acceptable.

Other Careers to Consider

Human Resources Manager

If you want to work in a more advanced role in HR - and earn more income - you might want to become an HR manager. The BLS reports that HR managers, who oversee HR staff and activities, earned a mean salary of around $109,000 as of May 2011. You can often be an HR manager with a bachelor's degree in human resources or HR management, but some companies might want you to have a master's degree. Experience is a must, and being an HR generalist can be a good springboard to this career. Job opportunities for HR managers were predicted to increase 13% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS; this was almost average for growth.

Training and Development Manager

If you want a career in employee development, but don't want such a wide range of HR responsibilities, consider a specialist position in training and development management. In this position, you'll focus on increasing the skills of the people in your company by developing and implementing training strategies. You'd have the ability to make more money in this position than as an HR generalist; the BLS indicated that training and development managers earned an average income of about $99,000 annually as of May 2011. A bachelor's degree is often sufficient, but some employers require a master's degree and relevant experience. Career opportunities for training and development managers were anticipated to increase 15% from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

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      • BSBA in Human Resources
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      • AASBA in Business
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    2. Ashford University

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    Master's
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      • B.A. - Human Resources Management
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  • Online Programs Available
    3. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin: Human Resources
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Human Resources
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      • Associate of Arts in Business Administration
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    4. Herzing University

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    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
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      • Associate of Science - Business Management
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  • Online Programs Available
    5. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

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      • Master - Human Resource Management
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      • BS - Human Resource Management
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      • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management
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    7. Indiana Wesleyan University

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      • Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership
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      • B.S. Business Administration - Human Resource Management
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  • Online Programs Available
    8. Grand Canyon University

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    Doctorate
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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MBA: Human Resources
  • BSBA in Human Resources
  • AASBA in Business

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MBA - Human Resources Management
  • M.A. - Organizational Management: Organizational Leadership
  • B.A. - Human Resources Management
  • B.A. - Organizational Management

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Business Admin: Human Resources
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Human Resources
  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration

Are you a US citizen?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
  • B.S. - Business Management: Human Resource Development Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Business Management

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Government Analytics

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Master - Human Resource Management
  • BS - Human Resource Management
  • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership
  • M.A. Organizational Leadership
  • B.S. Business Administration - Human Resource Management
  • A.S. Business

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Organizational Development
  • MBA: Strategic Human Resource Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching

What is your highest level of education?