Certified Retirement Specialist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a certified retirement specialist career? Read on to see real job description, salary info and career prospects to find out if a certified retirement specialist career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Certified Retirement Specialist Career

Certified retirement specialists are human resources workers who create and implement retirement plans, like 401(k)s and IRAs, for employees. Check out these pros and cons to see if a certified retirement specialist career is right for you:

Pros of a Certified Retirement Specialist Career
Above-average salary (median annual of about $62,000 in 2014)*
Required education typically just an undergraduate degree (89% have a bachelor's degree)**
Can work for any company that provides retirement plans for employees*

Cons of a Certified Retirement Specialist Career
Requires keeping up with federal, state and local laws*
Experience and exam requirements to gain certification**
Work is mostly spent at a desk in front of a computer**
Low-growth field (6% projected employment increase from 2012-2022)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Occupational Information Network.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Retirement specialists work within human resources departments to organize the retirement benefits for a company's employees. Their job duties might include compiling employee records, analyzing payroll data, providing information to employees and ensuring compliance with federal, state and local laws.

The kinds of plans you may deal with as a retirement specialist include 401(k)s, pensions, profit sharing and stock ownership. You may need to address any questions that employees have about their retirement plans as well as report retirement plan information to a human resources manager or higher-level executives. The human resources department is an essential part of companies in many different industries, and the work is sometimes outsourced to human resources firms. As a retirement specialist, you'd likely spend much of your 40-hour work week at a desk or in meetings around the office.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that compensation, benefits and job analysis specialists made a median annual salary of about $61,000 (www.bls.gov). The industries with the highest employment were management and government agencies. The BLS projected a 6% employment increase for compensation and benefits specialists in the decade from 2012-2022, which is slower than average employment growth. This growth will be mostly due to a growing number of companies who outsource compensation functions to third parties.

Education and Certification Requirements

Most human resources specialists, including retirement specialists, have a bachelor's degree in human resources management or business administration. Typical coursework in a human resources program includes business law, statistics, accounting, human resources management, marketing and economics. A solid business background can help you understand what retirement plans work well for both a company and its employees.

There are multiple certifications available for retirement specialists. The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans offers the Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) designation with an available specialized Retirement Plans Associate (RPA) designation. You must complete courses in the subjects of group benefits, retirement plans and compensation management in order to take exams to gain the CEBS and RPA credentials. The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA) offers various designations related to retirement planning, including the Qualified 401(k) Administrator, the Qualified Pension Administrator and the Certified Pension Consultant. In addition to completing multiple exams associated with these designations, you must have at least three years of human resources experience.

Top Skills for Certified Retirement Specialists

Human resources workers in general need to have excellent communication skills because they deal with people over the phone, through email and in person. You should also be detail-orientated in order to deal with the specifics of retirement plans for the company and for individuals. Much of your work would be done on a computer, so you should feel comfortable working with basic programs as well as software specifically designed for human resources tasks.

What Employers Are Looking for

Many job postings for retirement specialists mention multiple years of experience, which is of major importance in the human resources field. The postings also described the specific type of plans you should be familiar with. Read these summaries of some job postings open in May 2012 to get an idea of what some employers may be looking for:

  • A healthcare company in Missouri was looking to hire a retirement specialist to work within the company's retirement program. The candidate should have a bachelor's degree and 5-10 years of experience in the field. This position also involved some travel and irregular hours.
  • An investment management company in Pennsylvania was searching for a retirement services specialist with a bachelor's degree and at least three years of experience. The posting also mentioned time management and communication skills.
  • A recruiting company in Arizona was looking for a retirement plan specialist to cover its employees' plans. The company wanted someone with at least two years of experience in administering 401(k) plans and preferred to hire someone with an ASPPA certification.

How to Stand out in the Field

While certification is voluntary and can demonstrate your knowledge to a potential employer, one of the baselines for human resources workers is experience. To get a head start on racking up some experience, you could find an internship during your undergraduate studies. Even if you can't work in a human resources department, gaining experience with customer service can also be beneficial to your career. Honing your interpersonal communication skills is important, so any type of job or internship where you work closely with people can give you an edge.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're interested in helping people plan for their futures, but would rather start work directly after high school, you could become an insurance sales agent. Insurance sales agents help clients choose the best policies for them and understand the terms. Most insurance sales agents begin work out of high school after completing some on-the-job training. The BLS reported in May 2011 that insurance sales agents made a median annual salary of about $47,000, and that employment for this group is projected to increase by 22% from 2010-2020.

If you like working with people and want to manage a team, consider a career as a sales manager. While many other types of managers have master's degrees, most sales managers have bachelor's degrees in business or a related field as well as some years of experience. As a sales manager, you would oversee a team of salespeople, monitoring the department and analyzing data. The BLS reported in May 2011 that sales managers made a median annual salary of about $102,000. The projected employment increase for this profession is 12% from 2010-2020.

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Purdue University Global

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Johns Hopkins University

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Grand Canyon University

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Saint Leo University

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  • BA: Business Administration - Management
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Full Sail University

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  • B.S. - Music Business

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Regent University

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  • M.A. in Financial Planning & Law
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