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HR Generalist Career Guide

What is an HR generalist?

An HR generalist is a human resources professional who has a broad understanding of various human resource functions within an organization. The scope of this position involves recruitment and hiring, benefits administration, performance management, employee relations, and training and development. Their role is central to the organization, ensuring that the human resources function effectively supports the company’s strategic goals.

These professionals play a vital role in creating and maintaining a productive and positive work environment. They work with employees at all levels, providing guidance and support on various HR-related topics. Their role is essential for maintaining the balance between the needs of the organization and the well-being of its employees.

Duties and responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of an HR generalist include managing talent acquisition processes, such as job postings, screenings, and interviews, and coordinating onboarding and orientation programs for new employees. They handle employee relations matters, offering guidance and support to resolve conflicts, address grievances, and maintain a positive work atmosphere. Professionals in this field often administer employee benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and leaves of absence, ensuring employees understand and access the benefits to which they are entitled.

They play a role in performance management by assisting with the development and implementation of performance evaluation systems, providing feedback and coaching, and identifying opportunities for employee development. Their responsibilities may also include monitoring the organization’s compliance with labor laws and regulations by maintaining accurate records, updating policies, and staying informed about changes in the legal landscape.

Work environment

The work environment for an HR generalist typically involves a traditional office setting, though remote work has become increasingly common in many organizations. They frequently interact with employees at all levels of the organization, from entry-level staff to senior management. Their role requires excellent interpersonal skills, as they often deal with sensitive matters such as employee disputes, personal issues, and confidential information.

Typical work hours

The typical work hours for this role are standard office hours, usually 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday. However, they may occasionally need to work outside regular hours to accommodate specific events or situations, such as employee training sessions, interviews, or addressing urgent employee concerns. These professionals are typically expected to be available and responsive to employee and management needs within the organization.

How to become an HR generalist

Becoming an HR generalist involves obtaining relevant education, gaining practical experience, and developing a broad range of skills. This career guide section outlines the steps required for a career in this role. 

Step 1: Obtain a relevant education

A bachelor’s degree is usually required for a career in this field. Common areas of study include human resources management, business administration, or a related field. These programs provide a strong foundation in labor relations, employment law, organizational behavior, and compensation and benefits. 

Some positions may require or prefer candidates with a master of human resources (MHR), a master of business administration (MBA), or a related advanced degree.

Step 2: Gain practical HR experience

Experience in human resources is crucial for those who aspire to join this profession. Entry-level positions or internships in HR, such as HR assistant or coordinator roles, provide valuable experience in various HR functions, including recruiting, benefits administration, and employee relations. Look for opportunities to gain exposure to different aspects of HR to build a solid foundation for your career.

Step 3: Develop a broad range of HR skills

A professional in this field must have a diverse skill set to manage various HR functions effectively. Focus on developing your expertise in areas such as employment law, employee relations, recruiting, compensation and benefits, and training and development. 

You’ll also want to hone your communication, problem-solving, and organizational skills, as these are essential for success in this role. A convenient way to develop your skills is by taking online courses. 

Step 4: Pursue HR certifications (optional)

While not always required, obtaining professional certifications can help demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the field. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) credentials.

The HR Certification Institute (HRCI) also offers certifications, such as the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). These certifications can enhance your career prospects and set you apart from other candidates.

Step 5: Network within the HR community

Building a broad professional network is important for career growth in this field. Attend industry conferences, join local HR organizations, and connect with fellow professionals on social media platforms to stay informed about the latest trends and job opportunities.

Step 6: Apply for HR generalist positions

Once you have obtained the necessary education, experience, and skills, you can apply for positions. Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant experience and achievements in the field. Prepare for interviews by researching the company and practicing your responses to common interview questions.

How much do HR generalists make?

There are many variables that go into determining how much an HR generalist makes, from company size to experience to education, just to name a few.

Highest paying industries

  • Pharmaceutical: $116,000
  • Energy: $101,050
  • Information Technology: $100,500
  • Aerospace: $94,600
  • Finance: $94,000

Highest paying states

  • California: $80,000
  • New York: $75,000
  • Massachusetts: $74,500
  • Illinois: $72,500
  • Washington: $70,000

Browse HR generalist salary data by market

Types of HR generalists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for HR generalists.

Corporate HR generalist

Generalists in this specialization work in large companies, handling various HR functions and working alongside other specialized professionals, such as recruiters, benefits specialists, and training managers. They often have a broad knowledge base, enabling them to support different initiatives and projects.

Small business HR generalist

These professionals often take on a more comprehensive role in a small business setting. They manage all aspects of human resources, from recruitment and onboarding to employee relations and benefits administration. They must be adaptable and resourceful, as they may have to handle multiple responsibilities with limited resources.

Nonprofit HR generalist

Professionals working in nonprofit organizations must navigate the unique challenges of this sector. Their tasks may entail recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, developing volunteer programs, and managing employee relations in an environment where resources and budgets may be limited.

HR generalist in a startup

Startups require individuals with a high degree of adaptability and flexibility. These professionals must be able to handle a rapidly changing work environment and manage diverse responsibilities, including talent acquisition, employee engagement, and developing company culture. This role in startups may also entail establishing HR policies and procedures from the ground up.

Industry-specific HR generalist

Some professionals specialize in a particular industry, such as healthcare, technology, or manufacturing. They deeply understand the unique HR challenges and requirements specific to their industry. They may focus on attracting and retaining specialized talent or ensuring compliance with industry-specific labor laws and regulations.

Top skills for HR generalists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities to help you succeed as an HR generalist.

Strong interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are crucial, as they interact with employees at all levels of the organization. They must be approachable, empathetic, and able to communicate effectively with diverse groups of people. Strong interpersonal skills allow these professionals to build relationships, mediate conflicts, and support employees, ensuring a positive work environment and promoting staff satisfaction.

Attention to detail

It’s essential to have strong attention to detail, as they are responsible for managing critical information, such as employee records, payroll data, and benefits plans. These professionals must ensure that all data is accurate, up-to-date, and compliant with relevant laws and regulations. This skill helps them maintain the integrity of the organization’s HR systems and avoid potential legal issues.


Professionals in this role must be highly adaptable to navigate a constantly evolving workplace and handle various tasks and responsibilities. This skill enables them to remain current with industry trends, adopt best practices, and implement effective HR strategies that meet the organization’s needs.

Knowledge of employment laws and regulations

Knowledge of employment laws and regulations is vital, as they must ensure that the organization’s policies and procedures comply with relevant legislation. This includes understanding the implications of laws related to equal employment opportunity, workplace safety, wage and hour regulations, and employee benefits. Professionals with a solid grasp of employment laws and regulations can help protect the organization from potential legal issues and maintain a compliant and inclusive work environment.

HR generalist career path

This career path often begins with an entry-level role in human resources, such as an HR assistant, HR coordinator, or recruiter. In these roles, individuals gain valuable experience in various HR functions, including recruitment, onboarding, employee relations, benefits administration, and compliance.

Gaining experience and expertise in multiple human resources areas creates opportunities to advance to the role of a generalist. To further advance, professionals in this role can choose to specialize in a specific area of human resources, such as compensation and benefits, labor relations, or talent acquisition.

With extensive experience and a robust skill set, professionals can progress to senior HR generalist or HR manager roles, managing a team of HR professionals and contributing to the development of HR strategies. Ultimately, they can aspire to leadership positions such as HR director, vice president of human resources, or chief human resources officer (CHRO).

The increasing focus on remote work, diversity and inclusion, and employee well-being has led to new strategies and innovative programs to support a modern and diverse workforce. In addition, the growing importance of data-driven decision-making has prompted HR generalists to become more proficient in using analytics tools and software to streamline their processes and make more informed decisions.

Another emerging trend is the adoption of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in HR functions, such as applicant tracking systems, HR chatbots, and talent management platforms. Professionals in this field must stay up-to-date with these advancements to ensure they can leverage them effectively in their day-to-day responsibilities.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of human resources specialists is projected to grow 6% through 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. Factors contributing to this growth include the ongoing need for HR services in organizations of all sizes and the increasing complexity of employment laws and regulations, which necessitates the expertise of professionals in this field.

HR generalist career tips

Stay current on employment laws and regulations

In this role, it is crucial to keep yourself updated on the latest federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations. Staying informed will help ensure your company remains compliant and avoids potential legal issues. Attend webinars, subscribe to relevant newsletters, and join professional networks focused on HR compliance.

Develop strong interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are vital, as you will interact with employees across all levels of the organization. Strengthen your communication, active listening, and conflict resolution abilities to effectively manage employee relations, address concerns, and foster a positive work environment.

Become proficient in HR software and tools

HR software and tools are essential in streamlining HR processes, such as payroll, benefits administration, and performance management. Familiarize yourself with popular HR software solutions and invest time in learning their features and capabilities. This knowledge will help you improve efficiency and accuracy in your daily tasks.

Embrace confidentiality and discretion

Professionals in this role often deal with sensitive information related to employees, such as personal details, salary data, and performance evaluations. Uphold a high level of confidentiality and discretion when handling such information to maintain trust and protect the privacy of your colleagues.

Build a professional network

Networking is crucial for staying informed about industry trends, sharing best practices, and discovering new opportunities. Join professional associations and networks to connect with other HR professionals, learn from their experiences, and expand your career prospects. Some relevant associations and networks include:

  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
  • International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM)
  • HR People + Strategy (HRPS)
  • WorldatWork

Commit to continuous learning

Dedicate yourself to ongoing learning to stay current in the ever-evolving HR landscape. Pursue opportunities to enhance your skills and knowledge, such as attending conferences, enrolling in online courses, and obtaining relevant certifications. Some suggested areas for continuing education include:

  • HR best practices and trends
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
  • Talent acquisition and retention strategies
  • Employment law and compliance

Promote a positive company culture

In this role, you play a significant role in shaping your organization’s culture. Encourage open communication, recognize employee achievements, and support initiatives that foster teamwork and collaboration. Promoting a positive company culture will contribute to employee satisfaction, retention, and overall organizational success.

Where the HR generalist jobs are

Top companies

  • Amazon
  • IBM
  • Target
  • PepsiCo
  • Accenture

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed
  • SHRM HR jobs
  • FlexJobs


What qualifications are required to become an HR generalist?

A bachelor’s degree in human resources, business administration, or a related field is typically required for this position. Some employers may also consider candidates with degrees in psychology, sociology, or other disciplines that emphasize human behavior and organizational dynamics. 

Relevant work experience in HR, such as internships or entry-level positions, can benefit people interested in this profession. Professional certifications, such as the PHR or the SHRM-CP, may also be advantageous.

How can I advance my career as an HR generalist?

To advance your career, focus on continuous learning and professional development. This can include pursuing advanced degrees, attending workshops or conferences, and earning professional certifications. 

Networking with other HR professionals can also provide valuable insights and opportunities for career growth. You can also demonstrate your expertise by successfully implementing HR initiatives, developing innovative solutions to workplace challenges, and showcasing your leadership skills.

What are the typical day-to-day tasks of an HR generalist?

The day-to-day tasks in this role can vary depending on the organization’s size and needs. Common responsibilities include managing employee relations, overseeing recruitment and hiring processes, conducting employee orientations, and administering benefits programs. 

Professionals in this position may also be responsible for managing performance evaluations, updating HR policies, and ensuring compliance with employment laws and regulations. Managing employee training programs, updating HRIS systems, and addressing employee concerns or disputes may also be frequent tasks.

How do HR generalists ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations?

These professionals must stay current with federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations, which involves researching and monitoring changes in legislation, attending industry workshops or seminars, and consulting with legal counsel when necessary. 

Another key component of their work is to review and update company policies and procedures to ensure compliance and train management and employees on relevant laws and regulations. They may conduct internal audits or assessments to identify potential compliance issues and develop action plans to address them.

What is the role of an HR generalist in employee relations?

In employee relations, an HR generalist serves as a mediator and advisor, addressing employee concerns, resolving conflicts, and promoting a positive work environment. These professionals assist in developing and implementing employee relations policies and procedures, ensuring fair and consistent treatment of employees. They are also responsible for guiding management in handling employee issues, conducting investigations into workplace complaints, and recommending appropriate actions to resolve conflicts.

How do HR generalists support recruitment and hiring processes?

Professionals in this role work with hiring managers to identify staffing needs, create job descriptions, and develop recruitment strategies. They may also screen resumes, conduct interviews, and evaluate candidates. 

These staff members coordinate background checks, reference checks, and pre-employment testing. Once a candidate is selected, they facilitate the onboarding process, including conducting employee orientations and completing all necessary paperwork.

What is the role of an HR generalist in performance management?

Professionals in this field help develop and implement performance evaluation systems and processes. Their tasks may include collaborating with managers to set employee performance goals, providing guidance on conducting performance reviews, and ensuring the process is fair and consistent. These professionals may also identify opportunities for employee development.