HR Career Path

Industry specific

A Comprehensive Guide To The HR Career Path

HR Career Path

A career in human resources (HR) can be quite rewarding. As HR professionals, you have the power to shape company culture and set policies that help the organization achieve its long-term goals.

With great power, however, comes great responsibilities. Often, an HR professional would be so busy helping their employees that they forget to prioritize their career advancement.

Having a career path, especially in the human resource field, is crucial to having a successful career that fulfills your professional growth. There are many distinct disciplines in the HR career path, including payroll, compliance, and employee engagement.

When you’re faced with a major career decision, it is best to know all options available so you can make an informed choice and work towards advancing your long-term personal and professional goals.

Why Enter The Human Resources Career Path?

One common misconception among people is that a job in the HR department is easy. That is, however, far from the case.

HR departments have a sheer number of tasks and HR processes to complete. These tasks include labor relations, employment law, employee benefits, performance management, training and development, and employee payroll. While HR jobs can be complex, they are also certainly very fulfilling.

If you’re hoping to further your career in the HR field, here are some of the roles you can consider.

HR Generalists Vs. HR Specialists

As the name suggests, an HR generalist is someone who has general knowledge of various HR processes and disciplines. Human resources specialists, on the other hand, are experienced in a specific aspect of HR operations.

Neither option is better than the other. Smaller businesses may only need one or two HR generalists to handle their HR needs, whereas larger corporations might need an entire HR team of specialists for each discipline.

An HR generalist is a good role for people who enjoy performing a variety of tasks and working on different projects all at once. A generalist role can also serve as a great foundation for a strong career, especially if you plan to specialize in one aspect.

That being said, an HR generalist can sometimes find themself stretched too thin, unable to dedicate themselves fully to a project due to the sheer number of tasks needed to be performed.

Being a specialist allows you to play to your strengths and invest in a specific area of human resources management. When you gain experience and develop your skill set, you become a sought-after candidate in your field.

As a specialist, however, you are unlikely to have variety in your day. Additionally, you might feel pigeonholed by your skill set if you decide to pursue different HR careers.

HR Career Path

Common HR Generalist Roles

Are you interested in taking a generalist role in human resource management? Here’s a brief list of popular generalist job titles ranging from entry-level positions to executive-level roles.

HR Assistant

Most HR career paths begin with becoming an HR assistant. This entry-level position allows individuals to roll up their sleeves and learn about the day-to-day tasks of human resources professionals.

The job of HR assistants is to help HR managers facilitate various HR processes. This can include completing administrative duties, assisting in the hiring process, handling compensation and benefits, and other tasks related to the employee lifecycle.

Being an assistant is a great place to start if you want to climb the HR career ladder.

HR Coordinator

HR coordinators, otherwise called recruiters, mainly assist the hiring manager. Their job includes recruiting new hires, processing payroll, maintaining employee records, and proving support to HR administration.

In addition to helping out in the hiring process, HR coordinators are also responsible for conducting onboarding sessions and planning programs related to employee development and employee training.

HR Manager

An HR manager is responsible for overseeing the activities of the entire HR department and ensuring the company complies with relevant employment laws and regulations. In addition, human resources managers play an important role in business planning and budget development throughout the organization.

Most employers look for HR managers with at least five years of experience in the human resources department. HR managers also need to have strong problem-solving, organization, and leadership skills to flourish in the position.

HR Director

HR directors are the more senior members of the human resource department. Typically, HR directors have been in the field for five to 10 years or longer.

Human Resources Director can play a number of HR roles, including heading up several departments at a time or overseeing the work of HR managers. HR directors are also expected to act as strategic partners to the company’s employees, acting on any complaints and issues regarding HR practices.

An HR director typically has a master’s degree and a deep understanding of employment law, organizational planning, employee development, workplace safety, and compliance.

Vice President of HR

The VP position is mostly seen in companies with a dedicated executive employee section. For other companies, the next position in the HR career path is the chief human resources officer (CHRO).

Typically, vice presidents of HR departments provide administrative support to the entire company. They also tend to be responsible for making key business decisions, including giving the go-ahead for any new project or process.

Chief HR Officer

The Chief HR Officer is the most senior role in the human resources department. The CHRO works in tandem with the CEO, the company board, and the rest of the C-suite to develop company-wide HR initiatives, policies, and strategies.

In addition, CHROs may be responsible for ensuring that other HR professionals in the company are complying with relevant employment laws, as well as setting goals for the HR department and restructuring senior management.

Most CHROs have at least 15 years of human resources experience. CHROs should also be familiar with strategic planning and have extensive knowledge of the HR space and core disciplines.

HR Career Path

Common HR Specialist Roles

Not everyone takes an interest in becoming a CHRO. In fact, many HR professionals focus on becoming an expert in a specific discipline.

If you’re considering following a more specialized career path, here are some of the most popular options for you.


Do you love building robust benefits packages to keep employees happy and engaged? If your answer is yes, then a career as an HR consultant for employee benefits may be right for you.

A benefits specialist is responsible for planning and administering employee benefits, such as health, dental, life insurance, and retirement plans. A benefits specialist also works with brokers to secure the best plans at competitive pricing and ensure that their offering continues to evolve according to the changing needs of employees.

Employee Relations Manager

Employee relations managers are responsible for facilitating employee relations and solving HR issues on behalf of the company.

Mostly, their responsibilities include training and overseeing the work of assigned staff, discerning the cost and implications of negotiations and disputes, conducting research and evaluations of HR policies and compensation, and advising supervisors on best employee relations practices.

Employee relations managers are required to have a thorough understanding of state and federal laws concerning labor relations, negotiation techniques, and dispute resolution. They must also remain tactful and calm in confrontational situations.

Learning & Development

Learning and Development (L&D) departments are responsible for building and overseeing employee training programs. They are also responsible for creating an internal learning curriculum to teach employees new skills or improve on existing ones to close any skill gaps within the organization.

People working in the L&D department are required to adapt learning materials for use across online and classroom options. Additionally, they are also required to track and analyze employee participation and employee engagement rates.


Payroll specialists are people who love working with numbers and have keen attention to detail. Payroll professionals have several tasks, but the most important involves ensuring every employee is paid the amount they are owed each pay cycle.

In addition to verifying employee hours and organizing the release of company wages, payroll professionals must also process deductions for garnishments and benefits as well as stay on top of all state and federal compliance requirements.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)

Having a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) specialist is important, especially in modern times. A DE&I specialist help set internal diversity goals and create strategies to help the company achieve said goals, such as hiring more diverse candidates and improving the mobility of minority employees.

Additionally, a DE&I specialist is responsible for identifying and eradicating any bias in the workplace. This may include improving pay equity and educating employees on diversity and inclusion.

Ultimately, a DE&I specialist is responsible for resolving barriers in the workplace that prevent people of different cultures from feeling seen, heard, and celebrated.

HR Career Path

In Closing

It’s easy to find yourself striving to climb up the HR career ladder. However, it is important to take the time and ensure the role you choose aligns with your personal and professional interests.

When choosing which career path to take, make your decision based on the things you can learn from a certain HR role and how it can get you close to your career goals, whatever those may be.