How to Become an HR Generalist

Illustration of a laptop with icons representing the office and communications responsibilities of an HR Generalist.

Human resources departments are a fundamental component in any successful organization. Within these departments, one of the positions on the rise is HR generalist. With the ability to go both deep and shallow in their knowledge of human resources, Forbes described that generalists work in a state of “perpetual beta,” meaning they aren’t specifically in charge of payroll, labor analysis or organizational design but have the ability to do it all.

What is an HR Generalist?

HR generalists provide assistance in a wide-variety of employee-related tasks, and in some cases, manage the department’s staff. The difference between generalists and other HR positions is that generalists put into action the policies and decisions made by HR managers and HR directors. In most organizational charts, generalists sit above entry-level positions, such as HR specialist or HR coordinator, but below an HR manager.

At small companies, HR generalists run the day-to-day operations of an HR department, but at large companies, HR generalists focus on assisting specialists and entry-level HR employees. For example, HR generalists perform non-administrative employee facing tasks, such as employee relations, company culture and employee benefits. They are often the contact liaison between the HR department and other department heads.

Surveys from Payscale has found that HR generalists receive a median annual income of $52,033, with some at the high-end earning upwards of $70,000 per year. In addition to the salary, some employees earn additional earnings through bonuses, profit sharing and commissions.

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Steps to Become an HR Generalist

HR generalists are experienced members of the HR department. Most generalists have worked in the field between four and seven years in a specialized role, such as recruiting specialist. Along with experience, education can result in career advancement.

Familiarity with technology is becoming a common requirement for work in the HR field. Businesses are adopting new technologies, such as cloud-based, integrated technology, which connects their digital files through a common system that can be accessed by multiple users in a network. For HR, digitizing documents has revolutionized the way paperwork is done. Traditional paperwork would have to be filed in the office and then copied and faxed to corresponding government agencies, insurance companies and corporate offices. In 2018, more HR departments across the U.S. are conducting tasks solely online using digital tools.

Most HR professionals, even those employed by non-profit and government organizations, can benefit from experience with business operations. It’s important to understand how a department’s performance or policies affect the organization’s bottom line. By having business experience in an organization, it can better help HR generalists give managers and employees the resources they need to be successful in their roles.

Certification and Education Requirements

Though generalists are expected to have some knowledge about nearly all HR-related subjects, learning extensively about one aspect of the job is recommended. In some cases, it’s even required. A study from the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) found that 17 percent of HR supervisors said a certification was required at their organization. In that same survey, 53.4 percent (more than 1,500 supervisors) said their organizations preferred an HR certification for some of its HR positions. While there are many certifications available, two of the main organizations offering certifications in human resources are the HRCI and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). HR professionals can also acquire certifications in a number of specialties within HR, including talent acquisition and California employment law.

In nearly every case, aspiring generalists will need a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent in human resources, business or organizational development. Point Park University’s online human resources degree teaches skills in psychology and business to prepare you for a variety of HR positions, and it can be completed in as little as two years.