HR Generalist vs. HR Specialist

Human resource (HR) professionals manage all employee-related issues for an organization. Job duties can range from recruiting and hiring employees to training, development, compensation, and benefits. An HR career offers a high degree of variety, as most private businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies require human resource professionals.

While job details vary by industry, most human resources jobs fall into either the HR Specialist or HR Generalist categories. The following looks at the similarities and differences between an HR generalist vs. HR specialist.

What Does an HR Generalist Do?

While a generalist may have expertise in certain areas of human resources, they have enough general knowledge to work with employees and managers on most human resource–related issues. Depending on the size of the business, an HR Generalist may handle all the human resource duties for an organization.

  • Hiring. Overseeing administrative duties involved with hiring new employees.
  • Onboarding. The process of bringing a new hire onto the company staff and payroll.
  • Training. This includes training new employees and developing current employees.
  • Workplace policies and safety. This ranges from dress codes and codes of conduct to safety issues such as required equipment to enter specified work zones.
  • Benefits. This includes overseeing documentation needed to sign employees up for healthcare, paid time off, and 401(k) plans.
  • Payroll. Ensuring that employees receive paychecks on time and solving any issues with payroll.
  • Evaluations. Tracking and maintaining records for employee evaluations.

What Does an HR Specialist Do?

HR Specialists focus their workday on one area of human resources rather than managing various human resource tasks. Their skills are highly valued because of their expertise in complex areas of human resources.

  • Risk management. Analyzing risks to organizations in areas such as employee safety and making policy recommendations to lower risk.
  • Information systems. Overseeing technology used in HR departments, like payroll software systems and digital records.
  • Benefits. Designing and implementing benefits packages that include healthcare, vision, and dental. Also, overseeing the implementation of 401(k) and other benefit plans.
  • Payroll. Focusing on oversight of software systems involving employee payroll and company budgeting and expenses.
  • Recruiting and retention. Working with department managers to fill job openings with employees who match the needs of the organizations, as well as programs aimed at retaining employees.
  • Training and development. Creating and managing training programs for new and current employees and programs designed to further develop the skills of employees.

HR Generalist vs. HR Specialist: Choosing the Right Path

Deciding between an HR generalist vs. an HR specialist career path typically comes down to what sounds more appealing: working as a “jack of all trades” or as a specialist in one area. This also can change over time. Most HR Specialists begin their human resources career as HR Generalists. Through experience, they learn which aspects of the job most appeal to them and decide to focus as a specialist in that one area.

The editorial team at Indeed writes, “if you’re unsure which human resources career path is right for you, you can take steps toward either path and change your mind based on your preferences. Many people start as HR generalists and move into specialist roles later in their careers.”

People attracted to an HR Specialist position often enjoy working in areas that directly impact business strategy. This includes developing employees’ talents and ensuring proper implementation of innovative technology to make operations more efficient, effective, and profitable.

The salaries for both careers are comparable. lists the average salary for an HR specialist as $62,015 and $61,458 for generalists. Salary differences depend on the specifics of a particular job.

Studying for a Human Resources Career at Touro University Worldwide

Touro University Worldwide offers online degree programs that allow professionals to earn a degree with the flexibility to maintain personal and professional obligations. TUW designs these programs for working adults and non-traditional students, including ex-military servicemembers.

The online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration offers a concentration in Human Resources that prepares graduates with the skills to pursue HR Generalist or HR Specialist positions and build their expertise in HR-related management, planning, and legal issues. Courses in the concentration include:

  • Training and Development Management
  • Employee Performance and Appraisal Management
  • Workforce Planning and Employment
  • Legal Environment of Human Resource Management

The TUW online Master of Science in Human Resource Management is designed for working HR professionals. The program builds advanced skills based on existing HR knowledge and experience. Courses in the program include:

  • Ethics for HR Professionals
  • Developing a Competency Culture
  • Facilitating Organizational Change
  • Performance Assessment
  • Human Resources Management and Law

In both programs, TUW faculty focus on providing students with knowledge and skills they can apply immediately to real-world challenges. Both degrees prepare graduates for success as an HR Generalist or an HR Specialist.

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