General Introduction

HR specialist vs HR generalist: What’s the difference? For those considering a career in Human Resources, it is necessary to have some insight into the differences in these two areas. Those who are in the human resource field typically have access to a range of career paths. Specifically, they may work as specialists or generalists. Here’s what the differences mean.


What is a Human Resource Generalist?

An HR generalist provides human resource services in various capacities. They typically provide human resource tasks for the firm. This may include recruitment, payroll, training, and other areas. They have less of a specific set of tasks and do more general work in the position. As a generalist, individuals typically need to have a solid level of education and skill in multiple areas rather than in just one or two areas.

The responsibilities of an HR generalist may include a wide range of tasks. Many times, a generalist works under a human resource manager. This person’s job often entails ensuring all of the needs within the human resource department are met. The duties of the generalists typically include tasks related to compensation and benefits management, compliance with labor laws, and recruitment activities. Some also handle performance management, onboarding, and training, as well as conducting employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews.

Often, the day-to-day tasks of an HR generalist are a bit more flexible and versatile. They may do different things during their day’s work. Many generalists work with others within the department. Together they work to meet the needs of the company.

What is a Human Resource Specialist?

A human resource specialist provides specific, specialized services to the company. Typically, these professionals are responsible for the recruitment processes within the company they work for. This often means that they work with the hiring manager to create plans for finding the quality candidate for positions, determine which positions need to be filled, and handle the marketing and management of the hiring process.

An HR specialist has a very specific, clear set of tasks that focuses, typically, on one area of human resources. This may include other tasks as a generalist but, in many cases, focuses on the hiring component of this field.

HR specialists may focus on one area within a range of choices. There are some highly specific roles for these individuals to play in the human resource field. They may work as a workforce planning and employment specialist, a global human resources specialist, or a metrics management specialist. Some work as risk management specialists, while others work as total rewards specialists. The work that a person does in this field is specific to the type of position they hold.

The day-to-day work of a specialist is still versatile in that there are typically various tasks to finish. The biggest differences here are in that the core skills and tasks tend to focus on just one area of the human resource industry within that company rather than on a variety of knowledge that covers many areas of human resources.

Both a human resource generalist and a specialist are vital to many organizations. Many companies have more than one person working in the fields, especially if they are larger organizations.

HR Specialist vs HR Generalist: What are the Differences?

There are differences between HR specialist vs HR generalist. These include what they do, who they work with, as well as the skills they have. Generalists have more versatile skills, while specialists may be a professional with a very specific skillset.

Here is a look at some of the differences in these career paths according to the BLS:

HR Generalist HR Specialist
Salaries$48,440$62,290
Education NeededBachelors Degree ProgramBachelors Degree Program
Duties and Responsibilities• Recruitment
• Compensation
• Benefits
• Training
• Employee Relations
• Administering human resource policies, procedures, and programs
• Determine hiring needs
• Perform interviews relating to job experience, education, and skills
• Check references and backgrounds
• Provide information on job details, duties, benefits, and working conditions to applicants
• Hire applicants
• Perform new employee orientations
• Maintain employment records and process their paperwork
Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Human Resources Specialists
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
California-Lexington Park, MD$85,990160
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$82,38022,600
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$81,07012,040
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$76,7405,110
Kennewick-Richland, WA$72,680380

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Information about Online Language Degree Programs
Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Human Resources Managers
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$157,0901,840
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$148,7203,820
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$146,3304,410
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO$144,250280
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$140,860870

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Important Knowledge for HR Managers

What are some HR specialties?

A number of HR specialists exist. These are very specific areas of human resources that people work in to provide the company with support for managing its employees. There is a range of specialists based on the tasks they finish. Some of those include training and development specialists, human resource information systems analysts, compensation and benefits managers, and employment, recruitment, and placement specialists.

An employee assistance plan manager is another example of an HR specialist. This person typically handles employee-focused efforts. This may include counseling services, flex-time programs, food service, recreational activities, medical examinations, and other tasks related to the employee-employer work arrangement.

A person working as a human resource information system analyst may coordinate and communicate changes to information systems within the human resource department. Their work may include managing tasks related to information systems, including software related to the human resource management of the company.

A person working in a compensation and benefits manager position may work to design, implement, and then manage the organization’s benefits programs. This may also include the company’s procedures and policies. They may play a role in managing areas of salary and compensation, benefits programs, employee rewards programs, and health care programs. They may also play a role in pensions, retirement plans, and other services provided to the employee.

How do you decide whether to be an HR generalist or an HR specialist?

Like any educational path, choosing between an HR generalist and an HR specialist comes down to knowing what you wish to do on a day-to-day basis. For those that enjoy working with people and who wish to manage the hiring process, working as an HR specialist may be more in line with your goals and expectations. Those who wish to work in more of a versatile position where they handle various types of jobs may find an HR generalist role to be a fit for their needs.

A human generalist spends more time with staffing and recruitment, employee relations, personnel policies and procedures, workplace safety and security, and employee training and development. Their skills are more versatile and fit with more areas of the field.

Others may be more interested in working in a specific area of human resource management. This may include working as an HR development specialist, risk management specialist, or global human resource specialist. The work these individuals do tends to be highly coordinated in areas important to the company.

To determine the fit for your needs, consider what areas of human resources interest you. If you’re not sure one stands out over the other, a generalist position may be the route to take.

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.

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