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May 23, 2022

Human Resources (HR) Specialist Job Duties & Career Paths

Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi

Contributing Writer

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What Is an HR Specialist?

A human resources specialist plays a vital role in various HR functions, including applicant recruitment, employee guidance, and policy clarification. They provide assistance with human resources procedures, address employee inquiries, and administer benefits and payroll. With their expertise, they ensure smooth HR operations and support an organization's workforce.

In this Article

A human resources specialist is generally an entry-level position that is far more common in large companies and consulting firms than in small ones where there may be more hybrid positions. Companies with HR specialists typically have multiple specialists, each with their own area of responsibility.

HR Specialist Job Description

Depending on your education, experience, and your employer's needs, you may have the opportunity to work as a human resources specialist immediately after graduation or after spending time as a human resources generalist. While HR specialists focus on one or two areas, a generalist handles tasks that may change from day to day, depending on HR's most immediate needs.

In any HR position, your responsibilities and authority will vary based on your education and experience. If your goal is to work as a human resources specialist, a position as a generalist can be a good starting point. Generalist roles can give you the chance to consider the scope of HR management before you decide which area you want to pursue.

While the work of HR specialists varies by employer and industry, here are five common specialties.

Recruiting and Hiring

  • Work with the hiring manager to develop ideal candidate criteria
  • Collaborate with private headhunters and peruse job boards to find job candidates
  • Attract qualified employees and match them to jobs
  • Attract qualified employees and match them to jobs

Labor and Employee Relations

  • Serve as a liaison between employees and management
  • Help negotiate with unions on contracts and grievances
  • Work to resolve labor disputes
  • Direct employee health and safety programs

Training and Development

  • Organize and conduct new employee orientation
  • Provide ongoing education for staff
  • Determine what training is necessary
  • Design materials and workshops for presentations

Job Analysis

  • Identify and document job duties and requirements and their relative importance
  • Use data to develop training materials and methods
  • Determine fair and competitive levels of compensation
  • Design materials and workshops for presentations

Human Resources Specialist Career Path

Whether you start as a human resources specialist or move into the position after working as a generalist, specialist roles are usually considered early-career positions. However, as with any HR role, the right experience and education can prepare you for managerial positions.

Recognizing that the need for education doesn't stop when you earn your degree is key to accomplishing your career goals. Lifelong learning, whether through advanced degrees, professional certifications, or continuing education, is critical if your goal is to into an HR management role with more responsibility and a higher salary.

Recognizing that the need for education doesn't stop when you earn your degree is key to accomplishing your career goals.

"After college, new human resource professionals—and old ones alike—will need to continue their education, because HR is such a dynamic, ever-changing, all-encompassing field," says Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP, HR knowledge advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). "New laws, frequent changes, shifts in workplace landscapes, and more all conspire to force human resource professionals like no other professional to make quick adaptations based on shifts in legislation and other dynamics."

Here are some common career pathways for a human resources specialist.

Entry Level

Types of Roles

  • Benefits specialist
  • Placement specialist
  • Negotiations specialist

Getting There

  • Associate or bachelor's degree in human resources
  • Coursework in:
    • Statistics and economics for benefits
    • Social and behavioral sciences for negotiations


Types of Roles

  • Compensation manager
  • Hiring manager
  • Labor relations manager
  • Training supervisor

Getting There

Senior Level

Types of Roles

  • Director of employee benefits
  • Employee relations director
  • Director of human resources development

Getting There

  • Master's degree
  • Experience in midlevel management
  • Postgraduate specialty training
  • Certifications

With professional insights from:

Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP

HR Knowledge Advisor, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

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