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How to Become an HR Generalist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a human resources generalist. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in human resources.

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Do I Want to Be a Human Resources Generalist?

These generalists oversee a wide spectrum of human resources responsibilities and activities. Depending on the size of the company, these professionals may manage multiple functions, including recruitment and orientation processes for new employees, benefits administration, employee relations, regulatory compliance, training and performance management. Travel may be required to recruit new employees.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree in human resources management or a related subject is essential, and work experience is helpful. A master's degree might be required for some career advancement positions. The following table contains the main requirements for being an HR generalist as outlined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; some employers prefer a master's
Degree Field Human resources
Licensure and/or Certification Some employers prefer professional certification
Experience Experience may be required
Computer Skills Computer knowledge, especially of Human Resources Information Systems software, recommended
Key Skills Decision-making skills, speaking skills, interpersonal skills

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An individual who wishes to become an HR generalist should complete a bachelor's degree program in human resources management, human resources development, business or a related field. HR generalists perform in multifaceted roles. In human resources management degree programs students study a variety of topics such as accounting principles, employment law, microeconomics and macroeconomics, and HR management. Other topics of study include organizational behavior, compensation and benefits, employee training, business ethics and interpersonal communications.

Success Tips:

  • Join a professional association. Joining a professional human resources organization can give one access to networking and career development opportunities. There might be a student chapter on one's campus, or one could get an individual membership. Additionally, such associations may have special membership rates for students.
  • Take electives that provide training in Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). Human resources is becoming a more technological field. Knowledge of how to use human resources software may help one stand out when applying for certain positions.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

By taking an entry-level HR position, or possibly an internship, one will have an opportunity to gain work experience while observing the kinds of responsibilities management handles on a daily basis. Working for a smaller company may provide more direct and hands-on experience working with all facets of HR, from payroll and benefits administration to hiring, training and overseeing employee relations.

Step 3: Earn Certification

Many prospective employers prefer HR certification. Obtaining HR certification can show prospective employers that one has amassed a certain level of work experience and expertise in HR principles. The Society for Human Resources Management offers three types of certification through its HR Certification Institute: Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). This organization also has a specific certification for HR professionals in California to accommodate that state's intricate employment laws. In addition to passing an exam, those seeking certification must have a minimum amount of professional HR experience, which varies depending on the level of education attained and the type of certification.

Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement Opportunities

HR Generalists looking to advance their careers can pursue a master's degree in HR management. This program emphasizes coursework in leadership and ethics, managerial communication, industrial relations and organizational behavior. Advanced instruction is also offered in accounting practices and financial management. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program with an HR emphasis offers similar curricula while also focusing on company structures and the allocation of finances. Completion of a project may also be required before graduation.

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