HR Generalist: All You Need To Know About the Role

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HR Generalist: All You Need To Know About the Role

The HR Generalist is one of the most varied HR roles. These professionals tend to be the first HR hire in most companies, get involved in recruitment, compensation, admin, and more, and develop deep insights into their organizations.

In this article, we’ll explore in depth what an HR Generalist does, the skills and competencies required for the role, how to become an HR Generalist, and other specifics of the role.

Let’s dive in!

What is an HR Generalist?
What does an HR Generalist do? Duties and responsibilities
HR Generalist skills & competencies
How to become an HR Generalist
HR Generalist salary
HR Generalist vs. HR Specialist
HR Generalist vs. HR Manager

What is an HR Generalist?

An HR Generalist typically undertakes a broad range of HR-related responsibilities rather than specializing in one line of work. They cover most HR functions, including talent attraction, hiring, training and development, employee engagement and performance, and compensation and benefits. Human Resources Generalists also support leaders in making people-related decisions and are involved in every aspect of the employee life cycle

An HR Generalist’s day-to-day priorities and responsibilities are largely shaped by the needs of the organization. For example, if a tech startup is experiencing significant growth, capability building would be essential, and the broad skills and expertise of an HR Generalist would be helpful. 

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As companies grow, HR departments divide HR Generalist duties into more specialized roles, with subject matter experts taking over each of these areas. However, some companies keep the title to describe a person performing the organization’s core people-related functions.

Many companies use the term “HR Generalist” to describe a combination of Employee Relations/HR Business Partner role rather than a true generalist who takes care of all areas of Human Resources.

In this 4-minute Learning Bite, we explain what an HR Generalist is,
what they do, and everything else you want to know.

What does an HR generalist do? Duties and responsibilities

HR Generalist job description differs slightly in every organization as well as from country to country, depending on the local employment laws and regulations. For example, in the US, a typical HR Generalist job description will include the handling of health insurance for the company, but in other countries, this may not be necessary as companies don’t provide health insurance. 

Here is a list of the most common HR generalist responsibilities.

Recruiting and onboarding

Every company needs someone to recruit and onboard new candidates. In small companies, managers may handle this until it becomes too big of a task. But often, this is a key responsibility of an HR Generalist. Recruiting and onboarding duties include:

  • Coordinating job postings
  • Sourcing candidates
  • Screening resumes
  • Administrative work regarding scheduling interviews with the hiring team
  • Conducting interviews
  • Putting together an employment offer
  • Guiding the salary negotiations
  • Conducting reference and background checks
  • Managing the employee onboarding process
  • Complying with all relevant laws regarding reporting and records retention
  • Serving as an advisor to hiring managers
  • Working with immigration for visas for foreign hires

All employees go through the recruitment and onboarding process, which is why it’s so critical. It’s not just about who businesses hire but who does the hiring. Poor hiring and onboarding practices can lead to top candidates slipping through the cracks, dissatisfaction from new hires, and an overall negative introduction to the organization.

Employee administration & support

HR Generalists are responsible for maintaining accurate employee records, including staff files, HRIS data, and other HR documentation. They are also often the first point of contact for employees who have any questions or concerns regarding contracts, paperwork, and more.

Leaves of absence, whether for medical or personal reasons, fall under the HR Generalist responsibilities as well. This can mean administering leave programs, keeping on top of paperwork, and complying with all government regulations. The HR Generalist needs to have a good idea of different types of leave so they can properly classify and approve the leave.

Benefits administration

HR generalists may handle any queries and administration tasks related to employee benefits and perks, including healthcare, pensions, retirement plans, and vacation time.

They may also be responsible for analyzing competitors’ compensation and benefits packages so the organization can attract top talent through an attractive rewards strategy.

An HR Generalist is essentially the backbone of an organization. They’re the ones ensuring everything holds together while the rest of the organization flexes, bends and goes about its business.

HR Generalists play a central role in hiring, training, conflict resolution, and benefits administration. They are the linchpins keeping the corporate wheel spinning and without them, the wheel doesn’t just squeak, it breaks. Tara Furiani, “Not the HR Lady” keynote speaker and consultant

Employee relations

Employee relations encompasses all the day-to-day functions of overseeing the people side of businesses, including:

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  • Management training – HR Generalist should be the expert in manager/employee relations and in training managers on how to give feedback and build and maintain strong relationships with their team. 
  • Discrimination/harassment investigations – Conducting an investigation and deciding how the company should proceed on sexual harassment, gender discrimination, age discrimination, race discrimination, and national origin discrimination claims.
  • Misconduct investigations – Not all employee misconduct falls under harassment, for example, violence and generalized legal rudeness.  
  • Firing employees – While the direct supervisor should inform the employee of their termination, the HR Generalist should be present as a support and a witness. Managers should never fire an employee without first consulting with HR. 
  • Conducting exit interviews – When employees leave the organization, HR Generalists will often sit down to discuss why they are leaving, and this information can be used to help improve the organization.
  • Collective bargaining and unionized workforce negotiations – The HR Generalist can also play a role in labor relations, managing collective bargaining and liaising between the employer and the employee work council and trade unions. The importance of this specific role depends greatly on the country the Generalist is operating in.

Performance management

HR Generalists work with managers to create performance management plans and oversee the entire process, including goal setting, performance appraisals, and career development planning.


HR Generalists will also take on the role of ensuring compliance with any local, state, and federal laws and regulations, managing risk, and updating HR records to ensure they are accurate. 

Training & development

In smaller HR teams, HR Generalists will also be responsible for developing and implementing employee training & development programs. This includes orientation programs, skills development training and workshops, leadership training, coaching, and more.

Other responsibilities

Depending on the organization and the HR department structure, an HR Generalist can also have other responsibilities. Some of the strategic responsibilities include:

  • Succession planning. If the CEO quits, who will take their place? What about the marketing manager? Is the business training people to step into these roles as needed? Are there plans for training and development? 
  • Organizational structure. In smaller businesses, an HR Generalist can help define the organizational structure best suited for the company’s needs.
  • Communication expertise. While the public relations department or marketing group focuses on taking the company’s message to the clients, the HR Generalist takes the company’s message to the employees. 
  • Values and culture expert. An HR Generalist works to align organizational values with employee behavior, ensuring that the organization fosters a positive and productive work environment.

The role of the HR Generalist also brings multiple challenges.

“Sometimes business leaders will want all the answers to a question in the minute they ask it.  HR – and generalists in particular – most likely are never in a position to give a clear “yes or no” answer, but rather a “It depends,”” says Eric Mochnacz, Senior HR Consultant at Red Clover HR.

“For example – “Can I fire this person?”  I mean, yes.  You can fire anyone.  But, the HR Generalist’s role is to better understand the situation, do research, and provide the best guidance moving forward.  It can take some time for a Generalist to get all the answers they need to successfully guide the business – and that type of approach can be challenging for business leaders and managers who want quick decisions and answers.

And, as their title indicates – they are a generalist!  It’s possible that someone may want very specific information about an employee-facing topic – and that may not be their area of specialty.  They “know enough to be dangerous”, but they may need to find external support or support from a more specialized colleague in order to provide concrete, compliant, and best-in-practice guidance, explains Mochnacz.

HR Generalist skills & competencies

What are the key HR Generalist skills and competencies needed to perform the duties of the role? Let’s explore them in more detail below. 

Recruitment & selection

One of the primary duties of an HR Generalist is sourcing qualified candidates, selecting the best ones, and determining a fit between the candidate’s skills and behaviors, the organizational culture, and the manager’s expectations.

A key skill needed is the ability to successfully interview candidates and create a fair and inclusive hiring process for all to prevent discrimination and bias.

Communication skills

HR Generalists will spend a lot of time liaising with employees as well as managers and stakeholders, building relationships across the organization. To succeed at this, they will need strong communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to communicate with people at all levels of the business. In other words, they need to adapt their approach to suit the audience.

HR professionals have the challenging task of being an activist for employees as well as representing the employer and balancing both of these will be key.  

As data becomes increasingly important in businesses, HR Generalists must also perfect their ability to turn data into clear and impactful stories to drive forward a message to leaders and stakeholders and gain backing.

HR Generalist Skills

HRIS and data management

A strong command of technology is essential for all HR professionals, including generalists. Most information relating to recruitment, payroll, performance, and benefits will be stored in an HRIS (Human Resource Information System), so it’s vital that the HR Generalist can navigate this tool and be able to understand and interpret the data they find there.

Being able to understand key HR metrics and work with data is now critical as it enables HR to make evidence-based decisions that benefit the business. 

Project management

Project management is a skill needed to streamline work, prioritize tasks and achieve goals. Strong project management skills can help HR generalists with:

  • Managing budgets, timelines, and people,
  • Communicating effectively with employees, managers, and stakeholders,
  • Planning and executing training sessions and team building exercises, and
  • Developing change management plans. 

Employee relations management

An HR Generalist must possess strong communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence to effectively develop and manage employee relations.

Employees will come to them with queries, grievances, conflicts, and more. The ability to be a safe space for employees to share openly and honestly is essential. Active listening without judgment is crucial. 

Employment laws & compliance knowledge

HR Generalists must familiarize themselves with relevant employment laws and regulations related to hiring, compensation, benefits, and employee relations, and ensure the organization remains compliant.

Laws are constantly changing, so staying up to date with these changes and being proactive in implementing any necessary changes in the workplace is essential. 


HR Generalists must not only work as part of a team with other HR professionals, but also with employees, managers, leaders, and stakeholders. Therefore, the ability to work with and develop relationships with people of all backgrounds is an important skill for this position. 

There are emerging HR skills, including stakeholder management, change management and ethics, and data privacy, that are becoming increasingly important as technology, laws, and the way organizations do business evolve. Aspiring HR professionals must also develop these skills to future-proof themselves for the ever-changing work landscape.

Not the HR Lady” Tara Furiani points out the changes that the role of the HR Generalist has gone through. “The HR Generalist role has evolved more in the past decade than in the last half-century. It’s no longer a simple paper-pushing job. It’s like a Swiss Army Knife now, with a tool for every problem and a solution for every situation,” Furiani says.

“With automation and AI taking over mundane tasks, they have become strategic contributors, dealing with complex challenges in talent acquisition, performance management, and employee engagement.

Looking at the horizon, the future of the HR Generalist role is going to be anything but dull. This role will become even more critical in a rapidly changing workforce landscape. As technology simplifies routine tasks, the human element will come under sharper focus.

HR Generalists will need to be savvier, sharper, and more strategic. They’ll need to be versed in data analysis, while never forgetting that behind the numbers are individuals who have motivations, aspirations, and concerns. We’re not just talking about a seat at the table anymore; we’re talking about being the architects of the table itself,” concludes Furiani.

There are some organizations that may require HR generalists to have other qualifications, such as a university degree, in addition to the skills and competencies in this list.

How to become an HR Generalist

There is not one path to becoming an HR Generalist, and many people who end up in this role take a different route to get here. Here are five things to focus on if you want to become an HR Generalist:

1. Develop your knowledge of different HR functions

Gaining experience across multiple HR functions will give you a strong foundation for a role as an HR Generalist, as this job encompasses many parts of HR. Plus, an HR Generalist is not an entry-level position, so it will require a certain level of experience and skills. 

If you’re at the start of your career, consider an internship to learn more about different areas of HR. If you’re already working in HR, see if there are any opportunities for job rotation or job shadowing within your department as well as in other departments. 

2. Get an HR Generalist certification 

Consider enrolling in an HR Generalist training course and getting certified. This will set you up with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed in the role. From here, you can take this knowledge and put it into practice in the world of work. Plus, an HR Generalist certification can be completed at your own pace in tandem with your current job and other responsibilities.

You might also want to look at other qualifications. Although not all HR Generalist roles will require a degree, some will, and it could help separate you from other candidates.

Take a look at job postings where you live to see what companies require from candidates. It might be an advanced certification, but also a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. There may be specific fields of study required, including HR, business, organizational development, or psychology. This will vary based on the organization’s industry and size. 

3. Focus on continuous learning 

In order to upskill and progress in your career, focus on developing key HR skills.

Apart from the skills such as recruitment and selection and employee data management mentioned above, you should work on your business acumen and commercial awareness, soft skills (including communication and active listening), and digital and data literacy skills (being data-driven and tech-savvy).

Continuous learning also involves learning HR jargon. Below are some common HR terms you’ll encounter as an HR Generalist:

HR Terms for HR Generalists

4. Create a standout HR Generalist resume 

Your resume should be tailored to the role you are applying for. Highlight your most relevant qualifications, skills, and experience and tailor these to the job posting and organization.

Show that you understand the company and demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the HR Generalist position. Remember to add any internships or work experience that can be translated to the role. For example, leadership, operational, or administration experience in a different role or industry might still be relevant. 

5. Prepare for your HR Generalist interview 

Make sure you are prepared for your HR Generalist interview by familiarizing yourself with potential questions that could come up. There will usually be a mix of role-specific, behavioral, situational, problem-solving, attributes, and motivation-focused questions. 

For example:

  • How would you ensure compliance with national laws and regulations?
  • How would you react to an employee approaching you with a sexual harassment claim? 
  • What do you think is the biggest challenge for an HR Generalist, and how do you plan to tackle this challenge? 
  • Why do you think you are a good fit for this role?

HR Generalist salary

Salaries for an HR generalist role will vary depending on your experience, the size, and location of the company, and the specific job description and level of responsibility. For example, an HR Generalist responsible for 25 people will likely earn less than one with 150 people who also supervises people in specialist roles.

According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for an HR Generalist in New York is $75,455, compared to just below $65,000 in Texas. Meanwhile, PayScale reports the average annual salary to be $70,098 in New York and $59,547 in Dallas, Texas.

HR Generalist vs. HR Specialist

An HR Generalist is an all-rounder and is familiar with many areas of HR, including recruitment, payroll, compensation and benefits, HR compliance, and more. In contrast, an HR Specialist has a deeper knowledge and skillset within one specific area, for example, compensation and benefits. 

For small businesses, an HR Generalist will usually be sufficient to carry out most HR tasks, with the addition of training as and when required. Larger organizations will tend to opt for HR specialists as they have a larger budget but also more people to manage.

A specialist can fill each area that an HR Generalist must do. In larger organizations, it makes sense to have subject matter specialists handle each area. This allows for in-depth knowledge and specialized training. 

If an organization employs HR Specialists, the HR Generalist will play a support role in areas such as recruitment, employee relations, compensation and benefits, and learning and development.

HR Generalist vs. HR Manager

An HR Generalist is an HR professional who manages many of the common daily duties and responsibilities in an HR department. An HR Manager is also an HR professional but will manage a team of HR Generalists or Specialists.

While they may perform some of the same duties, the manager’s primary focus will be to oversee the entire department rather than complete a specific task. 

A final word

An HR Generalist handles most people-centered tasks and processes within an organization, meaning it’s a varied job that will differ every day. An effective HR Generalist will set a positive tone for the company, help attract (and retain) the best candidates, and ensure legal compliance. It is a critical role in any organization until it grows to the point where it requires (and can support) HR specialists.

One last thing: For those who are interested in creating a vacancy for the HR generalist, here is an HR Generalist Job Description to download!


What is an HR Generalist?

An HR Generalist is skilled and experienced in a wide range of HR functions and responsibilities rather than specializing in one area.

They are involved in the entire employee life cycle and will spend significant time developing and maintaining relationships with employees, managers, leaders, and stakeholders. Their main focus is to create and execute people strategies that help meet organizational goals. 

What does an HR Generalist do?

Depending on organizational needs, an HR Generalist would be involved in recruiting candidates and onboarding new hires, employee admin and support, benefits admin, employee relations, performance management, compliance, training and development, and more.

How do you become an HR Generalist?

There are many routes you can take to become an HR Generalist. This includes getting an HR Generalist certification or other relevant qualifications, undertaking work experience or an internship, developing your knowledge of different HR functions, focusing on continuous learning, creating a standout HR Generalist resume, and adequately preparing for your interview. 

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