18 HR Skills Every HR Generalist Needs

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18 HR Skills Every HR Generalist Needs

HR professionals need a multitude of different skills to do their work well. We’ve had a look at skills and competencies HR generalists should have to succeed in their roles, and analyzed which are the most important. This article will provide you with an overview of the most sought-after skills in HR. The skills are listed in no particular order!

Contents
1. Communication skills
2. Administrative expert
3. HRM knowledge and expertise
4. HR strategy creation & execution
5. Managing priorities
6. Proactivity
7. Advising
8. Coaching
9. Recruitment and selection
10. Employee experience expertise
11. Command of technology
12. Being analytical and data-driven
13. HR reporting skills
14. Commercial awareness
15. Cultural awareness and sensitivity
16. Wellbeing evangelism
17. Active listening
18. Teamwork

Key HR Skills

1. Communication skills

The most frequently mentioned skill in HR job openings is communication. Communication skills are essential in Human Resource Management, as the HR professional is the link between the business and the employee. On the one hand, you are an activist for employees, and on the other hand, you represent the employer.

This requires great communication skills. You will be communicating with different stakeholders, and at different levels of authority and influence. How you communicate with the CEO of your company, and with junior staff would be very different. This is why the ability to connect well with all kinds of people, leaving a professional and positive impression, is an essential skill for HR professionals. 

Another communication skill that is becoming more critical for HR professionals is storytelling. As data plays an increasingly important role in all aspects of the business, HR professionals need to be able to translate data into clear, compelling, and impactful stories tailored to different stakeholder audiences.

But of course, it’s not just stakeholders you need to reach: you are also a source of information for employees. Being able to efficiently handle their questions and complaints is key to most generalist roles. The ability to communicate both formally and informally in different ways (such as verbal and written, both in-person and online) is essential.

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2. Administrative expert

Administrative tasks remain a major part of the HR role. These duties involve areas like employee leave, absence, absence files, the in- and outflow of employees, payroll, and other topics.

Despite the rise of digital HR and the increasing automation of HR tasks, administrative duties haven’t disappeared (yet). They are mentioned as an integral part of the job in many of the job postings. This is why being an administrative expert can be a huge benefit for any ambitious HR professional.

3. HRM knowledge and expertise

Unsurprisingly, HRM knowledge and expertise are also mentioned as essential HR skills. Previous work experience or educational background in Human Resource Management or Industrial and Organizational Psychology are very helpful.

HRM knowledge underpins many of the other skills and competencies mentioned in this article. It helps to understand recruitment, selection, absence procedures, data reporting, for instance. 



An educational background in psychology or HRM often helps to develop the soft skills that improve your abilities in communication and coaching.

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4. HR strategy creation & execution

HR professionals need to adopt a strategic mindset. Even if you are not (yet) at a level where HR strategy creation is among your responsibilities, you still need to be able to understand the strategic intent and translate that into an implementable execution plan. 

The ability to interpret and implement a strategy, as well as create an HR strategy that effectively supports the overarching organizational strategy, will help you make more impact within your organization and strengthen HR’s role as a strategic partner.

5. Managing priorities

To ensure your projects and initiatives are a success, you need more than just organizational knowledge and HR skills. 

No matter how valuable or important a project is, there is a significant chance that your stakeholders will have a wide variety of opinions, priorities, and motives. Being able to manage conflicting ideas and priorities across stakeholder groups and navigate this complexity will help you avoid potential project pitfalls, and get the information and support you need to make your project a success.

6. Proactivity

Proactivity is often considered more of a personality trait than a skill. However, it is certainly something you can develop over time. As an HR professional, you are the connection between the employer and the employee. As such, proactivity can help you in spotting potential problems early and preventing them from escalating.

In line with this, proactive Human Resource Management is preferred instead of reactive HRM. To be proactive as an HR professional you must stay informed about current and emerging trends across not only HR but also technology and work culture. Additionally, HR skills training should be a continuous part of your career development.  

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Proactive and strategic HRM helps to plan and align the core HR tasks in a way that offers the most value to the business.

7. Advising

One of the key HR skills is being a credible and trustworthy advisor to different stakeholders. You need to be able to effectively advise employees, line managers, and senior managers on personnel issues.

These issues can be operational, for example creating a reintegration plan for an employee or helping a senior manager with the formulation of an email to the department. More tactical issues are the organization of and advising in restructuring efforts. Strategic advice involves the alignment of HR practices to align more with the business.

But it’s not just what you advise your stakeholders, it’s how you advise them. To establish yourself as a trustworthy advisor, you need to continuously communicate and interact in a way that builds trust and strengthens your reputation as a credible practitioner. This is where the previously mentioned communication skills come in. 

8. Coaching

Coaching skills are helpful when it comes to one-on-one or group sessions to spread information or train people. This can come in handy in training and development situations, but also in onboarding, re-integration, conflict resolution, and in assisting frontline managers with people issues.

These coaching skills are most often developed on the job or in external coaching training.

9. Recruitment and selection

Another often mentioned HR skill involves recruitment and selection. Finding qualified candidates, selecting the best, and determining if there’s a match between the candidate, the company (culture), and the manager is one of the most important HR tasks.

A substantial part of recruitment and selection is interviewing candidates. One of the competencies of an HR manager is ensuring that the recruitment and selection process is fair. In many countries, there are legal requirements for employers to treat all candidates equally. For example, in Britain, the Equality Act (2010) seeks to prevent discrimination across a range of factors including age, gender, and sexuality. Many companies will also have internal targets for diversity across the workforce.

Seven Steps of Selection Process
HR professionals need to have at least a fundamental understanding of each stage of the selection process.

10. Employee experience expertise

In the face of the ongoing war for talent and the Great Resignation, employee experience expertise is more important than ever. In fact, 92% of HR leaders set employee experience or EX as a top priority in 2021.

HR professionals with employee experience expertise are able to use human-centric design thinking to design humanistic workplaces and focus on the employee as the center of the process. They understand the full employee lifecycle: the entire relationship between employees and the organization, from recruitment to becoming alumni. Thanks to this, they are able to create exceptional employee experiences that help attract and retain the talent organizations need to succeed in today’s ever-changing world.

11. Command of technology

A strong command of technology is essential for virtually all of today’s professionals, and HR is no exception. While you do not need to be an IT expert, being aware of and skilled in the use of the array of tools and systems available to you will help you do your work more effectively and efficiently. This is particularly relevant in organizations with international or remote/hybrid teams. 

Additionally, HR professionals also need to familiarize themselves with a specific kind of tech: the HRIS. Human Resource Information Systems are the digital counterpart of the soft side of Human Resource Management. Most information regarding hiring, performance evaluation, payroll, rewards and benefits, and other areas is registered in one or more HRIS. It is essential that HR skills training includes guidance on HRIS navigation and how to understand and interpret the data stored there.

HRIS Functions
Being able to navigate the key functions of an HRIS is an essential skill for any HR practitioner.

Large organizations usually have standard providers like SAP (with SuccessFactors) or Oracle. Smaller companies often work with smaller providers. Knowledge of an HRIS is a prerequisite for most senior HR jobs and one of the top technology skills HR professionals need today. 

It’s hard to understand these systems without having hands-on experience with them. They are, however, relatively simple and intuitive to work with.

12. Being analytical and data-driven

Skills related to data-driven working and analytics have emerged rapidly in the last five years. Most HR generalists are now required to be analytical and data-driven. The competencies of an HR manager must include the ability to understand key HR metrics, such as recruitment, engagement and retention, and employee value and performance. Having some knowledge of Excel is a great advantage. 

There’s a push through all departments to leverage the power of data analytics to make better decisions. This can involve the use of complex predictive analytics on HR data, or the much simpler use of data to make better decisions. The latter is often referred to as evidence-based HR.

13. HR reporting skills

As HR analytics grows in importance, demand for HR reporting skills is increasing too. These skills include the ability to create, read, and interpret HR reports using data from different Human Resource Information Systems. 

HR professionals with strong HR reporting skills are not only able to understand and interpret data, they are able to turn dry information into compelling messages using storytelling. 

When you are able to effectively report on key metrics, you are better able to advise managers and employees, create improved people policies, and make more evidence-based decisions in general.

14. Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is the ability to understand how the business makes money. Only when you understand your organization’s commercial priorities can you properly support these with tailored HR strategies and tactics, ensuring that HR adds demonstrable value to the organization.

You can illustrate this added value using the HR Value Chain. This is a three-step process that starts with HRM activities, followed by HRM outcomes and organizational objectives. It reveals how HR activities lead to organizational goals, such as making a profit.

15. Cultural awareness and sensitivity

This HR skill depends on the specifics of the organization. Especially for larger multinational companies, cultural awareness and sensitivity is a must. When you’re in touch with managers and employees in different countries, you need to be aware of intercultural differences.

For example, practices for managing and retaining people can differ tremendously between cultures. In India, it is common to get a promotion every single year, while in the Western world this happens on average every 3-5 years.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for Chinese workers to travel to their birthplace for Chinese New Year and never come back to your factory in the new year because they are now working somewhere else – without letting you know.

These cultural differences will impact how you try to hire, retain, and promote people. There are also communication differences concerning evaluating people. Israelis, Russians, and the Dutch are very direct, whereas Japanese and Southeast Asian countries are much more indirect.

Using the wrong communication style may result in your message not being perceived as important – or risk offending people from more indirect cultures. Employees from nations that favor indirect communication will require contextual clues within the communication.

16. Wellbeing evangelism

Employee advocacy is nothing new for HR professionals. What is changing, however, is the wider understanding of just how crucial wellbeing is for today’s employees. Unfortunately, this was underlined over the past two years as COVID-19 turned the status quo upside down and put pressure on employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. 

But even outside of crises, employee wellbeing is of crucial importance for organizations. According to McKinsey, workplace stress adversely affects productivity, drives up voluntary turnover, and costs US employers nearly $200 billion every year in healthcare costs.

As the impact of employee wellbeing becomes clearer (and employee expectations change in the wake of COVID-19), HR professionals have a crucial role to play in ensuring that employees remain happy, healthy, and productive.

17. Active listening

Active listening is a crucial skill that helps improve many other essential skills discussed in this article. 

HR professionals skilled in active listening are able to listen to others without prejudice or judgment and create a safe space for others to share. Without strong active listening skills, navigating potentially sensitive matters relating to DEI&B will be more challenging, and it will be harder to effectively coach employees and fellow HR professionals.

18. Teamwork

Teamwork is one of those HR skills that is imperative. As an HR professional, you’re expected to work together with your colleagues in Human Resources, and with managers in the organization. Working together internally by actively aligning HR activities benefits both the organization and HR.

Wrapping up

Well, there you have it, a concise overview of the 18 most important HR skills. HR generalists should not let these crucial skills become stagnant. To stay at the top of your performance, you should be continually seeking to improve your skills. This will equip you to lead your HR department, and organization, to excellence.

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