A Full Guide To the Human Resources Specialist Role

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A Full Guide To the Human Resources Specialist Role

Companies that operate in different industries or are growing rapidly often need to bring in various types of HR professionals to assist in managing the people in the organization. One such role is the human resources specialist position. 

This article will discuss the skills required for an HR specialist, salary expectations, and how you can become a specialist. 

What is a human resources specialist? 
What skills does a human resources specialist need?
Human resources specialist job description
What qualifications does a human resources specialist need?
HR specialist salary
How to become a human resource specialist
Human resources generalist vs. specialist

What is a human resources specialist? 

Human resources specialists perform specific HR functions like recruitment, training and development, compensation and benefits, rewards, and employee relations. Their day-to-day function also includes handling other HR tasks, but they primarily focus on their specialist area.

It is usually an entry-level role that is more common in large organizations and consulting firms. Companies employing HR specialists typically have multiple HR specialists with their areas of expertise. 

Generally speaking, a human resources specialist is responsible for working toward a company’s long-term success. For example, by ensuring that they hire and retain the right people. This could also include collaborating with hiring managers to develop applicant criteria, conducting onboarding, helping resolve labor issues, and developing training materials, to name a few. 

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What skills does a human resources specialist need?

The skills that an HR specialist needs vary according to the area that they specialize in. Day-to-day duties may also vary because of these specialty areas. However, here are a few general skills they should be able to display within their HR role, including:

  • Employee relations: An HR professional should successfully address employee concerns to create an engaging work environment. 
  • Performance management: HR practitioners should have good listening skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence to manage people’s performance effectively. Performance management involves setting expectations, monitoring, and helping them improve their performance to help achieve company goals.
  • Detail-oriented: Attention to detail is essential as many HR responsibilities are highly detailed-oriented, such as analyzing each candidate’s qualifications and job interview results to determine the best individual for the position. 
  • High ethics: HR’s duties are to access employee information like contract terms and salaries. Therefore, acting ethically and responsibly is essential when working with employees’ personal information. 
  • Conflict management skills: HR specialists should illustrate good negotiation and mediation since they may be tasked with resolving disputes between managers and staff 
  • Interpersonal skills: HR is an employee-facing position and must interact with employees of all levels daily. HR specialists should develop good working relationships with staff within the business. 
  • Ability to make decisions: HR must make daily decisions – from choosing which candidates to hire to evaluating training needs and improving company policies. This requires HR professionals to make decisions based on data and metrics.

Human resources specialist job description

Some of the typical HR roles and responsibilities you could expect in an HR specialist job description include: 

HR specialist roles

1. Employment and recruitment

Recruitment specialists assist hiring managers and recruitment managers in performing hiring activities, from advertising company vacancies to creating job offers. 

2. Training and development

Training and development specialists develop and conduct employee training and development programs. Tasks may include: 

  • Arrange and conduct onboarding for new hires
  • Identify employees that may require training
  • Determine which training is necessary
  • Facilitate training and education for current employees
  • Design learning materials etc., for training

3. Job analysis

HR specialists determine and record job responsibilities and requirements in this role. Tasks may include: 

  • Determine and create documents on job duties 
  • Develop training materials for presentations and workshops
  • Assist in determining fair and competitive compensation packages 

4. Employee relations

Employee relations specialists liaise between employees and managers. Tasks may include: 

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  • Participate in resolving labor disputes
  • Helping to negotiate with unions and labor groups about contracts or grievances
  • Direct employee health and safety programs.

5. Compensation and benefits

Compensation and benefits specialists handle employees’ compensation and benefits. Tasks may include: 

  • Managing compensation records
  • Benchmarking of compensation 
  • Handling annual performance reviews

HR specialist responsibilities

Some responsibilities include: 

  • Recruitment: Advertise job openings, screen resumes, conduct interviews and pre-employment assessments, and perform background checks. 
  • Onboarding: Write policies and handbooks that explain company operations. Prepare onboarding kits for new hires. Conduct first-day company orientation for new employees. 
  • Compensation and benefits: Create a fair and competitive compensation and benefits package. Ensure that compensation practices comply with current laws and regulations. Analyze job titles and duties to set salaries. Assess and administer benefit plans, and oversee benefits expenses.
  • Drafting human resources policies: Craft policies such as dress code, equipment, and anti-harassment.
  • Updating employee records: Keep employee records up-to-date, such as attendance (sick days, vacation/holiday leaves, number of hours worked, tardiness) and benefits (list of employees enrolled in a specific benefit like health insurance, dental and vision coverage, retirement benefits, stock options or profit sharing).
  • Manage labor relations: Manage employee complaints. Offer counseling services. Conduct exit interviews. Participate in the employee retrenchment process. Liaise with employees and management.

What qualifications does a human resources specialist need?

Individuals interested in a role within the HR field may complete a Bachelor’s Degree in HR, or a related field such as Business Administration, Psychology and further advance the qualification with an MBA. However, it is worth noting that some organizations place more emphasis on the experience and skills of the individual. 

So, when determining which qualifications are important for becoming a human resources specialist, also consider how you can gain experience and continuously upskill yourself in specific areas, such as:

  • HR software: Gaining experience in various HR tools such as ATS, CRM, HRIS, HR analytics, and HR tools for employee engagement and performance management.
  • HR certification programs: Enrolling in various HR certification programs can further hone your skills. Certificate programs can also provide you with additional practical knowledge to apply within the role.  

HR specialist salary

In a report by ZipRecruiter, the average US salary of a human resources specialist is  $51,949 a year (as of October 2022). That would be an estimated $4,329 per month. 

Annual salaries range from $21,000 to $87,000.

The average pay also varies based on location. 

According to Glassdoor, human resources specialists in Chicago are paid $61,181 annually, while their New York counterparts take home $69,620 annually. Meanwhile, on Payscale, the average annual salary of HR specialists in Chicago is $57,071, while their New York HR specialist colleagues receive $64,890 annually. 

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How to become a human resource specialist

How To Become an HR Specialist

Ready to work as a human resources specialist? Here are some steps to become one: 

1. Gain credentials 

Obtain a Bachelor’s degree if you have the opportunity, and enroll in certificate programs to develop the necessary skills to perform the HR specialist role. Some companies are already including HR certifications as a qualification requirement on their job postings. Organizations like SHRM and AIHR offer various certifications for HR personnel with different experience levels. 

Also, individuals with additional certificates can experience a pay boost or faster career advancement opportunities. Research has found that HR certification holders receive an average pay boost of 29.5%, while HR credentials can increase the chances of a promotion within 5 years by up to 16%.

2. Develop professional experience

Pursue an internship or on-the-job training. Volunteer as an HR liaison in your college campus or businesses within your location. Internships will give you first-hand training on working as an HR professional. The skills and knowledge gained from experience will be the foundation for your HR career. 

Look for internships on large job boards like Indeed and Glassdoor, as well as on internship-specific sites like Internships.com. Check the websites of companies you’re interested in for internship opportunities. Large companies like UPS and Merck hire HR interns every year.

3. Join networks and memberships

Build a valuable network of contacts. An established network may be able to help you land your next job, teach you new skills, or introduce you to reputable organizations and qualified candidates. 

Also, expand your professional network by joining HR groups on social media. Consider obtaining memberships from professional organizations and attending their hosted networking events to continue to grow your HR network. 

AIHR provides a learners community of like-minded HR professionals when you enroll in one of the courses. There are also other communities worth looking into like:

  • LinkedIn: Search for HR groups to join or HR leaders to follow who post relevant insights.
  • Corporate Rebels: The community was developed by two colleagues who felt workplaces were outdated and share insights with HR professionals around how to revamp the workplace.
  • Evil HR Lady Facebook group: A group for HR professionals and managers where members share advise, problems and successes.

4. Improve your expertise

HR is quickly evolving and requires a new set of skills for the future to adapt to changing organizations and labor markets. This is where the T-shaped HR professional plays a pivotal role. 

T-shaped HR professionals step out of traditional HR roles to strategically work with internal stakeholders while still working within their specialist performances. A T-shaped HR professional’s competencies include:  

  • Operating in an agile way by collaborating and sharing knowledge
  • Using data to influence decision-making and utilize technology to increase productivity
  • Aligning with internal stakeholders to find solutions that improve business profitability.

Use the T-Shaped Assessment to identify areas of professional development for you.

5. Prepare for your human resources specialist interview

Once you have the qualifications and have developed your skills, prepare for your interviews by prepping with interview questions. Know the company you are applying to and its products and services. Remember, be confident and be prepared so you can answer the questions correctly and increase your chances of getting hired. 

Some interview questions to consider are:

  1. What makes a good HR specialist?
  2. What HR software have you used?
  3. What does a successful onboarding process look like?
  4. How do you calculate different employee turnover rates?
  5. What is your experience in making reports on staff performance?
  6. What’s the first step you would take in developing a strategy to improve employee engagement?
  7. Describe your experience in implementing new company policies or programs.
  8. How would you conduct a skills gap analysis?
  9. How can you determine whether a training program was effective?
  10. What benefits should we offer to support diversity?

Human resources generalist vs. specialist

Choosing between becoming an HR Specialist and an HR generalist is crucial because you can focus on gaining competencies for a specific role, which enables you to jumpstart your career quickly. 

HR specialistHR generalist
Level of positionEntry, mid and senior-level positionMid-level position
Who is the role best-suited for– HR specialists who have more routine tasks, clear goals, and deadlines. 
– Have strong attention to detail and a work ethic. 
HR Generalists must be skilled multi-taskers and display grace under pressure. 
Types of roles Specialize in a role:
– Job placement specialist
– Benefits specialist
– Recruitment specialist 
– Hiring manager
– Technical recruiter
– Employee interviewer 
Run multiple daily HR tasks: 
– Interviewing and recruitment 
– Leave
– Benefits
– Ensuring company policies are adhered to
Typical career path1. Human resource specialist
2. Senior human resource specialist
3. Human resource generalist
4. Human resources manager
5. HR Director 
6. VP of HR
1. Human resource specialist
2. Senior human resource specialist
3. Human resource generalist
4. HR Manager 
5. HR Director
6. Chief Human Resources Officer  
Recommended certifications HR Generalist Certificate ProgramDigital HR Certificate Program

Key takeaway

HR specialists are essential in building and growing successful businesses. Working in this position can be a rewarding experience to help build strong company culture and advocate employees’ rights in the workplace. If you’re thinking about becoming an HR specialist, consider upskilling and developing your work experience to prepare for the role.

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