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Human Resources Specialists

In most cases you need a bachelors degree to become a human resources specialist.

An HR specialist may field questions regarding benefits. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
An HR specialist may field questions regarding benefits.

Human Resources Specialists

Usually found in larger companies, human resources specialists focus on a specific area of human resources, such as payroll or employee relations. In previous years, HR specialists did more administrative work, such as answering employee's questions regarding benefits; today, they work closely with upper management, securing policy changes and dealing with strategic planning. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of human resources specialists is expected to grow by as much as 17 percent between 2006 and 2016, from 868,000 to 1 million employees.

Job Responsibilities

A typical day has human resources specialists focusing on their specific area of expertise. While a human resource generalist knows the odds and ends about several aspects of the company and may deal with benefits with one employee, maternity leave questions with another and compensation with a third, specialists might spend the entire day fielding questions regarding payroll. This is why many large companies have specialists; smaller companies might only employ one or two people in the entire HR department and those would normally be generalists.

There are five specific areas within the human resources specialist spectrum, including:

  • Employment and recruiting
  • Labor and employee relations
  • Training and development
  • Job analysis
  • Benefits and compensation

For example, a specialist can focus on job placement responsibilities or oversee the organization's employee training program. Regarding job placements, the specialist would announce open positions, screen potential applicants or extend job offers. For the training program, he or she might conduct training assessments, develop training programs or conduct orientation sessions.

Educational Requirements

Educational backgrounds of anyone in the human resource field may vary due to the different responsibilities of the potential job. This is especially evident for those in the entry-level position. A bachelors degree in human resources with course work focusing on the specific specialty, such as statistics for benefits or social sciences for negotiations, is preferable. Certain colleges or universities may even offer human resource specialist degrees.

Those who have a degree and have not yet decided upon their human resource specialty can get first-hand experience with on-the-job training. They can obtain this through internships offered by the college or university, perhaps for course credit, or through starting at the bottom of a company and working their way up. From there, they learn how to classify jobs, interview potential employees and explain benefits.

Those who want more mid-level experience after working in the business for about five years should seek further education through a Masters of Business degree or even an MBA with specialized training. Senior-level HR specialists have completed all the mid-level requirements, have been in the industry for more than 10 years and have finished post-graduate specialty course work.

Certifications and Salaries

Although most companies do not require certifications, there are several associations and organizations from which human resources specialists can obtain certifications. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers two levels of certification for higher-level management members. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans highlights three areas of specification, including group benefits, retirement and compensation. Specialists can focus on one of these aspects and receive a certificate through a series of college-level courses and exams.

College graduates who have received certification will have an advantage when searching for an HR specialist job in the future. They should seek out rapidly expanding businesses seeking a specialist to help out with their growing staff. Additionally, entry-level workers may be needed to replace those who transfer up within the company, retire or seek employment elsewhere.

With or without certifications, the rate of pay for a human resource specialist depends upon the level of education as well as the years of experience. It can also depend upon the type of organization for which the specialist works, as technical-consulting service companies often pay higher than government jobs. According to a scale based on 2009 salaries by PayScale, those with less than one year of experience earn around $35,600, while those with 20 or more years of experience may earn as much as $59,400. Additionally, those with a masters degree in business administration make on average around $51,400, while those with a bachelors degree in business administration bring home more than $10,000 less, at $41,100.

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