It may surprise you to learn just how many different job titles and roles fall under the umbrella of human resources (HR). The HR field is more than just a generalist job—there’s a whole career path available with different titles along the way. Whether you are coming to a job hunt with a high school diploma or a Master’s degree, there are job opportunities at every level of credential and experience.
If you’ve ever wondered about a career in HR, you will definitely benefit from an overview of some of the top human resources job titles for each level of your career. These “levels” change based on the education, experience and even interests you bring to the job. Read on to learn more about where a career in HR could take you.
HR assistants often report to and provide assistance to higher-level HR professionals. Employees in these positions gather and manage personal information about employees of an organization, keep documents updated and in order, advertise new job postings and provide clerical support for the company.
“The experience truly jump-started my career in HR,” says Matthew Burr of Burr Consulting. While Burr says he wasn’t a fan of the administrative work like filing and updating spreadsheets, his supervisor encouraged him to attend meetings and envision solutions for the organization. “As part of the project, we streamlined many parts of the HR process.”
Precision is vital in the paperwork that HR assistants handle. This is why the top skills necessary for the job are written and oral communication abilities, as well as critical thinking.
2016 Median annual income: $39,020*
Education requirements: High school diploma, Associate’s degree preferred
These positions are perfect for anyone who is hoping to start clocking in and earning a paycheck as soon as possible. If you wish to advance your career further, you may choose to gain more education eventually. But this starting point will get you started gaining experience so you can earn while you learn later on.
These HR positions can be entry-level for candidates who’ve earned their Bachelor’s degree, but in general, they represent more advanced careers as well.
Jana Tulloch of DevelopIntelligence explains that new graduates might walk right into a job as a recruiter, but “they won’t be recruiting your company’s next CEO.”
This means there are also advanced or specialized recruiters with many years of experience who are responsible for recruiting employees to the higher ranks of a company. “For example, IT (information technology) recruiting is a whole different specialization,” Tulloch says.
If you like recruiting, it is possible to continue advancing in that same job title. But both Tulloch and Burr say that beginning as an HR generalist is the best way to break into the field. “As a generalist, you do a little bit of everything. It gives you the best exposure to HR,” Tulloch says.
Generalists work with employee relations, benefits administration, setting policies, engagement and recruitment, and more.
“From working as a generalist, you get a better idea of your options,” Tulloch says. “I mentored someone who went straight into benefits administration and hated how repetitive it was. There are roles for people who like excitement, and roles for people who like working with other people. There are also roles for people who want to stay behind the scenes.” Tulloch recommends getting a feel for these roles before choosing.
An HR coordinator is often just another name for a generalist, according to Tulloch, though there may be some slight variation in job duties when you dig into the job description.
Education requirements: Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree preferred
The positions above introduce employees to the multifaceted world of HR, but higher-level positions can become available after you’ve gained more experience. Once you do, the options become even more varied. You can rise through the ranks in your organization as an HR manager or director, or you can branch out on your own as an HR consultant.
HR managers and directors analyze and modify benefits packages to establish competitive programs and ensure legal compliance. They resolve issues with staffing, employee disputes, employee retention or training, and ultimately set the tone for the organization’s culture and direction.
This is the path for those who don't just want to work in HR someday, they want a career they can advance through to earn more and take on more responsibility as they grow. Attaining a position in this category will take some time to achieve, but it will afford an opportunity to be in a leadership role with great earning potential.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports opportunities for HR management positions growing at a rate faster than average. Qualified applicants for these roles will probably have plenty of choices.
HR consulting is a whole different ballgame. Tulloch explains that many small companies, and even some larger ones, look for consultants to handle their HR needs instead of hiring full-time employees. “It might be something on-going, like handling their policy documentation. Or it could be a project-based job, like fixing a morale problem.”
Tulloch says there are plenty of consulting opportunities for seasoned HR professionals today, but there will probably be many more in the next few years. “Everything seems to be moving that way. Consulting remotely has allowed me to work from home, set my own rates, spend more time with my kids and gain international clients. It opens up the whole globe.”
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree preferred
How to advance in the human resources field
These positions will require more time and effort, but the payoff will certainly be worth it. As you embark on your HR career, it will be useful to consider your advancement options and work towards them. For Tulloch, this means honing your strategic mindset as nearly everything in the higher levels of HR comes down to strategy.
“You’ll always begin with more task-based work. But even then, you can be thinking about how to improve the company, how to improve the culture, fix problems and create a better sense of direction,” Tulloch says.
Instead of just executing various jobs, an advancement-minded HR professional will be looking at the company’s bigger picture, and strategizing improvements.
“Some of the clients I coach become frustrated when they are assigned work that is not necessarily an ‘HR project,’” says Lori Rassas, author of The Perpetual Paycheck. “But I view those projects as a way to learn something new that has the potential to set them apart from other HR candidates if and or when they decide they are ready to look for their next role.”
“Your job in HR is to partner with the organization,” Burr says. “Know the business, understand the financials, develop metrics and partner with the organization to move forward. This will ensure you are moving in the right direction in your HR career.”
None of these human resources job titles are static choices. As you can see, the industry offers plenty of avenues for advancement and specialization. Professionals in the field could wind up with many different titles as time goes on. The first step is simply to start in the industry and get your feet wet.
It all starts with the right training. Check out our Human Resources page to learn more about how we can help prepare you for success in the field.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition. Salary data represents national, averaged earning and includes workers of all levels of experience and education. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.