What is the Human Resources Career Path?

The human resources career path is not something that requires life-long dedication to get ahead in. The thing about human resources management is that entering the field isn’t restricted at all. However, specializing in the field is a whole different story.

A lot of people make lateral or inter-departmental switches to work in the human resources department, but that’s mostly observed in small organizations, and sometimes, medium-sized enterprises. Larger organizations usually have a hiring process dedicated to bringing on new employees.
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If someone does make a career switch, the human resources career path always starts with some kind of HR certification. The most common among these certifications is one from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the ones on HR.University.

If you’re interested in learning more via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

Why Go for a Human Resource Career Path?

There’s a common misconception among people that the HR department’s job is easy. However, that’s far from the case. When you start listing down the sheer number of tasks associated with HR jobs, it’s almost never-ending.

HR staff has to deal with labor relations, employment law, talent acquisition, employee benefits, development programs, company culture, human capital deployment, performance management, and various other tasks.

However, like all departments, these tasks are divided among several human resources specialists, generalists, and other roles.

While HR jobs are certainly fulfilling and complex, it is relatively easy to get into the HR world. Even if you have a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, you can opt for an HR position. To further your career, you can get a Master’s degree in HR and reach for higher-level positions.

Even then, if you’re not involved in the HR field in any way, you can still make a lateral move towards an HR career if your company allows it. You’ll most likely have an entry-level position, but the career ladder in HR can be traversed, nevertheless.

Some might say an easy career change will eventually lead to a saturation of HR people in the market. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of HR specialists is estimated to grow by 7% by 2026. Similarly, the number of human resources managers is expected to increase by 9% over the same time period.

Since HR is a people operation, HR roles cannot be automated. This means that the demand for HR people will always be increasing while the supply of HR officers will never diminish.

Options in the Human Resources Career Path

The HR career path is a relatively simple one, but it can be slightly different for each company and organization. Some companies may have all the possible job titles for HR while others might combine the job descriptions of two into a single role.

Similarly, along with the responsibilities, the salaries of HR professionals also differ according to different companies. However, with the help of online platforms like PayScale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com, as well as, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a general average HR salary for each position can be deduced.

The following is the order of a typical HR career path in their respective hierarchal order.

HR Assistant

The HR assistant or HR officer is an entry-level position that usually requires a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily in an HR-related field of study. The HR assistant’s job is to help facilitate various HR processes. This can include completing administrative paperwork for new hires, handling benefits plans, termination, and other delegated tasks.

HR assistants are also responsible for solving common workplace issues regarding absences, wages, overtime, and other such problems. Furthermore, they may also be tasked with sending memos, reminders, organizing company events, employment verification, and more.

The average salary for HR assistants is $39,000 per year. Some companies can even pay up to $47,000 per year, but the education and certification requirements may be strict.

HR Coordinator

HR coordinators, otherwise known as recruiters, are mainly associated with the recruitment side of things. Their job is to assist the HR department with recruitment, payroll processing, employee records, and to provide administrative support.

HR coordinators are expected to hunt for talent, arrange interviews, check applicant references, maintain their records, and conduct onboarding sessions.

SMEs usually delegate HR assistant duties or HR specialist duties to HR coordinators.

The average HR coordinator salary is $49,000, but that number can go up to $60,000.

HR Specialist

When you get to the HR specialist position, you’re officially specializing in HR. This is where you start to focus on one specific HR function. For example, you can become an HR clerk, payroll specialist, training and development manager, or employee relations manager.

At this point, your unique skill sets come into play. This can involve benefits, training, hiring, or payroll to name a few.

Other than your specialist responsibilities, you may also be expected to help with daily HR operations and other organizational practices.

Usually, at this point, you are expected to at least have a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of experience in the HR field.

The average HR specialist salary is around $51,000. Larger companies promote HR specialists to senior HR specialists before they reach the HR generalist position. Senior HR specialists can earn up to $65,000 per year.

HR Generalist

An HR generalist can be considered a training role in becoming an HR manager. Companies usually hire people as an HR generalist and promote them to an HR manager, rather than hiring a manager directly.

HR generalists are responsible for practically everything: they help with hiring, training, benefits, payroll, compliance, and a range of other things.

The requirements of becoming an HR generalist are similar to HR specialist requirements. However, the average HR generalist salary is $53,000, and if promoted to senior HR generalist, that number can go up to $68,000.

HR Manager

HR managers are responsible for overlooking procedures, policies, and compliance-related issues. They have to ensure that all activities are compliant with local, state, and federal laws and that every aspect of HR (including parental leaves, vacation leave, flexible work programs, and insurance programs, among others) abides by the guidelines.

The HR manager also partakes in business planning and budget development and is responsible for HR programs throughout an organization.

Managers need to have problem-solving and leadership skills and should be familiar with human resource information systems

A Bachelor’s degree is mandatory for the role and 5 years of experience is expected. The average HR manager salary is $76,000 and up to $90,000 for senior HR managers.

HR Director

The HR director position can play a number of roles, which may include heading up several departments or just managing the HR managers.

HR directors are expected to act as strategic partners to all the employees in a company and may have to deal with day-to-day problems and complaints regarding HR processes.

They may also have to deal with compliance and legal matters.

Additionally, they could be required to partake in training, recruitment, and team-building activities.

Typically, this position requires a master’s degree and more than 10 years of experience. The average HR director salary is around $82,000 and can go up to $110,000 for senior HR directors.

Vice President of HR/People Relations/People Operations

The VP position is mostly present in companies with a dedicated executive employee section. For all other companies, the position after the HR director is just the CHRO.

For the VPs of HR, their responsibilities are usually just administrative. They tend to make the key decisions and are responsible for giving the final go-ahead for any new project, procedure, or process.

The VP position in larger organizations may be known as VP of People Relations or VP of People Operations. Typically, it’s just semantics, but large enough organizations tend to break the roles down.

The average salary of a VP of HR is $126,000, and it may go up to $185,000 for senior vice presidents of HR.

Chief HR Officer (CHRO)

The human resources career path leads all the way up to the chief HR officer role, which is the highest position you can have. It is a purely administrative role. The CHRO works in tandem with the CEO and other senior and executive staff.

They’re responsible for supervising all of the HR administration for a company and can propose changes to senior management, set goals, and may check whether a company is following regulations.

CHROs also focus on employee retention and staff development and could be responsible for developing HR programs to train lower-level HR staff.

The position usually requires 15 years of experience and a specialized master’s degree. The average CHRO salary is around $157,000 per year and can go up to $250,000 in larger organizations.

If you’re looking to learn more about the HR role and career path, then check out our HR Certification Courses.

Human Resources Certifications

Is a Human Resource Management Career Worth It?

Working in the HR department may not be for everyone since it involves handling other employees. However, if you’re working in a different department and are interested in HR, you can always make the switch.

It’s one of those careers that are easy to enter and will always provide positive returns and growth.

However, once you’re in the HR world, you should stick with it all the way. If you truly believe you’re a people person, becoming an HR professional may be the best decision you make.


If you are new to Human Resources and are looking to break into an HR role, we recommend taking our HR Certification Courses, where you will learn how to build your skillset in human resources, build your human resources network, craft a great HR resume, and create a successful job search strategy.


Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the founder of HR.University. He's a certified HR professional and has managed global teams across 5 different continents including their benefits and payroll. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.