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It’s a little over 10 years since I started in human resources, but it wasn’t what I originally set out to do.

Before my current career, I was working in a technical role and basically coasting. I had no plan, no ambition, and no idea what I wanted to do. Fortunately, there was always a burning desire for something better, to grow and learn and become a better professional/person.

I worked with a career coach and he asked me to write down my ideal jobs. This was a varied list including lawyer, psychologist, DJ, HR, and a few others that I can't remember.  Eventually, after some reflection, it was narrowed down to HR for reasons I’ll touch on later.

My dad's (30yrs+ in sales) was the most memorable reaction. When I told him that I was going to pursue a career in HR he scoffed and asked “OH GOD! WHY?”.

He’d had many different roles throughout his time and one area that he never took to was managing people and dealing with HR-related topics.

To be fair to him since then he has been very supportive although, when I have challenging HR situations, he does sometimes like to say “This is why I never liked people managing” (no “I told you so” yet).

Since then, my career path and the decisions I’ve made along the way have been made with purpose. I’ve decided to remain in a generalist role because I like the variety this provides me each day. I did once specialize in an area (employment Law/ER) for a year but I missed the daily interaction and variety.

When you start your HR career, or are reflecting on where to go next, one thing to keep in mind is what you excites you the most. For me, I need a role that has variety, no two days being the same and to be working with professionals in an advisory role. 

So, before you begin, stop here and grab a [insert hot/cold beverage here] and think about the question: “What do I NEED from my career to thrive.” The word “NEED” being important as the “WANT” will follow after.

So you’ve had a think about what you NEED, now comes the easy part. There are over 200 million results when you type “HR titles” into Google search. The possibilities are endless and— this is the exciting part—this applies to those starting out in their first HR role or those looking to change mid-career.

To help decide which might be the most desirable human resources career path for you, below I break down each of the possible roles you can take in the HR space, starting with entry-level, then generalist, and then specialist roles.

We even made a handy infographic for you too!

Entry-level Roles

In general, your entry to HR will be via an internship or an entry-level role such as HR administrator or co-ordinator.

This is the general route, although there will be others depending on if you specialize. For example, if you were to start in learning and development (L&D) then your first role will probably be an L&D administrator, or if you start in recruitment you might start out as a talent sourcer or scheduler.

Your first role will be an introduction to the day-to-day tasks of the department. This is where you will succeed and fail and learn every day. Make the most of this, be a sponge, and take in everything that you can.

This is the period in which you will find out where you might like to go in your HR career path or where you definitely don’t want to go.

Generalist Roles

Generalist Roles Graphic

HR Generalist

It would be easier to list what an HR Generalist is not involved in rather than what they are. From the day-to-day operations to helping with employee engagement events to preparing the documentation of exiting employees you will touch a lot of areas of HR.

This, of course, depends on the organization and how they set themselves up. In my opinion, this is the best place to be during the early years of your HR career (post-entry-level role). It will give you the opportunity to have a view and experience all aspects of HR and will really challenge you in terms of managing your time and priorities.

Role and Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of an HR Generalist include:

  • Employee relations: act as a liaison between employees and management, and potentially responsible for handling employee complaints, resolving conflicts, and assisting in investigations.
  • Training and development: involved in creating and delivering training programs for employees, as well as identifying areas for employee development and implementing programs like talent marketplaces to address those needs.
  • Onboarding and training: responsible for the onboarding process, which includes introducing the employee to the company culture, policies, and procedures. The HR generalist may also be responsible for organizing and providing training to new employees.
  • Performance management: involved in monitoring employee performance, conducting performance reviews, and making recommendations for performance improvement.
  • Benefits administration: responsible for administering employee benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and other employee perks.
  • Recruitment: sourcing candidates, scheduling interviews, screening candidates.
  • Compliance: responsible for ensuring that the organization is in compliance with labor laws and regulations.
  • Record keeping: responsible for maintaining employee records, such as personnel files and benefits records.
  • Policy and procedure development: help develop and implement company policies and procedures to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

Why do people follow this path?

Post the experience gained in your entry-level/admin role, the next step in terms of continuing the generalist path is that of an HR generalist. This is broadly the path followed by people who want to continue working in an HR role that touches all areas of HR. 

As you will see, this role evolves from an HR admin role in so far as that you will not only just deal with the administrative aspects of HR but also many others. 

Employee relations, performance management, policy and procedures, and learning and development (L&D) are just some of the areas in which you will have involvement and you will work with your various managers/leaders and the specialized function points of contact (Benefits, L&D, etc) on various interventions required for the business.

What are some considerations?

There is a saying which goes “A jack of all trades and a master of none,” and this very much applies to the role of an HR generalist. 

While in my years as an HR generalist I had never been accused of not having the required expertise or experience, the role of an HR generalist is one in which you will be involved in everything but may only have the bandwidth to do so at the surface level.

Having that specialized role/experience allows you to get deep in the weeds of your chosen area. So, if you are a perfectionist or want to be a known expert in a particular field, the generalist route may not be for you.

What can this role lead to?

The next natural step in the HR career path for an HR generalist would be to decide to remain in a generalist role or move into a specialization. If you decide that you like the variety of a generalist role then the next role would be that of a senior HR generalist. 

This role remains in the generalist realm but requires more experience, has a broader range of responsibilities, and requires a little more involvement in strategic planning and decision-making.

Senior HR generalists may also have supervisory responsibilities over HR generalists and other HR staff. This would also mean they may have mentoring/coaching tasks for the junior HR members of the team. 

Possible titles

Jnr/Snr HR Generalist, HR Officer, HR Coordinator, HR Specialist, HR Associate, HR Advisor, 

HR Operations Specialist, HR Support Specialist, People & Culture Generalist, People Generalist, People Operations Specialist.

Recommended if…

You enjoy working with people on a variety of projects in a fast-paced environment, possess a strong understanding of HR practices, and can maintain confidentiality.

Required skills

  • Interpersonal
  • HR policy and procedure knowledge
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Time-management skills

HR Manager

Depending on your career development, and if you decide to stay on the generalist route, then the next step in the ladder is that of an HR manager.

Again, like a generalist role, an HR manager is involved in many different areas of HR and the organization. The difference between an HR manager and an HR generalist is that an HR manager will have more leadership responsibilities and will be more involved in the strategic planning of the organization.

Role and Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of an HR manager are:

  • Strategy: responsible for developing and implementing HR strategies that support the overall business strategy. This may involve identifying HR needs, developing HR policies and procedures, and ensuring compliance with labor laws and regulations.
  • Recruitment and retention: attracting, sourcing, and hiring candidates for open positions, as well as retaining current employees. This may involve developing recruiting strategies, conducting interviews, and implementing retention programs.
  • Employee relations: maintaining positive relationships between employees and the company. This may involve dealing with conflicts, addressing employee concerns and complaints, and ensuring that the company complies with labor laws and regulations.
  • Training and development: developing and delivering training programs for employees to help them develop new skills or improve existing ones.
  • Performance management: overseeing performance management processes, including setting goals, providing feedback, and conducting performance evaluations.
  • Compensation and benefits: determining salaries, bonuses, and benefits for employees, and ensuring that the company remains competitive in the job market.
  • Policy and procedure development: developing and implementing company policies and procedures to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
  • HR Administration: managing HR operations and ensuring accurate employee records, tracking attendance and absences, and processing employee payroll and benefits.

Why do people follow this path?

HR manager is the most logical next step for those that wish to remain on the generalist career path. HR managers will have a varied to-do list from employee relations to learning and development programs to employee engagement initiatives.

What are some considerations?

Similar to a generalist role, an HR manager can be seen as a one for all role in which you work across many different areas but lack the specialization as some other roles have. 

Additionally, it being a managerial role, you have leadership responsibilities that sometimes conflict with the operational/day-to-day tasks.

What can this role lead to?

After some time in an HR manager role, and upon gaining leadership and strategic experience, the next step would be to move up into a senior HR manager role (depending on the organization and its structure) or a director-level role. Another path would be to move across into the more strategic role of an HR business partner (more on this later).

Possible titles

Senior HR Manager, People Manager, People & Culture Manager or Talent Manager, HR Operations Manager, HR Team Lead.

Recommended if…

You enjoy thinking strategically, making decisions, and dealing with complex employee-related issues, possess business acumen, a client-centric mindset, and can manage ambiguity.

Required skills

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Deep understanding of HR policy/procedure
  • Change management
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time and organizational skills
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HR Business Partner

For those with a keen interest in organizational strategy and HR, an HR business partner (HRBP) is the role for you. An HRBP is the glue between the organization and HR strategy. They ensure that how the organization is being run and the HR strategy are in line and working together towards a common goal.

HRBPs work collaboratively with leaders to develop and implement HR strategies and initiatives that support the business. They provide consultative, guidance, and advisory support to leaders on HR-related topics and lead these initiatives within the business.

Role and Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of an HRBP are:

  • Strategic planning: responsible for aligning HR strategies and initiatives with the business goals and objectives to ensure that HR efforts support the overall business strategy.
  • Consultation: provide strategic guidance and advice to business leaders, such as department heads or executives, on HR-related matters, including organizational design, talent management, performance management, employee engagement, and change management.
  • Talent management: work closely with business leaders to identify talent needs and develop strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining top talent.
  • Performance management: oversee performance management processes, including setting performance expectations, providing feedback, and conducting performance evaluations.
  • Organizational development: lead and participate in organizational development initiatives, such as change management, restructuring, and succession planning, to support the overall business strategy.
  • HR analytics: use data and analytics to identify trends and insights that inform HR strategies and initiatives.
  • Compliance: ensure that HR practices and policies comply with labor laws and regulations.
  • Employee relations: provide guidance and support to business leaders and employees on employee relations issues, such as conflicts, complaints, and grievances.

As you can see above, the HRBP has varied responsibilities and they are unique in the sense that they are expected to have elevated knowledge of the organization and its strategy. 

This means that HRBPs need to have high qualifications in terms of HR education and knowledge as well as the experience and know-how of their business in order to be best placed to support the business and HR strategy simultaneously. 

In other words, for you to be successful in the role of HRBP you need to be a [insert business/industry] expert working in HR rather than a HR professional working in [insert business/industry].

Why do people follow this path?

More so than in other HR roles, I see more examples of professionals from outside of HR becoming HRBPs. This is because they not only possess the required HR knowledge but also the background in the relevant business/industry and subsequent expertise (this is what truly separates the good HRBPs from the great).

Please note that you do not have to have external industry experience to thrive in an HRBP role, but you do have to have intimate knowledge of your business in order to be best placed to support your stakeholders. 

A HRBP role has this extra dynamic that lends itself to being quite a unique role, and for those that have a general interest in business and organizations then this is the role for you.

What are some considerations?

Having said all that, this is also something that you need to be mindful of. An HRBP role can be rather demanding. Only those with self-discipline, time and organizational skills, and an entrepreneurial spirit can withstand the demands that the business and employees have on them.

There is also the discipline to not “fix things” and to allow other teams to address certain issues (e.g. operational, compensation, day-to-day items). This is the trap that some HRBPs (and most HR professionals) can fall into. 

The sense of fixing issues can be mistakenly seen as being productive whereas, in fact, they are counter to this as they do not allow you the time to focus on the bigger picture items.

What can this role lead to?

HRBPs hold a unique role in the organization and are the difference between success and failure in the implementation of the overall HR strategy. 

With the unique experience and insights gained by professionals who have worked in HRBP roles, the paths they can take are quite open. The next logical step would be to move to an HR director role or, depending on the organization, they may move into a specialist role.  

Possible titles

People Business Partner, Talent Business Partner, People & Culture Business Partner, HR Strategic Partner, HR Engagement Partner, HR Solutions Partner, HR Talent Advisor.

Recommended if…

You have a general interest in business and organizations and enjoy working alongside a variety of stakeholders on business-critical initiatives.

Required skills…

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Deep knowledge of HR policy and procedure
  • Strategic mindset
  • Coaching and mentoring 
  • Time management and prioritization
  • Relationship building skills
  • Consulting and advisory skills
  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Project Management skills

HR Director

My current career goal is to reach the role of HR director (a few years ago it was HR manager, HRBP), so it's a moving target.

Once you have gained experience, moved across different roles, and proved to yourself and your employer (or other potential employers) that you are ready for the next step, you can progress into the role of HR director.

The role of an HR director is to lead and manage the HR function. They’re responsible for ensuring that the HR department is supporting the company’s HR needs, is compliant with local legislation and regulations, and promotes the overall business strategy. 

The HR director will provide strategic direction, leadership, and guidance to the HR team and collaborate with other leaders across the organization to achieve overall organization goals.

Role and Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of an HR director are:

  • Strategic planning: responsible for developing and implementing HR strategies that support the overall business strategy.
  • Talent management: ensure that the organization has the right talent in place to support its goals and objectives. This involves developing talent acquisition and retention strategies, implementing employee development programs, and overseeing succession planning initiatives.
  • Performance management: oversee performance management processes, including setting performance expectations, providing feedback, and conducting performance evaluations.
  • Compensation and benefits: determine salaries, bonuses, and benefits for employees, and ensuring that the company remains competitive in the job market.
  • Employee relations: maintain positive relationships between employees and the company. This may involve dealing with conflicts, addressing employee concerns and complaints, and ensuring that the company complies with labor laws and regulations.
  • HR analytics: use data and analytics to identify trends and insights that inform HR strategies and initiatives.
  • Compliance: ensure that HR practices and policies comply with labor laws and regulations.
  • Leadership: provide leadership to the HR team and collaborate with other leaders across the organization to develop and implement business strategies.
  • Budgeting and resource allocation: managing the HR budget and allocating resources to support HR initiatives.

Why do people follow this path?

HR directors perform some of the duties of the HRBP/HR Manager from a strategic/high-level sense, however they’re ultimately responsible for making the decisions as to what the strategy is and how it’s implemented.  

HRBP’s/HR Managers implement that strategy and work with their stakeholders on how best to apply it. The HR director will work in collaboration with other members of the leadership team to implement the HR strategy across all departments and ensure that all departments themselves are working in line with this strategy.

In order to reach that level of HR director, there may be a requirement to have not only 3rd-level education and 10+ years of HR experience (across different roles and leadership levels) but there might also need to be a level of additional education/knowledge for leadership and executive-level management.

While an MBA is not strictly required, having knowledge across the organization would be helpful. Additional expertise that an HR director should possess in their toolbox is executive coaching. Coaching other members of the leadership team, senior leaders and providing general coaching advice to managers will help to go a long way to supporting the HR strategy in the organization.

Having HR at the decision-making table is a key requirement for the HR strategy to be a success, so an HR Director with many different tools at their disposal is an advantage.

As mentioned in previous sections, the current HR Director career path is not linear and prior roles can be a mix of different parts of HR. Having varied experience is an advantage for anyone looking to take on an HR director role as you will be equipped to put in place an HR strategy across multiple disciplines with the experience and knowledge to back it up. 

Like me, if you’re seeking to advance your career to the senior leadership level then the most logical step is that of a HR Director.

What are some considerations?

Some considerations to take into account would very much depend on your own needs. The role of HR director is a difficult role and, unlike that of an HRBP/HR manager, the HR director is the overall leader/face of the HR department, so for any periods in which difficult decisions are made the HR director (along with leadership team) need to be front and center to make these decisions, communicate the next steps/process, and answer the difficult questions that will inevitably come from employees. 

The HR director can be a lonely role (like any leadership role) plus, as the representative of the employees at the leadership table, you may feel that you are between a rock and a hard place (the organization and employees) if certain decisions are made that may be interpreted as anti-employee.

What can this role lead to?

Above the role of HR director is that of a chief people officer/chief HR officer, although this does depend on the organization and its size. Generally, in smaller companies, the role of HR director or head of HR may be the top rung of the ladder, however at larger/multinational organizations the leader responsible for HR may be the CPO/CHRO.

Possible titles

HR Executive Director, Director of People Operations, HR Strategy Director, HR Leadership Director, Senior HR Director, HR Business Leader.

Recommended if…

You enjoy lots of responsibility and high-level decision-making, have a track record of managing and supporting organizational change, and like to stay up to date on HR trends and best practices.

Required skills

  • Deep HR policy/procedure knowledge
  • Strategic mindset
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Business acumen
  • Public speaking skills
  • Understanding of HR metrics and data
  • Negotiation & conflict resolution

Chief People Officer (CPO)/Chief HR Officer (CHRO)

Once I’ve reached the role of HR director, given past patterns, I would imagine that the role of CPO/CHRO is something that I’ll aim for.

Most organizations that have a C-suite level of executives are those that have a multinational/billion-dollar level of revenue and a global workforce.

In this case, The CPO would be responsible for acting as the global face of HR for the company to the employees, the public, and shareholders.

A CPO and a HR Director have a very similar set of responsibilities, however the difference would lie in the size of the organization and a CPO would have a broader focus on the HR strategy from a global sense, whereas a HR Director may have the same responsibilities but more from a location/region sense.

Role and Responsibilities

  • Strategic leadership: providing strategic direction and guidance on all HR matters, aligning HR initiatives with organizational goals and objectives.
  • Talent management: developing and implementing strategies for attracting, developing, and retaining top talent, including talent acquisition, onboarding, performance management, and succession planning.
  • Employee engagement and culture: fostering a positive and inclusive work environment, promoting employee engagement, and driving initiatives to enhance the organizational culture.
  • HR operations: overseeing HR operations and ensuring effective and efficient HR processes, policies, and procedures are in place, including compensation, benefits, payroll, HRIS, and compliance.
  • Organizational development: leading initiatives related to organizational design, development, and change management, ensuring the organization has the necessary structure, capabilities, and culture to achieve its goals.
  • Employee relations: providing guidance and support on employee relations matters, including conflict resolution, disciplinary actions, and employee grievances.
  • Leadership development: implementing leadership development programs and initiatives to cultivate and enhance leadership capabilities throughout the organization.
  • HR analytics and insights: utilizing data and analytics to drive insights and inform decision-making, leveraging HR metrics to measure and improve organizational performance.
  • Compliance and risk management: ensuring compliance with employment laws and regulations, managing HR-related risks, and implementing policies and practices that align with legal requirements.
  • Stakeholder collaboration: collaborating with executives, managers, and other stakeholders to understand their needs and align HR strategies to support business objectives.
  • External partnerships: building and maintaining relationships with external HR-related partners, such as consultants, vendors, and industry associations.
  • Board and executive support: providing guidance and insights to the board of directors and executive leadership team on HR-related matters, including talent, culture, and organizational effectiveness.

Why do people follow this path?

To achieve the role of a CPO you will possess 20+ years of experience in HR across many different roles and leadership levels on a global scale, plus experience in leading an HR strategy from a global perspective.

The career path of a CPO is the final step in the ladder for HR roles and is for those that want to lead and implement the HR strategy at a global level or a large organization.

If you’re an HR professional that enjoys the pressure that comes with a C-suite-level role then a CPO role will fit the bill for you.  

What are some considerations?

The role of a CHRO/CPO is at the elite level of HR. Your role is no longer aimed at putting out fires and performing transactional work, your role is to foresee the needs and challenges ahead of the organization and put in place a culture and HR strategy to meet them.  

You are also a significant member of the executive leadership table and have to be the voice of HR and employees. With all of this in mind, it’s important to build out your capabilities and knowledge of not just HR but also general business acumen and what’s currently going on in the world.

CHRO/CPOs cannot simply “stay in their lane” of HR, they must become thought leaders in many aspects of the working world. Remote working, diversity in the workplace, increasing the number of women in leadership roles, and social corporate responsibility are just some of the areas that are currently at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

What can this role lead to?

Post this role, you may either wish to move to another CPO role within another organization or move to be a board member or a lower-level role.

Once an HR professional reaches this level they then can decide to offer themselves as advisors on the boards of various organizations or institutes. Given your experience and knowledge at this point, you may also move into the media field as a HR advisor or expert to boards or institutions.

Possible titles

Vice President of Human Resources, Head of HR, HR Chief, Chief Talent Officer (CTO), Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO), Chief Employee Experience Officer (CEEO), Chief People and Culture Officer (CPCO), Head of People Operations, Executive Vice President of HR.

Recommend if…

You enjoy lots of responsibility and high-level decision-making and are passionate about business in general, have a global and business-orientated mindset and like strategic thinking and outlining missions and visions.

Required skills

  • Extensive HR policy/procedure knowledge
  • Strong leadership and executive management skills
  • Public speaking skills
  • Understanding of HR metrics and data
  • Business acumen

Wrapping up on generalist roles

In terms of the generalist HR career path, what I’ve laid out above is the traditional path. Along the various roles, you can see that there is a pattern in terms of maintaining that influence and responsibilities across different HR disciplines.

As you move up the ladder, you then start to move away from the day-to-day operations/administrative side and focus more on the strategic responsibilities.

Of course, this all depends on the organizations you work for, but for those that wish to move into a more focused and specialized role with priorities on one area of HR then the next few sections will be of interest to you.

Specialist Roles

Specialist Roles Graphic

If you have read (or skipped) this far, then you are either interested in specific specialist roles that exist in HR or are still exploring what works for you. 

As outlined in the previous sections, the path of a generalist HR professional at the earliest stages will provide you with the knowledge and experience of working in many different disciplines of HR.

This may also help you to decide which areas of HR you particularly like to work in. If this does become the case and you want to focus 100% on one area (e.g. L&D, ER, D&I) then pivoting to a specialist role would be the most beneficial path forward.  

With this in mind, below I summarize some of the specialist roles that exist in HR and what they involve.

Payroll specialist

While not technically an HR role, a payroll specialist ensures that all employees are paid on time and accurately. Payroll can be a part of the HR department’s responsibility, however most payroll departments are a sub-section of the finance department. 

The payroll and HR teams work closely together, with HR providing the payroll team with accurate and up-to-date data and payroll working with their payroll systems or external partners to process and pay out salaries.

Role and Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of a payroll specialist are:

  • Maintaining payroll records: maintaining accurate records of employee hours worked, leave taken, and deductions made.
  • Calculating wages and salaries: responsible for calculating wages and salaries based on hours worked and any other relevant information.
  • Processing payroll: process payroll accurately and on time, ensuring that employees are paid on schedule.
  • Compliance with legal requirements: ensure that all payroll-related taxes, such as federal and state income tax, social security, and medicare taxes, are withheld and paid in accordance with legal requirements.
  • Responding to employee inquiries: respond to employee inquiries regarding their pay, deductions, and taxes.
  • Managing payroll systems: responsible for managing and updating payroll systems, including payroll software, to ensure that accurate payroll information is maintained.
  • Generating payroll reports: generate various payroll reports, such as year-end tax forms, and ensure that they are accurate and timely.
  • Liaising with HR: work with HR to ensure that payroll information is accurate and up-to-date.

Why do people follow this path?

You may be someone who likes to number crunch and deal with figures with the occasional interaction with stakeholders, or you may be someone who is working in an accounting role with hardly any to no personal interaction and you would like to be more involved in payroll and people.  

What are some considerations?

In smaller organizations especially, the HR point of contact may also have payroll responsibilities in their remit. In larger organizations, they will tend to have their own payroll specialist working in the payroll department under finance. 

There is a strong link between payroll and HR due to the fact that payroll data is mostly driven by HR systems and both HR and Payroll professionals work together to ensure that salaries are paid out to employees on time and accurately.  

If you enjoy working with numbers, and are able to explain complex formulas and policies in an easy-to-understand, manner then the role of a payroll specialist may be for you.  

Working in payroll is a worthwhile profession. After all, without payroll nobody would turn up for work! It is exactly with this in mind that it should be noted that salaries and people’s money are very emotive subjects.

Any issues that are encountered by employees and their salaries (paid late, perceived deduction/reduction, and lack of transparency) will more than likely result in said employee being upset or emotional about the topic, and as such you would need to have an empathic and understanding approach to dealing with employees.

This is something that I see a lot as being a big issue when dealing with payroll issues. You may have all the experience and knowledge in the world with regards to payroll and processes, but if you lack an empathic and understanding approach to dealing with employees then this will lead to larger issues for you and the organization.

What can this role lead to?

Payroll is a vital part of any organization and ensuring that it is done effectively and efficiently is important not just to the payroll department and leaders but also to employees. 

The payroll specialist will play an essential part in the HR/finance strategy and getting it right with no issues every payroll cycle requires a level of focus and detail that only a few professionals have.  

At the start, the payroll professional may act in an administrative role and then from there work their way up to that of a manager and then director. Depending on the size and location(s) of the organization, you may start with one country and then take on more responsibility for other countries/regions.

With your specific knowledge of payroll, you may also make a lateral move into compensation (more on this later) or maybe further into finance. It would depend on your career goals as to where you may want to move into.

Possible titles

Payroll Administrator, Payroll Specialist, Payroll Coordinator, Payroll Analyst, Payroll Manager, Payroll Accountant, Payroll Officer, Payroll Supervisor, Payroll Consultant, Payroll Director

Recommended if…

Comfortable working with numbers, Like to explain complex formulas and policies in an easy-to-understand manner, disciplined enough to work to tight deadlines

Required Skills

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Mathematical & analytics skills
  • High attention to detail
  • Payroll system experience, 
  • Knowledge of payroll regulations, laws, and compliance
  • IT usage capability 
  • Problem-solving skills

Compensation & Benefits

Following on from our finance/HR angle, the compensation and benefits team are another piece to the overall strategy for attraction, retention, and engagement of employees. 

Compensation and benefits (aka comp & bens, C&B) specialists are dedicated professionals within an organization that develop and maintain the organization's strategy for compensation (salary) and benefits (pension, health insurance, annual leave etc).

Role and Responsibilities

Compensation. While payroll & HR ensure that employees are paid their salaries on time and accurately, it’s the compensation team that will determine, with the organizational strategy and affordability, how much is paid for a given role or grade/level.

The responsibilities of a compensation specialist are:

  • Conducting job analyses: conduct job analyses to determine the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for each position.
  • Developing and evaluating compensation plans: responsible for developing and evaluating compensation plans, including base pay, incentives, and benefits, to ensure that they are fair, competitive, and aligned with the organization's goals.
  • Conducting market research: conduct market research to determine competitive pay rates for each position and ensure that the organization's compensation practices are aligned with market trends.
  • Managing salary administration: responsible for managing salary administration processes, including determining pay ranges and setting salaries for new hires, promotions, and transfers.
  • Ensuring compliance: ensure that compensation practices are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Advising managers: advising managers on compensation-related matters, such as pay equity, salary negotiations, and job classifications.
  • Analyzing data: analyze compensation data to identify trends and make recommendations for improvements to compensation programs and policies

Benefits. On the other side of the overall employment package are the benefits. The benefits team will work with internal and external partners to develop and execute the benefits strategy.  

This involves reviewing the current benefits package (how many holidays are offered, what pension scheme is used, level of coverage for health insurance etc) and they will work to benchmark the package against that of their competitors and other industry employers.

The responsibilities of a benefits specialist are:

  • Administering benefits programs: administer employee benefits programs such as health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits offered by the organization.
  • Communicating benefits information: communicating information about benefits programs to employees, including plan features, open enrollment periods, and plan changes.
  • Managing benefits enrollment: managing benefits enrollment, including processing new enrollments, changes, and terminations, and ensuring that enrollment data is accurate.
  • Managing vendor relationships: managing relationships with benefits vendors, including negotiating contracts and resolving issues.
  • Ensuring compliance: ensure that benefits programs comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Analyzing benefits data: analyze benefits data to identify trends and make recommendations for improvements to benefits programs.
  • Advising employees: advise employees on benefits-related matters, such as plan options, eligibility, and claim issues.

Depending on the size of the organization, these functions may operate in the same team or two separate teams. As they are closely related to the overall package on offer to employees, it would make sense that both of these functions work closely together.  

Why do people follow this path?

Both roles require analytical skills plus the ability to influence and persuade. You’ll need to analyze current trends in the markets and then put together a compensation and/or benefits plan for the coming review period and then bring this to various decision-makers to outline and get buy-in to implement.

What are some considerations?

As you will see from above, the difference between the two is basically the elements of the overall employee package that each team takes care of. 

Their role is very similar in that they are working to make sure that the package (compensation and benefits) on offer to employees and potential candidates is on par with the market, in line with the company strategy, and meets affordability criteria.

Both functions will have a strategic and analytical element to them as you will need to review and analyze current market trends and review how, in line with your strategy, you can offer the most attractive package to employees (to retain) and potential candidates (to attract). 

What can this role lead to?

Once you have gained the required experience then you may move up to manager, director, and global head. These roles are very significant in the current labour challenges being faced.

With this in mind, you will very much hold an important place in the success or failure of the organization. Getting the compensation and benefits package just right can be the key differentiator in ensuring your organization has the right talent in the right role.

Possible titles

Compensation Manager, Benefits Specialist, Total Rewards Analyst, Compensation Consultant, Benefits Administrator, Compensation and Benefits Coordinator, Rewards and Recognition Specialist, Compensation Analyst, Benefits Manager, Compensation and Benefits Director.

Recommended if…

You enjoy being analytical and strategic and want to make a significant impact on the business and people’s lives.

Required skills

  • Understanding of compensation structures, market trends, and benefits administration
  • Negotiation
  • Empathy and understanding of employee motivation
  • Attention to detail
  • Mathematical & analytics skills
  • Communication & interpersonal skills
  • Influence and negotiation skills

Interested? Check out this shortlist of the best compensation certifications to help you get started.

Learning & Development (L&D)

One of the first times I realized I wanted to work in HR was in my first role. During the first chapter of my career, I worked as a quality assurance technician. This involved ensuring that the quality of the product we were producing and shipping was up to standard.  

Part of this role was to train employees on the production floor about new policies or additional checks that were needed. It was one of the few times that my role involved interacting with colleagues and I loved it. I was first trained on the policy/check and then it was up to me then to decide how to relay and train my colleagues.

Given the autonomy to decide how to train people, and having that interaction, was an unusual break in my day-to-day work where I would usually be inspecting products and taking measurements.

What attracted me to this was how each person was different in terms of how they learned or what they needed to take in (and sometimes accept) this new check/policy. 

There were those that would simply take instruction from a policy document and others who needed to understand the context and learn by doing.  

I had already thought that my long-term career would be in learning and development (still could) but it was my first foray into HR and I caught the bug.

Role and Responsibilities

The L&D department is responsible for the design, development, and delivery of employee training and development programs.

An L&D professional will be involved in all aspects of the learning and development strategy (depending on the level). 

They will work with different stakeholders to understand their learning and development needs and then create a learning and development strategy to meet those needs.  

They will also work on the overall learning and development strategy and deliver some of the training themselves, or act as a facilitator for specialist training requirements. 

The responsibilities of a learning and development professional are:

  • Assessing training needs: assessing the training needs of employees and the organization to determine what training programs are necessary to meet organizational goals.
  • Developing training programs: developing and designing training programs that align with organizational goals, using a variety of training methods, including classroom instruction, online learning, and on-the-job training.
  • Delivering training programs: delivering training programs to employees using a variety of methods and tools to ensure that training is effective and engaging.
  • Evaluating training effectiveness: evaluating the effectiveness of training programs and making recommendations for improvements.
  • Managing training logistics: manage the logistics of training programs, including scheduling, room setup, and materials preparation.
  • Managing learning technology: responsible for managing and administering learning technology, including learning management systems, e-learning platforms, and other digital tools.
  • Developing training policies and procedures: develop training policies and procedures to ensure that training programs are consistent and effective across the organization.
  • Collaborating with subject matter experts: work closely with subject matter experts to develop training content and ensure that training programs are accurate and up-to-date.

Why do people follow this path?

Learning and development professionals must have a keen eye for talent along with a deep understanding of how adults learn. Having knowledge and experience in supporting employees to learn and grow is a key attribute for an L&D professional.

They must also be able to deliver training in a manner that would cater to many different types of employees (seniority, level, experience, etc) and also what is involved in setting up and running a training program.

What are some considerations?

An organization's unique asset is its employees and, with the right learning and development strategy, they can grow this asset into an even greater contributor to the organization's goals. 

This is where a strong and influential learning and development team can ensure that all training and development needs are met and predicted in order for employees to keep up to date with their development.

L&D professionals will need a good understanding of the current and future needs of their employees, so having current and up-to-date knowledge of the industry is essential.

What can this role lead to?

The path of an L&D professional will depend on the organization and individual goals, but, generally, you will start off in an entry-level role and then work from there to L&D specialist, manager, director, and eventually head of L&D.

There is also the additional option of acting as a facilitator and teacher depending on the topic/subject. With experience, you may lead certain learning interventions (e.g. soft skills such as communication, management etc.).

Possible titles

Learning and Development Manager, L&D Specialist, Training and Development Coordinator, Learning Experience Designer, Talent Development Consultant, Organizational Learning Consultant, Instructional Designer, e-Learning Specialist, Leadership Development Facilitator, Learning and Development Analyst

Recommended if…

You have a passion for helping people grow and develop as well as matching skills and knowledge with the goals of an organization.

Required skills

  • Facilitiation and communication skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Creating engaging and impactful learning experiences
  • Knowledge of organizational learning strategies
  • Time and organizational skills
  • Project management skills

Related Article: 9 Best Learning And Development Certifications

Employee/Industrial Relations (E/IR)

One of the areas of HR that I didn’t think I would enjoy before becoming an HR professional was employee/industrial relations (E/IR).  

Employee/industrial relations can be compared to Marmite (you are either going to love it or hate it).

It can be seen as quite a tough area to be successful as you are working with competing actors (management, unions, government POCs, employees, and HR POCs) in any given situation.  

For me, it’s one of the areas I enjoy the most as the resolutions require a bit more thought and involvement than other areas, plus with people being included it adds another dynamic layer to an already difficult area.

This is what I call the harder side of HR, the side of HR where have to put aside all of the softer HR elements and deal directly with the wants and needs of employees (which are usually in competition with management/organization wants and needs).

You may have the best engagement initiatives, talent planning, and other HR programs in the world, but this will all fall apart if there is no cooperation and trust between management and employees (and employees with each other).

Role and Responsibilities

The responsbilities of an employee/industrial relations professional are:

  • Negotiating collective bargaining agreements: Negotiating collective bargaining agreements between labor unions and management, including determining wages, benefits, and working conditions.
  • Handling labor disputes: Responsible for managing and resolving labor disputes, including grievances, strikes, and other workplace conflicts.
  • Advising management: Advising management on matters related to labor law, employee relations, and collective bargaining.
  • Developing employee relations policies: Developing and implementing employee relations policies, including codes of conduct, disciplinary procedures, and workplace safety policies.
  • Communicating with employees: Communicating with employees about workplace policies and procedures, and answering questions and concerns about employee relations issues.
  • Monitoring compliance with labor laws: Monitoring compliance with labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and other laws related to employee relations.
  • Managing employee engagement: Managing employee engagement initiatives such as employee surveys, focus groups, and other feedback mechanisms.

Why do people follow this path?

As you see from above the E/IR professional has to put in a lot of work to get it “maybe” right. This is one of the reasons why I like this area.

There is no foolproof plan to get this right 100% of the time and it requires the E/IR professional to use his/her own intuition and experience to succeed.

It’s an area that’s so important to get right and requires a lot of input and work, but if done effectively the outcomes outweigh all of the effort.  

This is also an area in which your ability to deal with and read people will come into play, and it’s not something that you can learn via theory.

There are, of course, certain theoretical elements to keep in mind (psychology, negotiating, etc), but most of how these matters are resolved are via intuition, experience, and empathy for all of those at the table and finding a solution that will meet everyone’s needs (needs, NOT wants). 

What are some considerations?

Experience in E/IR is very attractive to employers. While the power and popularity of unions remain low (for now) there are growing trends in industries, where unions were weak, that union membership is growing.

Not only this, but in industries where unions were not present there are now unions setting up and representing employees (see Amazon, Starbucks, etc).

Of course, dealing with such matters can also have a negative impact on you. You will be dealing with employee grievances, disputes, and conflicts and this can be emotionally demanding. The nature of the role requires empathy, resilience, and the ability to handle challenging emotions

What can this role lead to?

To maintain some sort of relationship with employees, employers are going to have to get used to dealing with unions and the role of the E/IR specialist/manager/director will become ever more important.

Depending on the size and industry of your organization, there are many opportunities for you to explore. At the start, you will more than likely be in a specialist role and then move to manager, senior manager, and director depending on the size and union presence of the organization.

Possible titles

Employee Relations Manager, Labor Relations Specialist, Industrial Relations Consultant, Employment Relations Advisor, Labor Negotiator, Union Relations Coordinator, Employee Dispute Resolution Specialist, Workplace Mediator, Grievance and Arbitration Coordinator, Labor Compliance Officer.

Recommended if…

Enjoys resolving complex people issues, not afraid of conflict/disputes, working on intuition/gut feeling rather than from a set of rules (while also being respectful of employment law), or having to use “outside of the box thinking” to resolve issues/cases.

Required skills

  • Excellent communication, negotiation, and persuasion skills
  • Conflict resolution and mediation skills
  • Knowledge of labour law and regulations
  • Investigative and problem-solving skills
  • Relationship and rapport-building skills

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Specialist

Diversity, equity and inclusion is top of a lot of organizations' agendas currently. DE&I refers to the aim of creating a workplace culture that values and acknowledges the differences among individuals and actively works to include and leverage those differences to drive better business outcomes. 

There are many different dimensions to diversity, such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, nationality, etc. Equity stands for fairness and justice in the way that people are treated and inclusion refers to how individuals feel valued, respected, and supported in the workplace and have equal opportunity to contribute to their full potential.  

DE&I is an important part of the overall organization strategy (I say overall organization strategy as it should not just be a part of the HR strategy) as it can help to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent, increase employee engagement, and increase the organization's reputation and brand. 

Role and Responsibilities

The DE&I team are responsible to developing and implementing the DE&I strategy towards the goals as per above. They promote and implement strategie and policies and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

The responsibilities of a D&I professional include: 

  • Developing and implementing DE&I strategies: creating and executing plans and initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. This may involve conducting assessments of the organization's current state of D&I, setting goals and targets, and designing programs and policies to support diversity and inclusion.
  • Providing training and education: delivering training and education programs to employees and managers on topics such as unconscious bias, inclusive language, cultural competence, and diversity and inclusion best practices.
  • Conducting research and analysis: gathering and analyzing data on workforce demographics, employee engagement, turnover rates, and other metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of DE&I initiatives and identify areas for improvement.
  • Collaborating with stakeholders: working closely with leaders and managers across the organization to ensure that DE&I initiatives are aligned with business objectives, integrated into HR policies and practices, and supported at all levels of the organization.
  • Partnering with external organizations: collaborating with external organizations and networks to share best practices, participate in industry events, and benchmark against other companies.
  • Serving as a resource and advocate: serving as a resource for employees and managers seeking guidance on DE&I issues, and as an advocate for diverse perspectives and inclusive practices within the organization.

Why do people follow this path?

It’s worth noting that dedicated DE&I teams are usually present in large organizations with smaller/medium sizes companies using their existing HR teams and or business sponsors acting as the DE&I specialist within the organization.  

This will determine how, if you are interested in pursuing a career in DE&I, you will proceed on this career track. DE&I specialists will start off in entry-level roles in HR and will usually have a degree in HR, sociology, or psychology.  

What can this role lead to?

Upon gaining some experience you may move into a specialist role with a focus on DE&I. Possible titles for this role could be DE&I coordinator, analyst, or specialist. They will mainly focus on initiatives such as events and programs related to DE&I.

Post this, you could then move to manager roles where you’ll be responsible for leading DE&I strategies and initiatives across the organization. Finally, you will then move to that of a director or executive level and will have boarder responsibilities for the DE&I strategy across the organization.

In addition to this, it's also important to note that some DE&I professionals may choose to specialise even further in a particular area of D&I. These could include LGBTQ+, disability, parents at work, women empowerment etc.

What are some considerations?

Given the importance of social equality, and the importance it holds over the brand and reputation of an organization, it’s vitally important to get this right.  

Not only this but it’s also the right thing to do. People are a company’s greatest asset and they should look to harness the collective and unique capabilities of their employees.  

Given the societal influence in this area, there can be quite a lot of pressure on teams to get this right.  There are constant changes in how society is expecting corporations to rise up to these challenges and the DE&I professional will be required to meet these challenges.  

With the right DE&I strategy and team in place, the organization will be able to achieve their goals and objectives and whiling creating and maintaining a culture of respect and equality for all employees.

Possible titles

Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Equity and Inclusion Consultant, Inclusion Program Coordinator, Diversity and Belonging Advisor, Equality and Diversity Officer, Diversity Recruiter, Inclusion Training Facilitator, D&I Analyst, Chief Diversity Officer

Recommended if…

Passionate about social change and advocating for underrepresented groups and marginalized communities, not afraid of discussing what some may call taboo subjects, able to motivate, 

Required skills

  • Understanding of social justice issues and systemic inequities,
  • High levels of communication and interpersonal skills
  • Great facilitator
  • Project management skills
  • Relationship and rapport-building skills

Related Article: 11 Best DEI Certifications To Take

HR/People Analytics

Our geo-political world is built upon the access and supply of oil but it’s no longer the most valuable resource in the world, data is. 

The world’s biggest companies use their access to data in order to leverage it for profits and growth.

Facebook, for example, is able to offer advertisers and producers of goods and services access to the very consumers they are trying to sell to. 

And they can do this while using the data they have on users’ preferences to ensure maximum ROI for advertisers. This is no different in the HR world.

Role and Responsibilities

More and more data is being used to predict and manage employee behaviour. The people analytics department help organizations make data-driven HR decisions. They collect and analyze HR data, develop insights, and make recommendations based on what the data is telling them. 

Using this data, they then work with HR and leaders to develop and implement HR strategies to achieve business success.

The responsibilities of a people analytics specialist may include:

  • Collecting and analyzing HR data: collecting and analyzing data related to an organization's workforce, including data related to recruitment, retention, performance, compensation, and other HR-related metrics.
  • Developing and delivering HR analytics reports: developing and delivering HR analytics reports that provide insights into workforce trends, gaps, and opportunities for improvement.
  • Conducting statistical analysis: conducting statistical analysis of HR data using tools/software.
  • Developing and implementing data-driven HR strategies: developing and implementing HR strategies based on data analysis, including strategies related to talent management, employee engagement, and performance management.
  • Collaborating with HR and business leaders: collaborating with HR and business leaders to identify HR metrics that are critical to the success of the organization and to develop data-driven solutions to HR challenges.
  • Managing HR data systems: managing HR data systems, including HRIS, payroll systems, and other HR-related databases.
  • Staying up-to-date with HR analytics trends: stay up-to-date with HR analytics trends and best practices, including new tools and technologies for data analysis.

Why do people follow this path?

A role within the people analytics department is quite unique in that, while the role is in the HR sphere, you typically work with data and statistics for most of your working day. 

However, having an understanding of employees and their behavior is still needed to comprehend the “story” behind the data “Why are attrition levels higher traditionally during month X versus month Y?”, “What are the engagement levels differences within Team A based on generation?”.

What are some considerations?

Having an analytical mind is of course required for this role but that has to be mixed with an understanding of your employee group. This is where collaborating with your colleagues within the business and other HR teams will help to decipher what the data is saying.

What can this role lead to?

The career path of a people analytics professional will depend on the organization and individual goals, but, generally, you will start off in an entry-level role and then work from there to a people analytics specialist to manager, director, and then head of people analytics.

Again, depending on the organization and its size, this is the typical path, it would mostly be mid-large organizations that would have a specialist department in place.  

With the ever-growing importance of data and utilizing it to gain a competitive advance in the market, employers recognize the fact that having an effective and efficient people analytics department in place is tantamount to the organization’s success.

Possible titles

People Analytics Manager, People Analytics Specialist, HR Analytics Consultant, Data Analyst (focused on HR), Workforce Analytics Manager, HR Reporting Analyst, Talent Analytics Specialist, HR Data Scientist, Employee Insights Analyst, HR Metrics and Analytics Advisor

Recommended if…

Enjoy taking the time to decipher complex datasets and explain them to others, you are a bit of a data nerd, excited by the power of data, and data is more important than gut feeling/intuition to you.

Required skills

  • Data analytics
  • Data visualization
  • Quantitive & statistical skills
  • Problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
  • IT program skills (Excel ,PPT, etc)
  • Communication and story-telling skills

Organizational Development

Two elements of HR that are at the forefront of the HR professionals mind are people and processes. It is the responsibility of HR professionals to ensure maximum return on the organization’s most valuable asset: people.

In order to do this, there needs to be processes and policies in place in order to guide and manage employees. 

How these processes and procedures are run and implemented is at the discretion of the organization. 

This balance of people and process, and ensuring that there are processes in place that complement the employees and the organization, is why organizational development specialists exist. 

Role and Responsibilities

The organizational development (OD) department is responsible for supporting the growth of the organization by ensuring there are effective and efficient processes and procedures in place for the employees. 

There are many elements in which OD is involved: change management, leadership development, talent management, culture development, team development, and employee engagement.  

The responsibilities of an OD specialist include:

  • Assess organizational needs: assessing organizational needs, such as identifying areas for improvement in organizational performance, leadership, culture, and employee engagement.
  • Develop and implement OD initiatives: designing and implementing initiatives to address organizational needs, such as leadership development programs, team-building initiatives, culture change initiatives, and employee engagement programs.
  • Facilitate workshops and training: facilitating workshops and training sessions to help employees develop the skills they need to improve their performance, such as communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.
  • Support change management initiatives: support change management initiatives by helping employees and managers adapt to organizational changes, such as mergers, restructurings, and process improvements.
  • Use data analytics to measure impact: using data analytics to measure the impact of their initiatives and identify areas for improvement.
  • Provide coaching and mentoring: providing coaching and mentoring to employees and managers to help them develop their skills and achieve their goals.

Overall, the OD department plays a critical role in supporting the growth and development of an organization by improving the effectiveness of its people and processes.

Why do people follow this path?

OD specialists help organizations manage change, develop leaders, manage talent, shape culture, build teams, increase employee engagement, and use data analytics to measure the impact of their initiatives.

Very similar to that of an HRBP, the OD professional must have an understanding of the strategy and goals of the organization in order to plan their tasks for best supporting it.  

The difference is that they must also have knowledge of the processes and procedures related to the areas as outlined above (leadership development, change management, talent management, etc) and they would work outside of the typical day-to-day operations and more towards the global entity rather than the country or region.

What are some considerations?

Similar to many specialist roles, the OD specialist’s career path will mostly be in those of large, multinational organizations and career opportunities will depend on the organization’s overall strategy and the importance they place on the OD department’s part in their plans.

What can this role lead to?

As mentioned before, the organizational development department tends to exist only in large organizations. With this in mind, OD professionals typically begin their journey in entry-level administration/coordinator roles and then progress to specialist, manager, and then director roles. There is also the opportunity to work as a consultant for consultancy firms as an organizational development consultant.

Possible titles

Organizational Development Manager, Organizational Development Consultant, Organizational Development Specialist, Organizational Development Analyst, Organizational Change Management Specialist, Talent Development Manager, Leadership Development Specialist, Culture Transformation Consultant.

Recommended if…

You’re happy to ruminate over processes and procedures until they are perfect, enjoy connecting the dots between the different teams within HR and other departments, and interested in how groups of people work and function together.

Required skills

  • Change management expertise
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking abilities
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Facilitation and coaching skills
  • Project management skills


Unlike most people that I speak to on a regular basis in the HR field, I loved interviewing people and carrying out recruitment tasks.

It’s an opportunity for you to speak to someone directly and to explore their career as well as the person to find out who they are and if they will fit into the organization.

I’m a big sports fan (soccer) and exploring people’s potential has always been a fascination of mine e.g. how a person's performance at one club (company) could be very different from how they perform at another.

Recruiting the right people into the right role is of utmost importance, and having a recruitment team that knows the organization’s goals and needs is the first step on this path. 

Role and Responsibilities

The recruitment team is the face of the organization to the candidates that apply for open roles.  They work with hiring managers to develop job descriptions and advertisements. They then work on the sourcing, gathering, and interviewing of candidates for that role. 

The responsibilities of a recruitment specialist include:

  • Job analysis and design: working with hiring managers to identify the skills, knowledge, and experience required for open positions and designing job descriptions that accurately reflect those requirements.
  • Sourcing and screening candidates: using various methods to attract and identify potential candidates for open positions, such as posting job ads, searching job boards and social media platforms, and using recruitment agencies. They then screen candidates to assess their qualifications, experience, and fit for the position.
  • Conducting interviews: conducting interviews with candidates to assess their skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as their fit with the organizational culture.
  • Making job offers: working with hiring managers to make job offers to successful candidates, negotiate salary and benefits, and ensure that all necessary paperwork is completed.
  • Managing the recruitment process: managing the recruitment process from start to finish, including coordinating with hiring managers, scheduling interviews, and providing feedback to candidates.
  • Applicant tracking: managing applicant tracking systems, ensuring that candidate information is accurate and up-to-date.
  • Employer branding: working to promote the organization's employer brand by creating and maintaining a positive reputation as an employer of choice. This may involve participating in job fairs, promoting the organization's values and culture, and developing marketing materials to attract candidates.

Overall the recruitment specialist is responsible for ensuring that there is a pipeline of suitable candidates for a given role. They will lead and support the organization in its efforts to fill an open role.

Why do people follow this path?

For the recruitment professional, it’s a constant balancing act between the need to fill a role, find the right person, source the right field of candidates, and ensure the organization doesn’t fall foul of any legal issues along the way.  

This constant balancing act means that the role of a recruitment professional is challenging, which can be appealing to some people and not to others.

Depending on the urgency of filling the role and the niche skills required the work of a recruiter is never done. 

There is also ensuring that the candidate’s experience is also positive and that the interview process is effective and efficient to the point where what questions are asked and stages there are (group interview, workshop, etc) are important and to be clear what they are measuring (i.e. what is being measured to determine if a candidate is suitable for the role or not).

What can this role lead to?

There is a set career path for a recruitment professional, similar to that in a HR generalist role.  They would start off in entry-level admin/sourcing roles and work from there to a specialist, manager, director, and finally to head of recruitment.

Recruitment tends to be under the umbrella of HR, so the CPO/CHRO would have overall responsibility for the recruitment strategy.

Typically, the recruitment career path would look like:

  • Coordinator/Sourcer: Many recruitment professionals start their careers as recruitment coordinators or sourcers. In this role, they provide administrative support to the recruitment team, such as scheduling interviews, posting job ads, and maintaining candidate databases. As a sourcer, you would spend your time trying to identify and attract candidates from many different sources (LinkedIn, specialist websites like Github etc). They would then screen candidates to ensure suitability for the role and organization.
  • Recruitment Specialist: After gaining experience as a coordinator or sourcer, recruitment professionals can move into a recruitment specialist role. In this role, they’re responsible for managing the end-to-end recruitment process, including sourcing and screening candidates, conducting interviews, and making job offers.
  • Senior Recruitment Specialist: As recruitment professionals gain more experience, they may progress to senior recruitment specialist. In this role, they may take on additional responsibilities, such as managing recruitment campaigns, providing guidance and training to junior staff, and developing recruitment strategies.
  • Recruitment Manager: recruitment managers are responsible for overseeing the recruitment function within an organization. They manage a team of recruitment professionals, develop recruitment strategies, and work with senior management to align recruitment with organizational goals.
  • Director of Talent Acquisition: The highest-level role in recruitment is the director of talent acquisition. In this role, the recruitment professional is responsible for setting the overall recruitment strategy for the organization and ensuring that the recruitment function supports the organization's long-term talent needs.

What are some considerations?

There is also the option of being a recruitment professional either in-house or with a recruitment agency.  

The in-house recruiter works specifically for an organization whereas a recruiter with an agency (typically referred to as a Recruitment Consultant) works for a staffing company that provides talent acquisition services to companies.  

It’s worth noting here that during difficult periods for the organization, e.g. if there are hiring freezes and layoffs, the first round of layoffs tends to be in the recruitment team.

Recruitment consultants work with their clients to fill a range of job openings across different industries/companies. As well as the usual recruitment duties, the recruitment consultant role is a sales-driven role.  

They must sell the services of the agency and then fill roles in order to bill to their clients.  Recruitment consultants in this sense are salespeople and their products are people and roles. 

There are a lot of sales drive KPIs attached to this role, and the KPIs can be quite high, so it’s a challenging role. However, if you have the “sales gene” then this is a rewarding role where progress can be rapid depending on how much you sell and the client you bring in.

Recommended if…

You enjoy connecting the right talent with the right role and networking and building relationships, have a keen key for talent and potential, love speaking with people about their careers and aspirations =, 

Required skills

  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • Analytical
  • Networking and relationship-building mindset
  • Organizational and time-management skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Problem-solving skills

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)

Mergers and Acquisitions, often referred to M&A, is an area of HR that I’ve only experienced in the last few years.

M&A refers to when a company merges or acquires another company. A merger is when two companies (Company A & B) merge together to combine into one entity (Company AB). 

Acquisition then refers to when Company A buys Company B (Company B no longer exists and is now a part of Company A).

Company B and all of its operations, people, products, services, resources, and intellectual property are then absorbed into Company A. There are multiple reasons that companies do this: access to new markets, increase market share, cost savings and/or acquirement of key IP/resources.

From an HR point of view, the M&A HR professional will be responsible for the HR aspects of the M&A. Typically their responsibilities would include:

  • Due diligence: conducting due diligence on the human resources aspects of potential acquisition targets, including reviewing employee benefits, compensation, and performance management practices.
  • Integration planning: developing integration plans that outline how the HR functions of the acquired company will be integrated into the acquiring company's HR systems and processes.
  • Workforce planning: developing workforce plans that address the impact of the transaction on the workforce, including identifying redundancies, retention strategies, and talent development plans.
  • Compliance: ensuring compliance with HR-related laws and regulations, including those related to benefits, compensation, and labor relations.
  • Employee communication: communicating with employees about the transaction, including its impact on their jobs and benefits, and answering questions and concerns.
  • Change management: managing the change process, including addressing resistance to change, communicating the benefits of the transaction, and developing a culture of integration.
  • Post-merger HR integration: overseeing the integration of HR systems, policies, and practices after the transaction has been completed, including ensuring a smooth transition for employees.

Why do people follow this path?

The M&A HR professional plays a significant role in the success of the M&A from a people perspective.

Their role is to ensure that the transition runs as smoothly as possible and that talent is integrated into the new entity/acquiring company.

They also handle a lot of the employee communications and negotiations plus the change management process for the transition.

What are some considerations?

The transition from one organization to another is an especially difficult challenge for employees to deal with and this is where the M&A HR professional will have to be tactful in their approach to ensure a smooth transition for the employees.

They would have spent their last few years working in Company B using Company B processes and used to their culture. 

When the transition occurs, the culture shock can be a lot for the employees to deal with and as such having effective communication and change management processes in place will make a significant difference.  

The M&A HR professional will have to help the incoming employees navigate this culture shock.  There will be a few “teething” issues at the start, but, if the M&A HR professional has done their change management correctly, the incoming employees should experience a soft landing in the new company.  

If not then they may experience a lot of frustration and confusion from the employees plus management will not be happy.

What can this role lead to?

M&A departments and in general as a practice will more than likely take place at large organizations. They are also a very complex and detailed process with many different legal and operational aspects to be kept in mind.  

As such, M&A HR professionals tend to be experienced in other areas of HR before they cut their teeth in M&A.  

Of course there will be entry roles into M&A, but this will be once you already have a start in HR and prior experience to build upon. As you gain more experience and advance you will move into that of a M&A HR Manager role and then up to a director level. 

These roles (at varying degrees) would be responsible for leading the HR integration efforts, developing the M&A HR strategy, and working with stakeholders and executives on the process. M&A is an exciting field to be a part of and that of a M&A HR professional is no different.  

The M&A HR professional will be front and centre in relation to the integration efforts and will meet with and communicate with everyone involved in the integration.

As more and more organizations work towards gaining a competitive advantage in the market, this will result in companies looking to buy in the expertise and knowledge rather than develop in-house, and the M&A HR professional will have to be on hand to ensure that the integration is successful for all.

Possible titles

M&A HR Consultant, M&A HR Advisor, M&A HR Integration Specialist, M&A HR Project Manager, M&A HR Transition Manager, M&A HR Due Diligence Specialist, M&A HR Change Management Specialist, M&A HR Integration Lead, M&A HR Business Partner, M&A HR Analyst

Recommended if…

You like working on complex projects with multiple stakeholders and competing priorities and egos as well as a keen interest in organizations and how they operate.

Required skills

  • HR knowledge and experience
  • Communication, negotiating, and influence skills
  • M&A knowledge
  • Strong project management skills
  • Change management.
  • Relationship management skills
  • Problem-solving skills

HRIS Specialist

For those of you not aware, HRIS stands for Human Resource Information System. This is the HR system in the company that helps the HR department manage employee information, benefits, payroll, attendance, and any other HR-related data.

Role and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of an HRIS specialist are:

  • Implementing and maintaining HRIS software: installing and configuring the HRIS software, as well as ensuring that it is running properly.
  • Managing HR data: ensuring that employee data is entered into the HRIS system accurately and is kept up to date.
  • Troubleshooting technical problems: identifying and resolving any technical issues related to the HRIS system.
  • Developing HRIS policies and procedures: developing and maintaining policies and procedures related to the HRIS system.
  • Training employees: training HR employees and managers on how to use the HRIS system.
  • Generating reports and analyzing HR data: generating reports on HR data and analyzing it to inform HR strategy and decision-making.

The HRIS specialist will play a critical role in the running and maintenance of the HRIS. It’s important to ensure that the HRIS runs as it should as this has control of many different aspects of the organization, most importantly the compensation and benefits of employees.

HRIS specialists are also able to generate and provide various reports for the HR and business teams. This could include comp & bens information, vacation leave ultilization, performance management etc.

Why do people follow this path?

Depending on the size of the organization, the system they use may be huge and as such this requires specialist professionals to maintain and develop. 

From a basic setup and infrastructure point of view, there will be IT experts that will do this. However, from a process and interface side, there is a requirement to have specialist HRIS experts on hand to implement and maintain the software and databases.

This area of HR is one of those areas where on-field experience in HR may not quite be required. The HRIS specialists are IT specialists first as they have to ensure the maintenance of the systems, but they are also analytical and technical experts too and having HR experience may not be 100% required.

What are some considerations?

It obviously does help to have an understanding of what the HR department would need in terms of reports, and what kind of data points are needed can provide the HRIS specialist with context and additional information to the most effective set up of the system. 

There are also many different HR systems that are generally used by some of the largest companies in the world. Having expertise in these systems does offer an advantage to the HR professional but for the HRIS specialist having an in-depth knowledge of these systems can be like having knowledge of different coding languages to software development.

What can this role lead to?

HRIS specialists can expect to start off in an entry-level role such as an HRIS analyst and move from there to a specialist, manager, and then director. There is also the opportunity to work as a consultant for consultancy firms to help other organizations get the most out of their HRIS.  

Possible titles

HR Systems Specialist, HR Technology Specialist, HR Information Systems Analyst, HR Data Management Specialist

Recommended if…

You enjoy working with IT systems and technology, have strong technical aptitude and the ability to example complex processes in a simple manner. Also, lots of patience.  

Required skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Analytical and reporting skills
  • Project management
  • Communication skills
  • Customer-service skills

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What to do next?

As you will have read from the above section, the career path of a human resource is not a straight line. 

At this point, you may feel overwhelmed with the options before you.

However, I would ask that you go back to one of the first sections when I mentioned that you should focus on what you need rather than want (this goes for any career decisions you have to make).

Being self-aware of your career needs can go a long way to helping you make the right decisions. 

Before I went into HR, I enlisted the help of a career coach who helped me to see this and, since then, my decision-making has been (more or less) stressless as I have been able to make decisions in my career knowing it will fulfill what I need.

For instance, I recently moved to a different country as an HR professional. I had never been to the country, didn't know the local languages or anyone there, and was moving by myself.  

Thankfully I was transferring internally within the company so I already had knowledge of my new employer, but this was still not an easy decision to make. 

However, from a career perspective, I knew it was the right thing to do as I had always wanted to live and experience HR in a different country. It was meant to be a temporary move at first but 2 years later I am still here.

Being self-aware of what I needed helped me (plus having a very supportive partner, family, and friends) and I have gained valuable knowledge that I would have never experienced if I had not decided to make the move.

Now it is over to you, what do you NEED out of your career? What will provide you with a sense of fulfillment and achievement? What do you need to do to get there, who do you need to connect with?  

My suggestion would be to look at roles that attract you and review what skills/experience you already possess to perform in that role and then the potential gaps in your knowledge/experience.

Reach out to professionals in your desired field, read some specialist HR books and/or attend conferences based on topics that you are interested in (here's a good list of some HR conferences).

There is no limit to the possibilities that are open to you, perhaps you could even transition from HR to another career or go it alone as a freelance HR consultant.

As the saying goes: every journey begins with a choice, I only hope that I have made making this choice easier for you!

Further resources:

Even further resources:

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By Cillian Dore

Cillian Dore has over 10 years experience in HR working across multiple industries and HR disciplines. Currently, he works at a Fortune 500 company as a Human Resources Business Partner. He’s passionate about everything HR and creating better workplaces for all.