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How Long Does It Take to Become an HR Generalist?

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How long it takes to become a human resource generalist depends on the path you take to get there. HR professionals typically complete four years of undergraduate study. Generalists might have two additional years of graduate work. You might need 10 years of experience working for different organizations -- plus more training -- before you can call yourself an HR generalist.

Job Description

HR generalists are knowledgeable about all aspects of their profession. Recruitment and hiring, benefits administration, employment law, labor relations, performance evaluations, employee relations, compensation, mediation, training and strategic planning are key HR functions. HR generalists in large companies often manage specialists in these areas. Candidates for generalist positions need strong interpersonal and leadership skills. They must be able to work with employee populations diverse in age, culture and background. Diplomacy, flexibility and discretion are characteristics they need to settle workplace disputes, help organizations avoid lawsuits and protect the sensitive and proprietary information they're responsible for maintaining.

Education & Training

HR professionals generally have four-year undergraduate degrees. Academic qualifications for HR generalists vary by organization, position level and duties. But employers often look for generalists with master's degrees in business, science or law. Six combined years of undergraduate and graduate studies prepare generalists for managerial positions and their roles as experts in employment law, industrial relations and other crucial areas of concern to employers. Villanova University's Master's of Science in Human Resource Development program offers coursework in organizational training, labor law, HR technology solutions and workforce planning. Cornell University offers an online program called Master Certificate in Human Resources for HR generalists who need additional training in an HR specialty, such as human capital management or performance metrics.

Job Transitions

HR specialists and HR assistants occasionally make the transition to HR generalists. Even organizational psychologists, who study workplace behavior and often work closely with HR departments, have made the transition. HR specialists typically have undergraduate degrees, and many have master's degrees. OPs become HR generalists when they're seeking to head up an organization's HR function as director of vice president. OPs with bachelor's degrees frequently work in HR and those who conduct research in workplace productivity, HR assessment or employee training likely have master's and Ph.D. degrees. The years of academic preparation, including internships and other training, work experience and learning the HR generalist's job add up substantially for HR specialists and OPs making the transition. HR assistants without four-year degrees might require accelerated training in HR studies to become generalists.

Career Outlook

Job growth for HR generalists is expected to be 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, on par with the average for most other vocations, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Growth depends on how well organizations perform. Companies that expand need HR generalists to help them comply with safety and equal employment opportunity laws and to administer healthcare, compensation and retirement programs. The BLS predicts that job candidates with certificates or master's degrees in HR or business are likely to have the best chances of getting hired. The bureau also expects job opportunities in HR consulting to rise, as organizations continue outsourcing HR functions. HR managers, including generalists, earn a median wage of $99,180 a year.


Valerie Bolden-Barrett is a writer, editor and communication consultant specializing in best business practices, public policy, personal finance and career development. She is a former senior editor of national business publications covering management and finance, employment law, human resources, career development, and workplace issues and trends.

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