Human resources generalists typically possess the training and experience to handle complex assignments for their organizations, ranging from recruitment to employee relations. Senior level job descriptions normally call for degreed candidates with at least five years experience in the HR field. Smaller companies often hire a senior generalist to serve the HR needs for the entire organization. Larger corporations may employ multiple generalists, each with the responsibility of providing dedicated support to a specific business segment.
Successful HR generalists must possess a thorough understanding of both the operational and strategic side of the business. Other vital skills include well-honed organizational abilities, a high degree of professional ethics and sense of fairness and the ability to work with individuals at all levels. Flexibility is extremely important as a senior generalist must rapidly shift from one HR function to another depending on the situation. They must also have excellent decision-making capabilities and be comfortable guiding others toward making sound business choices.
Managing the day-to-day duties is the ongoing broad function of this position. In a given day, the HR generalist might spend time in recruiting activities, interviewing candidates to fill multiple job openings, then meet with a line manager to discuss an employee relations issue. If a request for a promotion passes her desk, she may do some compensation analysis to attain the market rate for a given position. An employee whose wife had a baby may call upon her for assistance in adding the child to the existing health benefit plan. Training managers on the use of the company’s performance management system is also a generalist's responsibility.
Generalists also work on annual projects such as updating the employee manual or writing HR policies and procedures. In smaller firms, participating in compensation and benefit surveys is part of the job description. It is not uncommon in this position to arrange company functions such as picnics and workplace celebrations. Participating in the safety committee meetings might be another responsibility.
Obtaining a generalist position at the senior level requires significant experience and a thorough understanding of the multiple HR components. Graduates with a business degree, preferably with a concentration in human resources management, might opt to accept an entry level position in a generalist capacity and continue to grow through on-the-job training. Another option is to enter HR as a specialist, and plan strategic moves into various segments of the department. For example, a specialist might spend several years in compensation and benefits, then move to talent management or employee relations before opting for a senior generalist position. Obtaining HR certifications is recommended. A professional with a background as both a specialist and a generalist is well positioned to qualify for senior management roles at the director or vice president level.