Generalist Job Description

Employed by employment services firms and most types of businesses, generalists handle recruitment, training, performance management, compensation and benefits, and all other areas of a company's human resources (HR). They must follow the company's HR policies and procedures as well as meet legal requirements in all aspects of hiring, managing, and firing workers. Successful generalists feel comfortable working with people from all backgrounds, solving conflicts between employees, and making important decisions daily. Generalists mostly work in offices during traditional business hours, but they do travel to hiring events as needed.

Generalist Duties and Responsibilities

Specific duties and responsibilities may vary depending on the organization a generalist works in, but there are several core tasks associated with the job, including:
Handle Staff Recruitment and Retention
Generalists develop strategies for recruiting new employees, create job postings, reach out to potential candidates, and perform job interviews. They conduct background checks and handle paperwork for new hires. Generalists also create strategies to retain employees and complete exit interviews when employees quit or get fired.
Provide Employee Orientation and Development
Generalists offer orientation programs to new employees to get them acquainted with company policies and procedures as well as handle any onboarding training. Development activities for existing employees include doing performance reviews and helping employees maintain their skills through online or on-site training as needed.
Maintain Employee Information
Generalists are responsible for keeping the company's organizational charts and individual employee data current. They update employee data when the company hires new workers and when existing employees have changes to their personal data or exit the company.
Manage Employee Payroll and Benefits
Processing employee pay, ensuring the accuracy of wage and tax calculations, and distributing paychecks are all part of a generalist's job. They also fill out federal, state, and local tax reports for the company regularly. Managing benefits programs for insurance, paid time off, and retirement plans are also common tasks.
Handle Employee Relations Issues
When an employee faces harassment, discrimination, or other conflict with coworkers or management, a generalist provides guidance, fills out any necessary paperwork, and helps offer conflict resolution. Generalists may also set up programs to prevent workplace problems and inform workers of appropriate conduct.

Generalist Skills and Qualifications

Their broad range of job duties requires generalists to have good multitasking, communication, and organizational skills. Employers look for a bachelor's degree and up to a few years of prior HR work experience. They often seek generalists with the following skills:

  • Understanding of HR management – a generalist role requires extensive expertise in recruitment, benefits and compensation management, employee relations, and performance management
  • Computer skills – managing electronic employee records, filing paperwork and documentation online, creating online job posts, and searching databases all require generalists to have good computer skills
  • Conflict resolution – whether two employees argue over a project or discrimination issues happen, generalists need to successfully resolve conflicts between employees while adhering to employment regulations and policies
  • Interpersonal skills – strong interpersonal skills help generalists when interviewing potential hires, managing conflict, or simply interacting with others in the organization
  • Decision-making skills – generalists make important decisions to hire or fire workers as well as choose training programs and benefits options


Tools of the Trade

Common applications that generalists use include the following:

  • Enterprise resource planning software (Oracle PeopleSoft, ADP, SAP)
  • Human resources information systems (Workday, SAP SuccessFactors, BambooHR)
  • Productivity software (Microsoft Office)


Generalist Education and Training

The most common path to becoming a generalist is to earn a bachelor's degree in HR or business. Both majors provide a general business education in topics such as business strategy, HR management, and leadership. However, HR programs have more specialized coursework in recruitment, employee development, benefits management, employment law, and employee relations. Some employers prefer generalists with certification from the Society for Human Resource Management or HR Certification Institute. Available at different levels, these credentials require meeting varying HR education and experience requirements.

Generalist Salary and Outlook

Generalists, classified as HR specialists by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earn a median yearly wage of $60,350. The 10th percentile of generalists make around $35,800, and the highest earners make over $103,570 a year. Depending on the company, full-time generalists can receive generous medical insurance packages, paid time off, and retirement plan options.
The BLS expects generalist employment to grow at an average rate of seven percent through 2026. Outsourcing and technology can cut jobs in the HR field, although companies will still need generalists to help with employee benefits and ensure HR laws get followed. HR firms may offer the most abundant jobs, and HR certification can improve job prospects.

Helpful Resources

Here are some resources to get you started on your career as a generalist.
Society for Human Resource Management – the SHRM provides a wealth of resources in all areas of HR and tools for writing job descriptions, performing interviews, and completing HR forms. It also offers online and on-site learning opportunities, industry certifications, worldwide events, networking opportunities, and industry news
The Essential HR Handbook – focused on helping HR professionals avoid legal issues, this guide by Sharon Armstrong and Barbara Mitchell offers practical tips on managing employees and hiring new talent. It also offers advice on how to effectively counsel poor-performing workers and use compensation packages that offer fair pay and reward hard workers
HR Certification Institute – known for offering well-known HR certifications for professionals at all levels, this organization provides outlines of exam content, preparation materials, and details on maintaining certification
The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals – this guide uses a question and answer format to address common issues HR professionals encounter in selecting and retaining the best employees and keeping good working relationships among them. Other topics include competitive benefits packages, employment law, discharge procedures, and workforce reorganization


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