HR career paths

Your Guide to 5 of the Best HR Career Paths

With a one-person HR team, administrative duties often take priority over strategic initiatives, like employee experience, workforce planning, or company culture.

However, as companies grow, so too do opportunities for HR professionals to take on new responsibilities and contribute in meaningful ways. Specialized HR careers ensure that every stage of the employee lifecycle has a clear owner and a process—so nothing gets left in a blind spot.

Whatever job title you land on, you have a wide range of HR career paths to choose from. Where do you start? We’ve outlined five tracks to help you climb the right HR ladder.

1. The HR Generalist

For the jack-of-all-trades and multi-tasker extraordinaire, the HR Generalist career path may be a good fit. The HR Generalist has a hand in all pieces of the HR machine, including benefits, onboarding, performance management, talent acquisition, and compliance.

The HR Generalist plays a vital role in ensuring that everything runs without a hitch. While this can be a lot for one person, it gives you a 360 degree view of the company’s ecosystem (and can help you identify where else you might want to specialize down the line.)


  • Minimum 3 years of related HR experience
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Exceptional organization and communication skills


  • Own execution of compensation including payroll and benefits
  • Manage the hiring process from recruiting to onboarding
  • Attend to employee relations, concerns, and culture
  • Administer performance reporting
  • Create high level goals and processes
  • Ensure company compliance across the board

National Average Salary*

2. The Talent Acquisition Specialist

As companies grow, workforce planning becomes more important than ever. The Talent Acquisition Specialist is responsible for building and shaping an organization's structure.

In this role, you understand the importance of hiring candidates that are both qualified and a culture add. This role manages all efforts to recruit, interview, and onboard top talent. Over time, talent acquisition can be broken into even more specific roles, such as department-specific recruiters or onboarding specialists.


  • 2 years of relevant experience
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Excellent communication and critical evaluation skills


  • Work closely with hiring manager to define the ideal candidate
  • Promote job openings and scout external talent
  • Screen and interview candidates
  • Drive the hiring process, including verifications and offers
  • Provide orientation and onboarding training to new employees

National Average Salary

3. The HR Data Analyst

Data is becoming increasingly important to every department within an organization, and HR is no exception. The HR Data Analyst tracks metrics throughout the talent lifecycle to inform better processes. 

This career path is still relatively new in the field, so it requires a lot of creativity and strategic data-driven thinking in order to develop useful and actionable metrics.


  • 5 years relevant experience in data analysis or statistics
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • A comprehensive understanding of the HR space


  • Establish core metrics to measure success of talent lifecycle
  • Track metrics and identify fluctuations over time
  • Create surveys to obtain qualitative insights
  • Work with the rest of the team to implement metric-driven changes

National Average Salary

4. The Payroll and Benefits Administrator

Employees’ primary communication with their HR team typically centers around compensation and benefits. Whether it’s a missed paycheck, open enrollment, or tax season, employees rely on the Payroll and Benefits Administrator to answer their questions and make sure everything is in order.

The Payroll and Benefits Administrator maintains processes to ensure that employees are properly compensated.


  • 3-5 years of relevant experience in benefits and payroll
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Able to communicate confusing concepts to employees


  • Establish processes for distribution and management of payroll and benefits
  • Run payroll for employees
  • Research and implement benefits plans
  • Communicate insurance plans to employees
  • Address any employee payroll concerns

National Average Salary

5. The Employee Relations Manager

Employees need a central contact for their disputes, personal concerns, and questions. Within the HR department, the Employee Relations Manager handles all things people.

This means the Employee Relations Manager works collaboratively across the HR team, relying on peers for expert guidance when different employee situations arise—but the role’s primary focus is to advise and consult employees on any concerns.


  • 3-5 years relevant HR experience
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Strong communication and relationship management skills


  • Handle employee personal concerns that affect their work life
  • Facilitate a safe and comfortable workspace
  • Advise management on practices and policies
  • Administer colleague relations and grievance procedures
  • Ensure compliance with employment regulations

National Average Salary

HR touches every part of the employee experience and as the field grows, there are more and more HR career paths to choose from. The best way to find your niche is to dive right in, get your hands dirty, and see what tasks align most with your goals and interests. 

Here’s to finding the right stops as you climb the HR career ladder to Chief People Officer, Chief Happiness Officer, or even Chief Listening Officer!

*All national salary averages come from Glassdoor.

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