What to Know About Becoming an HR Specialist

If employees represent the heart of a business or organization, a human resource specialist serves as its heartbeat. These professionals help a business come to life, ensuring each department has the right people. As such, human resource specialists are vital to an employer’s ability to operate at full capacity.

This crucial, though often overlooked, role within a company is the perfect career path for those that are looking for a rewarding job that they can be proud of. However, the road to becoming a human resources specialist can be daunting. Human resources specialists have a hand in nearly all aspects of operations and are relied on to provide several essential services. With so many options for where to start and a diverse collection of job duties, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.

Taking a closer look at the career of an HR specialist can help prospective students learn more about what’s required of these professionals, as well as the steps to become an HR specialist, like getting an online business degree.

What Is a Human Resource Specialist?

Human resources (HR) specialists are personnel management professionals who perform a variety of duties related to hiring, employee relations, compensation, benefits, and training. There’s a wide range of career paths for those with a human resources degree including working as generalists or choosing to concentrate on certain areas with a higher level of technical skill and specialized knowledge.

These specialized areas of responsibility within HR can include:

  • Risk Management;
  • Employee and Labor Relations;
  • Training and Development;
  • Total Rewards;
  • Workforce Planning and Workflow Analysis.

What Does a Human Resource Specialist Do?

As mentioned previously, HR professionals can be responsible for a variety of different aspects of employee-related matters. They serve as key players in the hiring process, but their job entails so much more. They’re also involved in ensuring that work arrangements are well-suited for both employees as well as employers. This position is often the go-to person for most employee concerns involving benefits, payroll, and issues with coworkers.

It’s important to understand all of the different roles human resource specialists can play in a company to ensure that you choose a career path that best meets your strengths. Some specialized roles human resource professionals may fill include:

Recruitment and Retention Specialist

This role is at the forefront of the hiring process and tasked with overseeing most aspects of recruitment. HR specialists in this position are depended on to sift through applications, vet applicants, interview prospective hires, and take new employees through the onboarding process — which spans from tax document preparation to coworker introductions.

Compensation and Benefits Specialist

Payroll and benefits implementation are some of the most essential aspects of a workplace. Compensation and benefits specialist responsibilities include being the go-to resources for anything related to the paycheck of the employees as well as the healthcare plans and retirement accounts. They’ll also handle matters involving time-off requests and updating employee information as needed.

Training and Development Specialist

Depending on the industry, up-to-date employee training and certification are often a requirement to adhere to workplace regulations. In most cases, it’s up to the HR department to stay on top of what types of training or certification each department needs and set up courses as needed. Becoming an HR training and development specialist may also mean leading seminars that improve worker skills or provide some kind of personal or professional enrichment.

How To Become an HR Specialist

It’s not uncommon to hear people pose the question “What degree do you need for human resources work?” Given the importance of the role a human resources specialist plays in a company, it’s unsurprising that many workplaces prefer personnel that have a certain level of education and training themselves. Because of this, most individuals pursuing this field hold at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a similar field, such as a Bachelor of Science in Management.

What Degree Do You Need for Human Resources?

Bachelor’s degree programs at most colleges and universities take four years for full-time students to complete, including for human resources-related majors and those offered through the UAB Collat School of Business. The curriculum is typically a combination of marketing, business, and general education courses that add up to 120 semester credit hours.

Enrolling in an online Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management program provides students with exposure to the robust education needed to build the competencies, skills, and knowledge that HR specialists apply daily. Earning this degree includes completing coursework that may cover topics like:

  • Organizational behavior and Decision-making
  • Employment law and business intelligence
  • Managing through leadership
  • Information systems and business communications
  • Basic marketing and fundamentals of finance

Many human resource management programs also include a practicum or capstone project in addition to the core curriculum. Getting this type of experiential learning can help students connect what they learn to how human resource specialists operate in the real world.


When it comes to those that wish to obtain licensure through the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the pathway is a bit different. The SHRM Certified Professional program timeline can vary widely depending on whether you already have a bachelor’s degree or on-the-job, human resources-related work experience. UAB’s online degree program specifically is aligned with SHRM’s curriculum guidelines to give you a headstart on obtaining this credential.

Skills Needed To Be an HR Specialist

The skills required to be an HR specialist are as widespread as their responsibilities. Below are a few of the most common skill sets needed across all human resources positions.

  • Organization and attention to detail: Ensuring that employee records are up-to-date and in their correct place is central to all HR positions. This requires a certain level of organizational skills on both a digital and physical level. There’s also a great deal of attention to detail needed to ensure compliance with personnel policies and labor laws.
  • Conflict resolution: Disagreements in the workplace are bound to happen. When they do, it’s typically up to an HR professional to utilize their conflict management skills to help both sides come to an understanding. No matter if the disagreement is between coworkers or an employee and management, HR is expected to play the role of an impartial party and facilitate fair resolutions.
  • Communication: Due to the nature of their position, human resource specialists must employ exceptional communication skills. They may be conducting interviews, listening to employee concerns, or acting as a bridge between upper management and staff at any time. This requires those looking to pursue this career path to be an effective communicator.
  • High ethics: With all of the private employee and company information being handled daily, high ethical standards are a must. This includes a strong sense of honesty and forthrightness to maintain confidentiality and privacy rights for everyone involved.

Compensation and Demand Outlook

Given the variety of responsibilities that human resource specialists have, this occupation can be demanding. Fortunately, for the majority of professionals, the average annual compensation reflects this fact.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for human resources specialists was $62,290 in May 2021. BLS also estimates that the demand for this role will increase by 8% by 2031, faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations. This estimate is promising for those looking to start their journey to becoming an HR specialist in the near future.

Is a Career in Human Resources Right for You?

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report, employee engagement reached a record high in 2023. Some of the main driving factors behind employee engagement have been effective management and employee recognition.

HR specialists are a vital part of this, helping to foster an environment of success in any organization. They take on the roles of both hiring the right people and keeping them happy in the workplace. To do this, a combination of business acumen, analytical skills, and building interpersonal relationships is needed. If you possess these abilities and enjoy making a difference with your work, becoming an HR specialist may be the right career move for you.



Indeed, “How to Become a Human Resources Specialist”

Society of Human Resource Management, “SHRM Certified Professional”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Human Resources Specialists”

Gallup, “Globally, Employees Are More Engaged — and More Stressed”