What Specializations Are There in Human Resources?

Human resources encompasses several specializations. Find out what human resources jobs entail and what branch might be right for you.

portrait of Jenna Glatzer
by Jenna Glatzer

Published October 31, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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What Specializations Are There in Human Resources?
Image Credit: Delmaine Donson / E+ / Getty Images


Human resources (HR) is the department within a business or organization that helps ensure the right people get hired and then follows the employees through their time with the company. Human resources specialists aim to make sure employees are happy, properly compensated, trained, and well-placed. They also make sure employees know and follow company regulations.

In smaller workplaces, just a few people may handle all the HR management duties. In larger businesses and organizations, there may be large HR departments where workers specialize in certain aspects of the job.

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What Is Human Resources?

The human resources department is in charge of personnel: recruiting and fielding job applicants, training people, keeping workers abreast of employment laws, scheduling vacation time, developing workplace policies, managing health benefits and retirement plans, conducting exit interviews, and so on.

Most human resources jobs require a bachelor's degree at minimum, but not all require a degree specifically in human resources. When considering this career, depending on which specialty interests you, you may look into pursuing a bachelor's degree in business, psychology, finance, or communications.

You can also improve your job prospects by getting certain certifications, such as professional in human resources (PHR), senior professional in human resources (SPHR), Society for Human Resource Management-certified professional (SHRM-CP), or Society for Human Resource Management-senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP).

Is Human Resources in Demand?

The number of jobs for human resources specialists is projected to grow 8% between 2021 and 2031, with about 81,900 job openings, on average, per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

State Number of HR Jobs Annual Mean Salary (as of May 2021)
California 84,590 $81,360
Texas 56,810 $69,360
Florida 47,900 $65,350
New York 47,180 $84,200

Source: BLS

4 Types of Human Resources Specializations

Some HR specialists are generalists, meaning they cover all aspects of the role, while others are specialists. Here are four of the most common types of HR specialties.

Recruiting

Recruiters are the HR specialists tasked with finding the company's talent. They may source job candidates, handle initial screenings by phone, schedule interviews, manage (and possibly write) job postings, make job offers, and negotiate salary packages. This can be an entry-level position and may grow into higher-level and higher-paying recruiting work.

To work in recruiting, you'll need solid people skills and the ability to listen and matchmake appropriately. You'll also need to represent the company well to others and have good organizational skills to handle appointments for multiple people.

You're likely to get a lot of questions and communication headed your way each day — hiring managers wanting to know what you're doing to fill a position, job candidates wanting to know if you've made a decision, and so on. You'll need patience and a willingness to be responsive.

Training and Development

Those who specialize in training and development are in charge of planning and overseeing training for new hires and those looking to transfer roles within the company or work toward promotions. They also handle workers' ongoing training and development to maintain or improve their skills.

They evaluate training programs and teachers, conduct surveys and ask for feedback to see what's needed and how effective training is, create or order training materials, maintain a budget, keep records, and conduct assessments. They may also conduct training themselves.

Compensation and Benefits

If you have an analytical mind, you may look into working as a compensation and benefits specialist, sometimes known as a "total rewards" specialist. Total rewards include not only salary, but also bonuses, incentives, health benefits, retirement benefits, life insurance, and nonmonetary rewards like recognition and development opportunities.

There are also sub-specialties within this branch — some focused just on health benefits, for instance. It's a specialty that requires industry knowledge since you'll be a go-to person when employees have questions about things like flexible spending accounts or deductibles.

Labor and Employee Relations

Labor relations specialists are liaisons who deal with labor unions. They handle routine matters like record-keeping of hirings and terminations and the status of diversity initiatives, as well as bargaining, negotiating contracts, and fielding questions about policies and procedures.

They may also investigate workplace disputes and harassment. In general, those hired as labor and employee relations specialists have experience as union members or leaders and/or a solid understanding of laws surrounding unions. To work in this specialty, you'll need good conflict-resolution skills.

In companies with no unions, there may be a specialist position known as "employee relations." This person functions similarly as a liaison between the company and its workers without the union umbrella.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Career in Human Resources

Is HR a High-Paying Field?

Your pay in this field will typically depend on your speciality, seniority, and experience.

The median annual salary for HR assistants is $45,630, as of May 2021, according to the BLS, and the median annual pay for human resource specialists is $62,290. The median yearly pay for human resources managers is $126,230, as of May 2021, according to the BLS. Those in certain in-demand fields — like tech and healthcare — typically earn more.

Is HR a Low-Stress Job?

No, HR isn't considered a low-stress job. Many surveys place human resources jobs high on lists comparing career stress levels. However, stress levels partly depend on your specialty and position.

So if you're dealing with fielding complaints and announcing layoffs, you're likely to experience more job-related stress than if you're scheduling training and evaluating job applicants.

Is It Better to Get an MBA or Master's in HR?

If you're looking to get more general business knowledge that you can apply to many careers, then you may be more interested in an MBA program with a concentration in HR. You'll take foundational classes across the business spectrum, with just a few specific HR classes.

If you're more certain you'll stay in HR, then a master's degree in HR management will provide you with courses more tailored to your career path.

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