PrincePerelson & Associates

What is the Career Progression for HR Professionals?

Human Resources, or HR, is a broad umbrella that encompasses many different and vital tasks within an organization, including recruiting, payroll, compliance, and benefits, to name a few. While many of these tasks may fall to business owners and managers in smaller companies, larger corporations are likely to employ many employees in their HR department to meet the various needs of their workforce. The need for highly capable and effective human resources professionals continues to grow, and the work they do continues to expand with recent pandemic-era changes like flexible work arrangements.

For those considering a career in human resources, it is crucial to understand the diverse possibilities within this field and what companies are looking for to fill their open positions.


Unlike many other career fields that demand applicants to have a degree in the field in which they want to work, competitive HR applicants may have an undergraduate degree in one of many different fields. Recruiters are more interested in the fact that an applicant has a degree than what they studied. However, certain classes and courses of study will apply more to the duties of an HR employee. Classes on the following topics are particularly relevant:

  • Business
  • Economics
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Statistics
  • Management
  • Labor Law

If you are interested in a career in human resources, you will also want to place a heavier emphasis on classes in behavioral science, liberal arts, or social sciences. Your oral and written communication skills will be vital to your success in HR.


The roles and responsibilities of an HR employee can be broad or specialized, depending on the position. Entry-level positions tend to be broader in scope as these positions are supportive of the department as a whole. However, as your knowledge and experience grow, opportunities to specialize in one particular aspect of human resources may present themselves, allowing you to focus on the particular area that interests you.

Climbing the Ladder

Traditionally, job progression begins at the bottom of the ladder. However, not every employee follows the same path in HR. Lateral moves are possible and may be necessary to develop your skills in a specific area of interest. However, the hierarchy of HR titles that we discuss below remains the same.

HR Assistant

An assistant is an entry-level position that may be a new graduate aspiring to an HR career or a seasoned employee looking to explore a different career path. New hires can expect to assist with many different tasks, including solving problems associated with employee absences, paychecks, and employment verifications. They may also handle the paperwork for onboarding, benefits plans, and terminations, as well as fulfilling other administrative tasks assigned by more senior employees. This role is supportive of the HR department and allows employees to gain a better understanding of the department and career possibilities.

HR Coordinator

Often referred to as recruiters, coordinators dedicate most of their efforts to the recruitment process. Responsibilities are likely to include identifying candidates, reviewing resumés, scheduling interviews, checking references, verifying data, and onboarding new hires. Coordinators may also provide support for other, more senior positions.

HR Generalist

As the name suggests, a generalist position is all-inclusive. Commonly the person holding this position is in line to become an HR Manager. Some companies will even hire someone as an HR generalist and later promote them to a manager position. As there is less need for specialized HR professionals within smaller companies, this position may be long-term and may meet the needs of all employees. Those who enjoy variety in their work may enjoy this position rather than specializing. However, it is also an excellent opportunity to determine where you want to specialize.

HR Specialist

HR specialists are a vital part of the HR team for larger organizations. With a larger and more diverse workforce, they need skilled professionals who perform exceptionally well in their specific area. However, how responsibilities are divided within the HR department may depend on the organization’s specific needs. For example, one company may need one person devoted to training and employee development. Another may find they can combine training with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

HR Manager

The role of a manager in human resources offers an opportunity to impact policy and procedures within the department. Being successful in this role requires a thorough understanding of local, state, and federal laws and how they relate to HR policies. This person must ensure that all HR programs and practices abide by all rules, regulations, and guidelines. HR managers should have excellent leadership skills and be adept problem-solvers.

HR Director

The director of HR, in many cases, is a manager of managers. They may oversee multiple departments or have several HR managers reporting directly to them. Those aspiring to be a director in the HR department should pursue a master’s degree, as most positions will require a master’s specializing in human resources and ten or more years of experience working in the field. The HR director’s responsibilities may include overseeing company recruiting, ensuring benefits are competitive, identifying and implementing HR best practices, establishing learning and development opportunities, partnering with management to develop company recruitment strategies, and providing support to other department employees.

Chief HR Officer (CHRO)

This c-suite position sits at the top of the ladder and is a purely administrative position. Working alongside the CEO and the rest of the board, the CHRO helps to define HR goals and ensure compliance for the whole organization. While they should be involved in current problems, their main focus is looking at the big picture and planning for the future. Top questions for the CHRO to consider include the following:

  • How can we improve employee retention?
  • What knowledge or skills gaps does the organization have?
  • What training or development do employees need to be more successful?
  • What staffing needs do we foresee in the future, and how can we prepare for them?
  • Do we have a succession plan?

As with any career field, human resources is not the best place for every person. However, if you enjoy working with people and solving problems in the workplace, you could be an excellent asset to a business or corporation. Fortunately, there are a few roadblocks to getting your start in HR. An entry-level HR assistant position may be just the place to start. Consider contacting a Salt Lake City recruiting firm or staffing agency about the best way to break into this growing industry.