What Does an HR Generalist Do?

David Hirschey profile

Human resource generalists manage relations between staff and employers ... and so much more

As the liaison for staff and management, the human resource generalist needs a fully-stocked tool chest of knowledge and skills. They serve as consultants to management, advocates for staff, and legal aide to both, all with an eye toward the company’s bottom line.

To help understand the ins and outs of the profession, we turned to K. David Hirschey, head of Personnel Management, Inc. and an instructor for University of Minnesota’s Human Resource Generalist Certificate program. Hirschey, a University of Minnesota alumnus, has been a human resource professional since 1972.

How did you get your start in HR?

Since graduating with a B.A. in business administration and economics, I knew I wanted to go into human resources, so I got a master’s degree in HR at the U of M. During that time, I had a human resources internship at the Green Giant Company in Le Sueur, MN. Following graduate school, I began my formal human resources adventure with the Xerox Corporation in Rochester, NY, as a generalist and subsequently as a labor relations specialist. More recently, I worked for Frito-Lay/Pepsi and General Mills before starting my own HR consulting company. Since 1972 until today, roughly 46 years, I’ve been in human resources.

What are the general functions of the HR generalist?

An HR generalist carries out a variety of services within a company. One of the services they provide for management is to consult on human resource-related issues such as coaching and training. For example, if a company wanted to change a certain aspect of their business and needed a certain skill set within the workforce to achieve that, they would consult with HR about what type of training was needed and who might provide it. HR identifies which employees would be a good fit for the training, or whether training is needed for an entire unit.

On the employee side, they facilitate career development, resolve disputes, and manage recruitment and training, among many other things.

Median pay for a human resource generalist is around $60,000.

What skills does this profession require to be successful?

As with all business professionals, they should have written and verbal proficiency. Also, the successful HR generalist will have a broad knowledge of the various functions of the office—on-boarding, training, payroll, purchasing—in order to exercise sound judgment in decision making. They will need to have an in-depth knowledge of legal requirements related to day-to-day management of employees to reduce risk and ensure regulatory compliance. And since they are the bridge between staff and management, acting as counselors, legal advisors and mitigators, they should have exceptional interpersonal skills.

What is the most challenging part of the job, and the most rewarding?

For me, the most challenging part of the human resource generalist job is my occasional inability to reach or positively influence certain individuals or organizations. I’m always asking, How do I become more effective at creating the awareness that providing a positive organizational culture and engaged employees enhances organizations, individuals, families, and communities?

And the most rewarding element about the role is the awareness and appreciation of each individual’s time, talents, and treasures. The employee and organizational stories—important failures and successes— create for me a humbling, enriching, and exhilarating experience.

How much can an HR generalist earn on the job?

The median pay is around $60,000. And the jobs are out there. The field continues to grow, while at the same time there’s a labor shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the profession will see a seven percent growth rate into 2026.

How does the U of M’s certificate program prepare students for success in the field?

The U of M’s certificate program exposes participants to a wide variety of topics and best practices in a number of industries—it’s a great investment for both organizations and life-long learners … and then there are also the wonderful networking opportunities to take advantage of when you take a course on campus!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

For more information on University of Minnesota’s human resource generalist courses and certificate, visit our website.