By virtue of their training and job title, senior human resource generalists are well-versed in nearly every HR discipline. The distinction between an entry-level HR generalist and a senior HR generalist depends on expertise, company size, education and qualifications. An entry-level generalist might have one or two years' exempt-level (professional) HR experience plus a two-year degree, while a senior HR generalist could have five to 10 years' experience in the field, in addition to a bachelor's degree in HR or a related field, as well as professional certification.
HR consists of several disciplines, or areas, such as talent acquisition, talent management, human resources information systems, employee relations, compensation and benefits, training and development, and safety and risk management. While it isn't unusual for HR generalists to have a discipline they enjoy more than others, they're still qualified to handle workplace investigations with the same competency as they conduct orientations or maintain workplace safety logs. Payroll processing is among the administrative functions that an HR department typically outsources, so generalists needn't be experts in this area; however, they should be familiar with compensation structure.
HR Department Structure
In a small organization, a senior HR generalist might have sole responsibility for HR functions, because she has the qualifications and expertise to handle most, if not all, HR matters. In a large corporate environment, there might be entry-level and senior HR generalists, with each assigned duties to commensurate with their experience, qualifications and interests. The HR department structure for a company that employs approximately 500 workers might consist of an HR manager, two or three HR generalists and an HR coordinator, responsible for administrative duties.
Many organizations use the HR business partner (HRBP) model, meaning each business unit has a designated HR generalist who assists unit leadership. For example, in a automotive manufacturing plant, there's an HRBP who works with the production department supervisors and managers, another HRBP assigned to provide HR advice and counsel to sales and customer service, and yet another who works with the finance and legal departments.
Senior HR generalists work in a number of industries, from automotive manufacturing to healthcare. Practically every business that employs workers can benefit from an HR generalist's expertise, especially if it doesn't have a fully staffed, dedicated HR department. Senior HR generalists work in union and nonunion work environments alike, and if they are experienced in labor relations, their responsibilities might include such duties as collective bargaining agreement interpretation and grievance handling.
Duties and Responsibilities
Senior HR generalists' duties range from screening employment applications to negotiating group rates with health insurance providers. The most advanced generalists handle tasks that affect the strategic direction of the company and the HR department. For example, a senior HR generalist might handle an informal employee complaint from the investigative stage through to resolution by mediation with government agencies, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The salaries for senior HR generalists run the gamut, depending on responsibility, size of the organization and employee count, geographic area and the generalist's expertise. Since HR specialists' roles are similar in many respects, their salaries may be comparable to those of HR generalists. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, HR specialists earned roughly $58,000 in 2010, while the average salary as of 2011 was $54,310 annually. At the time of publication, the national median salary for HR generalists is $62,500, according to the calculation of more than 500 salaries ranging from $36,000 to $94,000 a year, among anonymously posted salaries on the clearinghouse Glassdoor website.
Senior HR generalists have the potential to move into HR management positions because their well-rounded expertise is useful for leading an HR department. Therefore, it's common to see HR managers who have a generalist background. On the other hand, a compensation specialist might have a more difficult time becoming an HR manager because her area of specialty doesn't encompass all the functions of the department.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.