Global HR 8 min

Your guide to 6 of the top HR career paths

April 24, 2024
Anastasia Pshegodskaya


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Human resources professionals have the unique dual responsibility of nurturing talent and charting their own career path.

Helping your HR team members map out their career makes them better at recruiting and managing an excellent workforce. Employee retention throughout the organization is an additional bonus.

This article covers the main HR career paths, including what they entail and common job titles. Plus, offer tips to help your HR team members develop their careers.

1. Career path: payroll

Accurate payment is crucial to maintaining employee satisfaction. You also need to pay your employees correctly to stay compliant with employment law.

That’s where payroll professionals come in.

Payroll centers around processing employee compensation, including salaries, wages, bonuses, and deductions. The main goal of the payroll team is to make sure all employees receive accurate and timely payments. Usually, the payroll team is also responsible for payroll taxes.

These roles require attention to detail and a deep understanding of payroll software, tax laws, and compliance regulations. Payroll professionals must also keep up with the ever-changing environment.

Payroll professionals also need good communication skills. Team members usually work together to get payroll done on time, and may need to speak with employees to help them understand their pay.

Here’s an example of a career path for a payroll professional: payroll clerk → payroll specialist → senior payroll specialist → payroll manager.

2. Career path: benefits

Benefits, or benefits administration, manages employee benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and wellness programs. Benefits professionals also educate employees on their benefit options to help them enroll in the right ones.

The benefits team plays a vital role in attracting and retaining employees by putting together strong benefits plans that offer what top talent is looking for. To do so, they work closely with vendors and insurance providers.

These professionals also need a deep understanding of relevant laws and regulations, including any upcoming or recent changes.

Another crucial role for a benefits professional is to search for better benefits packages. They should be capable of analyzing various options and finding the best one for the company’s budget.

Here’s a career path a benefits professional could take: benefits coordinator → benefits specialist/benefits and compensation specialist → benefits analyst → benefits manager.

3. Career path: recruitment/talent acquisition

Your recruitment and talent acquisition team holds the key to efficient workforce planning. These professionals develop a solid hiring process and an employee training program that onboards candidates efficiently without overwhelming them.

Professionals in this area need to be excellent communicators and collaborators with strong listening skills. They speak with potential candidates and other professionals in talent acquisition. For example, recruitment team members may work with university administrators when looking for entry-level positions.

Recruitment professionals also work with managers across the organization to understand their hiring needs. They plan and organize job postings to create and maintain an optimal workforce.

Marketing skills are also helpful for this role. You'll be able to attract the best potential candidates if you know how to promote the company’s brand and values.

Here’s a common path for professionals in the recruitment and talent acquisition space: recruiter → talent acquisition specialist → talent acquisition manager → director of talent acquisition.

4. Career path: learning and development

Once employees are on board, you want to keep them around for the long haul. Enhancing employee skillsets keeps team members happy and more valuable to the organization, enhancing your human capital.

Learning and development professionals play a critical role in employee retention. They take care of employee development and engagement, identifying employee strengths and weaknesses along the way. This team then designs and implements learning and development programs to strengthen your workforce.

These professionals have expertise in instructional design, adult learning principles, presentation skills, and education.

Here is a common career path for learning and development professionals: training coordinator → learning and development specialist → learning and development manager → head of learning and development.

5. Career path: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team focuses on building an inclusive workplace where diversity is valued. They also help recruiters source talent from disadvantaged groups.

DEI professionals need high emotional intelligence, good interpersonal skills, empathy, and cultural sensitivity to understand team members from all backgrounds.

A common career path for DE&I professionals is: DEI assistant → DEI coordinator → DEI manager → chief equality officer.

6. Career path: Generalist

HR professionals don't always need to stick to one functional area. Those who want a broader experience can go the HR generalist route.

The generalist career path covers a broad range of HR responsibilities, giving them a holistic view of HR functions.

Generalist roles tend to be most commonplace in small organizations, where a single team can handle most areas. Larger organizations tend to have specialized roles for each HR function.

Some HR professionals start as a generalist to discover an area to focus on. For example, you may notice that one of your generalists has an affinity for recruitment. If they’re interested, you may facilitate a smooth transition into a talent acquisition role if such a career opportunity opens up.

Here’s a common path for a generalist who chooses to stay on the generalist path: HR assistant/coordinator → HR manager → HR director/VP → chief human resources officer.

How to help your HR employees advance their careers

Helping employees move up the career ladder helps you as an HR manager. When your team becomes more skilled, they become more valuable to the company and more likely to stick around. In short, developing your employees is an investment in your company.

Here are some ways to facilitate HR growth and development:

Create professional development plans

One of the best ways to assist HR employees in their career advancement is to work with them on a professional development plan. This collaboration clears ambiguity since it’s clear what both of you need to do to help the employee succeed.

An employee’s professional development plan states their professional goals and current circumstances. It also maps out the path between the two, noting the knowledge, skills, and achievements needed to move along.

Professional development plans also involve ongoing performance management. Check in regularly to monitor the employee’s performance, see how they’re progressing in their current position, and make any changes if their career goals change. Keep them updated on internal job opportunities that fit their goals.

Encourage professional development

Encouraging professional development shows employees you’re interested in helping them move up. This kind of support keeps employees engaged with their role and organization.

One way to support employees' professional development is by offering reimbursement benefits for pursuing additional education.

For instance, an HR professional might want to take a course on HR management to prepare them for a management role in the future. If so, your company can reimburse some of the course’s cost if the employee meets the minimum grade you set.

Another employee development benefit you can offer is a professional development or continued education allowance. This provides employees with a set amount of money each year to attend conferences and workshops.

More broadly, cultivate a company culture of learning throughout your organization. Encourage consistent self-improvement and continuous education.

Facilitate mentorship and shadowing

Encourage your HR team members to shadow employees in roles or paths they want to pursue. You can take things a step further by establishing a mentorship program within the company. 

For example, have a senior staff member mentor a junior staff member who is growing into the role. This shows the junior employee what a more senior role looks like, introduces them to the skills needed, and helps them confirm whether that’s the direction they’d like to go. It also makes succession planning easier if the senior employee leaves or is promoted.

Hire HR professionals for the long haul

Your HR team works hard helping other employees, so you can’t let their career development fall through the cracks.

Understanding main HR career paths helps make your current talent not only more valuable to your organization but also satisfied with their jobs. Plus, if there are gaps in your HR workforce, you get a better idea of what kinds of HR professionals to hire.

For additional help, you can turn to Remote.

Not only can HR professionals handle numerous tasks through Remote Global HR, but you can also recruit and manage new HR team members through Remote Talent.

Learn more by scheduling a free demo today.

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