Organizational Wellness

The Ultimate Guide to HR Career Paths

Mar 29, 2023
Last Updated Mar 14, 2024

Are you at a crossroads in your HR career? 

The world of human resources is bursting with paths and possibilities — so many, in fact, it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts!

Fortunately, whether you're eyeing the role of a talent acquisition guru or dreaming of becoming the chief of human resources, the journey is as thrilling as the destination.

But here's the twist: navigating your HR career is less about taking a wild leap and more about making smart, strategic moves. Think of this article as your GPS in the vast HR landscape, packed with insights and tips that light up your path. From uncovering emerging trends to aligning your passion with your profession, it will help you plot a course to a rewarding HR career.

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What Do HR Career Paths Look Like Today? 

A career path, fundamentally, is a sequence of jobs you hold over time that advance your long-term career goals. 

A colorful cartoon of HR leaders scaling a rock wall labelled
Working in HR today is a dynamic experience that gives you the opportuity to carve your own path.

Today, this path is no longer a ladder to climb step-by-step — it’s a rock wall. Your professional experiences are a dynamic climb where you chart your course. You can move laterally, vertically, or even take a step back to eventually leap forward. The journey you take in this field will be shaped by your interests, new opportunities, and the needs of the organization

In this dynamic field, there are many specializations (see HR Career Paths Specialites below for more information). But that doesn’t mean working in HR is a chaotic environment! There are still seniority hierarchies with increasing levels of responsibility, which generally increases the further you are in your career. 

While the amount you can earn in HR depends on many things — including level of experience,  position, company size, company, geographic location, and industry — the average HR manager in the U.S. earnsabout $90,000 annually, according to Glassdoor. 

How to Start a Career in Human Resources

Starting your HR career often begins with a degree in human resources management or a related field, such as business administration or psychology. Most employers require a bachelors or masters degree, but some will accept an associate degree.

HR certifications are also helpful. One popular place to get an HR certification is the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This program offers two levels of certification — Certified Professional (CP), which is for people early in their HR career journey, and Senior Certified Professional (SCP), which is for current and emerging HR leaders. Such certifications can help you stand out in the job market by demonstrating your commitment to professional development.

Developing at Each Level of Your HR Career Path


This is where HR professionals start their climb. Roles at this level are often administrative or support-focused, such as HR Assistant or Coordinator. The key here is to gain a solid foundation in HR principles and practices, learn about the organization's culture, and understand the strategic importance of HR functions.

Skills and Experience Required:

  • Knowledge of HR Principles: Understand the basics of HR functions including recruitment, payroll, employee relations, and compliance with employment laws.
  • Administrative Skills: Proficiency in managing schedules, maintaining HR records, and using HR information systems.
  • Communication Skills: Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with employees and management, both in writing and verbally.
  • Attention to Detail: Capability to manage tasks with precision, from processing employee documents to handling confidential information.
  • Adaptability: Willingness to learn and adapt to new processes and technology used in HR operations.
  • Cultural Awareness: Sensitivity and awareness of the organization's culture and the diversity within the workforce.

Growth Opportunities at this Level:

  • Learning and Development: Access to training sessions, workshops, and e-learning courses to enhance HR knowledge and skills.
  • Cross-Functional Exposure: Opportunities to collaborate with different departments, providing a holistic view of the organization's operations and strategies.
  • Project Participation: Involvement in HR projects, such as employee engagement surveys or wellness programs, to gain project management experience.
  • Networking: Building relationships with HR professionals and other stakeholders in the organization to expand your professional network.
  • Mentorship: Guidance from experienced HR mentors to help navigate career paths and professional development opportunities. 
  • Certification Preparation: Support for pursuing professional HR certifications, such as SHRM-CP or aPHR, which can enhance credibility and career prospects.

Example Roles

Human Resources Assistant

The Human Resources Assistant (HR assistant) is a great entry-level position for someone looking to get their feet wet in this field. Assistants typically provide administrative support to higher-level HR personnel, such as setting up meetings, maintaining employee files, and ensuring compliance with organizational policies. HR Assistants also help onboard new employees by providing them with necessary paperwork and orientation materials.

Benefits Administrators

Benefits Administrators are responsible for overseeing an organization’s benefits program. They coordinate with insurance providers to ensure employees have accurate and up-to-date benefits information, and that the company’s benefits package complies with state and federal regulations.

Human Resources Officer

The Human Resources Officer is responsible for maintaining employee records, ensuring compliance with labor regulations, and resolving disputes between employees. They guide managers in recruitment and selection, payroll, benefits administration, and employee relations.


Progressing to this stage involves taking on more specialized roles, such as Recruiter or Learning and Development Specialist. Mid-level professionals are expected to manage specific HR functions, lead projects, and contribute to strategic planning. It's also a stage where one can start to explore lateral moves to different HR specialties to broaden their experience.

Skills and Experience Required:

  • Specialized HR Knowledge: Deep understanding of specific HR functions such as recruitment strategies, employee development programs, or benefits and compensation analysis.
  • Project Management Skills: Ability to lead and manage projects from conception through implementation, ensuring objectives are met on time and within budget.
  • Strategic Thinking: Capacity to contribute to HR strategy development that aligns with the overall business goals.
  • Analytical Skills: Proficiency in analyzing HR metrics to identify trends, make informed decisions, and measure the impact of HR initiatives.
  • Change Management: Experience in managing organizational change, including communicating changes effectively and navigating resistance.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Strong ability to build and maintain relationships across all levels of the organization, influencing and negotiating when necessary.

Growth Opportunities at this Level:

  • Leadership Development: Opportunities to lead teams or departments, developing leadership and people management skills.
  • Specialization and Certification: Encouragement to specialize further in areas of interest within HR and pursue advanced certifications, enhancing expertise and professional standing.
  • Strategic Influence: Increased involvement in strategic planning meetings and decision-making processes, contributing to the organization's future direction.
  • Cross-Functional Leadership: Chances to lead cross-functional projects, gaining a broader understanding of the business beyond HR.
  • Potential International Experience: For organizations with a global presence, opportunities to work on initiatives or assignments that cross borders, like hiring international employees.

Example Roles

Organizational Development Specialist

Working as an Organizational Development Specialists are responsible for developing and implementing employee training programs, analyzing current learning methods, and suggesting improvements. They also act as a resource for managers within the organization by providing coaching and guidance during HR initiatives.

Human Resources Business Partner

The Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) is an HR jack of all trades that is either hired as an in-house employee or outsourced from a professional employer organization. An HRBP is responsible for developing and implementing strategies that mitigate or reduce employment-related risks. They know industry trends that help them make informed decisions and take on some of the administrative workload of an HR department. 


Recruiters are responsible for identifying, sourcing, interviewing, and selecting qualified candidates for open positions. They stay up-to-date on the job market and workforce trends, knowledge they use to build an effective recruiting strategy for their organization. Their work complies with legal regulations pertaining to recruiting and hiring, such as Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines.

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At the senior level, HR professionals take on roles that require them to manage entire HR functions or departments, such as Senior HR Business Partner or HR Manager. They are responsible for aligning People strategies with business objectives, advising senior management on HR-related issues, and leading department initiatives that drive organizational change.

Skills and Experience Required:

  • Advanced HR Strategy Development: Expertise in developing and implementing comprehensive HR strategies that support organizational goals and objectives.
  • Leadership and People Management: Strong leadership skills with the ability to inspire, manage, and develop HR teams and professionals.
  • Business Acumen: Deep understanding of the business, its industry, and how HR contributes to achieving business success.
  • Stakeholder Management: Ability to engage and influence senior management, stakeholders, and partners on HR and organizational development issues.
  • Change Leadership: Experience in leading significant organizational change efforts, including culture change, restructuring, and mergers and acquisitions.
  • Risk Management: Knowledge of assessing and managing the risks associated with HR policies and practices to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

Growth Opportunities at this Level:

  • Executive Leadership Roles: Pathways to move into top executive positions, such as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or other C-suite roles.
  • Board Advisory: Opportunities to serve as an advisor to the board of directors on human capital matters and the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Global HR Leadership: For global organizations, chances to lead international HR initiatives and strategies, including global talent management and cross-border HR practices.
  • Industry Influence: Becoming an industry thought leader through speaking engagements, participation in professional panels, and contributions to HR publications.
  • Strategic Impact: Increased opportunity to influence the strategic direction of the organization through workforce planning, talent management, and succession planning.
  • Professional Development: Support for ongoing professional development through advanced education, certifications, and specialized leadership programs.

Example Roles

Human Resources Manager

HR Managers oversee the development and implementation of organizational policies and procedures, managing employee performance, and providing training and guidance to other HR staff. They are also involved in the recruitment and onboarding of new employees, managing employee benefits programs, and ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations. In addition, they are often the main point of contact for conflict resolution. 

Benefits Managers

Benefits Managers are responsible for developing, implementing, and evaluating an organization’s benefits programs. They must be well-versed in benefit topics like health and wellness programs, retirement plans, and other employee benefits. They also monitor the cost of benefits to ensure that the organization is spending its benefits budget effectively.

Talent Manager

Talent Managers focus on developing and executing an organization’s talent acquisition strategy. They oversee the entire recruiting process, from sourcing to onboarding and beyond. Talent Managers also work closely with other departments to ensure the organization attracts top talent and provides a positive employee experience.

DEIB Manager

Diversity & Inclusion (DI) roles promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) within the organization. Professionals in this role promote inclusivity in collaboration with other departments on corporate policies and initiatives, and foster a sense of belonging among all employees. DI Managers also provide training on diversity and inclusion topics to further an organization’s values and goals.

Payroll Team Lead

The Payroll Team Lead is responsible for overseeing a company’s payroll policies, staffers, day-to-day operations. They help train and mentor new payroll staff, manage relevant records, review and approve time sheets, and ensure all payroll processing complies with applicable laws. In cases where payroll conflicts arise, they provide a solution.


The apex of the HR career rock wall, leadership roles include Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), VP of HR, or HR Director positions. Leaders in HR are strategic partners in the organization, involved in shaping business strategy, fostering a positive organizational culture, and ensuring that the organization's human capital serves its long-term goals.

Skills and Experience Required:

  • Strategic Vision and Execution: Ability to develop and implement high-level HR strategies that align with the overall vision and goals of the organization.
  • Influential Leadership: Strong leadership skills characterized by the ability to inspire and drive organizational change, with a focus on developing a high-performing HR team that delivers on strategic objectives.
  • Deep Business Acumen: Comprehensive understanding of the business, industry trends, and external factors affecting the organization, enabling the integration of HR and business strategies.
  • Advanced Stakeholder Engagement: Expertise in building and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, including the board of directors, senior management, and external partners, to influence and drive HR and organizational agendas.
  • Cultural Leadership: Capacity to shape and foster an organizational culture that aligns with strategic goals, promotes diversity and inclusion, and enhances employee engagement and retention.
  • Ethical and Legal Compliance: Profound knowledge of employment law, ethics, and compliance requirements, ensuring the organization's HR practices meet legal standards and ethical expectations.

Growth Opportunities at this Level:

  • Board Membership: Opportunities to serve on the boards of directors for other organizations, providing strategic oversight and contributing HR expertise to board-level decisions.
  • Strategic Consultancy: Potential to offer strategic consultancy services to other organizations, leveraging extensive HR experience to advise on best practices, organizational design, and strategic workforce planning.
  • Public Speaking and Authorship: Chances to enhance personal and organizational brand through public speaking engagements, writing books, and contributing to influential HR and business publications.
  • Mentorship and Legacy Building: Role in mentoring the next generation of HR leaders, both within and outside the organization, helping to shape the future of the profession.
  • Expansion of Professional Network: Further expansion of professional networks into cross-industry groups, think tanks, and global HR communities, enhancing knowledge exchange and collaboration.
  • Continuous Learning: Commitment to ongoing learning and personal growth through executive education programs, global leadership forums, and other professional development opportunities to stay at the forefront of HR innovation and leadership excellence.

Example Roles

Chief Human Resources Officer 

When climbing the ladder of HR positions in this path, you may eventually end up as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), overseeing — among other things — all staff, company culture, and compensation structure.

Chief Learning Officer

The Chief Learning Officer (CLO) is responsible for leading and managing all aspects of L&D in an organization. This is a senior-level position that typically requires many years of experience. CLOs develop organizational strategies, manage budgets, and evaluate the effectiveness of employee training programs. They are also responsible for ensuring that the organization’s learning & development initiatives comply with industry standards and government regulations.

Organizational Development Vice President

The Organizational Development VP leads their team in the creation, implementation, and evaluation of employee education programs. The OD VP Head also works closely with other departments to identify need or demand for training in specific departments, such as identifying areas in which customer service reps need more training. If satisfaction scores are low, for example, training might be needed to hone communication and interpersonal skills. 

Head of Talent

The Head of Talent (also known as a Chief Talent Officer) leads an organization’s talent acquisition strategy. They oversee everything from recruiting, to workforce planning and analytics, and from performance management to diversity and inclusion initiatives. This role requires a deep understanding of employment laws and regulations, as well as current job market trends, to ensure an organization is attracting and retaining talent.

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HR Career Path Specialites 

Career paths aren’t the only thing that has changed in recent years. The HR profession itself has transformed from a function-focused to a strategy-oriented discipline. Paper-pushing is a thing of the past. Today, People professionals oversee critical business operations that drive the company forward, from talent acquisition to professional development. 


The human resources generalist is a great starting path for those interested in the breadth of work done in the field of human resources. In this work, you are responsible for a wide range of tasks, including recruitment, onboarding and training new employees, developing policies, managing employee benefits, and resolving any workplace disputes. You act as a liaison between their organization and the workforce and are typically considered the ‘go-to’ person for HR-related questions.

A Good Fit If You:

  • Enjoy Variety: Thrive in roles that offer a wide range of activities and responsibilities rather than specializing in one specific area.
  • Engage in Continuous Learning: Are interested in constantly learning and staying up-to-date with HR best practices, employment laws, and workforce trends.
  • Are a People Person: Possess strong interpersonal skills and enjoy interacting with people at all levels of an organization, helping to resolve issues and support their career development.

Employee Relations and Benefits

The employee relations and benefits path focuses on benefits administration, compensation, and recruitment benefit packages. They work to increase employee satisfaction, retention, and motivation. Professionals in these roles are familiar with creating competitive compensation packages, employee benefits, and employee engagement programs.  

A Good Fit If You:

  • Possess a Strategic Mindset: Capable of thinking strategically about how compensation and benefits fit into the broader picture of employee engagement, satisfaction, and organizational culture.
  • Are Analytical: Excel at analyzing data to develop competitive compensation packages and identify trends in employee satisfaction and retention.
  • Enjoy Problem Solving: Thrive on identifying and addressing challenges related to employee relations, benefits administration, and compensation strategies to improve workplace satisfaction and retention.


The payroll path is sometimes built into other HR roles, but it can be a sole position in larger human resources departments. These roles are likely uninvolved in hiring but lightly involved in other employee relations. When onboarding new hires, for example, a payroll administrator might show employees on how to access the paystub portal.

A Good Fit If You:

  • Are Process-Oriented: Enjoy establishing, following, and improving processes to enhance efficiency and accuracy in payroll administration.
  • Possess Strong Numerical Skills: Excel in working with numbers and calculations, understanding complex payroll systems and tax regulations.
  • Have Good Communication Skills: Capable of communicating effectively with employees to address payroll-related queries and explain paystub details clearly.

Learning and Development 

In the learning & development (L&D) path, professionals are responsible for developing and delivering employee training programs. They have a deep understanding of the organization’s business goals and objectives, which they use to create compelling and impactful training experiences

A Good Fit If You:

  • Are Passionate About Education: Have a genuine passion for teaching and helping others learn and grow professionally.
  • Have Strong Interpersonal Skills: Able to connect with employees across all levels of the organization to assess training needs and gather feedback.
  • Are Analytical: Capable of evaluating the effectiveness of training programs and making data-driven decisions to improve learning outcomes.

Operations, Labor Relations, and Compliance

The labor relations and compliance path in human resources species in facilitating corporate compliance with labor laws and regulations. HR professionals in this path advise and guide their organization through matters of legal compliance. They monitor regulatory changes that impact their organization and develop strategies for updating policies and managing risk accordingly.

A Good Fit If You:

  • Possess Strong Analytical Skills: Can analyze complex legal documents and regulatory updates to understand their implications for the organization.
  • Are Detail-Oriented: Have an eye for detail necessary for ensuring all aspects of compliance are meticulously addressed and documented.
  • Excel in Problem Solving: Thrive on identifying potential legal issues and developing strategic solutions to mitigate risks.

Recruiting and Talent Acquisition

Recruiting and talent acquisition professionals are in charge of staffing their organization. Professionals in these roles have a deep understanding of recruiting strategieswriting job descriptions, networking, and interviewing techniques. They know how to filter through resumes and identify top candidates in a way that fosters diversity in their workforce.

A Good Fit If You:

  • Possess Strong Communication Skills: Excel in both written and verbal communication, crafting compelling job descriptions, and conducting insightful interviews.
  • Value Diversity and Inclusion: Understand the importance of diversity in the workforce and are committed to implementing recruitment strategies that promote inclusive hiring practices.
  • Have Strong Negotiation Skills: Skilled in negotiating job offers to ensure both the candidate and the organization are satisfied with the terms.

Advancing in Your HR Career 

Navigating an HR career can feel like making a long (and exciting!) journey without a map. It's a profession that requires you continuously adapt and learn, and to align your career moves with company goals amidst workforce changes.

It’s a path nobody can walk alone. Everyone needs support to grow in their career.

This is where Wellhub can help. Recognizing the unique challenges HR professionals face, we offer a solution that goes beyond traditional benefits. Our focus on holistic workforce wellbeing can help advance the goals of any HR pro — setting the stage for a successful career. 

Speak with a Wellhub Wellbeing Specialist today to see how our workforce wellness  platform can support your strategic goals! 

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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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