Organizational Wellness

HR Career Paths: Your Guide to the Different Roles and Specialties

Sep 12, 2023
Last Updated Sep 12, 2023

When you’re on a road trip, do you like to take the most direct route or do you opt for a few scenic detours on the way? Some folks prefer to get from A to B as quickly as possible, while others like to see where the road takes them.

The same is true of career paths for HR professionals. If you sat in a room with a dozen other people with the same job title as you, chances are you’ve all taken different paths to get to where you are now. It’s likely you’ll all take different next steps, too.

HR career paths take many shapes and can branch out in lots of different directions. Whether you’re evaluating your own career path or you’re helping your HR team plan the next steps in their careers, you’ll want to find the path that fulfills their personal and professional goals. Let’s take a closer look at some common HR job titles and specialities so you can start planning.

Common HR Roles and Responsibilities

A linear view of the HR career path starts in an entry-level role and works up to a senior leadership position. Here are some typical roles you’ll find in the human resources department, from least to most senior.

HR Assistant

This is the entry-level role where many people start their human resources career. The key responsibilities of an HR assistant vary depending upon the size and scope of the organization but, generally speaking, they help with many of HR’s day-to-day administrative tasks. This can include things like recruitment and selection, performance management, payroll administration, and employee benefits management. An HR Assistant job description is likely to address responsibilities like keeping records and documentation both up-to-date and secure, communicating with external benefits providers and helping plan organization-wide events.

HR Coordinator

The main responsibilities of an HR Coordinator are typically more specialized and complex than those of an HR Assistant. They often involve managing the recruitment process, training and development, advising on employment law issues, and preparing reports and presentations. The job description for an HR Coordinator will likely include tasks such as assisting with performance reviews, coordinating company trainings or conducting orientations.

HR Manager

As the name suggests, an HR Manager is responsible for overseeing an organization’s HR department. This includes recruitment, employee benefits, training and development, setting HR strategies and policies, and more. In this role, you might manage a team of HR Assistants or other junior HR employees. You’d expect to have several years of experience before moving into an HR Manager role.

HR Business Partner

An HR Business Partner (HRBP) is typically responsible for more strategic tasks, such as:

  • Developing and implementing policies, procedures, and processes
  • Coaching staff
  • Conducting training and development activities
  • Working closely with other departments to enable the effective delivery of HR services.

To be a successful HRBP, you’ll need extensive knowledge of HR best practices, strong problem-solving capabilities, and plenty of experience managing people. While a generalist HR background will be helpful, it’s more important that you can take a strategic approach to HR and collaborate effectively across the business. This is a high-impact role: according to Gartner, organizations with a high-performing HRBP improve employee performance by as much as 22%, and increase profit by up to 9%.

An HR business partner job description may include responsibilities like guiding policy interpretation, reducing legal and regulatory risks, and identifying the need for coaching or training among departments or individuals.

HR Director/ VP of HR

The main responsibilities of an HR Director or vice president of HR are vast and encompass much more than the day-to-day activities associated with the HR department. They are usually tasked with setting and executing an organization’s overall HR strategy, managing performance and developing staff, overseeing employee growth and development, creating a culture of engagement, and ensuring compliance with all relevant employment laws. Their job description will likely task them with responsibilities like analyzing the effectiveness of the company’s HR procedures, evaluating the work of HR execs, and preparing reports for C-suite management.

Chief HR Officer/ Chief People Officer

The main responsibilities of a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO) are to lead the human resources team in setting and achieving the organization’s HR objectives. 

They are responsible for setting the direction and strategy of the HR department, managing all aspects of employee relations, conducting employee engagement activities, championing diversity and inclusion initiatives, and ensuring the organization remains compliant with all relevant employment laws.

Specialist Areas Within HR

The roles we’ve covered above are all “generalist” roles. In those positions, you’ll do a bit of everything. Some people, however, prefer to specialize in certain areas based on their interests, skill sets, and experience. Here are some areas you could specialize in during your HR career.


Recruiting professionals wear many hats, including creating job descriptions, publishing job postings, sourcing and screening potential candidates, and conducting interviews and background checks. 

A recruiter’s main goal is to find the best candidate for the job and make sure they are a good fit within the organization. But if you specialize in recruitment, your role may include onboarding new hires to help new employees find their feet in the company.

Some common recruitment job titles include:


An HR role specializing in employee benefits involves managing an organization’s full cycle of benefit offerings and administration. This includes developing, implementing, and communicating the benefits package, as well as conducting research and staying up to date with legal compliance. It’s a crucial role for organizations, as employees rank wellness benefits as a top priority when considering new jobs (second only to their salaries).

Some common benefits job titles include:

  • Benefits Administrator
  • Benefits Analyst
  • Compensation and Benefits Manager

Learning and Development

A role in Learning & Development (L&D) involves designing, delivering, and evaluating training initiatives that align with an organization’s strategic objectives. 

HR professionals in this role will need to be familiar with current training best practices so they can implement effective L&D programs. It will also be helpful if they can use data and analytics to measure the impact of an employee training program, and collaborate with other departments to ensure the effectiveness of their training initiatives.

Some common L&D job titles include:

  • Training Manager
  • Learning & Development Manager
  • Instructional Designer
  • Training Facilitator


Payroll professionals are responsible for the accurate and timely payment of employee salaries. They calculate wages, manage deductions such as pensions, taxes, and insurance, process payroll records, and maintain compliance with relevant laws. Some common payroll job titles include:

  • Payroll Clerk
  • Payroll Manager
  • Compensation and Benefits Specialist
  • Payroll Administrator

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A role in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) involves leading initiatives to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. DEI employees will be responsible for developing and implementing programs, policies, and initiatives to promote diversity in the workforce.

This could include creating and managing employee resource groups, conducting training and workshops, creating recruiting strategies that focus on diversity, and making recommendations to the organization.

Some common DEI job titles include:

  • Diversity and Inclusion Officer
  • DEI Manager
  • Equity and Inclusion Specialist

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is likely to become an increasingly important role for HR teams — only 21% of employees are engaged at work, according to Gallup.

An employee engagement role involves identifying engagement drivers, developing and implementing engagement strategies, assessing employee satisfaction levels, and monitoring staff turnover. They will focus on strengthening the company culture by helping employees feel connected and engaged with their work.

Some common employee engagement job titles include:

  • Employee Engagement Manager
  • Organizational Development Specialist
  • Employee Relations Specialist

HR Careers Give Opportunities to Improve Employee Experience at Every Level

As you and your team members move along their career paths — perhaps delving into different HR specialities along the way — you’ll all build connections between departments and advocate for employee needs at every level of the business. You’ll gain deeper insights into the entirety of the employee experience, including their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

In more senior HR roles, it’s likely that you’ll focus less on the day-to-day activities and more on the big picture. At this point, we expect you’ll start to see the close link between employee health and business health.

Healthy employees can be more productive, more focused, and deliver better outcomes for the business. One HR strategy that can have an outsized impact on the business is to maintain an employee wellbeing program. Talk to one of our specialists today to find out how to launch your own wellness program!

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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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