A Guide to the Human Resources Career Path

Lucid Content

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  • HR

If you’re good with people, passionate about fair and equal working conditions, and tend to be an advocate for others, you may have considered a career in human resources (HR). 

Perhaps more than any other role, human resource professionals have the power to help shape company culture and set policy in organizations. With this power, however, comes significant responsibility. HR professionals can have an outsize role in dictating how a company runs, shaping everything from company culture to how the organization retains employees and achieves its long-term goals. 

If you’re wondering how to get started with a career in human resources, this article will discuss roles within the HR career path and provide a strategy for mapping out your climb up the human resources ladder. 

career progression chart example HR
Career Progression Chart for HR (Click on image to modify online)

Generalists vs specialists 

The human resource management sector is often broken out into two segments: generalist and specialist.

Those designations are just how they sound: Generalists handle a wide range of human resources-related tasks across the organization, including benefits, onboarding, performance management, talent acquisition, and compliance. Specialists focus on a single area of human resources management. 

A small organization may only need one or a few human resource generalists to handle all employee-related HR issues. Larger or enterprise organizations, however, may need a whole team of HR specialists to effectively handle, address, and give personalized attention to every single employee. 

It’s not necessary to choose one path early in your career. However, it is important to think about how you prefer to work—if you enjoy more variety in your daily duties, pursuing a generalist role may be the right path for you. If you prefer a bit more predictability or want to dig deep into a specific topic, you may choose to specialize. 

Roles within the HR career path

Should you pursue a career in human resources? While job titles can vary at different levels of seniority, there are plenty of commonalities when it comes to roles and responsibilities. Here’s a breakdown of the human resources ladder, including necessary qualifications, responsibilities, and expectations for each role. 

HR assistant

Description: The HR assistant performs lower-level HR tasks. This role takes direction from and reports directly to senior HR staff.


  • B.A. or B.S. degree in Human Resources or related business-focused field
  • Entry-level role 


  • Respond to employee questions and concerns 
  • Assist in events, employee communications, and documentation
  • Manage logistics of interviewing and hiring, including scheduling and reference checks

HR generalist

Related specialist titles: Human resources clerk, training and development coordinator, payroll specialist

Description: An HR generalist is a largely tactical role, with a broad knowledge of human resources functions, from hiring to onboarding and from employee compensation to evaluation.


  • Minimum 3 years of HR experience
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher


  • Manage the hiring process from recruiting to onboarding
  • Attend to employee concerns and develop company culture
  • Administer performance reporting
  • Ensure company compliance across the board

HR manager

Related specialist titles: Employee relations manager, compensation or benefit analyst/manager, HR information systems manager, training and development manager, labor relations manager

Description: HR managers oversee all elements of a human resources program, including hiring, benefits, training, compensation, and more. More than other human resources roles, they are responsible for driving cultural change and improving transparency by linking management and employees.


  • B.A. or B.S. degree in Human Resources or related business-focused field
  • 5 years of HR-related experience 


  • Ensure compliance with company and employee policies and local and business laws
  • Manage teams of HR specialists, generalists, and/or assistants 
  • Develop and implement HR plans
  • Oversee company culture and human resources goals 

HR director

Description: HR directors own all human resource efforts across the organization and supervise HR staff to ensure smooth implementation and management of all policies. 


  • M.A. or M.S degree in HR or an MBA 
  • B.A. or B.S. degree in Human Resources or related business-focused field
  • 10 years of HR-related experience 


  • Create and implement company-wide policies around talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion, employee retention and dismissal, and benefits programs 
  • Build company morale with employee incentive, training, and benefits programs 

VP or HR or chief human resources officer (CHRO)

Description: As the head of human resources, CHROs support the organization-wide HR plans, policies, and strategies around human capital. This role works with other members of the C-suite to develop HR plans affecting the entire company.


  • 10-20 years of HR-related experience
  • M.A. or M.S. degree in HR or an MBA 


  • Advise executive management team
  • Oversee management succession and organizational change 
  • Develop and implement recruiting, compensation, retention, and benefits plans 
  • Oversee talent acquisition and career and leadership development

4 tips for climbing the HR career ladder

If the roles and responsibilities mentioned above sound enticing and you want to start pursuing the human resource management career path, keep these suggestions in mind.

Be yourself

Your employees bring the unique perspectives of their hobbies, goals, and aspirations to their jobs every day. The same should go for HR professionals. Showing your employees who you are behind your job title will make you a more approachable, empathetic leader. 

Be a thought leader

It can feel intimidating—and maybe a bit risky—to share your thoughts and experiences with your peers, especially early in your career. Doing so, however, will help you gain new connections, learn from other’s experiences, and establish yourself in the industry. 

Be a know-it-all

Whichever career path for human resources you choose, it’s always good to understand and have insight into the responsibilities of every role. This understanding gives you a 360-degree view of how the company runs (and can help you identify where else you might want to specialize down the line).

Put the human in human resources

Human resources is about much more than managing human capital—it’s about truly getting to know the people affected by the policies and procedures you create. Set aside time to walk around the office and meet employees face to face. 

What are their interests? What projects are they currently working on? What would make their jobs easier? You may not be able to address every need or concern, but you will gain a better understanding of employees beyond the company payroll or database. 

Visualizing your human resources career path

Today’s workforce is more competitive than ever, so having a clear path for your career will help you set—and meet—your career goals. A career in human resources can offer a wide range of positions and experiences, but understanding your key areas of interest will help you build a successful, satisfying career. The first step to understanding where you’re going is seeing the full picture of each step along the way. 

With Lucidchart, aspiring HR professionals and people managers can create flowcharts or organizational charts to clearly visualize the career paths from entry level to the C-Suite. 


Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidchart.com.

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