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Difference Between HR Executive & HR Generalist

Learn more about the job of an HR executive who makes high-level decisions and an HR generalist who carries them out. Discover the key similarities and other differences between these two human resources careers, as well as details about their daily responsibilities, salaries and employment outlook.

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Comparing HR Executives to HR Generalists

Jobs in human resources require strong communication and interpersonal skills, both of which are necessary for HR executives and HR generalists. Though they work within the same department and share many of the same goals, the roles and responsibilities of these two careers are very different, since the executives make the high-level decisions, while the generalists are tasked with carrying them out. Below is a more detailed explanation of some of the most important similarities and differences between these two careers.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth**
Human Resources Executive Bachelor's degree $129,993 9% (2016-2026; HR managers)
Human Resources Generalist Bachelor's degree $52,152 5% (2014-2024; HR specialists)

Sources: *Payscale.com and **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Human Resources Development
  • Labor and Industrial Relations
  • Labor Studies
  • Organizational Behavior

Responsibilities of HR Executives vs. HR Generalists

Both HR executives and HR generalists work in a company's human resources department, where the majority of employee-related issues are managed. While both of these jobs serve as a link between company management and workers, the day-to-day responsibilities of an HR executive and an HR generalist are very different. HR executives are typically in charge of the department as a whole and may spend the bulk of their time developing and modifying company policies regarding employment, such as recruitment procedures and training programs. HR generalists are more closely involved in the enforcement of these policies and may be responsible for conducting employee training sessions, interviewing job candidates, and performing other administrative duties as assigned by the HR executive.

HR Executive

The HR executive is responsible for overseeing the entire HR department. In addition to training and supervising other human resources professionals, the HR executive must also frequently consult with upper management and company executives on strategic planning issues like employee benefit programs, employee recruitment and training programs, payroll budgeting, and compliance with local, state, and federal employment regulations. A bachelor's degree is required for most HR executive positions, and employers tend to look favorably on candidates with several years of human resources experience; some companies even require HR executives to hold a master's degree. A career as an HR executive demands excellent organizational and leadership skills, as well as confidence in decision-making and public speaking ability.

Job responsibilities of an HR executive include:

  • Consulting with and advising other department managers on various human resources issues, like sexual harassment, employees with disabilities, and equal employment opportunities
  • Overseeing all human resources functions, such as candidate recruitment and interviews, performance evaluations, hiring, and firing
  • Serving as a point of contact between employees and company management by answering questions, addressing concerns, and helping to resolve disputes
  • Analyzing and developing employee compensation and benefits offerings to ensure policies are competitive within the company's industry

HR Generalist

An HR generalist is responsible for a wide variety of administrative tasks within the human resources department. These professionals may be involved in recruiting candidates for open positions, interviewing potential new hires, following up on resume information and references, and submitting hiring recommendations to department heads and executives. They may also be called upon to help develop company training programs or make presentations to employees. HR generalists often have access to sensitive employee information, such as payroll or compensation data, personnel files, performance reviews, background checks, and disciplinary reports; discretion and trustworthiness are very important qualities for anyone considering a career as an HR generalist.

Job responsibilities of an HR generalist include:

  • Conducting orientation sessions for new hires or recent transfers
  • Performing exit interviews when employees leave the company, and ensuring proper paperwork is completed
  • Working to ensure human resources documents, employee handbooks, staff directories, and other forms and materials are accurate and up-to-date
  • Ensuring all employees understand their duties and responsibilities, pay and benefits, working conditions, and opportunities for advancement, as well as human resources policies and laws

Related Careers

If you are interested in a career as an HR executive, you might also consider pursuing a job as a labor lawyer, focusing on the legal relationship between employers and employees. If you are drawn to a career as an HR generalist, you may find a job as a campus recruiter intriguing, as this career also requires strong interpersonal skills and a passion for building relationships.

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