What Is the Difference Between an HR Assistant & HR Generalist?

by Jeff Fulton; Updated September 26, 2017
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To deliver a good product or service to customers, every company needs to employ and maintain competent staff. Small entrepreneurs may handle this function directly along with the other responsibilities of a business, but medium and large-sized firms devote specialized staff to manage their human resources. This staff may range from a few to scores of people. These include human resources assistants who handle routine clerical duties, and HR generalists who help develop and implement overall company policies.

HR Assistant Duties

HR assistants support managers by maintaining company personnel records. These include employee names, addresses, job titles and pay. When an employee changes jobs or terminates employment, the HR assistant enters the appropriate information in a company database. Managers may request reports from the database such as salary progression, departmental averages or absenteeism, and it is the HR assistant who prepares the reports. HR assistants may also answer the phone and direct mail within the HR department. Often the HR assistant assists in the hiring process by scheduling interviews and advising candidates of the outcome.

HR Generalist Duties

HR generalists need to know every staff function in the company. They recruit employees, develop and deliver training, develop employee performance measurement systems and analyze compensation policies, including pay and benefits. While a department manager may make a final hiring decision, it is often an HR generalist who screens and provides the manager with a list of prospective candidates who meet the hiring manager’s needs. Managers measure employee performance based on objective systems developed by HR generalists. They assist managers with employee performance problems. The job also requires good communication skills. HR generalists communicate company personnel policies to staff via presentations and newsletters. They develop incentive programs to maximize productivity and employee morale.

Job Requirements

Both positions are competitive. An HR assistant requires at least a high school diploma, good computer skills and a customer-focused personality. While the “customer” may be another internal department, an outgoing personality and willingness to help are important. HR generalist qualifications almost always include at least a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in some aspect of human resources. This may include organizational planning, human resources management or communications. Often generalists also earn an MBA with a focus on human resources. Internships or summer jobs as a HR assistant may help prepare students to land a good HR generalist job after graduation.

Specialists

Some companies, particularly large organizations, hire HR specialists to handle one specific function in the human resources department. These people may come from the generalist ranks, but have shown expertise in a particular area. One example would be labor negotiations. A specialist would study all contract related issues, meet with upper management and negotiate a contract with union representatives. Another specialist may focus entirely on benefits, such as health insurance benefits. Another specialist may design the organizational structure. Opportunities also exist for assistants to maintain records and perform database searches to support these functions.

About the Author

Jeff Fulton is a writer specializing in business, travel and culture. He has worked in international sales, customer relations and public relations for major airlines, and has written for Demand Studios since May 2009. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Business Administration in marketing from the University of Chicago.

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