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Total Rewards Specialist Career Guide

How to Become a Total Rewards Specialist

As our workforce evolves and brings in talent from multiple generations, the “rewards” that entice and retain top-tier talent fluctuate. Total rewards encompass anything and everything that an employer can offer in return for an employee's membership, commitment, and contribution

A total rewards specialist is a new, yet vital, part of a holistic HR team that aims to ensure employees are being rewarded fairly and in a way that amplifies an organization’s long-term goals. 

professional man and woman HR

What Is a Total Rewards Specialist?

A total reward specialist differs from a rewards specialist or benefits specialist in that they have experience in all the elements of rewards, within the Department of Human Resources. Those rewards would typically include compensation and benefits, employee development, work-life balance, performance, recognition, reputation, equity, and programming. 

Total reward specialists are crucial when it comes to the retention of talent within an organization, and ensuring that all employees are set up to thrive in and enjoy their roles. They are a vital resource for the long-term health of a company. 

What Does a Total Rewards Specialist Do?

A total rewards specialist sits within the HR department and works to balance the reward opportunities available to employees that align with the organization’s goals, budgets, and expectations. They oversee opportunity and create solutions in the following areas: 

  • Compensation and benefits. Salary, insurance & healthcare, continuing education opportunities, PTO, 401Ks, bonuses, and incentives all fall within compensation and benefits rewards.
  • Employee development and recognition. Programming and system creation that recognizes and rewards high-tier employees can fall to a total rewards specialist. 
  • Work-life balance. The flexibility of a workplace to ensure an employee can maintain work-life balance falls under rewards as well. This can include options like remote work, flexible scheduling, leave options, and volunteer opportunities. 
  • Equity and inclusion. Development and implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion systems or programs also fall within total rewards. 

How Do I Become a Total Rewards Specialist?

Total reward specialists typically hold a bachelor’s degree in an HR-related field, with some sort of work or volunteer experience in one or more HR areas, such as benefits, compensation, or diversity and equity. A bachelor of science business administration in human resource management sets a candidate up particularly well for a total rewards specialist position because the coursework includes business management, accounting, psychology, industrial relations, and more. This degree ensures you have the business understanding to enter an HR department with confidence, and allows room for study in the area you’d like to specialize in. For those looking to enter the diversity and inclusion space, there are capstone and program opportunities that focus specifically on those trainings. 

WGU’s online bachelor of science business administration in human resource management degree program has been recognized by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) as fully aligned with their HR Curriculum Guidebook and Templates. WGU has its own online SHRM virtual student chapter that all College of Business students at WGU are welcome to join. This SHRM virtual student chapter will help students continue learning and networking within the HR profession.

It is highly suggested that those looking to pursue a career in total rewards hold a bachelor’s degree in an HR-related field, such as a BSBA in HRM. Those looking to advance further into a position like a VP of Human Resources or a Director of People or Human Resources may benefit from an advanced degree. A BSBA in HRM is the best place to start, giving you the foundational knowledge you need before exploring diversity, equity, and inclusion roles.

What is the Best Degree for a Total Rewards Specialist?

Human Resource Management – B.S. Business Administration

A SHRM-recognized online business degree program:...

A SHRM-recognized online business degree program:...

A SHRM-recognized online business degree program:

  • Time: 65% of graduates finish within 36 months.
  • Tuition: $3,755 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Human resource specialist
  • Director of talent acquisition
  • Recruiting manager
  • Organizational learning specialist
  • Vice president of HR

Earn your B.S. in Human Resources and help build strong organizations.

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Do I Need a Certification for this Position?

There are no required certifications for a total rewards specialist, but HR industry certifications can give candidates a competitive edge when applying for jobs. The BSBA in HRM covers the six categories that make up the HR Body of Knowledge established by the Human Resources Certification Institute and helps students in preparing for the HR Certification Institute’s Professional in Human Resources (PHR®) Certification Exam and the Society of Human Resource Management’s Assurance of Learning® Exam.

Office manager taking paperwork

What Skills Does a Total Rewards Specialist Need?

Total reward specialists possess many of the same skills as other HR professionals—excellent communication, problem-solving abilities, and empathy, for example. What sets them apart from many in their field is their ability to manage multiple HR divisions and responsibilities simultaneously. 

Total reward specialists are commonly looked to possess the following skills.

  • Self-motivation and an ability to work autonomously  
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Respect for compliance and confidentiality 
  • Creativity and curiosity, with a solutions-based mentality
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Ability to assess data and make recommendations
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Knowledge of local, state, and federal labor regulations
  • Highly numerical and analytical, with a passion for data 

How Much Does a Total Rewards Specialist Make?


The average annual salary for a total rewards specialist as of April 2022 was $84,703 according to ZipRecruiter. This amount can vary based on the industry you are employed in, the size of the company, the size of the HR department, the state you work in, and years of experience in the role. Those who come to a total rewards position with the experience of other HR roles can expect a higher base starting out 


What Is the Projected Job Growth?


Human resource roles are projected to grow 10%, which is faster than the national average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Total rewards specialists can expect a similar rate of growth, though due to the newness of the position, may experience a lack of positions in certain industries. 


Where Does a Total Rewards Specialist Work?


Total rewards specialists are needed in every industry. Professional, scientific, and technical service industries are the most in need, with large tech startups specifically prioritizing HR roles that ensure retention and high quality of life for their employees.

Interested in Becoming a Total Rewards Specialist?

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