How to Become a Compensation and Benefits Manager

Compensation and benefits managers, also known as remuneration professionals, are responsible for overseeing employee compensation, compensation databases, job descriptions, benchmark compensation, annual performance reviews, and employee benefits.

Although the work of lower-level compensation and benefits specialists is generally focused primarily on administrative tasks, the responsibilities of upper-level compensation and benefits managers are more strategic in nature, with these HR professionals involved in the creation and management of compensation and benefits plans. Therefore, the focus of senior-level compensation and benefits specialists is on compensation and benefits as they relate to employee performance, company goals, sales incentive plans, and executive bonuses, among others.

The overall responsibility of compensation and benefits managers is to manage an organization’s compensation and rewards program. Because compensation and benefits programs are designed to attract top talent and retain valued employees, the work of these professionals is a crucial one within a company’s HR division.

Compensation and benefits managers must also ensure that the costs associated with compensation and benefits are in line with the organization’s objectives, culture, and philosophy. As such, the strategic role fulfilled by these HR professionals involves benchmarking, ensuring current documentation, and strategizing compensation and benefits with performance.

Compensation and benefits specialists often enjoy more visibility and prestige because their work is linked directly to the performance of the organization and they therefore work alongside the highest levels of management.

Due to the highly specialized nature of this profession, compensation and benefits specialists work in larger organizations that employ 1,000 employees or more. Otherwise, the responsibilities of compensation and benefits fall to more generalized HR personnel or the finance department.

Job Responsibilities of Compensation and Benefits Specialists

Daily responsibilities and duties of compensation and benefits specialists include:

  • Researching compensation and benefits policies and plans
  • Ensuring compensation and benefits plans are cost-effective and competitive
  • Monitoring and researching compensation and benefits trends
  • Comparing benefits and compensation plans, job classifications, and salaries through data and cost analyses
  • Designing reports and recommendations based on research and analysis for senior executive team
  • Preparing and updating job descriptions and occupational classifications
  • Ensuring company is compliant with state and federal laws
  • Collaborating with outside vendors, such as investment brokers and benefits vendors

Job duties for compensation and benefits managers, organized by HR area, include:


  • Assessing the organization’s pay structure
  • Researching compensation trends and reviewing compensation surveys
  • Evaluating compensation policies
  • Ensuring that the pay practices comply with state and federal laws and regulations


  • Administering the organization’s benefits programs (e.g., retirement plans, leave policies, wellness programs, insurance policies, etc.)
  • Researching and analyzing benefits plans, programs, and policies
  • Making recommendations based on data analyses
  • Monitoring government regulations, legislation, and benefits trends
  • Working with insurance brokers and benefits careers
  • Managing the enrollment, renewal, and distribution processes

Job Analysis

  • Writing and revising job descriptions
  • Determining position classifications
  • Preparing and updating salary scales
  • Making recommendations to managers regarding job descriptions, salaries, and classifications

Some organizations assign specialists to all areas of compensation and benefits, (Some corporations have a dozen or more compensation and benefits specialists.) while other organizations have separate specialists for compensation, benefits, and job analyses work.

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Traits and Qualities of Compensation and Benefits Specialists

The characteristics that best support the work of compensation and benefits specialists and managers include:

  • Strong with numbers: Compensation and benefits specialists tend to be numbers-oriented, as this career involves a great deal of quantitative analysis.
  • Analytically inclined: The HR compensation and benefits profession requires professionals with strong analytical capabilities, as they are required to analyze trends, surveys, and spreadsheets as to determine compensation and benefits strategies.
  • Detail-oriented: Compensation and benefits strategies are highly technical in nature, and the work involves a considerable amount of research and the interpretation of data. Therefore, compensation and benefits managers must be detail-oriented as to understand how compensation fits into the overall objectives of the organization.
  • Great communication: Compensation and benefits specialists must be able to communicate effectively with employees and senior executives. They must also be comfortable presenting programs to employee groups and members of senior management.
  • Strong Ethics and Discretion: Because compensation and benefits managers deal with confidential information, they must be stewards of ethics and discrete when it comes to handling sensitive information.


Compensation and Benefits Specialist Education and Professional Certification

Career paths for compensation and benefits specialists are often varied, although most begin with a bachelor’s degree in an HR- or finance-related field. Graduate work for compensation and benefits specialists is often focused on master’s degrees in human resource management or a related field.

Because compensation and benefits specialists must understand the financial ramifications of particular business decisions and about the general financial marketplace, Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Human Resource Management degree programs are a typical pursuit among compensation and benefits specialists.

Many master’s degrees in human resource management allow students to focus their studies on compensation and benefits. Coursework in compensation and benefits within a human resource management master’s degree often includes:

  • Compensation and benefits: strategy and plan design
  • Foundations of human resource management
  • Government and legal issues in compensation
  • Performance appraisals in compensation decisions
  • Pay-for-performance plans

Within the field of corporate compensation, there are a number of subspecialties, such as executive compensation and sales incentive compensation; therefore, compensation and benefits specialists in these areas must also have a comprehension foundation of knowledge in areas such as tax laws, Securities and Exchange Commission requirements, and accounting regulations, just to name a few.

Most compensation specialists move from a generalist to a specialist at the entry- or mid-level point in their careers.

Professional Certification

Although certification is not mandatory for compensation and benefits specialists, it is becoming more commonplace, as it sets a minimum standard of knowledge and allows professionals to be seen as business leaders who are committed to the profession.

There are compensation-related certifications designed specifically for compensation and benefits specialists:

    • WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals
      • Certified Compensation Professional (CCP)
      • Global Remuneration Professional (GRP)
      • Master Certified Compensation Professional (MCCP)
  • International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans
    • Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS)
    • Compensation Management Specialist (CMS)
    • Group Benefits Associate (GBA)
    • Retirement Plans Associate (RPA)

There are also a number of general HR designations for compensation and benefits specialists:

    • Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)
      • SHRM-CP (certified professional)
      • SHRM-SCP (senior certified professional)
  • HR Certification Institute (HRCI)
    • Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
    • Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
    • Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)
    • Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP)
    • Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP)
    • California Certification for PHR and SPHR certified professionals

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Salary Data for Compensation and Benefits Managers and Specialists

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported that compensation and benefits managers earned a median salary of $95,250, as of May 2012. Compensation and benefits specialists earned a median salary of $59,090 during the same period.

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The top 10 percent of compensation and benefits managers earned more than $172,450 in May 2012, while the top 10 percent of compensation and benefits specialists earned more than $92,520 during the same period.

The 2013 Human Resources Compensation Survey Report-U.S. by Towers Watson revealed the average salaries for the following HR professionals working in compensation and benefits:

  • Compensation and benefits specialist: $101,500
  • Compensation generalist: $81,900
  • Compensation and benefits executive: $232,000
  • Compensation executive: $183,000
  • Benefits executive: $168,200

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