Who Are the 5.6 Million Who Work in HR & Recruiting?

I work in the business of human resources and recruiting. It’s a complicated and niche industry that on the surface looks pretty simple until it’s not so simple any more. Ever tried to talk to someone outside of the industry about an Affirmative Action Plan or fines related to I-9’s? Most don’t understand the why, how and what of what HR actually does. According to our friends over at LinkedIn, there are in nearly 2,000,000 LinkedIn profiles of active professionals who list their jobs and responsibilities as working in HR.

This is slightly different from the Bureau of Labor statistics report from 2010 that there are 5.6 million professionals in the United States who work in HR. Yes, you read correctly, the government says that there are 5.6 million people who work in HR. Question is who are these 5.6 million professionals working in the industry as HR is many things including recruiting, training, employment law, safety compensation, benefits and an HR generalist who does a little bit of everything.

One of the challenges with Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers and for marketers and sales professionals who are selling into the space is that human resources is specific and targeted, and yet others who don’t understand lump us into other categories. This is the exact same challenge I have when trying to explain to someone what I do as an HR professional. My work is many different specific yet complicated things that make it hard for outsiders to understand and extremely challenging for HR technologies, vendors and service providers to properly sell to practitioner in our space. Many vendors treat HR like a sales funnel focusing on generating as many leads as possible, cold calling them and enticing them with free conference swag they are giving away. Please for the sake of all that is right in this world, vendors, please qualify your leads.

What’s It Like to “Work in HR”

  • Recruiters aren’t always HR professionals and headhunters while they sometimes work with HR and corporate recruiters are completely different than HR
  • Payroll may or may not be the responsibility of HR
  • A Director of HR might not actually have any direct reports while an HR Manager might be the decision maker for buying products and services at a different ccompany
  • VPs of HR and Recruiting are often separate job titles with very different and not often overlapping responsibilities
  • Employees often have a corporate job title and a vanity title working for large enterprise companies. I once was HR Generalist IV but my vanity title was Senior HR Generalist

HR Practitioners are More than a Sale

Confused yet? According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook available by clicking here there are the following number of HR professionals as of 2010 in the United States. Keep in mind that the US government says that there are potentially 5.6 million professionals who work in an HR capacity while SHRM, the Society of Human Resource Management and HR professional association has 250,000+ professional members. ASTD, the American Society of Training and Development has 39,000 global members. Sounds like these professional associations have a lot of membership opportunity.

  • Human Resource Managers – 71,800. (This includes job titles like recruiting manager, staffing manager, HR director, labor relations and personnel.) *Note, there was no mention of Director of People or Chief People Officer.


  • Human Resource Speciaists – 718,800. (This includes job titles like recruiting specialist, corporate recruiter, headhunters, job placement specialists, union representatives and training.)


  • HR Analysts and Consultants like me – 1,395,000. (This number is not at all accurate as the DOL lumped this group in with what they refer to as management and analysts.)


  • Training and Development Managers – 29,800. (This includes skills training managers whatever that means.)


  • Compensation and Benefits Managers – 31,800. (This includes wage and salary admins.)


  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialists – 58,700. (Sometimes HR is responsible for Safety, OSHA and Worker’s Compensation. Other times, not so much.)


  • Payroll Auditors – 1,216,000. (This job title is lumped into what the DOL refers to as accountants and auditors. The number is misleading but often accounts payable is responsible for processing payroll checks while sometimes its the HR specialist.)


  • Employment & HR Clerks – 1,605,300. (This isn’t exactly accurate either as HR and Employment Clerks are lumped into the category of “information clerks” including airline clerks and fan mail editors. Because ensuring that flights are boarded and fan mail answered is exactly that same as scheduling candidate interviews or pulling HR reports?)
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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. John says

    HR is a generalist profession that should have been eliminated a long time ago. My personal favorite is human resource managers who employ other human resource managers – its an endless cycle to employ people who do not generate any revenue, recruit for positions for which they have no expertise nor do they understand the role for which they are recruiting. Its really a form of socialism to given women pointless work in an organisation

    • MJ says

      John wrote, “…to given women pointless work in an organization”

      Ah, women? This one word limits your validation of your point of removing the pointless positions as it takes the comment from analyzation to sexism. I have not seen “pointless” people in my HR office women or not. They are some of the hardest working people I know. Plus, they have to keep a lot of crap under their hat and not be biased such as being sexist. My experience has a limited sample I know, as I have worked in one organization for a long career. You may have a whole different set of life experiences.

      To your point — I agree you can have positions that as you stated are pointless. That said you can find those lost souls even in revenue generation silos. How many middle managers just go to meetings and pass stuff up and down the silo? How many VP level individuals have you seen that are riding out their career waiting for retirement? Any level can find individuals who are pointless and who has to deal with those issues? Ah, those “pointless” women in HR. Now if HR and marketing work together can help find ways to improve the workflow of a business to live the company’s brand. Educating and training people on how to make an impact that adds value to an organization not just be a cog in the machine. Pointless is a state of being in an organization not a description of the potential of the individual. Its a tactical or strategical issue that can be addressed if an HR and Marketing framework is put in place.

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