Tips and tricks to getting a job as a Benefits Specialist
A benefits specialist is typically part of a company’s human resources department and they help manage the company’s compensation and benefits programs. They may be responsible for helping to create benefits packages that are attractive to new employees, while also ensuring offerings are compliant with federal and state laws and meet the needs of existing employees.
Benefits programs, such as retirement programs and health insurance, are complicated and can be difficult to navigate. A benefits specialist is an expert on the packages that the company offers, helps administer and manage those programs, and answers questions to ensure employee needs and expectations are met.
Here’s information about what a benefits specialist does, how to become one, qualities and skills you’ll need, and other information about the job as a whole.
A benefits specialist is the person an employee can go to for answers to questions about benefits programs a company offers, such as retirement programs, health insurance, or other employee benefits or compensation. They help to create benefits packages offered to employees and must know the ins and outs of the offerings to be able to answer questions, provide information, and help employees navigate the programs.
Benefit specialist duties
Help coordinate and develop retirement, pension, and stock ownership plans.
Help research, analyze and develop plans for healthcare, including medical, dental, vision, etc.
Evaluate and analyze the cost and effectiveness of wellness programs, life and long-term care insurance, employee assistance programs, and other benefits offered to employees.
Evaluate job positions for classification, status and salary requirements.
Develop and execute techniques for communicating compensation to employees.
Advise management on benefits issues.
Build and maintain relationships with health, retirement and other benefits plan providers.
Determine techniques for evaluating employee compensation.
Assist employees by answering questions, explaining benefits and appealing decisions by insurance companies.
Renew vendors, review invoices, resolve issues, and report on benefits, costs and fees.
There are primarily two steps to take to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a benefits specialist:
Education. Many benefits specialists have a post-secondary education, often with an associate or bachelor’s degree in human resources, human resources management, or a similar field, like business administration or finance. Some companies may even require benefits specialists to have a master’s degree.
Classes you may take include business ethics, compensation, and benefits systems, communications, human resource management, finance, and accounting.
Additionally, there are some certifications you can take to help improve your opportunities for career advancement.
Experience. Once hired for the role, you’ll be able to continue to learn and improve. Internships can be valuable because you’ll get hands-on experience working in a human resources department.
Throughout years of working as a benefits specialist, you’ll be able to perfect skills and continue to learn about benefits packages and offerings available to companies and employees, have an increased understanding of how benefits and compensation work, and know-how to better answer questions and assist employees.
Important qualities and skills
There are several qualities and skills a good benefits specialist will have to be successful including:
Understanding of benefits processes. To best assist employees, you should have an understanding of benefits processes. For example, for health insurance, in particular, this includes how to submit a claim, get prior authorization, pay a claim, find an in-network provider, etc.
You should also be prepared to work directly with contacts at the benefits provider companies to ensure you have the information necessary to communicate to employees and have the ability to answer any questions.
Knowledge of benefits plans. Do you know what a deductible, copay, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum are? Can you describe them to an employee who has questions? What about 401(k) or other retirement savings plans options? Do you know how to explain a pension, when an employee is eligible, and how they get it? These are all key answers to have as a benefits specialist since you’ll be helping to answer questions and provide information to employees about the benefits a company offers.
Vendor management. You or your team may be responsible for helping to select appropriate vendors and plans for benefits plans. You may then have to work closely with these vendors to understand the plans and ensure all benefits, changes, or updates are communicated appropriately to employees. Perhaps you’ll have to work with them on behalf of employees. Regardless, vendor management skills can be key in ensuring a successful and productive relationship for all stakeholders.
Database/technology knowledge. You may be using benefits enrollment software, software storing employee records, or benefits or vendor databases. Demonstrating knowledge of some of the most commonly used systems is a great skill.
Communication. Benefits specialists are often the go-to person to provide direction and counseling to employees regarding benefits offered by the company, answer questions about benefits and plans, and communicate with both employees and vendors. You’ll also be working with management and others within the company to provide recommendations and plans for benefits packages.
Organization. Because you’ll be working with a variety of benefits plans and vendors, organization skills will help you keep all of the information straight. This helps ensure you can quickly resolve issues, answer questions, and provide information to employees and management.
Customer service. Health insurance, pension, or retirement benefits, and plans can be confusing, so you’ll often have to work with employees who have questions or concerns. Strong customer service skills, such as the ability to listen well, communicate, and resolve problems will help ensure your interactions with employees are positive.
Most benefits specialists work a traditional workday, normally between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Depending on your company and years of experience, a benefits specialist may have the opportunity to advance into a benefits manager or human resources manager position. While likely performing a similar role, you’d also be responsible for leading a team of specialists.
You could also move into a more analytical and data-driven role, such as a benefit or compensation analyst role.
Additionally, you may find you specialize in one type of benefit, and could become a specialist or manager within that specialty. For example, a retirement plan specialist/manager or health care plan specialist/manager
In addition to the skills listed above, many of which are desirable for several jobs, there are other transferable skills you gain from being a benefits specialist such as:
Policy and procedure creation.
Project plan development and execution.
Human resources functions.