9 Essential Skills You Need to Work in Human Resources

Working in HR requires more than a formal degree. Here are nine soft skills you should develop to succeed in a human resources career.
portrait of Nikki Carter
Nikki Carter
Read Full Bio


Nikki Carter is a writer-editor who focuses on tech, healthcare, and other industries. She's been published in Business Insider, The Muse, and more. She runs a weekly newsletter, Will & Way, for women of color and is querying her first novel for publ...
Updated on February 20, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Giselle M. Cancio
Giselle M. Cancio
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Giselle M. Cancio is an editor for BestColleges, where she focuses on a variety of topics including subject-specific content, DEI, and career-related content. She previously worked in higher education, managing social media and digital communications...
Learn more about our editorial process

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

  • Job growth for HR managers is projected to stay stable between 2021 and 2031.
  • Beyond education and training, you need soft skills to succeed.
  • Communication, listening, and discretion can help you be a great HR employee.
  • Play up your relevant skills in interviews for human resources roles.

Human resources may be a stable field to look for your next role. And you may already have some of the skills you'll need to succeed.

Most HR managers hold a bachelor's degree in human resources, business, or a related field. Other roles in human resources require varying levels of training and experience. For example, HR assistants and associates may not have formal training when they begin their jobs.

And here's good news. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for human resources managers to grow by 7% from 2021-2031. This growth rate slightly exceeds the national average growth rate of 5% for all jobs.

If you're interested in learning more about how to succeed in human resources careers, it's important to think beyond formal skills. You'll also need a variety of soft skills to work in HR effectively.

1. Communication

Working in HR means you'll talk to people a lot, so you should become comfortable with starting and holding conversations. For example, you may host a recruiting event on a college campus and talk to potential future employees. Or you may screen candidates through phone interviews.

If your knees feel weak at the thought of needing to talk in front of others, don't fret. You're far from alone! Many people fear public speaking. Consider joining a public speaking organization like Toastmasters, volunteering to lead meetings, or speaking up more often than usual when you can. Over time, you'll feel less afraid and more confident in your voice.

Popular Online Human Resources Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

2. Good Listener

Speaking is critical, but you'll also spend a lot of your time listening as a human resources professional.

There are many scenarios in which you'll need to pay close attention to grasp the most important bits of information someone is giving you. You may listen to candidates as they describe themselves and their prior work experience. Or your job may require you to listen to employees during their exit interviews as they outline how the company could improve retention.

3. Discernment and Discretion

As a human resources team member, you may come across sensitive and private information. You'll need to develop solid judgment regarding when to take action, when to share certain information with others, and when to do nothing at all.

You'll also need to pick out specific qualities that will help someone succeed in a role. It's likely you'll meet with lots of people applying for one job but will only be able to select one candidate. Strong judgment skills can help here as well.

4. Patience and a Calm Demeanor

HR employees may need to navigate challenging situations involving complex and intense emotions from others.

Employees often come to HR because they either have a sensitive issue that needs resolving or they're experiencing a major life change. Examples include having a child or needing to take a leave from work.

In addition, employees sometimes go to HR because of an interpersonal conflict at work. In that case, you'll act as the voice of reason.

Because of all of these scenarios, your job may involve explaining policies and procedures to others and staying calm when emotions run high.

5. Conflict Resolution

Piggybacking off the last skill, you should also learn ways to defuse conflict and negative emotions in a healthy way. You'll often mediate between parties, and you'll want to find common ground, offer empathy, and make sure all parties feel understood.

If you think you need to develop your conflict resolution skills, you can check out courses and resources, including The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

6. Emotional Intelligence

Sometimes, you may need to pass on tough information. For example, in the case of layoffs, human resources managers must often let people know they are no longer employed by the company. During times like that, you'll need to be able to tune in to what people are feeling while still keeping boundaries.

This skill will come in handy for many other tasks, but the hard times are when employers can trust people with high emotional intelligence to handle a situation with grace and tact.

7. Analytical Mind

Whether it's using HRIS software to manage your company's recruitment efforts, tracking retention, or identifying what kind of candidate would do well in a role, you'll need to be somewhat analytical.

Being relatively familiar with technology can also help, as you may use spreadsheets and systems to monitor and report on HR metrics.

8. Inclusive Mindset

Bias can be unconscious or conscious, and you definitely want to be mindful of it when you're in a human resources role.

If you have prejudices you aren't quite aware of, they may impact how you're able to meet the needs of certain employees. It can also affect your hiring practices and make your company a less diverse workplace.

An inclusive mindset is needed to better yourself and your organization as a whole. Try to be honest with yourself about any potential biases you may hold, spend time with people who are different from you, and consider all sides of an issue or situation.

9. Organizational Abilities

If you've followed along this far, you can see that HR professionals juggle a lot of things. You'll need to be organized to keep up with your schedule, ensure you don't let things slip through the cracks, and manage your time effectively.

You don't need to wait for a job in HR to get started, either. You can hone your organizational and time management skills at any time, and they will help you in any role you undertake.

Bottom Line: Play up Your Relevant Skills in HR Interviews

You can see that many of the soft skills you need to succeed in HR aren't necessarily taught in school. If you're looking for human resources roles, remember to highlight any of the above strengths that you can and provide examples.

Explaining real-life situations in which you were level-headed, practical, and communicative can go a long way toward landing you a role in HR.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.