Human Resources Careers

Learn about the exciting and diverse career opportunities in human resources (HR) and how to pursue and advance your career in this field.
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Updated on May 31, 2024
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Portions of the following article were drafted using an in-house natural language generation platform. The article was then reviewed, fact-checked, and edited by multiple members of our editorial team prior to publishing.


Are you considering a career in human resources (HR)? This comprehensive guide explores the reasons to pursue a career in HR, potential career paths, and how to switch to an HR career from another industry.

Why Pursue a Career in Human Resources?

Human resources professionals play a crucial role in any organization. They're responsible for recruiting new employees, overseeing employee benefits programs, coordinating professional development, and ensuring compliance with labor laws, among other tasks. A career in HR can be rewarding, offering opportunities to positively impact individuals' careers and the company's overall success.

HR professionals have the chance to work in a variety of industries and settings, adding to the appeal of this career path. Let's dive into the career outlook for professionals in the field and the skills you can gain from an HR degree program.

Human Resources Career Outlook

The future of human resources appears to be robust and adaptable to technological and generational changes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positions for human resources specialists to grow 6% over the next decade, resulting in 78,700 new openings by 2032. HR specialists earned an annual median salary of $67,650 as of May 2023. HR managers earned $136,350 during the same period, per the BLS.

Higher-level positions that require master's degrees are also in high demand. As technology continues to change the ways people work, HR professionals need to be increasingly adaptable. Focusing on developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as staying informed about new technology, can help HR professionals remain hireable and move up.

Skills Gained With a Human Resources Degree

A career in HR requires a combination of personal and professional competencies. Essential personal skills include:

  • Strong communication abilities
  • Active listening skills
  • Empathy

Organizational skills are critical for time management, scheduling, project management, and maintaining records. Adaptability allows HR staff to be flexible and make informed decisions amidst changes. Confidentiality is paramount, as HR has access to sensitive personal and company information.

Leadership skills are particularly important for HR managers, but all HR staff can benefit from being decisive and assertive when necessary.

Technical skills are increasingly relevant due to the role of automation and human resource information system (HRIS) software in HR tasks. The ability to handle various HR tasks, such as creating work schedules, onboarding, and compliance, is also essential.

Featured Online Bachelor's in Human Resources Programs

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

Human Resources Career Paths

The field of human resources offers a plethora of career paths. From HR generalists and specialists to HR managers and directors, each role has its unique responsibilities and requirements.

Entry-level professionals often pursue positions such as HR assistant or coordinator, which provide a foundation in HR tasks.

Mid-level roles, such as HR specialist or manager, require a deeper understanding of HR functions and often demand a bachelor's or master's degree in HR or a related field.

Senior HR roles, such as HR director or chief HR officer, require extensive experience and strategic skills, often alongside an advanced degree.

Certifications

Some HR jobs require certification, while many others recommend it. Certification provides additional training to professionals pursuing careers with a human resources degree. Professional organizations typically oversee certification opportunities; to earn these credentials, professionals usually need to pass an exam.

Professionals with careers in human resources can find several certification options. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers certified professional and senior certified professional certification. SHRM recommends these credentials for human resources professionals who implement policies, communicate regularly with staff and stakeholders, and/or deliver operational services.

The HR Certification Institute awards a professional in human resources certification. Candidates with a master's degree need one year of work experience before taking the certification exam, while candidates with a bachelor's need at least two years of experience. Professionals with only a high school diploma can sit for this certification exam after accruing four years of professional experience.

According to the BLS, many companies that hire human resources specialists and human resources managers give preference to candidates who hold a human resources certification from one of these professional organizations.

Professionals should note that organizations charge a fee to take their certification exam. Individuals should also look into renewal requirements for these credentials, which may include earning continuing education credits or additional testing.

In the following sections, we'll explore HR educational requirements and potential career outcomes at each level.

How to Start Your Career in Human Resources

The path to a career in HR typically begins with education. Whether you're starting from scratch or transitioning from another field, earning a degree in HR or a related discipline can provide the knowledge and skills needed for success in the industry. Let's explore the different degree levels and what you can do with each.

Associate Degree in Human Resources

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An associate degree in human resources is usually a two-year program that covers fundamental HR principles and practices. It can serve as a stepping stone into entry-level positions in the field or as a foundation for further study. Coursework typically includes business, communications, HR management, and employment law.

What Can You Do With an Associate in Human Resources?

Human Resources Assistant

HR assistants act as an extension of their HR supervisor, often performing many of the same clerical and organizational duties. Daily responsibilities include organizing meetings and interviews, preparing HR paperwork, and maintaining hiring information.

Average Salary: $44,890 (May 2024)

Human Resources Associate

HR associates perform clerical and field-specific duties alongside HR professionals. Typical responsibilities require strong communication, organizational, and computer skills. Additionally, HR associates must demonstrate acute multi-tasking skills with the ability to switch projects as needed. Employers prefer candidates with a postsecondary degree in HR.

Average Salary: $54,600 (May 2024)

Administrative Assistant

Administrative assistants provide clerical support to human resources professionals. Additionally, they may conduct research and interact with clients as directed by their supervisors. An associate degree introduces students to the administrative responsibilities and soft skills needed to succeed in this position.

Average Salary: $44,180 (May 2024)

Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources

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A bachelor's degree in human resources typically takes four years to earn and provides a comprehensive understanding of HR principles, practices, and strategies. The curriculum usually includes courses in business ethics, organizational behavior, HR management, compensation and benefits, and labor relations. Some programs offer internships, providing students with practical experience in the field.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Human Resources?

Human Resources Manager

These professionals manage all HR policies and programs within an organization. HR managers routinely track employee benefits, including health insurance, maternity leave, and paid time off. They also keep HR procedures in compliance with industry standards at all times. A bachelor's degree meets the minimum educational requirements for this position.

Average Salary: $74,170 (May 2024)

Human Resources Director

HR directors often supervise HR departments or management teams. They manage day-to-day tasks, including payroll, recruitment, and compensation and benefits. They may also operate at high levels of administration, overseeing HR budgets and implementing large-scale hiring programs. Employers generally require a bachelor's degree for this position.

Average Salary: $96,180 (May 2024)

Human Resources Specialist

HR specialists perform duties in a particular area of HR, such as compensation and benefits, payroll, or recruiting. Like most support positions, HR specialists share in the clerical responsibilities of the department. They often act as the first point of contact for employees with questions in the HR specialist's area of expertise. Most employers require candidates to possess a bachelor's degree and some experience.

Median Salary: $67,650 (May 2023)

Corporate Recruiter

Corporate recruiters oversee a variety of recruiting initiatives, including job fairs, advertising, and job board postings. Employers prefer recruiters with at least a bachelor's degree in HR or business and some work experience, preferably in the client's specific field or industry.

Average Salary: $66,210 (May 2024)

Human Resources Coordinator

HR coordinators perform many of the same duties as HR managers and may assume the highest HR position available within a small organization. HR coordinators may work on recruitment, payroll, compensation, and benefits. Aspiring HR coordinators should hold a bachelor's degree.

Average Salary: $52,020 (May 2024)

Master's Degree in Human Resources

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A master's degree in human resources is typically a two-year program that teaches advanced knowledge and skills in HR management. The curriculum often includes strategic HR management, organizational development, compensation and benefits, employment law, and diversity and inclusion.

Some programs require a capstone project or thesis; many offer concentrations in areas such as HR analytics, talent management, or organizational leadership.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Human Resources?

Compensation and Benefits Manager

These managers explain and implement employee insurance benefits, retirement, and payroll policies. These professionals may also promote benefits through employee education programs. Many employers prefer to hire individuals with a master's degree.

Average Salary: $99,610 (May 2024)

Vice President of Human Resources

Vice presidents of human resources operate at the highest levels of corporate administration. VPs often perform the same duties as high-level HR managers, with additional duties including workforce compliance, corporate tax regulations, and contract and union negotiations. Most VP jobs require candidates to possess a master's degree in HR, business, or management.

Average Salary: $148,160 (May 2024)

Senior Human Resources Manager

Senior HR managers may work full time within an organization or consult for several clients at the same time. They perform general HR duties involving recruiting, hiring, and benefits enrollment, but they have extensive experience in the field compared to early and mid-career workers. Most senior HR managers hold advanced degrees and boast an average of seven years of work experience.

Average Salary: $100,050 (May 2024)

Labor Relations Specialist

These professionals act as liaisons between employers, employees, and labor union representatives. Specialists in this area sometimes study business with a concentration in HR or focus on contract negotiation or industrial relations. They typically maintain federal regulations and compliance within a business or organization in both union and nonunion settings. Employers generally prefer a candidate with a master's degree and work experience.

Average Salary: $87,000 (May 2024)

Human Resources Information Systems Manager

These professionals require the combined skills of HR managers and IT experts. HR information systems managers oversee electronic and internet-based HR operations for a given organization. Duties may include employee database maintenance, social media recruiting, and HR software training. Workers commonly hold a business degree, such as an MBA with a specialization in HR or HR/IT systems management.

Average Salary: $97,360 (May 2024)

Doctorate Degree in Human Resources

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A doctorate degree in human resources is the highest level of education you can attain in the field. These programs, usually a doctor of business administration (DBA) with a concentration in HR, focus on advanced research and theoretical knowledge. They typically take 3-5 years to complete and require a dissertation, which involves original research in an area of HR.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Human Resources?

Postsecondary Educator, Business

Postsecondary teachers typically require a doctoral degree in their subject of instruction. Earning a terminal degree in business or HR management demonstrates a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Although some community colleges may accept candidates with only a master's degree, university teaching positions require a doctorate.

Median Salary: $97,130 (May 2023)

Human Resources Consultant

Human resources consultants enjoy the freedom to work independently. Consultants in the field of HR may work with several clients at a time, taking over the process of recruiting, hiring, conflict resolution, and performance evaluations. Employers tend to seek out the most educated and experienced consultants, and a doctoral degree can impress potential customers.

Average Salary: $79,460 (May 2024)

Industrial/Organizational Psychologist

Some students interested in a human resources career pursue the role of I/O psychologist. While an I/O psychologist in a traditional practice typically possesses a psychology degree, the field of HR offers many nontraditional jobs for students focused on research or psychology in a business context. This position requires an advanced degree in I/O psychology with an HR concentration or a focus on organizational behavior theory.

Median Salary: $92,740 (May 2023)

Where Can You Work as a Human Resources Professional?

HR professionals can work in a variety of industries and locations. From corporate settings to nonprofit organizations, and healthcare facilities to educational institutions, opportunities abound. HR roles exist in nearly every industry, as all organizations need to manage employee relations, hiring, benefits, and other HR functions. Let's explore the industries and locations where you can work as an HR professional.

Industries

HR professionals can work in nearly any industry, including business, healthcare, education, government, and nonprofit organizations. In all of these fields, HR professionals manage talent acquisition, benefits administration, employee relations, and more.

Locations

HR professionals can work in a variety of locations, from major cities to rural areas. Major cities often offer more opportunities due to the concentration of businesses, but competition can also be fierce.

Rural areas may offer fewer opportunities but also less competition. Depending on their role and their organization's policies, some HR professionals may also be able to work remotely.

Frequently Asked Questions About Human Resources Careers

How do I start a human resources career?

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Most human resources jobs require a bachelor's degree. Individuals interested in this field should strongly consider going to college and earning a degree in human resources or a related field, like psychology, business administration, or communication. Those who wish to advance in the field might also want to earn a master's or doctorate in human resources.

Is human resources a good career option?

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Human resources careers offer job opportunities across almost every industry, including healthcare, finance, and nonprofit work. These professionals work closely with employees, resolving disputes, enforcing company policies, and training new hires. This field provides room for advancement from positions like human resources associates to managers of entire human resources departments.

What do human resources specialists do?

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Human resources specialists focus on hiring and placing workers, managing employee relations, and overseeing compensation, benefits, and training. They often work in offices and sometimes travel for recruitment. They typically must have a bachelor's degree in a related field.

What is the highest salary in human resources?

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Professional development managers make some of the highest salaries in the field. As reported by Payscale's 2022 Wage Report, these professionals earned a median salary of $308.000.


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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.

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