Human resources professionals offer solutions for employees in the workplace while maintaining company policies. Careers in human resources (HR) are available in healthcare, education, finance, and many other fields.
On this page, readers can find information about human resources careers, including salary prospects, options for career advancement, and other helpful resources.
Why Pursue a Career in Human Resources?
People interested in careers for a human resources major need excellent communication and conflict-resolution skills. Human resources professionals onboard new hires and help resolve issues that employees encounter on the job. Those in managerial positions oversee the work of other human resources professionals, making sure they meet the company's standards.
Most careers with a human resources degree take place in an office setting. Businesses expect human resources employees to understand and follow company procedures. Individuals looking to pursue a human resources career need empathy, strong critical thinking skills, and the ability to work closely with others.
Human Resources Career Outlook
The career outlook for human resources professionals depends on a worker's job title, location, education level, and experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that human resources specialists earned a median annual wage of $61,920 in 2019. The number of these positions is projected to increase by 5% between 2018 and 2028, which is in line with the growth rate for the average occupation in the U.S.
The table below describes the salary outlook as a function of a worker's experience for a few common human resources careers.
|Human Resources Coordinator||$42,750||$45,920||$49,610||$50,290|
|Human Resources Manager||$50,680||$59,310||$67,930||$72,740|
|Human Resources Director||$54,820||$65,410||$81,650||$94,550|
Skills Gained With a Human Resources Degree
The field of human resources requires applicants to possess advanced soft skills, such as those related to communication, leadership, and problem-solving. An aspiring HR professional should choose a degree with an emphasis in written and oral communication coursework and try to gain hands-on experience in the field. Job seekers may also pursue specialized training and certification in particular areas of expertise to build professional skills. The following talents are among the most sought after by HR employers.
As liaisons between employers and employees, human resources professionals must possess excellent communication skills. All human resources careers require workers who have the ability to demonstrate professionalism and tact when communicating, whether orally or in writing. Employers prefer candidates with exceptional speaking and listening skills for all roles in human resources.
Human resources professionals often lead staff and initiate projects in various management roles. Employers expect HR managers to have strong leadership skills, enabling them to oversee the hiring and training process, organize new-hire policies, and manage employee benefits. These professionals must demonstrate the ability to work somewhat independently to guide several projects at the same time.
Acute problem-solving abilities prove critical to human resources career paths. HR workers often encounter conflicts while managing job candidates, employees, and their respective egos, but a qualified problem-solver can satisfy all parties involved while remaining professional. This skill includes the ability to diffuse an escalating situation and negotiate terms between parties.
- Interpersonal Relations
Much like communication, interpersonal skills represent a crucial part of a human resources career. HR managers generally possess an outgoing personality with heightened sensibilities that enable them to read people well. Maintaining interpersonal relationships plays a major role in the job functions of an HR manager.
HR professionals often display advanced decision-making skills. Managers and HR directors require the ability to take charge of a large project in its entirety, such as staffing or training, and make informed executive decisions in the best interest of their company or client. Employers prefer candidates with high-level decision-making skills who can act on their behalf.
Human Resources Career Paths
Students can choose from a variety of paths when setting out on their human resources careers. While schools may differ in their approaches to human resources education, many offer concentrations in business or compensation and benefits as part of HR management programs.
Likewise, many MBA and finance programs offer human resources as a concentration option. Other programs prepare students to pursue specialized recruiting or training roles in HR by offering concentrations in training and development or organizational leadership. While individual options may vary, the following list describes a few common career paths within the field.
- Business Administration
Bachelor's in business administration and MBA programs often feature human resources as a concentration option. Naturally, business and HR are closely related in the workforce, and students who emphasize HR as part of a business program may receive more acute training in soft skills like communication, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
- Organizational Leadership
This concentration can provide a broad set of skills for students to create their own human resources career paths. For example, a focus in organizational leadership can prepare a graduate for a role as an HR manager or HR director. It can also prepare students to earn an advanced degree on their way to becoming an HR consultant or industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologist.
- Training and Development
Drawing from fields such as education and psychology, a concentration in training and development prepares graduates for an HR career in this acute area of the field. The curriculum teaches students to explore various methods of evaluation and motivation and to develop/improve workforce education programs.
- Compensation and Benefits
This concentration combines finance and leadership concepts, preparing graduates to manage employee compensation and benefits for a business or organization. Most programs cover procedures related to payroll, sick leave, and insurance benefits for employees.
How to Start Your Career in Human Resources
Most careers in human resources require a postsecondary degree, and students should be sure to research the job qualifications and education requirements for the specific careers they want.
Professionals typically need a bachelor's degree to earn an entry-level position as a human resources specialist or manager. Students can earn a degree in human resources or a similar field, such as business management, information technology, or even psychology.
Additionally, some managerial positions require a master's degree in human resources or business administration. Employees with graduate degrees also tend to earn more than their counterparts with only a bachelor's.
Associate Degree in Human Resources
Generally, earning an associate degree in human resources can prepare graduates for entry-level employment as HR assistants, HR associates, or administrative assistants. Many associate degree-holders continue on to pursue bachelor's degrees, which meet the minimum education requirements for most human resources jobs.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources
The most common educational requirement for HR roles, a bachelor's degree in human resources qualifies candidates for many employment opportunities. Employers accept bachelor's degree-holders for most entry-level positions, including HR manager, director, specialist, and coordinator, as well as corporate recruiter positions.
Some employers may prefer a candidate with advanced experience or a master's degree for higher-level government or corporate jobs. Along with field experience, earning a bachelor's degree also qualifies students to pursue professional HR certifications.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Human Resources
Master's degree-holders develop more specialized skills than bachelor's program graduates. A candidate with a master's degree can pursue advanced positions, including senior HR manager, vice president of human resources, and information systems manager.
While some employers accept a bachelor's degree for labor relations and compensation and benefits management roles, many companies prefer to hire a graduate of a master's program, such as an MBA track with a concentration in human resources.
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.
- 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.
- 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 midcareer workers. Most senior HR managers hold advanced degrees and boast an average of seven years of work experience.
- 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.
- 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.
Doctorate Degree in Human Resources
Like any career, a terminal degree provides candidates with advanced employment opportunities in their area of expertise. While master's degree-holders qualify for high-level corporate management positions in various HR specialties, graduates of doctoral programs can pursue higher education, consulting, and research positions in the field of human resources. Roles like postsecondary business professor and I/O psychologist require a doctorate.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Human Resources
Professionals can advance their careers in human resources by returning to college. Earning an advanced degree looks good on a resume and provides professionals with more skills and deeper knowledge in their field. However, graduate degrees require substantial time and money.
Professionals in human resources can explore other options for career advancement, such as certification, continuing education and free online courseware, and/or networking opportunities. Readers can learn more about these cost-effective and less time-consuming options in the sections below.
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 some cases, professionals may choose to return to college and earn another degree. However, postsecondary institutions may also offer other continuing education opportunities, aside from full graduate programs.
For example, a certificate program provides a cheaper, less time-consuming way to learn new skills in human resources. Many colleges offer these programs online. Students can usually complete a certificate in a year or less. Professionals should also speak with their employers to determine if their place of work will cover the cost of a professional development program.
Other continuing education options can include free online courses and fellowship opportunities.
Workers can also take advantage of networking opportunities and other resources provided by professional organizations. Networking allows professionals to collaborate with their peers, discuss new and emerging practices in their field, and make connections that could lead to new work opportunities.
Many industries feature professional organizations that help connect workers and offer professional development resources. Human resources professionals can join organizations like SHRM and the National Human Resources Association to gain access to conferences, publications, and other useful resources.
How to Switch Your Career to Human Resources
Most careers in human resources require a bachelor's degree. However, to succeed in this field, you need not have a human resources degree; many employers will accept a bachelor's in business, psychology, or another related field. Jobs in business administration and communications share common features with human resources careers.
This means professionals who want to switch to an HR career may not need to return to college to earn a different degree. Additionally, individuals who have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field may be able to enroll in a graduate program in human resources or business administration to prepare them for an HR role.
Where Can You Work as a Human Resources Professional?
Many factors can affect a job seeker on a human resources career path. Graduates of an HR program typically consider the following variables when looking for a job: location, industry, setting, and organization size. With a global reach in nearly every type of business, HR professionals can find positions throughout the country and join a diverse workforce.
Qualified human resources majors can pursue their choice of occupations and industries. The field offers graduates a wealth of career options, depending on an individual's level of education and experience. As shown below, industries including management, consulting, and administrative services employ the largest number of HR professionals. These industries also tend to pay the most generous salaries to qualified candidates in the field.
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
HR professionals play a key role in the management industry, often working alongside top executives to maintain human resources departments within an organization.
Average Salary: $140,880
- Employment Services
A natural choice for HR professionals, employment services like temp and staffing agencies depend on qualified workers to handle the employment needs of a diverse client base.
Average Salary: $122,340
- Management Consulting
While many companies maintain permanent HR managers in-house, other industries routinely hire management consultants to take over HR processes only when needed, such as during a major hiring boom or transitional period.
Average Salary: $135,630
- Office Administrative Services
The office administrative services industry often employs workers with general administrative experience, including HR skills.
Average Salary: $124,910
- Local Government
Many HR professionals work in local government. These individuals use electronic HR software and tools, and they may be asked to work with discretion on confidential material.
Average Salary: 102,820
Employment numbers and salary outlook for HR workers can differ depending on their location. For example, California, New York, and Illinois employ the most human resources professionals across the country, with Texas and Florida following close behind. However, the areas with the highest levels of employment do not necessarily match the areas that award the highest wages.
Human resources professionals working in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island make the highest mean salaries. New York and California also feature high wages for professionals in this field.
Interview With a Professional in Human Resources
Brad Stultz is the human resources director for Totally Promotional, an online retailer and manufacturer of custom-printed promotional products. Since 2014, Stultz has overseen hiring, policy creation and enforcement, and disciplinary processes for approximately 300 employees at Totally Promotional.
- Why did you choose to pursue a degree in human resources? Was it something you were always interested in?
I have always gravitated toward human resources and management roles throughout my career. In choosing human resources, I wanted a degree that would allow me to be an advocate for employees while setting company culture and policies that provide for growth and profitability. One aspect that drew me to human resources was its constantly changing landscape; new advances, technologies, and best practices are released on a near-daily basis. I also enjoy building dynamic teams that play to the strengths of individual members.
- What would you say are the minimum educational and work experience requirements to earn a job in human resources?
The minimum work experience should be at least five years for anyone wishing to step into an HR-related role. Building a comprehensive resume through varied work experiences is crucial when seeking a career in human resources. One very common misconception is that you need to actively work in an HR role to build experience. Human resources comprises so many different areas that any experience related to the field can be beneficial in securing a permanent role.
A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum required education to obtain a solid HR foundation. One thing to consider is that many schools now offer certifications that you can complete online or in a campus setting. These certifications do not provide all of the comprehensive and in-depth courses that a bachelor's degree program would, but they do provide a solid overview of several key areas within HR.
- What about working in human resources do you enjoy?
The top perk is watching employees I have hired grow with the company. It is so rewarding to see someone rise through the ranks. Over the past five years with Totally Promotional, I have seen over 35 hires move into supervisory or management roles. I also enjoy working with our management team to help create a culture that clearly defines our morals and goals as a company. At Totally Promotional, we strive for a working environment that promotes employee engagement and personal growth.
- What are the most difficult aspects of working in human resources?
Many of the most challenging aspects of human resources relate to disciplinary matters. I also find policy creation and enforcement to be difficult, at times, due to the amount of legal research necessary to ensure fairness. Attendance seems to be the catalyst for many of our terminations, and that can be frustrating. We work hard to communicate our attendance requirements and educate our employees on where they stand with attendance concerns.
- What advice would you give to students considering a degree in human resources?
If you are interested in a long-term career in human resources, be willing to start at the entry level of a company to get your foot in the door. A versatile HR professional has a great working knowledge of all roles within a company.
I began my working career as a cart pusher in a big box chain and eventually worked my way up to a management role. At Totally Promotional, we encourage internal promotion and are proud to say that nearly all of our management team began in entry-level positions. Having a keen understanding of what it takes to perform a role can help you create policies and improvements that will provide actual benefits to the team.
- Any final thoughts?
To be a true HR professional, be willing to listen to those whom you represent. By making yourself available and open to the concerns of your employees, you become a great resource to your management team in affecting positive change within an organization.
I have always been of the mindset that HR should aim to enable others to be the very best they can be. We must provide adequate training, great benefits, and a good working environment to all of the employees we represent. We must also be willing to listen to management concerns and work towards finding solutions that are cost-effective yet beneficial to employees and their work processes.
Resources for Human Resources Majors
Human resources workers can take advantage of many educational and professional resources. In the sections below, readers can find detailed information about professional organizations, free open courseware options, and publications covering human resources topics and methods. These resources can help professionals learn about and follow best practice methods in their field.
- Professional Organizations
American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration: Part of the American Hospital Association (AHA), this professional group is "exclusively dedicated to meeting the professional needs of human resources leaders in healthcare." A variety of membership types are available, including student, practitioner, and consultant. Educational benefits include webinars and learning sessions at ASHHRA's national conference. Other networking opportunities, including the group's mentoring program, are also available.
International Association for Human Resource Information Management: Young human resource professionals can join IHRIM to take advantage of networking and educational opportunities, including the human resource information professional certification program. Members get a subscription to Workforce Solutions Review, as well as access to an HR job board, webinars, discounts, and an online community where members share and receive advice and best practices.
International Public Management Association for Human Resources: For over 100 years, IPMA-HR has supported HR professionals in the public sector by providing career, educational, and professional development opportunities, as well as other resources and industry news. With more than 40 chapters across the world, members enjoy networking close to home. Membership also includes access to HR Solutions -- a site that hosts information related to standard HR practices -- as well as IPMA-HR's Successful Practices Database.
National Association of African Americans in Human Resources: Focused on helping the development of African American HR professionals, NAAAHR provides many benefits to its members. National and regional conferences and local chapter meetings provide networking opportunities. Members can also post positions and resumes online, and training and professional development seminars are offered through local chapters.
National Human Resources Association: Since 1951, NHRA has supported human resource professionals. Members of NHRA can network through the national organization as well as through their local affiliate. The association offers professional development tips, training, leadership opportunities, and a job board.
Society for Human Resource Management: The largest professional association for human resource managers, SHRM has over 250,000 members across the globe. Membership benefits include subscriptions to HR Magazine and HR Week, as well as access to the HR advisor service; members can contact this service to get answers to questions via email or telephone. Other online resources include topical guides to HR issues, as well as ready-to-use presentations, metrics calculators, testing tools, and compliance resources.
WorldatWork: Providing advocacy, community, education, research, and certification for HR professionals, this nonprofit organization offers many benefits to its members. Three levels of membership are available. Members at all levels enjoy subscriptions to Workspan Weekly, Benefits & Work-Life Focus, and electronic news updates. Discounts on seminars, webinars, and certifications are also available.
- Open Courseware
Recruiting, Hiring, and Onboarding Employees - University of Minnesota: This course highlights the importance of recruitment goals and their relationships to overall business strategy. Students learn how to find new employees through social media platforms and use analytics to bring in better talent for their companies.
Preparing to Manage Human Resources - University of Minnesota: This 14-hour course helps students develop their own management style and strategy. The program emphasizes employee motivation tactics and the importance of legal context in a managerial role. The course covers different methods of hiring, managing, and rewarding employees.
Leading People and Teams - University of Michigan: This five-month course focuses on leadership skills, such as inspiring employees and leading teams. This program features guest lecturers across industries from professionals with high levels of management and motivational experience. Students gain hands-on learning through a series of practical leadership assignments. This class requires a capstone course.
People Analytics - University of Pennsylvania: This course features a data-driven approach to management. The nine-hour program explains how companies can make personnel decisions based on numbers rather than subjective criteria. Students learn data analytics techniques and apply them to practical business scenarios. Online learners may earn a certificate upon completion.
HR Professionals Magazine: This magazine covers current trends in human resources and educational programs for professional development. The publication also explores employee benefits and labor laws. Readers can find the magazine online. For more varied or topical articles, readers can visit the magazine's blog.
HR Leaders Magazine: This magazine offers articles about current human resources trends and best practices with examples from real-world organizations. With new issues each month, the publication prepares human resources leaders for changes within their industry in response to national or global problems.
Human Resource Executive: This online publication includes reports on the latest human resources technologies, issues, and trends. It also covers topics like employee benefits and talent management. Readers can find links to white papers about human resources and information about professional development opportunities.
ERE Recruiting Intelligence: Published by the Electronic Recruiting Exchange, this online magazine offers articles about the hiring process, including recruitment, onboarding, and talent acquisition. Readers can learn about interview techniques and technology-driven hiring practices. The magazine also features information about ERE conferences and webinars for human resources professional development.
The HR Digest: This international publication regularly posts articles online, focusing on human resources as a corporate function. The magazine covers topics like outsourcing, employee benefits, recruitment, and workplace culture. Readers can find traditional news articles, along with roundtable discussions and interviews. The magazine also features success stories about top companies and human resources leaders.
Harvard Business Review: This publication is released every two months and covers business topics and trends. The magazine regularly interviews CEOs and other business leaders. Subscribers can find articles about best hiring practices, people analytics, and different management styles. Human resources professionals can also explore podcasts and videos on business topics.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is human resources a good career option?
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.
- How do I start a human resources career?
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.
- What can I do with a human resources degree?
A human resources degree prepares students for work in a variety of human resources jobs. Graduates can find positions at law or accounting firms, or they might enjoy government or nonprofit employment. Human resources degrees can also translate to other positions in business, such as business administration or business management.
- Is there a demand for human resources professionals?
Every state in the country employs human resources professionals. The BLS projects 7% growth from 2018-2028 for human resources managers and 5% growth for human resources specialists over the same time frame.
- Do human resources professionals get paid well?
Salary outlook depends on a professional's experience, education, and location. For example, the BLS found that human resources specialists earned a median annual wage of $61,920 in 2019. However, individuals working in professional, scientific, and technical services outearned those working in the healthcare and social assistance field by almost $17,000 a year.