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How to Become a Human Resource Manager

HR Manager meeting with a job interviewee

Human resource managers get to help others every day and be a valued part of their organization’s management team, all while enjoying a stable career with great earning potential. With HR managers needed by nearly every business in every industry, there’s never a shortage of job openings. If you are thinking about following this rewarding career path, you may be asking yourself how to become an HR manager. The answer is a combination of the right human resources degree, on-the-job experience, professional certifications, and skills. Read on to find out how to enter the HR field and snag a human resources manager job.

Why Become a Human Resource Manager?

Human resource managers get the satisfaction of making a better workplace for their fellow coworkers. They oversee hiring, provide training, create attractive benefits and compensation packages, mediate disputes, and advise managers on legal matters such as equal opportunity employment and sexual harassment. In short, they work to ensure a happy and healthy work environment for all.

Studies have shown human resource managers have higher than average job satisfaction rates. As if helping others every day wasn’t enough reason to enjoy your job, you’re also sure to appreciate the competitive pay in this field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, human resource managers in the United States earn more than $120,000 per year on average.

HR Management Fast Facts
Median Pay: $121,220/year

Typical Minimum Education: Bachelor’s degree

Expected Work Experience: 5+ years

Number of Jobs: 161,700

Expected Growth: 9%

Employer Expectations

To successfully land a human resource manager position, you need to know what employers are looking for in a job candidate. There are no hard and fast rules, such as legally-mandated degrees or certifications, but most employers have similar expectations.

Your road to becoming an HR manager ideally includes three components:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Certifications

Paths to HR Management

An HR degree or business degree with an HR concentration is generally expected for any level of human resources employment. An associate degree is the minimum requirement for most entry-level positions, while a bachelor’s or master’s human resource management degree is preferred for upper-level spots. When hiring for an HR manager, companies will want to see that you have previous experience. To achieve industry certifications, you will also need at least a year in the HR field.

You may choose to start your career with an associate’s degree in human resources and gain job experience while you pursue certifications and an online bachelor’s degree in human resources to expand your career opportunities. You can also complete your bachelor’s or master’s studies first, before entering the workforce. That way, you can enjoy increased job options while gaining the experience needed for certifications. No matter your chosen path, there are things you need to do along the way and skills you need to gain in order to become a successful HR professional.

Human Resources Degree Options

From an associate degree to a doctoral degree, how do you know what the right choice is for you? Each path can lead you to a career in human resource management. It all depends on how quickly you want to get started in the workforce and how high you want to climb in the HR field. Read on to find out the benefits of each type of human resources degree.

Associate Degree

An associate degree in human resources covers all the essentials you need to know for entry-level positions. First, you can expect to study human resource theories and techniques, ethics, and employment law. Courses will also cover topics in employee recruitment, management, and training. Finally, you will also learn essential skills in compensation, benefits, and payroll.

As a result, some of the positions you can qualify for after graduating from an associate’s degree program in human resources include:

  • Records clerk
  • Recruiting assistant
  • Human resources clerk
  • Payroll assistant
  • Benefits administrator
  • Compliance assistant

An associate degree, typically completed in two years, is a great way to get a fast start in the business world. You will have all the essential knowledge and skills you need. Costs will be a fraction of most bachelor’s or master’s degree programs. Additionally, you can continue your studies with an online bachelor’s degree in human resources while you work and gain valuable on-the-job experience.

Some employers will promote human resources employees based on their experience with the company, rather than based solely on education, so it is possible to work your way up to management positions with just an associate degree. However, this may not be the case in all situations. Furthering your education beyond an associate degree is a great way to improve your chances of rising through the ranks.

Bachelor’s Degree

If you’re specifically looking to become a human resources manager, a bachelor’s degree is a great starting point. Companies typically expect those pursuing human resources management jobs to have a bachelor’s degree in human resources or similar field. Some possible majors that apply to HR include business management, education, or information technology. Courses in conflict management and organizational psychology can be helpful for managing a variety of workplace issues.

A bachelor’s degree in human resources offers more comprehensive training than an associate degree. Most programs are designed to be completed in four years, although some online degrees offer accelerated paces so you can finish in less time. Those who have already completed an associate degree can often transfer credits into a traditional bachelor’s or bachelor completion program. Make sure to talk to any schools you are interested in to find out their policies regarding transfer credits.

Alongside general education classes, in a human resources bachelor’s degree you can expect to study topics such as:

  • Employment Law
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Workforce Planning: Recruitment and Selection
  • Training and Development
  • Staffing and Labor Relations
  • Performance Management
  • Strategic Human Resources Management

Master’s Degree

For the best chance of landing human resources managers jobs, a master’s degree is the way to go. Some positions will require candidates to have a graduate degree in an area such as human resources or business administration (MBA). A human resource management degree at the master’s level typically focuses on honing your leadership skills.

MS in HR vs. MBA in HR

So, should you pursue a master of science in human resource management or a master’s in business administration with a concentration in human resource management? The answer depends on two things: 1) how certain you are that human resources is the right career path for you, and 2) what type of undergraduate degree you have.

Debra J. Cohen, chief knowledge officer of the Society of Human Resource Management, offers this insight: “An MBA will give you a very broad business background. You will be required (at most schools) to take courses in all areas of business, such as accounting, marketing, finance, management, statistics, etc. You will be able to take at most, four, maybe five courses in HR. An MS in HR is much more focused to HR. Most of your courses will be in HR or in a related discipline.”

Cohen’s advice is that if you are positive you want to go into human resources, a master’s in human resource management is for you. If you’d rather explore other areas of management along with specialized topics in HR leadership, then an MBA in HR is the right path. You’ll also want to plan ahead when choosing your bachelor’s program. Most MS in HR programs only admit students who majored in business, while MBA programs can be open to any undergraduate major.

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral degrees in human resources generally are not required for employment, but they can help you achieve high-level career opportunities and make positive contributions to the HR body of knowledge. Ph.D. programs typically concentrate on original research into a specific topic of your choosing. Coursework helps you learn how to evaluate and develop the best practices that positively impact society and the workforce.

In addition to your research, you can further develop your HR knowledge through courses in topics such as:

  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Strategic Human Resources Management
  • Human Resources Management in the 21st Century
  • Cultural Issues
  • Labor Relations

HR Degree Concentrations

At the bachelor’s and master’s levels, you may have the opportunity to focus your studies in a specific area of human resources by adding a concentration. This can benefit you in larger business environments where your job may consist of one particular facet of HR. When you’re applying for a job, this additional in-depth knowledge can give you an edge over the competition.

A degree concentration in the right area can help you land jobs such as:

  • International Human Resources Manager
  • Training and Development Manager
  • Executive Recruiter
  • Labor Relations Manager
  • HR Analytics Specialist
  • Compensation and Benefits Manager

The Role of Experience


Most bachelor’s degrees in human resources require you to complete an internship in your final year. Whether your particular program requires it or not, it’s a good idea to get some real-world experience under your belt before applying for HR jobs.

While it’s possible to land an entry-level position without experience, you’re much more likely to outshine the competition if you show that you can hit the ground running. A well-chosen internship will show future employers the duties that you are already comfortable handling without further training. Internships provide a valuable way to apply theory to a real HR setting.

Working Your Way Up

To become a human resource manager, you’ll need to prove your worth. Show your abilities in organizing, directing, and leading others. Work hard, take advantage of learning opportunities, and pursue promotions. Most HR managers have five or more years of experience.

You might start out as an HR assistant, recruiter, staff coordinator, or labor relations specialist. To rise through the ranks and become an HR manager, become knowledgeable about compensation and benefits plans, human resources software, and business employment laws.

Human Resources Certifications

Certifications are not required in human resources, as they can be in professions such as accounting or teaching, but they can help prove your knowledge and experience in the field. Certification requires a combination of education, experience, and testing. You’ll need to invest in test prep materials and exam fees, plus devoting time to studying. The investment pays off in the credibility you gain from certification and the opportunities it affords you for advancement.

There are many human resources certifications available. Just a few of the most popular include:

Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP)

Provided by: Association for Talent Development
Experience required: 4-5 years, depending on education
Testing: Knowledge exam and skills application exam

Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

Provided by: HR Certification Institute
Experience required: 1-3.5 years, depending on education
Testing: Exam covers employee and labor relations; business management; talent planning and acquisition; total rewards; learning and development

Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

Provided by: HR Certification Institute
Experience required: 4-7 years, depending on education
Testing: Application to test must be approved by HRCI; test focuses primarily on leadership and strategy; maintain certification by retesting or via continuing professional development credits

Senior SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP)

Provided by: Society for Human Resource Management
Experience required: 3-7 years, depending on education
Testing: Designed for professionals who develop strategies, analyze performance metrics, and align HR strategies to organizational goals

HR Professional Organizations

To boost your employment and advancement opportunities, consider joining an industry organization to network with other professionals. These professional societies help you connect with people who can help you achieve your goals.

Academy of Human Resource Development
AHRD helps HR professionals stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. Members have access to educational resources and networking events. Membership includes publications, conference invitations, award opportunities, and mentoring projects.

American Payroll Association
APA focuses specifically on the topic of payroll. For professionals in that area, membership provides conferences and seminars, publications, and educational resources. Members can also pursue Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and Certified Payroll Certification (CPC) through the organization.

Association for Talent Development
ATD provides support to HR professionals who recruit, train, and develop employees. In addition to conferences and networking events, members can take advantage of educational webinars, books, and research.

Human Capital Institute
HCI enables HR employees to keep up with trends in recruiting and developing talent. Members benefit from access to current academic research, mentors from prominent companies, a community of fellow HR professionals, and conference opportunities.

International Association OF Administrative Professionals
With IAAP, you can take advantage of training programs, certifications, conferences, advocacy, and networking opportunities. The organization strives to help members stay current in their skills and knowledge.

Society for Human Resources Management
SHRM is the largest HR organization in the world. As a member, you have exclusive access to awards, scholarships, and certifications. Individual members can use customizable HR tools and an HR advisor service. The organization also provides a magazine subscription, weekly webcasts, industry research, and conferences.

WorldatWork focuses its efforts on the areas of compensation, such as executive compensation, sales compensation, benefits, and more. Membership includes conference invitations, expert training, educational resources, and various certification programs. Some of the most popular certifications include Certified Compensation Professional (CCP), Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP), and Certified Benefits Professional (CBP).

Human Resource Careers In-Depth

As we discussed above, you will have the chance to specialize your human resources degree or stick to a broader, more generalized path. The same is true for careers in human resource management. For instance, you can work as a human resources assistant, working your way up to human resources manager, or you can study and work towards a specialized position like a benefits coordinator in the human resources department.

What can people expect from human resource management careers? Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits, drawbacks, earning potential, and long-term growth of this position.

What Does A Human Resources Manager Do?

The day-to-day duties of a human resource manager are numerous, from analyzing benefits packages to interviewing job candidates. For instance, as an HR manager, you may be responsible for areas including:

  • Developing initiatives aligned with organizational goals
  • Addressing management and employee issues
  • Hiring and firing employees
  • Motivating the workforce
  • Encouraging a positive organizational culture
  • Driving high performance
  • Creating a competitive and attractive pay and benefits package
  • Making and improving training programs
  • Making sure laws are followed through HR policies

Key Skills for the HR Manager

Two essential characteristics make a great HR manager: interpersonal skills and strong organization.

Interpersonal skills, including clear communication, public speaking, and team leadership, will allow you to work with the numerous and diverse people that come across your path on a daily basis. A human resource manager may need to interview job candidates, which requires clear questions and the ability to listen. You may also need to deliver presentations to executive-level leaders, requiring you to communicate clearly and confidently. You’ll also need to manage a human resources department, which requires excellent leadership, defined expectations, and the ability to make strong decisions.

Outstanding organizational skills is another must. HR managers may oversee a rapid round of hiring, requiring dozens, or even hundreds of candidates to be interviewed in a short period of time. Between contacting job candidates, creating interview agendas, defining roles, and overseeing hires, there will be a lot of moving parts. In order to complete these processes and find the best possible employees, you need strong organizational skills.

Pros & Cons of a Human Resources Career

According to business publication HR Dive, human resources managers rated their job satisfaction at 4.1 out of 5, higher than in years past. Many said upper management has given them more of a role in company strategy. As leaders increasingly understand the role of human capital in their success, HR professionals are being viewed more as business partners. Seeing meaning in your daily tasks can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Feeling like you are valued can make all the difference when you have to deal with the unpleasant parts of your job.

No job is perfect. A human resources manager has to deal with a lot of frustrating and complex issues. On many occasions, you will be the first stop for unhappy employees. For example, if something goes wrong with an employee’s paycheck, they will be understandably upset. When a benefits package is changed by upper management, it’s usually the role of an HR manager to share the news with employees. It can sometimes be a thankless job, but there are also big upsides to a human resources career.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of working in human resources is the satisfaction that comes from benefiting the people you helped hire. Think about how many paychecks, family meals, Christmas presents, and summer vacations were a result of your decisions. In addition, a career in human resource management allows you to meet many different people from all walks of life. Finally, you have the chance to keep your organization running smoothly, helping both employees and company leadership reach their goals and achieve success.

HR Manager Salary

Human resource management is a highly challenging field that is needed by almost every organization. Because of this, the demand for qualified candidates is high and the earning potential stands well above typical averages.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that in 2020, human resources managers earned an average of $121,220 per year, or about $58.28 per hour. HR managers who worked in professional, scientific, and technical services fared even better, earning an average of $138,030 a year. Even HR managers in healthcare and social assistance, the lowest-earning industry, took home an average salary of $101,990. Across the entire field, the lowest 10% earned less than $71,000, while the top 10% earned more than $208,000. There is little doubt, if you are a competent human resource manager, you stand to earn a substantial income.

Is Human Resources a Good Career for the Future?

So the job is lucrative, but will there be work for HR managers in the future? Yes, according to the BLS. Their numbers have found that the demand for human resources managers is expected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. Nearly 15,000 job openings are expected for human resource managers each year in the US. This growth will be largely driven by new companies forming and expanding operations. Talented HR managers will also be needed to make sure their organizations are following complex and often changing employment laws.

Related Careers

If you’re wondering if a job as a human resource manager is the perfect fit for you, consider some of these related fields. HR skills apply to many areas, allowing you to take your career in a direction that best fits your talent and personality. Careers similar to HR managers include:

  • Administrative services and facilities managers
  • Compensation and benefits managers
  • Job analysis specialists
  • Labor relations specialists
  • Training and development managers

No doubt, an education in business and human resources will prepare you for any number of well-paying and fulfilling career paths. The versatility can lead you to opportunities with nearly any company in the world and a wide spectrum of job roles.

Get Started with an Online Human Resources Degree

If you’ve decided that a career in human resources management is the right path for you, then check out these 100% online and fully accredited bachelor’s degrees to find the best program to fit your educational needs and career goals.

With an online degree, you can earn an education while balancing work, family, and social demands. Many programs offer flexible scheduling and an accelerated pace designed for busy adults. Whether your interests lie in recruiting, training and development, compensation and benefits, HR analytics, or labor relations, you’re sure to find a program that’s perfect for you.

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