Do you have questions about careers in human resources or what an HR career even is? We have answers to all your burning questions, including information on how an HR degree can impact future job opportunities.
Here’s a look at some of the most common and pressing concerns of students considering going into HR.
General HR FAQ
What is an HR Degree?
An HR degree is an undergraduate or graduate degree awarded by an institution of higher learning for completing post-secondary studies in human resources. Collegiate HR programs prepare students to take on responsibilities related to handling an employer’s workforce. Majors gain an understanding of administrative matters such as compensation, benefits, and legal compliance. They also learn critical “people skills” that help with relationships, motivation, and morale at the company.
An HR degree demonstrates to potential employers that you possess a solid foundation in important areas such as business, communications, and human relations. Many schools offer HR degree programs on-campus, online, or through hybrid arrangements.
What Skills Do You Need for HR?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) knowledge advisor, Jennifer Chang, HR practitioners require a variety of skills in order to be successful in their roles. At the top of her list is a strong working knowledge of human resources management, which can include the following areas:
- Talent acquisition
- Equity and inclusion
- Employee relations
- Risk management
- Training and development
“An HR practitioner also needs keen business acumen,” Chang says. She says this means:
- “Being able to understand how an organization uses its resources,
- knowledge of the organization itself (how they get things done, what are their processes and procedures), and
- stakeholder awareness (what are the stakeholder’s needs and how organization-wide decisions impact them).”
Chang also notes the importance of communication skills and emotional intelligence. She says, “Communication could mean developing skills like speaking, active listening, and making presentations. But it can also mean inspiring others, being honest and forthright, and open to feedback. Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive another person’s emotions and perspectives and treat interpersonal relationships with empathy and understanding.”
What Do People in Human Resources Do?
“Overall, HR practitioners manage the employees…within an organization,” Chang says. She states that HR practitioners oversee the following functions:
- As talent acquisition
- Equity & inclusion
- Employee relations
- Risk management, and
- Training and development
Some human resource professionals serve in the role of “HR generalist.” They are responsible for a range of HR activities within the company. Smaller organizations especially value generalists because they often do not possess the resources to hire a large number of HR employees. They depend on a versatile Jack-of-all-trades.
Other HR practitioners may operate as “HR specialists.” They focus on a specific functional area of human resources. For instance, one specialist may concentrate on recruitment. Another might oversee benefits or handle employee relations. Despite their role centering on a particular aspect of human resources, specialists still possess a solid overall knowledge of HR and may help out with other tasks if needed.
HR Education FAQ
What Kind of Degree Do You Need for HR?
The HR job you want will determine the type of degree you should pursue. Obviously, the higher your education level, the greater the number of positions for which you’ll qualify.
Individuals with an associate degree in human resources generally take on roles involving basic clerical and administrative duties. As clerks and assistants, they perform these such tasks:
- Filing, organizing, and collecting time sheets
- Processing invoices and paperwork
- Communicating with employees
- Scheduling interviews
Possessing a bachelor’s degree sets candidates up for generalist and specialist positions within HR departments.
Advancement to managerial roles that involve greater leadership and decision-making will require gaining work experience and oftentimes holding a Master’s Degree in Human Resources or an MBA.
Note that some human resources professionals come to the industry from majors other than HR. Disciplines such as business, communications, education, and social sciences also teach many of the skills employers find valuable to their HR department.
Also, note that some institutions award a PhD in Human Resources. Individuals receiving their doctorate tend to pursue careers in HR research or teach at the college level.
- Required Education: Associate's Degree
Filing and collecting timesheets, processing invoices and paperwork, communicating with employees, scheduling interviews.
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Hire and manage employees, compensation and benefits, training and development, employee relations.
- Required Education: Master’s Degree/MBA
Hiring and onboarding, liaison between company and employees, employee relations, legal compliance.
- Required Education: Doctoral Degree/PhD
Research and teaching.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an HR Degree?
An associate degree typically takes two years of full-time study. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources takes most students four years of full-time study. Accelerated programs, credit from Advanced Placement Exams, or attending summer school can reduce this time. While much of the coursework involves HR topics, students also fulfill general education requirements.
Earning a Master’s in HR requires 36-48 credits, depending on the school. This translates into 1-2 years of full-time study. Many people seeking a graduate HR degree are adult learners with job and family obligations. They often opt for part-time enrollment, which increases the length to three or more years. Part-time students may find online human resources degrees attractive because of their flexible scheduling options.
Note that MBA programs with an emphasis on HR require 48-60 credits. Thus, such a degree typically takes longer to complete than a Master’s in Human Resources. A PhD takes about 3-5 years of full-time study.
Do I Need a Master’s in HR to Get a Good Job?
“Not necessarily,” Chang says. ”A master’s degree in human resources or a related area, like organizational development, certainly helps an HR practitioner develop a strategic mindset and business acumen. But these skills and knowledge can also be sharpened through undergraduate work, specialized certifications, and on-the-job training.”
Chang states that SHRM has two HR certification programs for professionals:
- The SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), which is designed for HR professionals who function at the operational level
- The SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), which is designed for HR professionals functioning at the strategic level
Will Employers Value an HR Degree from My Specific School?
Choose an institution with regional accreditation from an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Prospective students also can look for programmatic accreditation. Many human resources programs receive accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Consider it a good sign if a college or university aligns its curricula with standards set by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). Employers recognize these two groups as leaders in the HR industry, which in turn makes your degree more attractive when evaluating candidates.
HR Career FAQ
What Jobs Can I Do with an HR Degree?
Opportunities abound in the field of HR! Here are a few common positions:
Human resources specialist or generalist
Human resources specialists work in a certain area within an HR department. For instance, a recruitment specialist may figure out ways to attract talent, sort through resumes, interview candidates, and handle onboarding concerns such as paperwork and training. A human resources generalist handles a greater variety of departmental tasks.
Training and development specialist
Training and development specialists work with management to determine what skills employees need to develop in order to keep the organization growing and competitive.
Human resources manager
HR managers serve as a link between a company and its employees. They plan and coordinate actions such as hiring, onboarding, benefits, and legal compliance. Their knowledge base makes them a point of reference for other leaders within the organization.
Compensation and benefits manager
Compensation and benefits managers oversee, plan, and develop programs related to employee payment. Topics with which they often are concerned include wages, incentives, insurance, and retirement.
Is an HR Degree Useful?
If a job in the human resources industry is your career goal, an HR degree is definitely useful. Completing post-secondary studies in human resources demonstrates to employers that you obtained the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary for success in the increasingly complex modern workplace.
Many HR job descriptions include minimum educational requirements, so your resume might be passed over without the proper degree. And when competing for higher-level jobs, an advanced HR degree might tip the scales in your favor when candidates possess similar qualifications.
Do HR Jobs Pay Well?
According to PayScale, the average salary for an HR professional is $57,131. Realize, though, that this figure covers a range of educational and experience levels. People with master’s degrees and an extensive work history often find positions paying well over $100,000 per year.
Breaking things down by degree, PayScale reports the following:
- Associate of Arts in Human Resources, average yearly salary $49,000
- Bachelor’s in Human Resources Management, average yearly salary $58,000
- Master’s Degree in Human Resources, average yearly salary $60,000
- MBA in Human Resources Management, average yearly salary $69,000
What HR Jobs Pay the Most?
Managerial roles post impressive salaries, as demonstrated by these stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Compensation and benefits managers, median annual wage of $125,130
- Human resources managers, median annual wage of $121,220
- Training and development managers, median annual wage of $115,640
The industry in which an HR professional works can impact pay. For instance, human resources managers working in professional, scientific, and technical services earned a median annual income of $138,030 as of May 2020.
What is the Outlook for HR Careers?
Companies depend on their human resources department to handle their most valuable asset – their workers. Organizations need HR professionals to tackle traditional duties such as hiring, onboarding, paycheck distribution, and coordination of benefits.
However, recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movements have expanded the need for qualified HR staff. Companies need their expertise to create and implement policies dealing with issues such as remote work, workplace safety, medical leave, employee mental health, diversity and fairness, talent shortages, and legal compliance.
While projections do not guarantee job growth, the future appears promising for people who want to find positions in HR. For instance, between the years 2020 to 2030, the BLS estimates employment of human resources managers to grow 9%, human resources specialists 10%, training and development managers 11%, and training and development specialists 11%.
What kind of HR degree can I get?
- You can get an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD in Human Resources. Each one has its own set of responsibilities. With an Associate in HR, you might hand timesheest and schedule interviews. With a Bachelor’s in HR, you’ll probably hire employees with a focus on training and compensation. With a Master’s in HR, you will manage employees. With a PhD in HR, you’ll do more research and teaching.
How long does it take an earn an HR degree?
- It can take anywhere from two to five years to earn an HR degree, based on the level of study.
What are the most common tasks for human resources?
- A career in human resources focuses on the running and managing of a company’s personnel: anything from hiring, training, paying, and managing people.
How much do HR managers get paid?
- HR managers often earn over six figures. According to BLS, the median annual wage of an HR manager is $121,220.
Get Universities.com's college news, advice, updates, financial aid, and more straight to your inbox.