What Can I Do with a Human Resources Degree?

Photo of a woman working as a human resources manager talking to employees.

Ask any CEO about the key to a successful business and you'll probably hear a lot about people. No company can thrive without skilled, committed employees. But ensuring that a company finds the right people, and gives them the training and support they need to succeed, isn't easy. That's where human resources professionals come in.

The human resources department has been an important part of corporations and other companies since the early 20th century. Writing for the Society for Human Resources Management, Sandy Reed and Meyrna L. Gusdorf, both senior professionals human resources, explained how business owners and managers of that era realized they needed experts to make sure they were getting the most they could out of workers. HR specialists help ensure that employees understand their importance on their work teams and see how their interests line up with those of their employer. They also work on recruitment and develop strong compensation plans and training programs that to give employees the chance to keep learning and growing on the job.

HR is a broad field, so if you choose this career path, you can branch out and focus on a particular area like recruiting, workforce development training, or compensation and benefits administration. You might work for a consulting firm, providing specialized knowledge to many companies. On the other hand, you might find your best fit acting as a "department of one" at a small or mid-size firm. Those positions demand a Jack-of-all-trades who can work with upper management to develop hiring and training programs while also handling day-to-day matters. As an HR professional, you may spend hours helping employees navigate the process of choosing an employer-sponsored health insurance package or writing a long-term plan for hiring and career development in a large organization.

What Degree Do You Need for Human Resources?

For the most part, human resources jobs require a bachelor's degree in the field. Some also demand specific certifications. Is a master's degree in human resources worth it? Getting an MBA, or other master's degrees in this field, can help put you on a fast track to more advanced, higher-paying HR positions, according to US News & World Report. You could get an advanced degree before taking a first job, or use it as a tool for a mid-career step up into management or more specialized work.

Getting a degree, either a bachelor's or a master's, can open up different possible career paths with good compensation and room for career growth. Here are some of the job specialties to consider in the HR field:

  • Human Resources Specialists - In this role, you'd represent the front line in a company's recruitment of skilled workers. You might handle all or part of the process of hiring new recruits, from writing and placing job advertisements to interviewing candidates, checking references and bringing new hires on board. Often, HR specialists also deal with a variety of matters for current employees, including managing payroll, answering questions about company benefits and training workers both on job-specific skills and company policy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to qualify for this kind of work, applicants usually need a bachelor's degree in human resources, business or a related field. Median pay for the job was $60,350 as of 2017.
  • Human Resources Managers - After working in human resources or a related field for a few years, you could move up to a management position. In some cases, making that jump may also require a master's degree. Human resources managers make a median salary of $110,000 per year, according to BLS. In this professional role, you'd take on strategic as well as day-to-day responsibilities. This work often includes planning and overseeing benefits programs, working with upper management to determine the best ways to use employees' skills, and taking charge of policies for recruitment, dispute mediation and disciplinary measures.
  • Training and Development Specialists - One specialization for human resources professionals, with excellent opportunities for career advancement, is training and development. The median job in this field paid $60,360 in 2017, and these positions are expected to grow 11% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average job. In this kind of role, you'd work with executives, managers and employees to determine what skills workers need, and then design, organize and carry out training programs. You might lead team-building exercises, develop course materials or create videos for training. Online and mobile training programs are a particular area of growing demand.
  • Training and Development Managers - A move into management for training and development specialists comes with a jump in pay, to a median annual salary of $108,250. Professionals can typically make this leap once they have five or more years of job experience, according to the BLS. In this role, you'd play a strategic part at your firm, planning training programs and helping your team to carry them out.
  • Compensation, Benefits and Job Analysis Specialists - This is a specialty that typically demands some work experience, as well as a bachelor's degree. If you're an HR specialist with a knack for research and data analysis, you may find this work is right up your alley. The job usually includes learning about and comparing benefit policies and plans, classifying position descriptions to set fair salaries, making sure the company complies with legal requirements and preparing reports on all of this for managers and other HR professionals. BLS reports that median pay in this field was $62,680 in 2017.
  • Compensation and Benefits Managers -This management job paid a median salary of $119,120 per year in 2017. In this position, in addition to researching questions around pay and benefits, you might choose and manage benefits vendors, insurance brokers and investment managers. You'd also design compensation plans, including incentive structures and commission rates, and create strategic plans that balance recruitment and retention with companies' budget requirements.
  • Labor Relations Specialists - This is the one field within HR where demand isn't increasing. As the workforce becomes less unionized, there's less need for people who specialize in working with organized labor. Still, in some fields where there are more union workplaces, you may find that it can be a good career choice. The median salary for these positions was $63,200 per year in 2017. They require the ability to interpret labor contracts and make sure that companies follow the agreements they've made when it comes to pay, pensions, and management practices.

Regardless of what your particular talents and interests are - from running quantitative analyses of salary trends to finding and recruiting talented new employees to making sure team members are thriving on the job - there's likely to be a role in HR that's right for you.

Susan Bogle is a marketing and student recruitment specialist in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @Suze1776  or connect on LinkedIn


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