Is a Degree in HR Worth It?
The field of human resources, commonly known as HR, is a dynamic one. It’s a profession designed to maximize the potential of every employee for every type of business.
One of the biggest benefits of the field of human resources is the variety of areas for specialization. Armed with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR, you will be ready to serve your organization’s greatest asset: its people. You may have an aptitude for numbers and wish to focus on a career in payroll or benefits administration. Or, you may have a knack for problem-solving and communication, in which case you may work as an HR business partner or recruiter.
Regardless of focus, earning a degree in human resources offers the credentials and foundational skills necessary to be competitive in a hot job market. An HR degree doesn’t lock you into a career in HR. There are transferable skills that can help you be competitive throughout the business world.
A bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR can also give you the credentials needed to pivot your career in a new direction. If, for example, you have been working as a recruiter but are interested in changing to a new job, you can use your HR degree to “focus your career in a new area,” said Deborah Guenther-Alexiou, an adjunct instructor and subject matter expert in business for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
And, if you are already working in HR and want to position yourself for promotions and advancement in your field, earning a degree can help get you there.
Which HR Degree Is the Best?
There are several pathways toward a credential in HR. Deciding between a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or certificate depends on your interests and career goals. The bottom line for each option is the same: they all focus on a career working with people and adding capital for your organization. “A degree in human resources is designed to help you gain knowledge with real-world scenarios with regards to analytics, strategy, recruitment and more,” said Lisa Jammer, an adjunct instructor for business programs at SNHU.
As for how HR degrees differ:
- A bachelor’s degree in HR is the starting point to establishing your knowledge in the human resources function. This degree can provide a sound foundation of knowledge and applicable expertise to support an entry into the field of human resources, Jannel Hill, an organizational leadership adjunct instructor at SNHU, said.
- A master’s degree in HR gives the learner a more focused look at the world of business, specifically as it relates to human resources. According to Guenther-Alexiou, this degree is great for someone with a foundational business background who wants to focus more deeply on HR management.
- A Human Resource Management allows you to continue advancing your knowledge of human resources. This option can be beneficial for career advancement because many HR-related certifications “have a stair-step progression of credentials which allow a less experienced professional to gain knowledge as they progress in their careers,” Guenther-Alexiou said. Explore whether it makes sense to get an HR certificate before a degree.
Another HR-focused degree option is an MBA in Human Resources. This is a great approach for a business professional who wishes to gain a better understanding of HR overall. While a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in HR is a great starting point, “over the course of your career, many larger companies may require an MBA before they’ll consider you for higher-level openings,” said Rhett Beyer, a team lead and adjunct instructor in the MBA program at SNHU. That’s why it's important to do your research into your own career goals before deciding which path is best for you.
Is HR a Good Career?
If you like providing support to people at all levels of an organization, HR could be a great fit for you. Some key aptitudes and skills for a successful career in HR are, according to Hill:
- Being patient and adaptable
- Providing support to staff
- Staying current with policies and procedures related to employment law
- Working with people at all levels of an organization
Businesses and their processes may change, and people may change. Being able to manage that change is a core part of the profession. If that appeals to you, then working in HR could be a great option. “The role of a human resource professional is more valuable than ever as organizations strive to retain their talent during a changing job market,” said Jammer. Working in HR allows you to “attract top talent, upskill and reskill your workforce.”
Are HR Jobs in Demand?
When working toward any degree, it’s important to know the job outlook that might be ahead. Luckily, for human resources, that outlook is strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), strong job growth is predicted across the entire field of human resources. For human resources specialists, job growth is predicted to increase 10% between 2020 and 2030, with a median salary of $62,290 per year. For human resources managers, job growth is predicted at 9% between 2020 and 2030, with a median pay rate of $126,230 per year.
There are many job options within human resources as well. Hill and Guenther-Alexiou named just a few:
- Benefits administrator, where you may be responsible for managing all areas of your organization’s employee benefits package, such as health insurance, disability insurance, worker’s compensation and retirement plans.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion specialist/Chief diversity officer, where you would take steps to ensure that your organization complies with best practices regarding anti-discrimination, as well as work toward an inclusive company culture.
- HR business partner, where you may be the point person to advise managers on best hiring and management practices and ensure that the people needs and organizational needs are consistently in alignment.
- Learning and development trainer, where you may design and implement training classes on a number of topics to help your staff stay current with their skills.
- Payroll processor/payroll manager, where you may work to ensure that staff members are paid appropriately and in a timely fashion.
- Talent acquisition specialist/recruiter, where your role will be to source, recruit and hire staff to best fit open roles at your organization.
Human resources may be the most versatile business degree you can earn because it is applicable to nearly any profession. Additionally, almost all industries employ human resources professionals, from marketing to engineering, education to pharmaceuticals, and more.
“It is one of the few degrees that allows an individual to work in both a profession and an industry that you admire,” said Dr. Dean Gualco, an adjunct instructor at SNHU. “For instance, if you are interested in medicine but don’t want to become a medical doctor, you can become a human resource professional in that field instead and enjoy a rewarding career in medicine from the human resources side.”
The shift from office work to more hybrid and remote roles has only strengthened opportunities in human resources. “HR professionals are now able to expand their professional horizons beyond their geographical area,” Guenther-Alexiou said. “The brick-and-mortar business model is slowly shifting.”
That doesn’t mean the HR field is not competitive – because it is. “For every HR opening, there are large volumes of candidates," Beyer said. "One way to combat this is to network heavily outside your organization to gain a competitive edge.” You can network by joining HR professional groups or serving on boards. You can also network through your degree program. Get to know each professor and as many classmates as you can by interacting through the course discussion boards and reaching out via email. You can also organize virtual meet-ups to get to know each other.
Is HR a Stressful Job?
Human resources can be stressful, just like any other profession. There are many deadlines, high work demands, external impacts on the organization and endless people needs that directly impact human resources and the people you serve. “All of these factors can be stressful,” Jammer said. “However, they can also be invigorating and rewarding to accomplish.”
The good news is that while there are indeed stressors within the realm of HR, they can usually be mitigated with “solid organizational skills and proper time-management,” Guenther-Alexiou said.
Situations will pop up, like an employee relations issue gone awry, managers not getting you the necessary information that you need or a payroll issue that needs to be resolved. “But, the beauty lies in that a job in HR means that no two days will be alike, and you never truly know what your day looks like until you get there. That makes the work exciting," Guenther-Alexiou said.
Do You Need Math for HR?
Myriad qualities, skills and aptitudes are needed to become a successful HR professional. While solid math skills are always a plus in the business world, “with the technology we have at our fingertips, we have readily available data analytics,” Guenther-Alexiou said. “With that in mind, I would say that a more important skill to have might be with Excel than with math.” Being able to interpret and analyze data is the core skill that might take precedence over actual mathematical computations.
In addition to strong data analytical skills, other skills that are helpful for a career in HR, according to Guenther-Alexiou, are:
- Communication skills, because you will need to communicate in many different ways, including one-on-one and in groups, and with stakeholders at all levels of the organization
- Empathy, because you will have to address sometimes difficult or sensitive employee issues
- Ethics, because you will need a strong sense of diplomacy, discretion and tact
- Problem-solving skills, because your role may include elements of investigation
- Strategic thinking, because you’ll have a role in changing corporate culture and moving the business forward
So, Is a Degree in HR Worth It?
If you are passionate about working with people and supporting your organization’s mission, then HR is definitely a degree to consider. The HR field is “robust with options to perform a variety of job functions at different levels within your respective organization,” said Hill.
The great variety of ways to specialize within the field is its biggest asset, according to Hill. “Operations can vary widely organization to organization, which means the type of HR work you can do can vary a great deal business to business,” she said. That variety leads to opportunity, making a degree in HR worth pursuing.
Seeking a degree in human resources provides learners with relevant knowledge, social learning and transferable skills, making the degree “a gateway into one of the most influential career roles today,” said Jammer. As a human resources professional, “you act as a strategic partner that influences, develops and implements organizational strategies” into your organization, Jammer said. This puts you in a position to positively impact the workforce in myriad ways.
In years past, human resources was considered the “personnel department,” Guenther-Alexiou said. But now, the field is recognized as a strategic partner that has earned its place from the smallest nonprofit to the C-suite of any large corporation.
Why Should I Choose HR as a Career?
A career in HR is a career of service to others. You will have the ability to directly benefit employees across an organization, as well as support them and guide them. “I wanted to make an impact and feel as if I am contributing to the company that I work for,” Hill said. “Working in HR gives me this.”
In short, working in human resources is working to “make a difference by helping others to thrive,” Jammer said. She enjoys working in HR because the profession allows her to use her core skills of empathy, relationship-building, adaptability, problem-solving and communication. “I love the evolving needs of organizations and the complex nature of the workforce that human resources professionals serve,” she said. While the work is challenging, it is also inherently rewarding.
Human resources offers professional and personal opportunities rarely seen in other professions. Working in HR, you can potentially interact in a meaningful way with stakeholders from the CEO to the accountant and the salesperson to the custodial staff. “There are few individuals in any organization that possess the breadth and depth of knowledge of those working within the organization, along with the strategic possibilities and challenges that the organization is facing,” Hill said. This affords those working in HR with a unique opportunity to become key contributors not only to the success of the organization but to the personal successes of others.
“What an amazing chance this profession offers to make a difference in this world,” Hill said.
Human resources is one of the most exciting and interesting professions in the marketplace, thanks to the diversity of opportunities available and skills you can learn and apply. “We, in this profession, have the ability to make a real difference in the lives of nearly everyone we meet in the course of our work,” Hill said. “We not only provide an opportunity to obtain a job, but we can help employees be promoted in that job, receive an increasing level of compensation in that job, and ultimately have a chance for a better life. Few professions offer that possibility.”
Discover more about SNHU's bachelor's in HR management: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.
Marie Morganelli, Ph.D. is a freelance content writer and editor.
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