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May 19, 2022

Questions About a Career as an HR Manager, Answered

anna giorgi

Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi

Contributing Writer

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Deciding on a career is always a thoughtful and sometimes difficult process. It can be more complicated when the area you're interested in, such as HR, has many sub-areas to consider. Here are answers to some common questions about a career as a human resources manager.

1. Is a master's degree in human resources worth it?

If you aim to work in HR Management, a master's in human resources is becoming an important factor in staying competitive.

"While in college, students should generally consider preparing themselves for graduate school because the future of human resources will include more formally educated competitors for jobs," says Rue Dooley, HSHRM-SCP, the HR knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Earning a master's gives you the formal education needed to pursue positions at the highest levels of an organization. These positions include director, leadership, and executive roles, which can require strategizing and planning across an organization rather than managing day-to-day operations at the department level.

Like most occupations, you'll find that more education and experience in HR management can qualify you for jobs with more responsibility and higher pay. For example, the median annual salary for HR specialists, an entry-level position, is $64,240, while HR managers, who typically have more education and experience, earn a median annual salary of $130,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2. Which master's is more advantageous—a master's in human resources or an MBA?

The decision to pursue a master's in human resources versus a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) depends on where you want to take your career.

If you have a bachelor's in human resources, your coursework in a master's program will take you deeper into areas you've already studied, such as finance, law, employee relations, and strategy from a human resources perspective. This master's is ideal if you're committed to pursuing leadership and executive positions in which you'll be in charge of HR policies and procedures. However, the curriculum may be too limiting if you want to pursue higher positions in other areas of a business.

An MBA focuses on general knowledge in areas such as accounting, finance, operations, and marketing, all of which are relevant to many areas of an organization. If you have an undergraduate degree in human resources, an MBA can expand your business knowledge and help position you for executive roles with responsibilities beyond human resources.

3. What are some specialties in HR management? 

As an HR manager, you can specialize in one area. If you're considering this career pathway versus a generalist role that deals with all aspects of human resources, you may be able to start your career with an associate degree. But most likely you'll need a bachelor's. Here are some popular specialties to consider:

Recruitment and Placement

Recruitment and placement can be a demanding but fulfilling specialty as you work to identify strong job candidates and help your organization maintain staffing.  It can often involve travel to recruitment events, schools, and job fairs to introduce your organization to potential candidates and attract diverse candidates.

Training and Development

Specializing in training and development gives you the chance to educate your organization's workforce in everything from safety precautions to professional growth. Your efforts can contribute to your organization's success by improving efficiency and productivity, enhancing job skills, and reducing work time lost to injuries.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

These HR specialists work to ensure that their organization's workforce includes a mix of individuals with different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. They also work to maintain a workplace environment and culture that makes everyone feel valued and accepted.

Benefits and Compensation

Benefits and compensation managers oversee an organization's salary, bonus, incentives, and benefits. HR managers in this role create competitive benefits and compensation packages that attract and retain a qualified, experienced workforce.

4. Is being a human resources manager a stressful job?

The human dynamics involved in a people-oriented role like an HR manager have the potential to make it a stressful job at times. Mediating employee conflicts and laying off employees aren't tasks for everyone. But there are many roles and specialties in HR management and you're likely to find others that are appealing.

If you're passionate about pursuing a career in human resources management, having the right mindset and preparation can make a difference in your success. "A person has to be properly educated and experienced and must have the will and ability to devote themselves to lifelong learning to be able to function in human resources as a profession," says Dooley.

5. What is a crucial skill that an HR manager should have?

Communication skills. As the link between an organization's workforce and management, they must be able to communicate well and adjust their message and presentation to take into account the perspective of their audience.

"In every profession, maybe especially in human resources, there are different stakeholders with whom professionals must communicate, using various styles, techniques, and what I call 'languages,'" says Dooley. "To speak to finance professionals, HR professionals will need to learn the language of finance. To speak with shareholders, HR professionals will need to speak the various languages addressing the things that concern shareholders."

Strong communication skills help an HR manager establish and maintain relationships, which is critical to succeeding in their role. "The need for good communication skills cannot be overstated," says Dooley. "In my experience, one of the main reasons for lack of success in many careers inside and outside of human resources is an inability to communicate well."

With professional insights from:

Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP

HR Knowledge Advisor, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

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