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7 Steps to a Career as an HR Manager

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What Is an HR Manager?

Human resources managers link the management and employees of an organization. They recruit, screen, and manage the hiring of employers. Many also oversee benefits and compensation, employee relations, performance management, training and development, and termination.

The most successful human resources managers interact effectively with all levels of employees in an organization. It is often the job of a human resources manager to nurture a positive work environment and work with other managers to create employee policies. Since employees are regarded as an organization's most important asset, human resources managers play a key role in ensuring a company's success.

In this Article

How to Become a Human Resources Manager

Settle on a degree path.

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Getting the most education possible can best prepare you for the future of human resources, says Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP, an HR knowledge advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

"Not that a person without a graduate degree cannot succeed in HR, but a college graduate will be competing with graduate school graduates for the same jobs," says Dooley.

While having a higher degree can prepare you for more advanced administrative and managerial roles, you can find a degree in human resources management at each of the following levels of education: 
Associate degree
Who this degree is best for: Students who want to start working in human resources as quickly as possible and spend minimum time and money on their education.

Jobs you can get with this degree: With an associate degree in HR, you can often qualify for jobs such as HR specialist or associate, assistant recruiter, benefits coordinator, and payroll specialist.

Bachelor's degree 

Who this degree is best for: Students who want to pursue managerial and administrative roles.

Jobs you can get with this degree: With a bachelor's degree in human resources, you can often qualify for specialty positions such as HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, and employee relations manager.

Master's degree
Who this degree is best for: Students who want to pursue leadership roles in which they can contribute to policies and change at the highest levels of an organization.

Jobs you can get with this degree: With a master's degree in human resources, you can often qualify for positions such as human resources director, vice president of human resources, and chief learning officer.

Find a school with the right program.

A student researches college programs online.

When you're ready to start your education, it's worth the time to seek out the program that's right for you. Consider these factors when comparing your educational options:

HR specialties: With so many specialty areas, some human resources degree programs don't offer courses in all of them. For instance, if you're passionate about employee training and development, make sure your program includes the coursework that you'll need to qualify for a position in this area.
Internships: Internships aren't typically required for a human resources degree. However, they can complement classroom work by giving you a chance to explore the profession and identify areas of interest. If internships are required, find out whether the school assists in securing one.

Accreditation: Accreditation is proof that your school and program have met rigorous standards and are committed to upholding and advancing a quality education. Attending an accredited institution is necessary to qualify for federal financial aid and school loans. College credits from an accredited institution are transferable to other accredited institutions, which is important if you're using your degree as a foundation for the next level of education.
Online programs:
If you're considering an online program, find out how much of your instruction will be online. Some programs require periodic attendance onsite for seminars or workshops.

Gain admission to a program.

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Prerequisites for a human resources degree vary by program and degree. Before you begin college, you can prepare for any degree by taking math, science, and English composition. These courses can help you develop skills in logic, problem-solving, and communication that are critical to success in human resources, says Dooley.

These are the basic admissions requirements for three degrees:

Associate degree: Generally just a high school diploma or GED

Bachelor's degree: A diploma or GED, plus a GPA of 2.5 and possibly SAT/ACT scores

Master's degree: A bachelor's degree, GMAT or GRE test scores, and possibly work experience

Complete your studies.

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Coursework for a human resources degree at the associate level includes the general electives necessary for a bachelor's degree and several specialized courses in human resources.

At the bachelor's level, students take the same general electives but study in their major more extensively, often with the option to concentrate on an HR specialty.

At the master's level, the curriculum emphasizes the critical knowledge and training necessary to prepare students to become strategic leaders in human resources.

Find your first job.

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Your degree is a primary factor in determining where you're likely to find your first job. Graduates with an associate degree are likely to qualify for positions in entry-level administrative and recruiting roles at the assistant, associate, or generalist level.

Having a bachelor's degree can often qualify you for entry-level roles on a track to becoming a human resources manager in a few years. It may be difficult to find employment as a human resources manager straight out of school and without industry experience.

A master's degree can help you qualify for leadership positions at the director or vice president level, though related work experience also is often required.

Bolster your credentials with a certification.

A female manager leads a  meeting for other employees.

Professional certification is optional for human resources managers, but it can help your career if you're looking to advance into management. Certification is proof that you've demonstrated your mastery of the knowledge and skills in your field.

The SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) is an example of a professional credential that is common among HR professionals seeking management-level positions. "The Society for Human Resource Management has the principal certification that every serious human resource professional will need to get ahead and to be well equipped for human resource positions," says Dooley.

Move up.

A leader talks to his staff as they stand around him.

If your career goals involve leading HR policy and change at the organizational level, you'll likely need a master's degree.

Generally, the more education you have, the better positioned you will be to succeed in human resources and compete for the jobs you want, says Dooley.

While you can specialize in one area, such as payroll, benefits, or training, to move up you may have to expand your skillset with a certification or assume more diverse responsibilities to demonstrate that you possess a wide range of knowledge.

Generally, a human resources manager is a link between an organization and the employees who work there. HR managers work in virtually all types of industries, recruiting, screening, and managing the hiring of workers at all levels of an organization. They also plan, direct, and coordinate the administrative work related to an organization's employees.

How Long Does It Take to Become an HR Manager?

From earning your bachelor's degree to gaining work experience, you could reach your goal within six to seven years. However, it can take several years of entry-level work to qualify for a position as a manager. How quickly you ultimately advance varies depending on several factors, including:

  • Your education
  • The role in which you start your career
  • The size of the organization in which you work
  • Your career goals

"Entering the profession, human resources professionals still must enter at the entry-level, but with proper preparation, a student can quickly ascend from the entry-level to mid and upper management," says Dooley. "This will require networking and a few other relationship management techniques."

Starting in the profession with a master's degree or earning a master's degree while working in an HR-related position can allow you to achieve your goals with fewer years of work experience.

From earning your bachelor's degree to gaining work experience, you could reach your goal within six to seven years.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth in HR management is expected to grow by 5.2% through 2032.

The median annual salary for a human resources manager is $130,000, according to the BLS. Human resources managers in the top 25% of earners make over $171,170 annually, while managers in the lowest 25% earn $98,230. Salary can vary depending on several factors, including geographic location.

Professional Resources

Professional organizations, publications, podcasts, and social media are a great way to stay on top of emerging human resources trends and knowledge at every stage of your career. Whether you stay connected in person or virtually, professional resources can help you advance your career with opportunities for continuing education, certification, networking, and mentoring.

Here are some top professional resources in HR management:

  • Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is a worldwide professional organization that offers members access to news and resources related to day-to-day responsibilities, professional certification, and the chance to build a network through local chapters, state councils, and social media.
  • National Human Resources Association (NHRA) focuses on individual career advancement for human resources professionals through all stages of their careers by providing professional development, conferences, and seminars designed to promote deeper professional connections and education.
  • Association for Talent Management (ATD) is a global network of organizational development professionals that gives members access to professional resources, project templates, case studies, and white papers to help them stay current and address common challenges.
  • Human Capital Institute (HCI) is a professional organization that emphasizes the alignment of human capital strategy with business strategy with learning-based resources, certifications, conferences, and on-demand content.

anna giorgi

Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi

Contributing Writer

rue dooley

With professional insight from:

Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP

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

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