Becoming an Human Resource (HR) Manager - Education, Experience & Certifications

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Human resource managers ensure that all employees’ needs are being met, which usually involves the areas of compensation, benefits, maintenance of employee records, management of hiring processes, labor relations, and mediation between employees and senior management.

Human resource managers work across all industries to ensure the mutual satisfaction of a firm’s employees. These sectors include the service industry, government, media, communications, health and human services, transportation, universities, investment firms, public safety, healthcare administration, and nonprofits, among others. Overall, they promote a healthy work environment by upholding the dignity of employees, communicating concerns to upper management, ensuring the most qualified candidates come in for jobs, and securing the best benefits available within the constraints of a company’s budget.

Read on how to become a certified HR manager, including information about licensing, education, and experience.

What is an HR Manager and What Do They Do?

Human resource managers develop, implement and oversee training programs or procedures. They are authorities on employee rights, equal opportunity employment law, and matters of sexual harassment. They typically work full-time in office environments with the occasional business trip for industry conferences, meetings, seminars, or training.

An HR manager is a liaison between management and employees. In business, a human resource manager’s role is to create spaces in which positive relationships between employees and all levels of management can be facilitated. The ultimate goal is satisfaction of the workforce. While the path to becoming a human resources manager can be challenging, students often find that the work is very rewarding.

Some important skills for human resources managers include multi-tasking, mathematics, empathy, compassion, sympathy, and clear communication, as well as a deep understanding of health insurance company policy, recruitment strategy, personnel management, discretion, privacy, and how to let go of an employee.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual median pay for human resources managers at $113,300. Of course, given various specialization tracks and certifications that add value, this median salary figure might vary. Also, the BLS (2019) projects a 7 percent growth in HR management jobs nationally between 2018 and 2028—a faster-than-average rate.

Check out a step-by-step guide to becoming an HR manager.

Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

There are many ways that high school students can prepare for a career as a human resources professional. It is recommended that one take a wide variety of courses in business, economics, psychology, mathematics, speech, technical communications, and professional communications, where available. It is also advisable to take community college courses or advanced placement (AP) classes to earn college credits in relevant subjects prior to enrollment in a university degree program.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

The first step towards a career in human resources is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field. While some human resource professionals have their BS in human resources management or business, some have taken different educational paths in areas such as marketing, operations, communications, journalism, psychology, legal studies, or sociology.

The core curriculum of BS programs in human resources emphasizes human resource theory, psychology, operations, management, mathematics, speech, technical communications, labor management, employment law, employee development, accounting, statistics, information technology, and professional communications.

These programs are typically located in a school’s business or management department. If there is an opportunity that an internship might be offered as part of an academic program, it is recommended that students take it.

For those interested in a traditional brick-and-mortar degree, look no further than the University of Nebraska. For those eyeing an online pathway, Southern New Hampshire University offers an innovative online BS in business administration with a concentration in human resources management.

Step 2: Complete an Internship (One Year or Less)

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 96 percent of human resources professionals considered the time they spent in an internship as critical to their success in the industry.

Internships allow students to gain real-world experience in the industry of their choice and offer the perfect way to begin applying the practical knowledge that is the focus of human resources bachelor’s programs.

If you do not get the chance to take part in an internship while in school, many companies have begun to offer them to recent college graduates. The purpose of human resources internships is to give students a chance to see how the industry works from the inside out. Ideally, internships or externships allow future HR managers the opportunity to identify, hone, and develop the interpersonal skills that are critical to the job.

Step 4a: Gain HR Work Experience (At Least Two Years)

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, it is a good idea to enter the workforce to gain experience. Essentially, any advanced or upper management position in human resources requires that students provide proof of having attended seminars or post-secondary training, in addition to real-world experience.

Entry-level positions include human resources assistant, associate, or specialist. Typical responsibilities include assisting with record-keeping of employee benefits, tracking work performance, managing compensation for employees, conducting employee orientations and trainings, and leading personal and team development strategies.

Step 4b: Earn a Master’s Degree in Human Resources (Two Years, Optional)

A master’s degree in human resources management or administration equips learners with the requisite higher-level foundation on which to build a career as a human resources manager. Expect coursework in psychology, human resource theory, operations, labor management, speech, technical communications, employment law, employee development, accounting, arbitration, mediation, contract negotiation, statistics, information technology, and professional communications.
This traditional campus graduate program in human resources management from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management can prepare any prospective human resources professional for an exciting career, while Columbia University offers a compelling, cutting-edge degree for those who want to get their master’s in human capital management online.

Step 4c: Earn a Doctorate in Human Resources (Optional, Three to Five Years)

An HR PhD is firmly grounded in advanced coursework in human resource theory, information technology, human resources operations, labor management, arbitration, mediation, professional counseling, technical communications, employment law, employee development, mediation, contract negotiation, statistics, and professional communications. Individuals with this credential usually rise to upper-level management positions quickly, eventually managing teams of personnel in labs or at private companies.

For a face-to-face experience, consider this PhD specialization in human resources at Ohio State University. Alternatively, check out this online doctorate in human resource and workforce development with a concentration in GIS at the University of Arkansas.

Step 5: Consider HR Certification

Human resources certification is a process by which a third-party organization evaluates the level of an applicant’s knowledge and experience. Those that meet industry standards are eligible for certification.

A growing number of employers are looking for human resource professionals with additional certifications, which show expertise, as well as commitment and dedication to the field. Both the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offer a number of certification designations, including the Professional of Human Resources (PHR), Certified Employment Benefits Specialist (CEBS), and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certifications. Other specialization tracks include Group Benefits Associate, Retirement Plans Associate, and Compensation Management Specialist.

Applying for these exams requires up to four years of experience in the human resources field or a combination of education and experience. Note that exam duration and lengths vary by state and concentration.

Another professional development option is to join a professional society. Two of the most popular human resources management professional organizations in the United States are the National Human Resources Association and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Where Do HR Managers Work?

Human resources managers work in all corners of the market where the management of human capital is necessary. This could include government, the service industry, communications, health and human services, transportation, elementary schools, investment firms, public safety, healthcare administration, science labs, non-profits, small-to-medium businesses, and real estate firms.

Resources for Human Resource Managers

For more information on careers in HR, job boards, and other professional development resources, check out the list below:

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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