Business Administration

Human Resource Management Career Options

Human Resource Management Career Options
Human resource managers make sure a company or organization is fully and capably staffed and sufficiently compensated. It's a critical role, and, for the right person, an extremely satisfying one. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella May 29, 2020

HR managers commonly earn six-figure incomes (sometimes with only a bachelor's degree) for doing things like hiring workers, settling disputes, and creating employee development programs.

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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines HR as a “set of tasks aimed at effectively managing an organization’s employees, commonly known as its human resources or human capital.” The term human capital feels very cold—for some, it might conjure up images of a Mr. Burns-type character chuckling to himself. As such, it doesn’t capture what a great HR manager does so effectively: develop and get the best out of a company’s employees so they want to continue working there.

Human resource managers make sure a company or organization is fully and capably staffed and sufficiently compensated. It’s a critical role, and, for the right person, an extremely satisfying one. Let’s look at the career opportunities in human resources management (HRM). In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is HR management?
  • What education do you need for a career in HR management?
  • Should you earn a graduate degree in HR management?
  • How do you get started in HR management?
  • What advanced career opportunities exist in HR management?

What is HR management?

The definition of HRM is relatively broad, and it encompasses many jobs. HR managers are often in charge of the hiring process and, to some extent, talent development.

Some of the roles that HR managers can have include:

  • Assisting with the establishment and review of goals
  • Helping develop promising employees
  • Informing workers of their rights and benefits
  • Interviewing potential employees
  • Maintaining positive worker and employer relations within a company

According to SHRM, the role of HR professionals has, in recent years, expanded from being merely administrative to one that actively influences the way corporations conduct business. In popular culture, HR managers are usually portrayed as mediators of interpersonal issues or the functionaries who say “you can’t say that” to a rogue executive. They certainly can do those things, but they also have other significant responsibilities.

As an HR manager, you will be expected to represent both management and employees at different points. An effective HR representative is rational, clear-headed, and impartial.

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The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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What education do you need for a career in HR management?

Most HR management positions only can be attained with only a bachelor’s degree and the right level of experience. However, many of the top positions seek candidates with a master’s degree (as well as experience). It can take more than a decade in the workforce before some companies consider you eligible for senior management.

A bachelor’s degree in human resources management provides you with the skills necessary to start a career in HR. For instance, the New York University BS in Leadership and Management Studies, which offers a concentration in HR management, provides courses on the tenets of management as well as analytics, recruitment, and performance effectiveness—among other necessary HR skills.

Other well-known schools that provide degree programs with an emphasis on HR include:

Should you earn a graduate degree in HR management?

If you are looking to qualify for a senior position in HRM, earning a master’s degree might be worthwhile. Most graduate programs look for students who have previous work experience. Keep in mind this does not mean you need a bachelor’s in human resources management to qualify for a master’s program.

Master’s degrees usually take around two years for a full-time student to complete. Some accelerated degrees, which are frequently designed for more advanced professionals, take a year or less. If you are studying part-time, a master’s degree can take three years or more to complete. Many schools offer online master’s degree programs, though many also deliver traditional (on-campus) programs. If those aren’t enough options, you can also attend a hybrid program, with both an online and on-campus component.

The three main degree options for a master of human resources are: a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Business Administration (MBA). These different titles typically signify a difference in the scope of the program. An MBA provides a general business education with a focus on HR; an MA or MS dives deeper into HR subjects but spends less time on management, finance, operations, and economics.

You’ll find excellent graduate programs in HR at:

Rutgers offers an online MHRM that prepares students for top management positions. It is “designed to meet the needs of HR professionals to advance their career to top human resources and management positions.”

The Rutgers program includes courses on managing rewards systems, workforce flow, and the global workforce. It also offers classes on business strategy and employment law, which are essential for those who want to take on increased responsibility in their companies. The program requires students to complete a capstone project, through which students solve a real-world problem. Capstones, or thesis projects, are standard requirements for many programs.

How do you get started in HR management?

Like any career field, you will likely need to work your way up from an entry-level job. Getting started in HRM can be difficult. You won’t need a bachelor’s degree in HR to enter into the field, but it can certainly help a lot in attaining your first position. According to SHRM, “most entry-level positions in human resources require a minimum of one year of experience, and many require two to three years of experience.” This often means completing an internship in HR. Undergraduate study provides an excellent opportunity to do just that.

If you do not have an undergraduate degree in HR, working in a similar career and building transferable skills will likely be your ticket in. Alternatively, while a master’s degree can help current professionals advance their careers, it can also help those looking to break into the business. Master’s programs allow students to establish and hone useful skills and create valuable connections through networking.

Per SHRM, some entry-level jobs in HR can include:

  • Benefits administrator
  • Compensation analyst
  • Employee relations specialist
  • Human resources assistant
  • Interviewer
  • Labor relations specialist
  • Plan personnel assistant
  • Recruiter
  • Salary administrator

Each of these jobs fits into one of two categories of HR management careers: generalist and specialist. The difference between the two is that a generalist covers the entire range of HR functions. A specialist, in contrast, focuses on one aspect of management. Of these jobs, a human resources assistant is considered a generalist; a benefits administrator is a specialist.

What advanced career opportunities exist in HR management?

Let’s say that you’ve held a job in human resources for a few years and want to move up in the world. You decide that the time is right for you to get a master’s degree, so you go back to school. What kind of jobs might you be qualified for? Some sample titles include:

  • Administrative coordinator
  • Director of human resources
  • Global senior director
  • Human resources manager
  • Lead program associate
  • Learning and development specialist
  • Recruitment manager
  • Senior HR representative
  • Senior leader, talent management
  • Vice president of human resources

Completing an advanced degree in HR does not guarantee a top job (nor does not having one necessarily exclude you from one), but it is an excellent qualification. Here are descriptions of a few HRM job titles that you might hold with the right combination of experience and education.

Vice president of human resources

These professionals are in charge of overseeing pretty much everything that falls under the banner of HR. They can help create policies, participate in the hiring process, mediate disputes, and ensure that the company complies with all necessary laws. For their effort, VPs are compensated handsomely, earning an average of $137,048, according to PayScale. Becoming a vice president can take a long time—often requiring over ten years of work experience—and may require a master’s degree.

Learning and development specialist

Sometimes it is impossible to figure out a job description based on the position’s title alone. Learning and development specialist is not one of those jobs. These professionals find and develop opportunities for a company’s employees to grow and better meet the business’s needs. Per PayScale, learning and development specialists earn an average salary of $60,862 per year.

Director of human resources

The director of human resources can have a hand in anything from the hiring process to managing payroll to settling disputes. Though they can share many of the same responsibilities, directors are not as high-ranking as vice presidents and make considerably less money (though still a lot by most standards). The average salary for a director of human resources is $97,141

Human resources manager

Another managerial position, HR managers are generally in charge of implementing policy rather than creating it (though they may make recommendations). Managers take on many day-to-day responsibilities, including benefits administration, compliance, and complaint management. HR managers earn an average annual salary of $67,238.

Is a career in HR management worth it?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, HR managers earned a median income of $116,720 in 2019. Beyond the numbers, HR management is an exciting career for a detail-oriented person who can see the big picture. If you think you can do it all, consider becoming an HR manager.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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