Human resources management, also known as HRM or HR, plays a critical role in many organizations. Though the field’s origins were mainly administrative, the HR function has shifted dramatically to become a people- and data-focused strategic business unit within most large organizations.
HR professionals can perform a wide range of duties depending on their job title, the size of their team, and the level of specialization within the organization. These duties can involve a myriad of tasks, including recruiting, training, mediation, compensation, benefits management, and even HR law.
If you’re interested in becoming a human resources manager, you’ll need to complete the appropriate education and gain experience in the field. Below, we discuss the specific steps professionals can take to launch a successful career in human resources.
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Steps to Becoming a Human Resources Manager
1. Develop the necessary skills.
While some may think that being a natural-born people pleaser is the only prerequisite for working in HR, there are actually many tactical skills required for success. In fact, while social and soft skills are important, they are often less important than having a firm understanding of business operations and how employees within a business typically function.
“You need to have a curiosity and interest to learn the business or the operations of whatever organization you’re supporting,” says Susannah Robinson, Founder and Principal at Partnership for Talent and adjunct professor at Northeastern University. “It’s important for HR managers to understand the business as well as the operations folks. I see HR managers as business-people first, whose functional specialty just happens to be HR.”
According to Robinson, being business-minded also means having in-depth knowledge of labor laws, and how they apply to your company and to your job.
“The way I describe HR is it is common sense with a foundation in the law,” Robinson says. “You need to understand all of the basics of HR, the law, compensation and benefits, specialties, and a really good understanding of employee relations.”
Some other skills that will prove critical in an HR position include:
- The ability to have an open mind
- Compassion and empathy that allows you to connect with others
- The ability and discipline to be discrete
- The ability to multitask
- The general ability to manage both yourself and others
“The other set of skills you’ll need is a willingness to be flexible and think about how things can get done as opposed to if they can get done,” Robinson notes.
2. Gain experience in the field.
Every manager-level job position requires previous experience. According to Robinson, becoming a human resources manager will typically require that you have between at least three and five years of experience in employee relations and understanding the basics of HR.
“That experience can be as an HR coordinator, specialist, or another member of the HR team,” Robinson says.
Holding one of these entry-level positions early in your career will allow you to gain a broad understanding of the role that HR plays within a specific type of business, while also allowing you to explore the different functions involved in such a career.
Depending on whether or not your role has a specific area of focus, HR specialists may handle work such as:
- Involvement in the recruitment process of screening, interviewing, and reference checking candidates
- Leading employee training
- Managing employee relations
- Overseeing compensation and benefits for their teams
- Generally processing confidential information
Make the most of your experience early on by seeking a mentor, being willing to learn, and developing relationships with your colleagues.
3. Earn HR certifications.
HR certifications are not required, but they can boost your career trajectory by sharpening your HR skills and demonstrating to employers your professional competency and standards in the field.
Two common credentials are the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certifications. To obtain your PHR, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a related field and at least two years of experience, or a master’s degree in a related field with at least one year of experience. An SPHR certification requires four to five years of experience, depending on your education.
“I’m a huge believer that you should pursue an HR certification,” Robinson says. “I think that both SHRM and the PHR certification are helpful, as they give you a really solid background.”
4. Pursue a formal education.
According to Robinson, most employers hiring HR managers only consider applicants who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as human resources, business administration, or organization management. Other fields such as the humanities, psychology, education, or finance can also apply.
“Having college experience is important, mostly because it teaches students how to collaborate and think as part of a team,” Robinson says. “That’s really important as the HR manager.”
Robinson also notes that, although a master’s degree is not necessarily a requirement, it can set you up for success and help you better refine your skills. The degree that most closely aligns with a career in HR management will typically be the Master of Science in Human Resources Management, though other degrees such as an MBA can also apply.
“Earning a master’s degree teaches you to dissect cases and day-to-day problems in a way that translates really well into the HR manager and business environment, because it forces you to think critically and to think things through all the way, not just at a surface level,” Robinson says.
Which degree you’ll earn depends on whether or not you want to concentrate on MBA-related business topics (such as accounting and finance, management, operations, economics) or on HR-specific learning (like theory, practice, and HR management) covered by an HR-focused degree.
If you’re interested in working in a particular specialty within the field of HR, it’s a good idea to seek a master’s degree that offers a concentration in that area of study. For example, the Master of Science in Human Resources Management at Northeastern offers concentrations in digital HR, global talent management, leadership, artificial intelligence for HR, organizational communication, and project management.
Taking the First Step Toward Your Career
Human resources is the point of convergence for an organization, its employees, and employee relationships. As such, HR departments embrace many specialties and roles, affording professionals the opportunity to carve out their own, unique career paths.
If you are considering becoming an HR manager, then it’s crucial that you lay the groundwork now for a successful career. Earning a relevant bachelor’s degree, gaining experience, and investing in a graduate-level education will all go far in empowering you toward reaching this goal.
Learn how a Master’s in Human Resources Management at Northeastern can prepare you to advance your career today.a
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