What is Human Resources Management: Careers, Skills, Trends

Industry Advice Management

Human resources management (HRM) is an essential component of virtually all businesses and organizations. HR professionals aren’t only tasked with staying up-to-date with ever-changing employment laws and insurance policies, but they also must act as liaisons between management and employees and as advocates for employees, as well.

If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in human resources management, it’s helpful to understand the many facets of the work. Read on to explore what human resources management is, and take a look at the careers, skills, and trends that relate to the field.

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What Is Human Resources Management (HRM)?

Human Resources Management Careers

Human Resources Management Skills

Trends in Human Resources Management

Working in Human Resources

What is Human Resources Management (HRM)?

Human resources management, often abbreviated as HRM or HR, is an organizational function that focuses on the strategic management of its employees. In today’s business world, the relationship between an organization and it’s human resources department is a strategic partnership.

According to Kathleen Egger, a lecturer for the Master of Science in Human Resources Management program within Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, “Human resources is not just an administrative function anymore. It is about understanding how the business itself functions so that we can then advise on the best practices moving forward.”

“The traditional HR role is changing very rapidly,” adds Carl Zangerl, faculty director for the program. “In many organizations now, the expectation is that the HR team is really a business partner [with a specialized focus on] deploying, training, engaging, and getting the most productivity out of their people.”

At the core of their work, human resource managers are responsible for the people within an organization, which tend to be some of the most valuable assets that that organization has.

After putting in months or even years training employees, for example, it’s in an organization’s best interest to retain as many employees as possible to reduce the costs of onboarding new hires. Human resources professionals play an integral role in this process, by managing the many ways employees interact with management and the broader organization.

The human resource management discipline also focuses on maximizing employee productivity and taking preemptive measures to protect the company from any issues that may arise concerning the staff. In a general sense, the human resources department helps to uphold the company’s culture and core values.

Interested in becoming a strategic business partner in your organization?

Learn more about earning an advanced degree in Human Resources Management


Responsibilities of an HR Manager

Some of the main responsibilities of HR professionals include:

  • Managing employee compensation and benefits
  • Recruiting and onboarding new hires
  • Managing employee training and development
  • Creating, tracking, and updating employee records
  • Communicating policies and decisions to all employees
  • Dismissing employees and enforcing disciplinary actions
  • Ensuring the organization is meeting employment laws
  • Ensuring that employees feel their concerns are heard by management
  • Addressing and investigating work-related complaints and harassment allegations

Depending on the size of the company and the HR department, an HR professional may be in charge of any one or a combination of these duties. In some cases, companies may choose to move away from traditional in-house HR work and outsource certain tasks like payroll or benefits to external organizations.

Human Resources Management Careers

There are various job titles related to human resources management. Some of the more common include:

  • HR Specialist
  • HR Generalist
  • HR Manager
  • HR Director
  • HR Business Partner
  • Talent Acquisition Specialist
  • Recruiter and Recruiting Manager
  • Compensation and Benefits Analyst
  • Employee Relations Manager

The employment outlook for aspiring human resources professionals is promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for HR Specialists was $61,920 in May of 2019. The role is also projected to grow at a rate of seven percent from 2019 to 2029—faster than the average of four percent for all occupations. Much of this predicted growth is due to the fact that, over time, more Human Resources Specialists will be needed to handle the increasingly complex laws and healthcare coverage options that relate to businesses and their employees.

As professionals in this field gain experience and refine their skills, they can expect to see more opportunities for senior positions as well as significant increases in compensation.

HR Managers, for example, earned an average annual salary of $116,720 as of May 2019. The need for HR Managers is also expected to grow at a rate of 6 percent—faster than the average for all occupations—from 2019 to 2029. As new companies emerge and others expand their operations, they will need the advanced skills of HR Managers to oversee employees, help them meet their goals, and ensure adherence to ever-changing and complex employment laws.

Human Resources Specializations

In general, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for entry-level human resources positions. However, in order to rise in the ranks and land a more senior role, a relevant master’s degree—like a Master of Science in Human Resources Management—is usually necessary.

These programs often offer many different concentrations and specializations, which can be helpful in better aligning the degree to your particular career goals.

For example, at Northeastern, the human resources management degree offers specializations in:

  • Artificial Intelligence for HR, which focuses on information processing, theory, statistics, and other data-driven courses
  • Digital HR, which focuses on the different ways technology can be incorporated into various human resources roles
  • Global Talent Management, which focuses on cultural awareness, cross-cultural facilitation, negotiation, and global literacy
  • Project Management, which focuses on the role that the principles of project management can play in an HR role (and vice versa)
  • Leadership, which focuses on strategic and organizational leadership
  • Organizational Communications, which focuses on various aspects of corporate communications, including crisis communication, negotiation, mediation, and more.

Combining a graduate degree with relevant experience in the field is a great way to set yourself apart from the competition and land a high-level role in this industry.

Human Resources Management Skills

If you are interested in advancing your career in human resources or breaking into the field, there are important skills you’ll need regardless of the industry or type of organization you wish to work in. These skills include:

  • Exceptional interpersonal skills. As an HR professional, you will need to work closely with all employees to ensure that the business is running smoothly. In many instances, this can include interviewing potential employees, taking the lead in the onboarding process, or resolving any conflicts that may arise. Since the focus of the role is on people, it is essential to be able to effectively communicate and interact with others.
  • Teamwork and collaboration. It is also essential that you are a strong team player and can contribute positively to collaborative efforts. You will not only need to work closely with the team that makes up the HR department, but also with the employees outside of the department to ensure that the entire organization is working toward achieving its goals.
  • Technological aptitude. There are various programs that are used in the field for functions like recruiting, compensation and benefits, payroll, and more. It is important for professionals to have a working knowledge of the different applications that are commonly used and be able to adapt to changes as technologies advance.
  • Organization and multitasking. Depending on the size of the company and the number of HR professionals on the team, there can be a lot of information to keep organized. It is crucial that you are able to keep things in order at all times and multitask when necessary.
  • Conflict management and problem-solving. The HR department is often the first to get involved when conflict arises within a business. This often involves coming up with creative solutions to the problems that your employees are facing.

As with many industries, the human resources industry is expected to undergo significant changes in the coming years. Below are some of the most important emerging trends in HR.

1. Rising Importance of the HRIT Role

More and more aspects of the workplace are becoming technologically advanced, and the human resources department is no exception. Many companies are now creating specialized information technology roles within their team, often referred to as HRIT specialists.

As this role is being shaped, it is rapidly growing in strategic importance. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it is vital for human resources staff to have a working knowledge of information technology because HR touches everyone in an organization and has to deal with many data privacy and integration issues.

2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Another trend in human resource management is the increasing importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of the biggest advantages of AI technology is the ability to streamline the application process. Instead of requiring HR staff to spend countless hours reading hundreds of resumés and cover letters, AI allows complex programs to do the same work in a fraction of the time.

Even with this advanced technology, organizations will still rely on skilled professionals to handle the complex and nuanced situations that machines can not. HR professionals can actually use this technology to their advantage by putting the time and energy that is saved to other, more important duties.

3. Technology to Measure Engagement

Just as technology is shifting many other aspects of human resource management, it is also impacting the way companies are measuring employee engagement. In 2019, for the first time, more companies are expected to use nontraditional methods to measure engagement than annual surveys, a popular metric intake method of the past.

In a 2015 study, SHRM found that 89 percent of medium-to-large companies utilized standard surveys to assess employee engagement while only 30 percent made use of advanced technological methods—such as analyzing computer usage data—to discover how employees were interacting with emails, websites, and more. The field has made a massive shift toward using these more advanced means of gathering information in just three years.

4. An Emphasis on People Management

It’s well documented that happy, well-managed teams often result in a successful organization; this isn’t a new concept. As the structure of the modern workplace continues to evolve, however, the need for effective leaders has become increasingly critical.

“More and more organizations are realizing their people are their biggest asset,” Zangerl says. “And [they’re realizing] that they really need to pay more attention to how they organize people to do different jobs.”

Zangerl believes that with the consistent restructuring of teams, the use of contractors to fill important company roles, and the corporate world’s overall lean into the gig economy, the general scope of HR teams’ work has developed into “a much more complex task of trying to organize these people and resources.”

Having practical experience handling different types of people and teams is one of the most effective ways of mastering these necessary skills, and the best way to get that experience is through an advanced degree program that offers an experiential learning component. By participating in internships or co-ops, students in these programs are given the opportunity to work within a functioning organization and manage real groups, while still having the cushion of classmates and professors to bounce ideas off of or ask questions to. 

Northeastern offers an expansive network of both business and nonprofit organizations that students in the Master’s in Human Resources Management program can work with to hone these important skills.

5. Increased Demand for Data Analytics Skills

“Like every other kind of function within an organization, [human resources teams] are collecting huge amounts of data,” Zangerl says, explaining that this generated information can prove relevant and useful in many aspects of human resources work. As a result, HR analytics skills are rising in importance.

For example, digital recruitment tools like LinkedIn are incredibly popular, with this platform alone gaining 120 new users every minute. These users are generating incredible amounts of data daily that can be beneficial to the practices of HR managers. Due to this fact, HR managers now have unparalleled access to data on users’ engagement with posted jobs, salary metrics, candidates’ previous employment, and much more. 

With the right skills in data analytics and interpretation, these managers can use collected information to identify patterns and note other significant findings, in order to make informed hiring decisions and improve recruitment processes in the future. Zangerl explains that the “ability to not only analyze the data but interpret it and see those kinds of connections is really critical.”

Working in Human Resources

As the field continues to evolve, human resource management will need more skilled professionals who are equipped to handle the complex challenges that businesses face while continuing to uphold organizational values and culture.

For those interested in advancing their human resources career or breaking into the field, earning a Master of Science in Human Resources Management or Graduate Certificate in Human Resources Management from Northeastern University could be the next step on your path toward success.

Northeastern’s program is focused on providing students with hands-on learning through coursework and projects that prepare them for the day-to-day tasks they will encounter in the industry. Egger says, “I always try to bring my real-world experiences into the classroom when I’m teaching. I tell my students what is really happening in the world of HR and bring my own stories and challenges to the conversation.”

Cutting-edge academics, taught by faculty with real industry experience, is paired with a heavy emphasis on experiential learning to ensure that students in these programs graduate with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for a successful career in human resources.

Learn more about what this degree in human resources management entails on the MS in Human Resources Management program page.