As one of the fastest online associate’s degrees, an associate’s degree in human resources can quickly put you on the path to a career in business. However, as the lowest level of college education you can earn, you can’t expect an associate’s degree to equip you with as thorough a background in HR principles and practices as a job candidate with a bachelor’s degree would have. Often, companies are willing to provide on-the-job training for candidates who have only an associate’s degree. However, you may have to start in a lower-level clerical role, such as human resources assistant, and you may face obstacles in moving up into a position that pays more and offers a greater scope of professional responsibilities.
The Good News: A Willingness to Hire and Train
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An associate’s degree can land you an entry-level job in the field of human resources, such as HR assistant. This clerical role fits more precisely into the office and administrative support occupations, such as information clerk, than it does in true business occupations like human resources specialist or generalist. However, in this role, you handle some HR job duties, including responsibility for maintaining employee personnel files, posting job listings for available positions and gathering applications for review by human resources specialists and managers, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
An associate’s degree is the typical level of education needed to work as a human resources assistant, according to the BLS, although O*NET lists an associate’s degree as the second most common educational credential reported for the field. Just 27 percent of HR assistants report having an associate’s degree as their highest level of education, while 34 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 21 percent have only a high school education.
Training provided on the job is common for this profession, often continuing for a few weeks after you are first hired as a human resources assistant, the BLS reported. You don’t need to worry that a prospective employer will balk at having to provide some training, since any new hire would need to be educated on the organization’s core values, employment policies and company procedures. However, you may find in your job search that some employers prefer or require a bachelor’s degree even for a human resources assistant role.
As information clerk roles go, human resources assistant is among the best paying, with a median wage of $40,390, the BLS reported – but the profession also has a higher level of education than most clerical roles, which often require only a high school diploma.
The Bad News: Limited Opportunities for Career Advancement
Just how much training should you expect your employer to provide? Once you excel in a human resources assistant role, can you expect to move up to a role as an HR generalist, an HR specialist or, ultimately, an HR manager?
Unless you are willing to go back to school or seek professional certification, you may not move up much beyond that human resources assistant position. Human resources specialists and generalists should typically earn a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS, although O*NET reported that only 47 percent of the profession has this level of education.
It’s possible to use your experience as a human resources assistant to advance to a role as an HR specialist or generalist, especially if you cultivate a reputation for being eager to take on more responsibilities and develop new skills. It’s also possible, however, that employers will give more consideration to candidates with a bachelor’s degree and that your associate’s degree won’t be enough to compete. At this level of human resources work, the training your employer would have to provide is more extensive, since your associate’s degree curriculum didn’t cover the field in as much depth as the bachelor’s degree curriculum under which your competition studied.
Suppose you do manage to make it to a human resources specialist position with only your associate’s degree and your work ethic, and now you’re eyeing a management role with six-figure earning potential. Among human resources managers, 74 reported a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education, according to O*NET. Another 9 percent of the occupation pursued a post-baccalaureate certificate, and still another 9 percent went on to earn a master’s degree. With the competition for job opportunities at this level overwhelmingly more highly educated than you are, you’re unlikely to advance much farther unless you can bring to a management position valuable insight, experience or expertise that a more educated candidate can’t.
Of course, you can take steps to expand your formal credentials and stand out more as a job candidate. Acquiring professional certification in the field can greatly improve your job prospects, as can going back to school and old-fashioned networking.